Family stories lead to interesting places

If you live long enough, you may become the repository of your friend’s family history.

It happened to me. Our close friend for more than 50 years, Marcy Dunn of Lake Placid, passed away recently, at age 78.

Her brother, Newton Dunn, said, “Marcy devoted her life to working with and educating marginalized populations.”

After graduating with a degree in education, Marcy Dunn worked with developmentally disabled adults in New York City. She joined the Peace Corps and was stationed in rural Venezuela for two years. Returning to the United States, she worked as a Head Start teacher in the Pueblo Community Action Program in the Kewa Pueblo in New Mexico. In the North Country, she founded the Learning Center Day Care Program and was director of Franklin County Association of Retarded Children’s pre-school program. Finally, she devoted herself to working with children with special needs.

She spent more than 20 years as a volunteer in the Interfaith Food Pantry Program, and was on the board of directors for the Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country.

When prompted, Marcy Dunn was willing to talk about the challenges she faced in her chosen field. However, she was reluctant to talk about her family’s background. As it turned out, not because she had something to hide.

I learned about her family’s background from her mother, Araxie Azgapetian Dunn. She is Armenian and her late father was Gen. Mersap Azgapetian, at one time the head of the Armenian Army’s medical corps. After World War I, he was one of the leading figures of the Near East Relief organization that raised funds in the United States to help the vast numbers of starving Armenians in Persia and Turkey.

Mersap Azgapetian came to the United States as a young man, and in 1892 graduated from the Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. He learned that the shah of Persia was looking for a personal physician. He set out to Persia, but was unable to secure an appointment.

“A strange episode on Dec. 10., 1896, however, had a magic effect on the shah,” recalled Azgapetian Dunn. “At the changing of the guard ceremony, a large cannon exploded in the presence of the shah, seriously wounding six of his soldiers. My father was at the scene and immediately provided medical aid ... The shah, impressed, named him court doctor and later made him his personal aide-de-camp and accorded him the title of khan.”

Azgapetian later became first secretary of the Persian legacy in Washington and often served as an escort to President Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice, at gala occasions.

From her father’s side, Marcy Dunn was the granddaughter of Seymour Dunn, a great golf teacher and designer of golf courses. He came to United States from Scotland, as a 15 year old boy and laid out a nine-hole course at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.

In the early 1900s, Dunn designed and built golf courses at the Rothschild Estate in France. His second course was in Italy for King Emmanuel, followed by a course for the King of Belgium.

In 1906, Seymour Dunn visited Lake Placid and fell in love with the Adirondack Mountains; Lake Placid become his permanent home. He established a mail order company that distributed golf equipment all over the country.

A few years ago, accompanied by Marcy Dunn, we visited the new club house at the Craig Wood Golf Club in Lake Placid, it is one of the most beautiful golf courses in the country. The manager came to our table, and I introduced Marcy to him. He asked whether she is related to Seymour Dunn. She told him Seymour was her grandfather. The manager escorted us into the club house’s dining room: The walls were decorated with newspaper clippings heralding Seymour’s accomplishments.

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.

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