Mr. Hovnanian, whose Armenian parents fled to Iraq in 1915, was one of six children. His father, Stepan, owned a construction company in Baghdad. Mr. Hovnanian, who graduated from a Jesuit high school in Iraq, immigrated to North Philadelphia in 1948. Determined to succeed and make a better life for his family, Mr. Hovnanian earned a bachelor’s in business in 1952 from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He lived the American dream and helped others do the same, founding the home-building firm J.S. Hovnanian & Sons of Mount Laurel, N.J., in 1964.
Mr. Hovnanian’s interests branched out into other personal and business ventures such as building a school which bears his name in 1978 in New Milford, N.J., for Armenian children.
He also financed and founded the Center for the Advancement of Natural Discoveries using Light Emission (CANDLE) in Armenia, a huge facility which generates beams of ultraviolet light for protein crystallography and to employ scientists in his homeland.
A champion rose-gardener, Mr. Hovnanian, along with two scientists, founded Nature’s Wonder, a local company producing an extract of peat product that encourages plant growth.
A long-time supporter of the Burlington County Boy Scout Council, he started the Jirair S. Hovnanian Scholarship Fund. As part of their application, college-bound Eagle Scouts write essays on “What it Means to Me to be an American.”
In 2006, Mr. Hovnanian was given the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for his contribution to America and for outstanding citizenship by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations Inc. Mr. Hovnanian was president of the New Jersey Builders Association and life director of the National Association of Home Builders.
The Jirair and Elizabeth Hovnanian Foundation was created with a primary focus on providing funding so as to assist Armenian communities world-wide by gifts, grants, contributions and program-related investments.