Spotlight COlorado  

Have You Met?

Dial “S” for Striking, Stunning and Sophisticated and you come up with Artemis Khadiwala Donian. Life has been one phenomenal adventure for this refined woman who has such an international flair about her.

Artemis, who came to the United States with her family at age 22 from her home in Lebanon, takes great pride in her rich Armenian heritage. Artemis has a way with words, and she loves to converse in any of the four languages she speaks fluently.

Artemis was very close to her parents. Her late father Arthur Derbalian, a furniture manufacturer, passed away in May 2005, at the age of 90. Her father and other members of her family were survivors of the Armenian Genocides in 1914 - which killed over 1 1/2 million innocent people.

Artemis says that the tragedy didn’t break them, but strengthened her family and the Armenian people. They believed in themselves and still pursued their goals. The Armenians were high achievers who used their talents and abilities to continue leading productive lives. The Armenian people have passed this pride on to other generations.

Artemis observes: “Time flies and how the years go by. If your energy level is strong, like my father’s was, you can keep on going for a long time. My father was active and always on the go right up to the end.”

Artemis is an enduring and formidable woman who holds herself to the highest standards. She also happens to be a superb cook! She’s at a grand place right now - living the best life she can. Artemis, who makes every minute count, reflects: “People – family and friends - are and have been very important in my life; when you give - you receive.”

You have lived in many places, Lebanon, New York, Chicago - Is Denver where you want to stay? I have lived in the big cities, and I very much am an appreciator of the arts - opera, symphony, and theatre. These are a very important part of my life – as it is with Leo too. He has played many instruments, and he’s a good writer. Culture is very important to us. When I first came here 25 years ago from Chicago, it was difficult coming from such a formal city to a smaller community, but Denver has become unbelievable!

Once you are involved in the community, you see the quality of the fine people here and what they have done for the arts. I respect all of them and have worked closely with them. I’m glad they have cared enough to give their energies to the arts in Denver. Just look at this town now. Denver still has less crime than in NY or Chicago. Both my sons have graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder. I love it here, and I will stay here. Leo saw my life here, and said I will move to Colorado because I know you are now so connected to Colorado.

How did you and Leo meet? I met him about four years ago on Sept 1st in San Francisco at my friend’s son’s wedding. Leo and I were seated at the same table. Leo asked me to dance at the wedding. The next day, my Dad and I were at church, and Leo saw me there with the priest’s wife. That Wednesday, at a dress rehearsal of the opera, he saw me with a group, and he came up to me and insisted that we go out that evening for a drink.

I really wasn’t interested in remarrying at first, because I had to make sure that everything was smooth and going well with my boys, and they were strong, and had both feet on the ground - which they always have had, but I just needed the reassurance of a single parent before you get involved with a relationship. Leo insisted that I accept his invitation for opening night of the opera, and I did.

He called me a month or so before Thanksgiving to see if I was coming to San Francisco for Thanksgiving, since I have family there, and I asked: “What are you trying to tell me, that you want me to join you for Thanksgiving?” He said yes, but I was planning on having Thanksgiving at home, so I invited him to come here. We were at my friend’s the first night, and we went to Kevin Taylor’s for dinner, the boy’s met us the next day, and we went sightseeing to Red Rocks and all over. I put two and two together and realized he had a crush on me. I made a beautiful breakfast, and he met my circle of friends.

So on the last day before Thanksgiving, he asked for my hand in marriage. I asked him “How could you know about me in such a short time?” He said: I’ve known everything in these four days; and I know who you are, I know everything I need to do. I told him that my late husband and I waited a long time before we got married, but I told him that at his age, “Leo, I won’t keep you, but I really need to think about it.” It’s very important how your family feels, so we all flew to San Francisco for the ballet, and my father had to talk with Leo to “check things out” before we got married.

With all your world travels, what do you think is the greatest problem this country is facing today? As you know what is happening in this world – like in France right now, I think the world has become very small; traveling has become much easier today, there are many religions, many different languages. Why is it that people aren’t as accepting of others these days as years ago? I know what happened on 9-11 is unbelievable – but staying open-minded is still very important to this country. We all have to accept each other and see the beauty in one another.

What can each of us do personally to change the negative opinions some people in the world have of the U.S.? This is a big country. The U.S. has opened their doors to everyone. Those who have come here have to respect this country’s rules and regulations. They just have to, this country has given many people all over the world opportunities – no matter what their religion, color, race – this has never been a problem. The U.S. has still opened up doors of opportunity for them. If you accept the rules, there is a place for everyone in this country. I feel that we have to lead by example by learning to accept each other. Look at things from other’s perspectives. We must learn from each other and respect one another. We also need to learn about other lifestyles and understand why people act the way they do.

Who is your hero? My Dad. He never changed, no matter how many countries he lived in. He stayed elegant and sophisticated until the day of his death at age 90. His dignity remained. There was a picture of him in the Chicago Tribune, standing up very straight. My father wrote a lot of articles about the history of the Armenians for the Armenian Observer publication in California. He was a proud, intelligent man with integrity and savoir’ fair. He knew how to deal with people; he set good examples – he believed in himself, he believed in his people. When we lived in Palestine, before we went to Lebanon, he brought his workers with him no matter whether they were Muslims or Jews – everyone meant something to him. He was always involved in the community. He was very giving. I love a lot of people. I hope I can be half as good as my Dad. At his funeral, we talked a lot about what was important in his life, and what he wanted to pass on to other generations.

What is your favorite place in your home? My bedroom – my corner where I put a lot of books and other things that mean a lot to me. I love that corner.

If your home was up for sale, and a prospective buyer came through it, what would your house tell them about you? I am meticulous, and I am detail-oriented. I have a certain style of decorating, and there is a lot of history here. You see things from places that I have traveled to. I am cultured and appreciate the arts. Your home is a replica of your personality.

Can you share with us a favorite childhood memory? The family trips we took to places where our relatives were living in - such as Syria or other cities. It was very exciting. We had the chance to integrate and come together; so, again, family is very important to me. Most of the time, we traveled around seven to eight hours by car. Summertime, up in the mountains, which was about 40 minutes away from Beirut, was wonderful. We came into the city for swimming. Just time with friends and family, my childhood in Lebanon was truly outstanding.

What are some of the customs you learned from your culture? To enjoy great conversations with people, to have good table manners, and to pass all wonderful things on to future generations.

What words of wisdom do you have for young people today and for future generations? Be patient and be a good listener. Try to fit in the shoes of others, then evaluate and give your recommendations. It’s important to see why other’s feel the way they do.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Raising my kids and giving them a good broad education of life, opening their eyes and minds to accept all people. They love people, and they have learned many things from people.

Also, when the earthquake happened in Armenia about 14 years ago, I was President of the Armenian’s of Colorado at that time, and the same day, I got all the key people in town together, and for a small community, we raised $62,000 and sent 22 tons of needed supplies to the people in the region. The people in Colorado did so much – I’m so proud of this achievement because it meant so much to the people and their lives. Coors gave us trucks, the Governor of Colorado got Continental Airlines to help us, and we worked with the “Doctors of the World” organization. We made so much good happen within a week after the earthquake.

What can’t you live without? The most important people in my life – my sons. They are the ones I can’t live without. It’s not so much their physical presence it’s also their mental presence. Also, I take pride in my past and all my memories. The past has created the present.

What is the lowest depth of human misery? When people are homeless and living on the streets. We have to reach out to help people, to help them change their lives so they can find jobs, etc. Just to give them hope: Like in the saying “Hope springs eternal in the human breast…” I don’t like to see poverty. It is always our responsibility to help.

What’s your favorite clothing store? I worked for Saks Fifth Avenue for 18 years. I love shopping in San Francisco, but I enjoy shopping at our stores in Denver as well. I like fashionable but classy clothes. Oscar De la Renta is one of my favorite designers. I never try on many clothes, but when I do try something that is right for me, I know it.

What is a charitable event that you really look forward to each year? I have to say there are a lot of events I truly enjoy. In respect for my late husband, Nick Khadiwala, who died of a brain tumor, I would have to say the Colorado Neurological Institute (CNI). I’m a responsible person and as long as I live, as long as I have the ability, I will be involved with CNI. The others I am involved with are the Huntington Disease Association - also a neurological illness - the Arapahoe House, the Heart Ball, and we attend many other charitable events each year.

What’s the best book you have ever read? The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, by Franz Werfel. It’s the story and history of the Armenians.

What is your favorite magazine? Fashion magazines that keep you updated on the changes and the trends. This is the year of tremendous change – whether it is the tweed fabrics, the jewelry, the colors – the woman is a woman. Today shoes and handbags are so unique and busy looking!

What is a restaurant that you highly recommend? French Laundry Restaurant in Napa Valley, California. Kevin Taylor is my favorite restaurant here in Denver; the quality and the sophistication is what I like – it shouldn’t ever be about the quantity of food.

What are you most looking forward to in the future? I would love to see my sons, continue to grow, flourish, settle down, get married and have their own families. You raise your kids, and you want to see them have the happiness in life that a family can bring.

What do you value most in your friends? Honesty, integrity, love and respect, and how much we learn from each other. Every day there are new people and friends you can make. There are so many friends I don’t want to live without.

Do you have any regrets? I don’t, I really don’t. Why you could ask? I have taken everything as an experience in my life. I don’t regret certain things that I could have done differently, because along the way, you learn from your own mistakes, and you can go above and beyond that.