May 2008

John Baronian at his 50th reunion in 2000.

He Was "Mr. Tufts"

John Baronian, A50, H97, trustee emeritus, dies at age 87

John K. Baronian, A50, H97, whose boundless support of his alma mater earned him the moniker "Mr. Tufts," died on April 5 at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was 87.

Born in Worcester, Mass., he was a sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He attended Tufts on the GI Bill, graduating in 1950 with a degree in economics. He was a star two-way lineman on the Jumbo football team coached by the legendary Frederick "Fish" Ellis, and was one of the Tufts' first four-year lettermen. Now, each year, the top linebacker on the football team receives the Baronian Award.

While his career as a top salesman for American Mutual Life Insurance Co. took him around the world, his heart remained on the Medford/Somerville campus. He was an ever-present figure at Tufts, meeting with prospective students and dispensing Jumbo figurines and snow globes to staff and elephant jewelry to their children and grandchildren.

During his travels to Hong Kong, Thailand, Africa and Europe, he amassed a special collection of more than 4,000 porcelain, glass, wood and bronze elephants, which he donated to the university. The Baronian Collection is permanently on display in the Office of Alumni Relations at 80 George Street on the Medford/Somerville campus.

Baronian was an active member of the Tufts University Alumni Association, and served as the organization's president from 1970 to 1972, when he was elected to the Board of Trustees. After serving for 10 years, he was named trustee emeritus. In 1997, Tufts awarded him an honorary doctor of commerce degree.

Baronian's parents were survivors of the Armenian genocide, in which two of his siblings and his grandparents were killed. He was immensely proud of his Armenian heritage, and served as the advisor to the Tufts Armenian Club. He counseled the students to honor their heritage and give back to the community.

In memory of his parents, he established the John K. and Margaret G. Baronian Memorial Scholarship Fund, designated for financial aid. He was a member and supporter of St. Stephen's Armenian Church in Watertown, Mass., and the Armenian Youth Federation. So wide was Baronian's influence in the Armenian community that the May 3 edition of the Armenian Weekly newspaper was devoted to him.

Tufts Athletics also played a special role in Baronian's life. He was a driving force behind the founding in 1969 of the Tufts Jumbo Club, which was a staunch supporter of student-athletes and their coaches. During the 1980s, the Jumbo Club was instrumental in the campaign for a new field house on the Tufts campus, which was named in Baronian's honor. With $850,000 raised by the club, donations from a group of Armenian friends and contributions by alumni, the Baronian Field House was dedicated in October 1985.

"If there were a more loyal, passionate and committed Tufts alumnus than John Baronian, I have yet to meet him," President Lawrence S. Bacow says. "There might be 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S., but in John's mind, there was only one."

Baronian is survived by three sisters, Helen and Elizabeth Baronian and Stella Aftandilian; three nephews and six grandnieces and grandnephews. Services were held on April 10 at St. Stephen's Armenian Church, and a memorial service will take place at Tufts in the fall.

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