As a girl, Alice Tashjian loved playing in her father’s flower garden in upstate New York.
“I remember watching the gentle bees that did their dance as they pollinated all the flowers,” she said in an interview last fall with the University of Minnesota Foundation.
Last year, mindful of the decimation of commercial bee hives across the country, Tashjian and her eldest son donated $1 million each toward a bee education center to be built at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, said the son, Dr. Joe Tashjian, a St. Paul radiologist.
The gift was made in remembrance of Tashjian’s husband of 62 years, Harry, who died in 2012. Alice Tashjian died of kidney and heart failure on her 92nd birthday, Jan. 19, in St. Paul.
Alice Tashjian learned about the bee’s plight through arboretum programs, where she met Marla Spivak, a bee expert and U professor of entomology. Tashjian visited Spivak’s bee lab and looked at bees under a microscope.
“She was so thrilled and so curious about everything,” Spivak recalled. “She really understood the importance of bees,” whose pollination causes flowers, fruit trees and other plants to bloom and produce. Spivak said Tashjian was “really understated but very sweet and generous.”
Alice and Harry Tashjian raised four children in Rochester, Minn. Harry was director of IBM’s laboratory, developing and patenting forerunners of today’s PCs, and Alice taught English, folklore and feminine perspectives, a precursor to women’s studies, at a local college, said their son Ed Tashjian, of Hickory, N.C.
The couple endowed scholarships for women who faced obstacles (due to war or family poverty) to attending Rochester Community College, where she taught about 20 years.
Tashjian, who had a master’s degree in English, also contributed to an American Association of University Women scholarship for foreign women wanting to attend Minnesota colleges, and sat on the scholarship board of the Minneapolis branch of the AAUW, her son said.
“She was a fierce advocate for young women who did not have the means to pursue education. She was inspiring,” said branch president Ginny Craig in an e-mail.
While her husband was a bit shy, Alice was always meeting new friends at home and in their travels abroad, Ed Tashjian said.
“She was a master gardener and her purpose in life was to pollinate things and make them grow,” he said. “Her gift was being able to bring people together from all over the world and nurture and develop relationships.”
“She touched so many different people,” added her daughter, Francine Tashjian, of St. Paul. “Her personality was an irresistible extrovert. … She knew the right things to say to make people comfortable.”
The Tashjian Bee Discovery Center, expected to open in 2015 at the arboretum, will have exhibits aimed at increasing awareness of bees’ role in nature and the threats they face.
“Our concern is so great for this issue,” Alice Tashjian said in her interview with the U Foundation. “We want future generations to understand the importance of bees, and find ways to protect them. We want to make a difference.”
Tashjian is survived by her daughter, Francine, sons Joseph, Edward and Christopher, of River Falls, Wis., and 11 grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Sahag Armenian Church, 203 N. Howell St., in St. Paul.