Visalia Times-Delta , CA
July 2 2011

Armenian church in Yettem marks 100 years

Months of events culminate this weekend as hundreds of Armenians
celebrate St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church's 100th anniversary in
Visalia and Yettem.

Up to 335 guests made reservations for a banquet tonight at the Lamp
Liter Inn in Visalia. And 200 are expected to attend church services
Sunday morning in Yettem, followed by a fellowship lunch.

"We're in the final stretch now," said the Rev. Vartan Kasparian,
pastor of the church. "The 125th will be a snap."

Bea Soxman of Visalia is the 100th anniversary chairwoman. On Friday,
she and Rose Marie Margo-sian of Dinuba were busy with last-minute

"The people who attend our church are small in number, but mighty in
effort and support," she said. "They step up whenever it's needed."

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Armenians immigrated to America to
escape persecution. Many settled in Tulare County.

Looking to the east from Yettem, early Armenian settlers saw or-chards
and vineyards with mountains behind them. The pastoral scene reminded
them of their homeland.

At first, they gathered underneath trees for church services in 1903
and later inside each other's homes, Kasparian said.

Yettem, about 12 miles north of Visalia, means Eden in Armenian. The
town was named in 1904 when the Post Office selected the name from a
list of three Armenian names, he said. Yettem had about 200 Armenians
at the time.

"They picked the easiest name to pronounce," he said. "Yettem."

By 1910-11, Armenians in Yettem began building a church with their own
hands, he said. It was consecrated on July 3, 1911.

Later, survivors of the Armenian genocide (1915-1922) escaped what is
now Turkey to Syria or Egypt. Many later immigrated to Massachusetts,
Wisconsin and later Detroit. Eventually, they made their way to
California, Kasparian said.

One of the highlights of the first 100 years was the rebuilding of the
church in the 1940s. The original wooden church burned down in 1945
and was rebuilt with red bricks on the same site at 14395 Avenue 384.
The first St. Mary's fell victim to a farmer's trash burn that got out
of control, Kasparian said.

The second church, still in use

today, cost $70,000 to build in the 1940s and seats 250 comfortably, he said.

It was a fortune for the church's poor parishioners at the time, he
said. The artwork, icons and stained glass seen in the church today
were added in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nowadays, most of the 50 to 100 parishioners who attend church
services regularly at St. Mary's on Sunday live elsewhere. Only two
Armenian families remain in Yettem, Kasparian said.