It was March of 1965 when Dr. H. Martin Deranian and Cameron Fersch met for the first time over ice cream. At the time, Deranian was a Worcester dentist and Cameron was a 13-year old with a tumultuous upbringing. The two came together when they were matched through Big Brothers of Worcester County, Inc. (now Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest). Today, 50 years later, Fersch, who is in his sixties and Deranian, in his nineties, still have a truly remarkable relationship, making their match the oldest in our agency and very possibly the oldest in the country.
Now the owner of a tiling company who spends his free time playing tennis and on trail-runs with his dogs, it is hard to believe that Fersch came from what Deranian describes as a “deprived” upbringing.
Fersch himself describes his childhood as “traumatic.” He recounts being terrified of his father who eventually walked out on him, his mother, and his siblings. While he was in high school, Fersch’s mother suffered with depression. Although he was able to stop her first attempt at suicide, she unfortunately took her own life on a second try.
Throughout all of these challenges, Deranian has been there to provide support and friendship to Fersch.
For Fersch, who had been mistreated by so many of the people who should have been his strongest support group, the process of coming to trust his new Big Brother was gradual. Because of the emotional strains and abuses he suffered at the hands of his parents as a small child, Fersch said that he often feels uncomfortable around people, even now. A self-described introvert, he said that the one exception has been, and remains, Deranian.
“[Deranian] never judged, criticized, raised his voice, or acted as an authoritarian figure,” he recalled.
Deranian was always a constant presence throughout his youth, Fersch recalled, attending his Boy Scout ceremonies and giving him small gifts for his accomplishments throughout the years.
For Fersch, his relationship with Deranian is the longest one of his life.
“To me, he is a father,” he said simply. “I love him.”
Likewise, he takes much pride in the fact that Deranian considers him a son. Fersch believes that Deranian, “changed the paradigm set by my own family,” going so far as to credit him as the only person in his life able to influence him. He sees his values as coming from Deranian and describes him as a “giving man” and a “true altruist.”
And returning the compliment, Deranian said Fersch has “survived through the difficulties he has faced in his life while keeping his integrity.”
Deranian has always had a strong desire to better a world that was so cruel to his family, particularly his mother who emigrated to Worcester after facing the unimaginable horror of losing her entire family in the Armenian genocide. A graduate of Clark University, an institution renowned for its Armenian Genocide Studies program, Deranian works exceptionally hard to give back to society because of tragic injustices such as what happened to his own family.
This lifelong friendship between the two men shows the profound effect that mentoring can have. As such, they have served as an inspiration, support system, and as family to each other for half of a century. While surely impressive that their match is one of the longest in history, what is perhaps most profound is the reverence, respect, and love that these two Brothers share for each other.
Each year Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass / Metrowest, Inc. awards the Dr. H. Martin Deranian Fellowship Award to an exemplary mentor who truly embodies the spirit of mentoring and changing lives. Just as its namesake has done for over 50 years.
BIG thanks to the Community Advocate Newspaper for publishing this story. Read the online version here!