Dr. Nazareth Gengozian
1929 - 2020
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Dr. Nazareth Gengozian

Oak Ridge - Dr. Nazareth Gengozian, 91, originally from Racine and a resident of Oak Ridge, Tenn., passed away at Canterfield of Oak Ridge on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020.

He had retired in 2006 as Director of the Stem Cell Laboratory at Thompson Cancer Survival Center and Professor Emeritus at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Dr. Gengozian was born Feb. 13, 1929, in Racine, the son of Dikran and Yeghsapert Gengozian, who had immigrated to this country from Armenia. He attended Horlick High School where he was a star football player and also a violinist. A song he co-wrote with his sister became an unofficial anthem for his class of 1947.

In 1997 he was honored by Horlick alumni at the 50th reunion of the class of '47 as one of their most distinguished graduates. It was a journey that began shortly after he left high school.

Married to his cross-town high school sweetheart, Leona Berven, who graduated from Park High, Nazareth and his wife would spend the next eight years in Madison as he pursued his education, graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1955 with a Ph.D. in Immunology.

He was the only one in the Gengozian family of five children who attended college, taking numerous odd jobs to support his education and his family, which included his two sons born while he was in school.

In 1955 he also moved his family south to Oak Ridge, where he began his career in research as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). He was placed on staff as a biologist in 1958. In 1961 he was named Chief Scientist at Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) with the direction to develop a basic bone marrow transplant program. His research in using radiation as a factor in promoting transplantation ultimately led to the first successful clinical marrow transplant in Tennessee of a leukemia patient in 1973.

It was also in 1961 that Dr. Gengozian began working with the South American marmoset monkey in his research, building a colony of marmosets in Oak Ridge that grew to almost 400 by 1980. His work with marmosets opened up other research opportunities, demonstrating the value of this species in the study of transplantation and immunology.

While still leading the marmoset research center, he also became a Ford Foundation Professor at the University of Tennessee in 1968, teaching the first graduate level immunology course at the University, which he continued until 1976. In that role he mentored some 18 fellows and graduate students, many of whom became noted immunologists, researchers and professors in their own right.

Funding for Dr. Gengozian's marmoset research programs came from a variety of sources over the years. Most notably he was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Aerospace Medical Division, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the World Health Organization, among others.

In 1981, Dr. Gengozian took a position with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute, in a newly established immunology program at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in Oklahoma City, Okla. While there, and collaborating with other scientists, he learned and developed a new technique for the production of monoclonal antibodies, proteins capable of identifying selective populations of cells.

In 1992, Dr. Gengozian joined the Thompson Cancer Survival Center in Knoxville, as Director of the Stem Cell Laboratory. The new position brought him back home to East Tennessee, and also included a professorship at the University of Tennessee.

In addition to basic research, Dr. Gengozian developed technical procedures for the isolation and storage of blood stem cells to be used in the treatment of cancer patients suffering hematologic malignancies. The procedure involved removing and freezing a patient's blood stem cells in sufficient quantity, and then transplanting those cells back into the patient after cancerous cells had been eradicated with chemotherapy.

Over the course of his 52-year career, Dr. Gengozian published 140 research papers, contributed chapters in four books, and co-edited a book on Primates in Experimental Medicine He also served on the editorial board of Transplantation and was an associate editor of Journal of Medical Primatology.

Dr. Gengozian's career was featured in an article The Oak Ridger in 2017. The article was part of the Historically Speaking series by D. Ray Smith, entitled "ORAU's Chief Scientist: Nazareth Gengozian." Additional details on Dr. Gengozian's work is included there.

Dr. Gengozian's work was his passion, but he always found time for friends and family and was a devoted husband and father. In his spare time, he and his wife Leona shared a love of art, good books, music and antique collecting, passing along many of those interests to their children. Dr. Gengozian was also an avid football fan, embracing the Tennessee Volunteers as his team (particularly football and the Lady Vols), but never overlooking his Wisconsin Badgers or the Green Bay Packers. He was known for his generosity and humility, his love of family, and for his dedication to science.

Dr. Gengozian was preceded in death by his parents; his wife of 61 years, Leona (Berven) Gengozian of Racine, Wis.; brothers John and Pete, sisters Mary Kelegian and Nuresa Harvey, and cousin Nishan Hacherian, who was like a brother to him, all of Racine; daughters in law Cathy (Ziehlke) Gengozian of Oak Ridge and Jennifer (Whaley) Gengozian of Fort Payne, Ala; and nephew Mickey Rath of Racine.

He is survived by his two sons, David of Oak Ridge and wife Pat, and Gary of Fort Payne, Ala.; daughter Leslie Gengozian of Knoxvile; granddaughters Dana Rose and husband Ted, of Bradenton, Fla., Lauren Gengozian and husband Jake Hamby of Mesa, Ariz., Abby Evans and husband Joe, of Hixson, Tenn.; great-grandchildren Casey Rose of Bradenton, Fla., and Stella, Emmett and Hank Gengozian of Mesa, Ariz.; sisters in law Mary Gengozian of Racine and Lorraine Wangerin of Oak Creek, Wis.

He is also survived by nieces and nephews originally from the Racine area, including Fr. Yeprem Kelegian, his wife Judy and their children Talene, and Marisa Kelegian-O'Gorman and her husband Patrick; Anoush Kelegian; Kerri Hodge, her children Michael and his wife Kandice, and daughter Amanda; Dan Rath, his wife MaryKay and their children Dr. Emily Miller and husband Andrew, and KaLe and Chelsea; Sue Bertone, her husband Rich and their children Jonathan and Sofia; Liz Gengozian; John Gengozian, his wife Dawn and their son Kyle; Mark Gengozian, his wife Lori and children Feather and Nicholas; Mark Eckblad and his wife Judy; John Eckblad and his wife Marjorie; James Eckblad and his wife Mary Ann; Nancy (Eckblad) and husband Mike Petee; Peter Eckblad and his wife Sally Hoelzel; and numerous other extended family members.

The family wants to thank the caretakers he has had over the years at Canterfield of Oak Ridge, the services provided by Caris Healthcare and Home Options, and specifically Vicki Braden and Corey Kirby.

Due to the current pandemic, the family will schedule a memorial at a later date. To sign Dr. Gengozian's guest book, please visit the Martin Oak Ridge Funeral Home website. Memorial gifts should be directed to St. Mesrob Armenian Church, Racine, Wis., or Fund For Armenia Relief (FAR), or Thompson Cancer Survival Center, Knoxville, Tenn.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in Knoxville News Sentinel from Jan. 8 to Jan. 10, 2021.
No memorial events are currently scheduled. To offer your sympathy during this difficult time, you can now have memorial trees planted in a National Forest in memory of your loved one.
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