Friends and fellow hot rod enthusiasts will miss how Michael “Blackie” Gejeian, who had a hard time remembering names, would call everyone “Hoss.”
During a memorial Saturday afternoon at the Fresno Convention Center, hundreds of people reminisced about the funny and personable man with an infectious laugh who lived for classic cars. Mr. Gejeian died Sept. 2 at age 90.
For Mr. Gejeian, a Fresno auto show icon and hot rod legend, the enjoyment went beyond the cars.
“He loved the people,” said Carol Cusumano, who organized the memorial. “It was all about the car people.”
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Mr. Gejeian started the world-famous Fresno Autorama Show in 1958, and it became known as one of the largest custom auto shows in North America. The annual event, held in winter or early spring, celebrated muscle cars, race cars, expensive cars and unique cars. He ran it for 51 years before health concerns forced him to retire the show.
Cusumano and her husband Joe owned GM Joe’s Automotives. Their work building custom vehicles took them all over the world, and they credit Mr. Gejeian for their success. Cusumano said he persuaded them to move their business from the Bay Area to Fresno in 2000.
The Cusumanos aren’t family, but Mr. Gejeian’s relatives call them his car family. In his later years, Cusumano drove him to car shows, which, she said with a laugh, was best because he was “pedal to the metal – not safe.”
Paul Evert, 86, was a friend of Mr. Gejeian for more than 60 years. He was also a fellow racer and car showman. Evert sponsored the Fresno Autorama the last four years it was held and took pride in being the only person Mr. Gejeian ever asked for help with a show.
Evert spent the past six years remodeling a 1932 Ford coupe into a roadster that he called Gertrude. Mr. Gejeian had encouraged him during the building process. He died one week before Evert finished.
He loved the people. It was all about the car people.
Friend Carol Cusumano
Mr. Gejeian grew up on a farm in Easton southwest of Fresno to which his family, survivors of the Armenian genocide, had immigrated decades before. He farmed that land for 75 years and learned to race on it, which helped him become a five-time NASCAR dirt track champion.
After high school, Mr. Gejeian enlisted in the Navy and fought in World War II. When he came back from the war, he built a roadster and painted it black. That combined with the black leathers he wore earned him the nickname “Blackie,” according to a 2008 interview with The Bee. In 1955 the car was named World’s Most Beautiful Roadster by the Oakland Grand National Roadster Show.
Among Mr. Gejeian’s other Most Beautiful Roadster wins were the groundbreaking 1927 Ford with a fully-chromed undercarriage called The Shish-Kebab Special, and a full-custom roadster pickup named Ala Kart, built with friends Richard Peters and George Barris. The Shish-Kebab was on display Saturday – black, chrome and shiny, right next to a metal bust of his likeness.
Arthur “Mickey” Kaitangian, 81, remembers Mr. Gejeian letting him drive several laps around the Clovis Speedway clay track in 1965 in his 1927 Ford Model T hot rod. Kaitangian didn’t race but became friends with Mr. Gejeian while working the pit stops at races.
“He always had a great smile on his face,” Kaitangian said. “Every time he saw me, he would make my day.”
At his 90th birthday party in June at the Fresno County Historical Museum at the fairgrounds, Fresno city leaders declared June 24 Michael “Blackie” Gejeian Day.
In a 1989 interview with The Bee, Mr. Gejeian described himself as a perfectionist who didn’t know when to quit working. Asked whether he had any regrets, he said: “It has been difficult at times, but I’ve learned too much and had too good of a life to want to change anything.”
Michael “Blackie” Gejeian
Date of birth: June 25, 1926.
Date of death: Sept. 2, 2016.
Occupation: Auto show promoter, car builder and farmer.
Survivors: Sister Sarah Hagopian; brother Albert Gejeian; grandsons Damon and Dustin Gejeian; granddaughter Melissa Timian; great-grandsons Dylan Gejeian and Brady Gejeian; and great-granddaughter Lilyana Jones.
Services: Visitation will be 5-8 p.m. Sunday at Yost & Webb Funeral Home, 1002 T St. in Fresno; graveside services will be at 10 a.m. Monday at Washington Colony Cemetery, 7318 S. Elm Ave. in Easton.