Former Fresno County planning director and Fresno State professor Harold “Hal” Tokmakian died last month of natural causes.
Mr. Tokmakian was born in Sanger on June 5, 1927, the oldest child of Armenian immigrants. He died at the age of 89 on Sept. 20.
After several years away serving in the Army, studying at Stanford and Cornell and starting his career in urban planning, Mr. Tokmakian returned to Fresno in 1958 to run Fresno County’s advanced planning division. He was elevated to planning director in 1963, replacing Reino Luikkonen, who became planning director in San Mateo County.
Mr. Tokmakian started his second career in 1968, becoming a professor through the University of California Extension classes in urban planning. He also was a professor at Fresno State in urban regional planning.
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“There was always a feeling that Fresno should have a planning program,” said his former fellow professor Wayne Merchen, who also worked with Tokmakian for Fresno County. “The Valley needed planners.”
Tony Boren, executive director of the Fresno Council of Governments, was one of Mr. Tokmakian’s students. Boren recalled him as a demanding teacher, which has served him well in his professional life.
“I consider myself fortunate to have had instruction from him,” Boren said. “He was very knowledgeable and a forward thinker very much respected in the planning business.”
Mr. Tokamakian remained involved in community planning even after leaving the county planning department.
In 1970, he was named to the Fresno City Planning Commission. He also served on the Fresno County Planning Commission.
He retired from teaching in the mid 1990s, but friends said he continued teaching them in his volunteer efforts as a member of the Downtown Fresno Coalition trying to save the Fulton Mall and his work with the San Joaquin River Conservancy.
Mr. Tokmakian was influential in the formative years of the San Joaquin River Parkway, said Coke Hallowell, chairwoman of the board for the San Joaquin River Parkway Trust. She said he was influential in stopping home building in the river bottom.
“He always encouraged us to keep foremost in our minds the protection of the river and the habitat around it,” Hallowell said. “Many of us didn’t know anything about it, but he taught us why it was worth our time.”
I don’t know if there was anything about planning he didn’t know.
Linda Zachritz, who worked with Harold “Hal” Tokmakian on the Downtown Fresno Coalition
In an interview with The Bee in February, Mr. Tokmakian called the Fulton Mall’s “landscape architecture historically unique and significant” and recognized worldwide.
Linda Zachritz, a lawyer on the Downtown Fresno Coalition, said Mr. Tokmakian shared his expertise in planning when she and co-chair Ray McKnight drew up documents for the Fulton Mall’s listing on the National Historic Register.
“I don’t know if there was anything about planning he didn’t know,” Zachritz said.
Mr. Tokmakian also was involved in the League of Women Voters and the Fresno Arts Council. He was well-known around Fresno, Zachritz said. Going to restaurants with him, she said, they would always run into someone he knew. Mr. Tokmakian was an avid reader and enjoyed listening to jazz, she said.
Mr. Tokmakian graduated from Sanger High School before attending Fresno State College for two years. He served in the Army in Japan after the end of World War II before going to Stanford University to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture. From 1953 to 1955, he went to Cornell University and earned a master’s degree in regional planning.
Before returning to Fresno, Mr. Tokmakian worked as a planning consultant in Pennsylvania, drawing up plans for the urban design of Reading, Pa.
Harold Herach ‘Hal’ Tokmakian
Born: June 5, 1927, in Sanger
Died: Sept. 20, 2016
Occupation: Fresno State professor, former county planning director
Services: To be arranged
Survivors: Sons Paul Tokmakian and Ross Tokmakian and daughters Kathryn Knower and Robin Tokmakian; 11 grandchildren. Preceded in death by his wife, Barbara Tokmakian.