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Sister Elizabeth Demirgian, or “Betty” as she was generally known, titled her autobiography “Beyond Chance” because, to her, nothing in her life had unfolded simply by coincidence.
Her story begins with that of her parents, both refugees fleeing the persecution – and worse – of Armenians by the ruling Ottoman Empire. Edward Demirgian left Adana, Armenia, in about 1908 at the age of fifteen. The next year, Adana was the site of a mass killing of thousands of Armenian Christians. Then, in 1914 and the years immediately following, what has become known as the Armenian genocide took place, with hundreds of thousands of people killed or forcibly relocated. Betty’s mother, Ebrakce Ekshian, who was born in Constantinople (later known as Istanbul), Turkey, left with her family for the United States in 1915, right in the midst of that situation.
Both families settled in Queens, New York, and Edward went on to become a tailor and own his own business. After he and Ebrakce married, three children came into the family: two boys, Archie and Berge, and then Betty, who was born on November 9, 1931, and baptized Elizabeth Ann in the Armenian Orthodox church.
When Betty was fourteen, the family relocated to Miami, Florida, where Edward and Archie established Ansonia Cleaners, a dry-cleaning business that held the contracts for dry cleaning and valet services for several of Miami Beach’s most prestigious hotels, including the Fontainebleau. Berge, who after military service in World War II attended the Pratt Institute in New York intending to become a graphic designer, eventually joined his father and brother in the family business.
Betty completed her high school education at St. Patrick High School in Miami Beach in 1949 and then continued her connection with the Adrian Dominican Sisters as a student at Barry College (University). She graduated from Barry in 1953 with a degree in home economics and then did post-graduate work to finish a major in chemistry, thinking she wanted to do scientific research and perhaps go on to medical school.
Read more about Sister Betty (PDF)
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