Golden State Warriors head coach and six-time National Basketball Association (NBA) champion Steve Kerr and the Kerr family will be honored with the 2016 Humanitarian Award of the Armenian National Committee of America Western Region (ANCA-WR) at a gala banquet on October 16, 2016 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. The award will be given in recognition of their exemplary work through three generations—starting with the Near East Relief during and after the Armenian Genocide and continuing through the present time.
Kerr’s grandparents, the late Dr. Stanley E. Kerr and his wife Elsa Reckman Kerr, were instrumental in establishing the Near East Relief, the unprecedented American campaign of international humanitarian assistance which saved and sustained hundreds of thousands of Armenian Genocide survivors from 1915-1930.
In 1919, Stanley Kerr, who was a junior officer with the United States Medical Corps, transferred to Marash, in central Anatolia, where he headed the American relief operations and assisted thousands of Armenians left behind by the French. He met his wife Elsa in Marash, where she worked as a schoolteacher. They later married in Beirut, where they ran a Near East Relief orphanage for Armenian children at Nahr Ibrahim, Lebanon, until it closed.
In 1925, Kerr earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, a field where he distinguished himself, at the University of Pennsylvania and returned to Lebanon to chair the Department of Biochemistry of the American University of Beirut (AUB), except during World War II, when the Kerrs relocated to Princeton University. Elsa Reckman Kerr was Dean of Women at AUB for a term. In 1965 Stanley retired with the rank of Distinguished Professor and was awarded the Order of Merit from the Republic of Lebanon.
In 1966 Dr. Antranig Chalabian, a research assistant at the Physiology Department of the AUB, discovered Dr. Kerr’s personal notes in the attic of the department. The latter, who had moved to New Jersey after retirement, had left his notes behind assuming that they were long lost through the years. He had also taken hitherto unpublished pictures while serving in the Near East Relief. The result of this discovery was the publication of Dr. Stanley Kerr’s The Lions of Marash: Personal Experiences with American Near East Relief, 1919-1922 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1973), a memoir documenting his eye-witness accounts of the Armenian Genocide. He passed away in December 1976.
“I was aware of my grandparents running an orphanage in Marash and eventually finding Beirut through their travels. I have a great deal of pride in knowing how much they helped,” explained Coach Kerr.
The legacy of Dr. Stanley and Elsa Kerr was passed down to their children and grandchildren, who have continued to live by the humanitarian values of their parents and grandparents. Their oldest son was the late Malcolm H. Kerr (1931-1984), who was born in Lebanon and married his wife Ann Zwicker Kerr there. They became the parents to four children, including Coach Steve Kerr and his older brother John Kerr, who continues his grandparents’ mission by serving on the current board of the Near East Foundation. Their daughter Susan van de Ven used letters from her grandfather as the basis of her honors thesis in History at Oberlin College (1980), “Letters of Stanley E. Kerr: Volunteer Work with the 'Near East Relief' among Armenians in Marash, 1919-1920.” She later presented her thesis at the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem on the occasion of the 1986 commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
Professor Malcolm Kerr, a renowned scholar of Middle Eastern Studies, who served as President of the American University of Beirut (1982-1984), became an expert on the Lebanese Civil War and regional issues. He was tragically assassinated by members of Islamic Jihad in 1984. His wife Ann returned to the United States and is currently the coordinator of the Fulbright Scholar Enrichment Program at UCLA.
Growing up in Beirut surrounded by Armenian friends and colleagues of his grandparents and great-grandparents and becoming intimately familiar with the consequences of the Armenian Genocide have shaped Coach Kerr’s perspective. As he describes his strong connection toward Armenians and lamenting that not many people know about the Armenian Genocide, Kerr says, “I feel like an honorary member of the Armenian community through my family.”
“The Kerr family’s altruism, sacrifice, and activism with the Near East Relief exemplifies the relentless work of the American people and the United States to save the Armenians from annihilation during the Armenian Genocide,” said ANCA-WR Board Member Raffi Kassabian.