Longtime Horace Mann teacher’s aide receives motorized send-off

Forced to retire due to health concerns, Kazandjian fondly remembered.

On a cold, gray March 17, former Horace Mann Elementary teachers’ aide Maxy Kazandjian was the recipient of a drive-through celebration, in recognition of her 18.5 years serving the school. Kazandjian was forced to retire on Feb. 1 due to health concerns, and so was unable to be with her fourth graders when they were allowed back into the classroom earlier in the month. Pictured here, on her front lawn, are, from left, daughter Veronica Babayan, Kazandjian, her husband Haroutune and son Hairabed.

With a spring in her step, joy in her heart and more than a few tears in her eyes, on St. Patrick’s Day, Maxy Kazandjian greeted a caravan of cars that rolled by her home on Forest Road in honor of her recent retirement.

Kazandjian was employed as an educational aide for the last 18 ½ years at Horace Mann Elementary School, but was forced to stop working for health reasons on Feb. 1, just over a month before children were welcomed back into the classroom. 

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More than three dozen vehicles — some of which came around twice — snaked their way down the Kingston Estates thoroughfare, honking their horns in recognition and each stopping to share a smile, some encouraging words and to exchange gifts. Before Kazandjian collected the smattering of signs, flowers, and envelopes from well-wishers, she handed each driver a chocolate bar with a special commemorative wrapper. 

In the distance, her daughter Veronica Babayan beamed, recording the event she originally intended as a surprise. 

“That was from me. Because mom didn’t have a proper chance to say goodbye to her colleagues,” Babayan explained. “Let’s celebrate her retirement, and I thought this would be the best way to do it, for her to see as many teachers and students as possible.”

A line of cars stretches down the 100 block of Forest Road for Maxy Kazandjian’s retirement drive-through celebration.

The caravan began less than a half-mile away, at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, and proceeded a short way to the Kazandjian home, whose front lawn was bedecked with celebratory signs.

“I don’t know exactly how many, but once I count the number of Hershey bars remaining, then I’ll have a better idea. But there were a lot of cars,” Babayan recalled. “I knew some of her students were making cards, but I had no idea that there would be balloons and streamers and flowers. People were passing all these wonderful gifts to her.”

During a career in Cherry Hill schools that spanned three decades, Kazandjian worked with children from first to fifth grades. At the time, she was advised to leave, she was working with fourth graders, eagerly awaiting the day they’d return to the classroom.

“I really, really enjoyed myself. I started with second, then third, went to first, fifth, fourth,” she recalled. “They said the children would eventually be back, but my family physician suggested that I retire because I have other medical issues.”

Settling for being in class while her students adjusted to virtual learning wasn’t quite right for Kazandjian, and the kids felt likewise without her physical presence on a daily basis. Heather Hayes, one of Mann’s fourth grade teachers, even arranged Miss Kazandjian’s Corner, so she could tell the children stories and show pictures all about her life. 

“It was fun, and I miss it, but what can I say?” the retiree added.

Born in pre-conflict Cyprus, where her father owned a photo shop, Kazandjian first tried her hand at a career in education when her family relocated to Soviet Armenia. She earned a degree in teaching English there, and though her family intended to relocate back to Cyprus, civil strife prevented a return. 

When her family came to the United States in 1977, Kazandjian deferred her academic credentials. Having taken up sewing as a hobby, she decided to put her skills to use in making alterations on clothing at a dry cleaning store. When she got tired of the daily grind in the early 2000s, Kazandjian applied to become a teacher’s aide at several local schools, facing rejection each time. 

But at Mann, she interviewed and was hired the same day. That was 2002. She immersed herself in the school so well, she didn’t have time to look back. Until the Mann community came to her.

Kazandjian (right) shares an unguarded, emotional moment with daughter Veronica (left) after members of the Horace Mann community saluted her on March 17.

“I enjoyed all those years,” Kazandjian mused. “Every teacher that I have worked with was fantastic. The principals, even the secretaries. It was nice, but now, I’m at home.”

Even through the pandemic and a cold winter, Kazandjian manages to kick back thanks to a host of relaxing pursuits: painting, reading, watching TV and baking. But one March afternoon served as a happy reminder of how much an impact she made on Mann families, and how much she will be missed. 

BOB HERPEN
BOB HERPEN
Former radio broadcaster, hockey writer, Current: main beat reporter for Haddonfield, Cherry Hill and points beyond.
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