September 25, 2017 - 11:40 AMT
87-year-old Armenian translator helps doctors and patients communicate

Blanca Simonian, the daughter of Armenian Genocide survivors, is a beacon of light in what is often a stressful environment for non-English speaking Knox Countians.

The 87-year-old employee of the Knox County Health Department uses her skill as a translator to assist those with language barriers so they may understand questions and answers being posed to them by health department employees, Knoxville News Sentinel reports.

Simonian grew up in Uruguay, where Spanish is the native language. She studied English as a child and is fluent in both languages. She has lived in the United States for more than 50 years and this month is observing her 15th anniversary as a health department employee.

Her parents were displaced during the Armenian genocide of World War I. They were taken to Lebanon, which was then a colony of France. From there they made their way to Uruguay and eventually to the United States.

"I sometimes think maybe I'm here because my parents continuously spoke of feeling helpless and desperate during all the things that happened to them," she said. "When I see someone that looks low, I like to lift their spirits. If they are looking to me for comfort, I think God must has given me something to help."

Simonian received a visa to the United States in the early '60s, as did her parents, brother and sisters. She was 30 years old. They settled in Chicago, where she studied medical social work, but because of a large influx of Cubans she went to work for the Chicago school system. There she helped Spanish-speaking students learn English as well as mathematics.

She enjoys cooking and uses her grape leaves to make dolma, an Armenian dish. She also makes her own yogurt and prepares baklava twice a month to send to her nephew's office.

At age 87, she still doesn't see retirement as an option.

Photo. Calvin Mattheis, Knoxville News Sentinel