Guest Blogger: Eliz Sickles, “A. David Yonan, hero of the class of 1900”

Eliz Sickles is a 1988 alumna with a fascination for the earliest Davidson students.  If it were possible, she would live in the Archives!

Ahabeg David Yonan began his studies at a local mission school in Ooramiah, Persia.  When he became seriously ill, he began to consider becoming a medical missionary.  His uncle Isaac N. Yonan had been educated in the United States and suggested that he consider this same path.  When David Yonan approached his parents with this plan, his father did not approve in part due to not having the funds required.

Despite this, Yonan made his way to Charlottesville, Virginia and enrolled at Pantops Academy.  He did not yet speak English, but he managed to do well in his courses.   After a year at Pantops Academy, Yonan entered Davidson College as a member of the class of 1900 and was the college’s first recorded international student.

Yonan studied diligently, but he was also an athlete.  In his hometown, he was known for his wrestling skills, but wrestling wasn’t of much interest at Davidson.  Football was the favored sport. 

Yonan began honing his skills by playing on his class team and being a scrub on the college team. He was the lone freshman on that team.  Football experts in the early days of the sport believed that Yonan was one of the best tackles in the South.  W. M. Walsh – one of his teammates – wrote, “He was the terror of his opponents, always just a little better than his man, not only because he was so strong but by reason of his alertness and catlike quickness.”

1897 Davidson College Football Team, Yonan is standing on the far left, third row.

In the spring of 1900, David Yonan graduated with his A.B.  He planned to commence his studies at North Carolina Medical College which was associated with Davidson College in the fall.   On 12 July 1900, Yonan attended a picnic on the banks of the Catawba River, and many spent some time bathing in the river.  Yonan had just crossed the river when one of the bathers became too exhausted to continue and cried out for help.  Fred M.Hobbs also found himself in difficulty but encouraged the rescuer to help the other swimmer.  Hobbs called out again for help, and Yonan jumped in the Catawba to rescue him.  Hobbs and Yonan sank into the water and were lost to sight.  Dr. Henry Louis Smith, who had been called back to help as he was an expert swimmer, was unable to rescue either man.

“Thus went out suddenly a life full to the utmost of promise for future service and usefulness.  To human eyes it seems strange indeed that a career of such large possibilities for good should be ended just at the time when it was ready to bear fruit.  The example that he held however, has been an inspiration to all that knew him,” wrote Reed Smith who was a classmate and roommate of Yonan.

In October 1900, Rev. Dr. Graham suggested endowing a scholarship as a fitting memorial.  Avery Hobbs – father of Fred C. Hobbs – provided $1,000 for the scholarship.

Quips and Cranks 1901, In Memoriam of Ahabeg David Yonan


$1,000 for a Scholarship. (1900, October 23).  The Charlotte Observer, p. 2. Retrieved from

Davidson College.  Quips and Cranks Vol. 3.  Davidson: Davidson College, 1898.

Davidson College.  Quips and Cranks Vol. V.  Davidson: Davidson College, 1901.

That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends. (20 July 1900). The Robesonian, p 1. Retrieved from

Cochran, Joseph W.  Heroes of the Campus.  Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1917.

Ehrenhaft, Ethan. (15 July 2020). “Expanding International Student Population Fosters Community Across Diverse Cultures.” The Davidsonian, [Davidson, NC]