Born in Detroit in 1933, Louise Manoogian Simone would become the sixth president of AGBU, the first woman at its helm since the organization’s founding in 1906. Meticulous by nature, with an innate ability to perceive and nurture human potential, Simone was instrumental in the development of the modern Armenian nation as we know it. With grace, optimism and the philanthropic zeal which she inherited from her father Alex Manoogian, AGBU’s 5th president, she took on projects that would impact millions of Armenians across the world, shaping a new narrative of Armenian reality through her visionary leadership.
Early Links to Armenia
Growing up in a family committed to seeing the Armenian people prosper, Simone was never far from dedicating her time and efforts to the Armenian community. After playing an active role in local civic affairs both within and outside the Armenian community of Detroit, she moved to the New York area in 1975, serving on the Council of the Eastern Diocese and St. Nersess Armenian Seminary Board of Directors, raising much needed funds for the seminary. Then, in 1982, she embarked on her first trip to Armenia, an experience that would broaden her view of what was possible for the future of Armenians worldwide. This first trip would be far from her last.
Upon her return, Simone was elected to the AGBU Central Board of Directors. During her subsequent trips to Armenia, she worked both individually and through AGBU to establish new relationships with her homeland, often inviting others to join her in connecting and engaging with the republic in meaningful ways.
Call to Action
On December 7, 1988, everything changed. Armenia was ravaged by a deadly earthquake. The disaster left the country in critical condition with 25,000 people dead and countless more homeless. Vice President of AGBU at the time, Simone didn’t think twice. Just three days later, she boarded a chartered USAID cargo flight to Armenia and within a week, she organized a distribution center for food, medicine and clothing to help survivors. In the aftermath of the earthquake, AGBU took on many more projects to restore and rebuild not only infrastructure, but also morale. From establishing the Center for Personal Injury and Plastic Surgery to treat severe trauma victims to coordinating a medical aid program throughout Gyumri, AGBU was guided by Simone’s steady hand and keen insight with each initiative.
A year later, Simone would assume her position as AGBU President, at a pivotal time in the Armenian nation’s history. The first years of Armenia’s independence were enmeshed in seemingly insurmountable challenges and traumas. Lack of electricity and water was met with widespread hardship and hunger compounded by war. The beginning of Simone’s presidency coincided with the dramatic changes in the Armenian World and the dawn of a new era in AGBU priorities—earthquake relief and recovery, the independence movements in Artsakh, the fall of the Soviet Union, the influx of refugees from neighboring Azerbaijan, the Liberation War and the subsequent blockade. In order to coordinate humanitarian operations in Armenia effectively and report on progress, Simone established permanent AGBU representation in Yerevan. Well beyond humanitarian aid, this presence on the ground and Simone’s astute outlook on the developing nation shifted the perception of Armenia’s potential.
The Consummate Executive Planner
Endowed with the gift of acute foresight, Simone always seemed to be ten steps ahead of any potential problem, quickly finding practical solutions down to the last detail.
In April 1990, the AGBU, with Simone at its helm, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Ambassador of the USSR to the International Organization in Vienna signed a contract for the construction of a cold food storage plant in Gyumri designed to preserve meat, chicken, produce and butter to provide food in the harsh winter months of Armenia’s northern region.
On her very first trip to the earthquake zone, Simone had the presence of mind to bring along two fax machines from the States, recognizing it was the most efficient way for those working on the ground to communicate with the Central Office back in New York. This way the office could respond to urgent requests swiftly and accurately.
When the infrastructure of then Soviet Armenia dissolved, disruptions in correspondence throughout the new nation were common. Under Simone’s leadership, AGBU stepped in to support the foundations of the new Armenian state, providing all ministries and agencies with desktop computers. These focused, direct efforts to fill in the gaps exemplified the type of actions Simone organized.
The AGBU Clinic for Ultrasound Radiology and the AGBU Ultrasound Center of the Yerevan Medical University were established in partnership with the Jefferson Ultrasound Research Center and Educational Institute located in Philadelphia to train professionals and provide care.
Through AGBU patronage, the Armenian Philharmonic was revived to keep the artistic heritage and talent thriving in the country, while at the Matenadaran, employee salaries were expensed to preserve priceless Armenian historical assets. In addition, when Armenia’s public schools could no longer afford to provide extracurricular classes to its students, AGBU established numerous children’s afterschool centers in Yerevan in collaboration with the Mother See so that thousands of youth had access to enriched learning opportunities in all forms of the arts.
AGBU Senior Dining Centers were also incorporated on children’s center premises to tend to the most vulnerable, providing warm nutritious meals and community connections.
By the time the ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan was announced in 1994, a significant portion of Artsakh had been destroyed or remained underdeveloped. To help revitalize the region, Simone funded a rest home for seniors, chess clubs and schools for children and housing units for those left homeless, primarily widows of fallen soldiers. She mobilized AGBU chapters around the world to follow her lead and raise funds to help rebuild the entire towns of Norashen and Parashen in southern Artsakh.
When Gyumri’s seismology center was demolished after the 1988 earthquake, plans to rebuild a new center in Yerevan emerged. However, with Armenia’s independence, these plans soon evolved into establishing a university in the capital, based on the American model, that could provide a competitive education in the global market.
Known for being forever committed to the potential of Armenia’s best and brightest, and wary of the braindrain prompted by widespread financial hardship, Simone was approached by two earthquake engineering professors to establish the graduate university. She embraced the idea of such an institution and collaborated in the partnership between AGBU, University of California (UC), and the Armenian government to bring Western teaching methods to academia in Armenia.
The American University of Armenia opened its doors in 1991 to train government officials and nurture new generations of leadership. The university would soon after expand to offer quality education in business administration, political science, international relations, and public health. Long after her tenure at AGBU, Simone generously supported AUA through the Manoogian Simone Foundation. The university would become the first and only higher education institution in the region with U.S. accreditation—something Simone personally advocated for, giving thousands of educated professionals the mobility to affect change in the homeland and throughout the world.
Simone also recognized the need to ensure that Armenia’s institutions of higher learning would stay afloat over the long term. This prompted her to focus on generating university endowments. The success of this strategy has allowed the AUA and other top universities in Armenia to meet the needs of every generation and increase the scope of their offerings.
Uniting the Armenian Nation
As much as Simone worked to support the new Armenian state and its citizens, navigating relations with the first sovereign Armenian state in centuries, she was also keenly aware of the needs of Armenians around the world. She pushed for initiatives that opened the breadth and reach of the Armenian community, knowing that the insular nature of many diaspora projects would fail to engage new generations. In 1995, she led the launch of the Young Professionals, with the first group formed in Los Angeles, which has since expanded worldwide into a network of 36 groups to date. In addition, Simone helped introduce Armenian culture and history to the wider non-Armenian public by funding several documentaries about the Armenian people, among them: Armenian Americans, Enemy of the People and Armenians: A Story of Survival.
In the same vein, Simone founded the AGBU News Magazine, a publication that would serve to connect the Diaspora around the world, educating and enlightening with every issue. She envisioned the magazine providing unparalleled access to reporting directly from Armenia, while also illuminating the realities of diverse Armenian communities globally. To make sure the publication reached as many Armenians as possible, she painstakingly gathered a mailing list of over 90,000 names. Evolving beyond AGBU community news, to include international themes relevant to the times, the magazine remains the largest printing of any organization or newspaper in the history of the Diaspora.
Simone was committed to making Armenian affairs accessible in unprecedented ways. Along with the quarterly AGBU News Magazine, the daily release of AGBU-AIS Newswatch (Armenian Information Service) presented under or unreported current news in the Armenian world. Through a computer service, AIS accessed reports from hundreds of international media outlets that would then be compiled, summarized and distributed to journalists, government officials, embassies and lay subscribers. Covering political and economic realities in Armenia and the region, these daily bulletins became an indispensable and trustworthy resource.
Recognizing the role of the Armenian Apostolic Church as the bastion of national heritage—uniting the Armenian people through centuries of statelessness and over successive conquests by empires—Simone invested resources to help fortify Holy Etchmiadzin. The Armenian Church finally had an opportunity to restore its worldwide spiritual leadership from the Mother See. Responding to the need for well-educated priests, Simone appealed to AGBU donors to finance the construction of a dormitory and chapel at the Vaskenian Seminary in Sevan and several monasteries around Armenia. She even advocated for funding for priests and theology students attending universities outside of Armenia to help them serve as educated clergy with a global perspective.
An Inspiring Legacy
Simone looked past geographies and governments in her efforts to unite Armenian people anywhere and everywhere. A hallmark of her leadership was her decisiveness in times of urgency and her thoughtfulness in times of peace. She worked ceaselessly to sow the seeds of a unified community and culture around the world. Her initiatives—humanitarian, educational, cultural—all met an immediate need but were designed to achieve lasting impact across generations.
Her initiatives—humanitarian, educational, cultural—all met an immediate need but were designed to achieve lasting impact across generations.
In 2002, she stepped down from her position as AGBU president but never abandoned her work, always supporting wherever and however she could and contributing to the AGBU News Magazine.
Louise Manoogian Simone passed away on February 18, 2019. For AGBU and those whose lives she touched around the world, she will continue to be celebrated as a fierce advocate for the disenfranchised, a champion of the innovative and the personification of strength through unity.