Sarkis Sahatdjian lent a voice of painful experience to last year’s 100th commemoration of the Armenian genocide – and a hope for the future.
Raised by parents who survived the genocide, he came to the United States in 1924 and settled in the San Joaquin Valley, eventually co-founding one of the San Joaquin Valley’s leading raisin packinghouses.
Mr. Sahatdjian died last month. He was 95.
In the days leading up to the 100th commemoration, Mr. Sahatdjian and two succeeding generations of his family spoke about their experiences as Armenians in America.
“I want my descendants to know that the world can be a dangerous place,” he told The Bee last spring. “The family stories can be both cautionary and inspiring.”
Following the path of his parents, Mr. Sahatdjian was no stranger to hard work. He worked on the family farm, after school and on weekends. During the summer months, he and his family harvested produce for the Del Monte canneries throughout the state.
During World War II, he served as a military policeman in the Army Air Force. When he returned home, he married Iris Odabashian in 1947, began raising a family and bought a farm in Madera. He took on a second job, as a Madera High School bus driver, to help make ends meet.
By the early 1960s, Mr. Sahatdjian took a major step in his farming career, launching his own raisin packing and processing company. With his brother, Haig Sahatdjian, as co-founder, Victor Packing was launched in 1963.
Under the brothers’ leadership, the company grew to become one of the largest dehydrators of golden raisins in the industry. The company’s raisins are sold and shipped worldwide.
Mr. Sahatdjian’s son, Victor, said he learned much from his father by watching and doing.
“He was my mentor,” said Victor Sahatdjian, who is now president of Victor Packing. “He taught me so much by letting me and my sister and brother take the reins and try things.”
Sahatdjian recalls the time a truck driver came to the plant to drop off a load of raisins and was greeted by 12-year-old Bill Sahatdjian driving a forklift.
“The truck driver was dumbfounded by what he saw,” Victor Sahatdjian said. “But that was the type of guy my dad was, he let you do things on your own.”
Mr. Sahatdjian was also known for his generosity and involvement in the community.
He was a long-time member of the local VFW; a board member, benefactor and delegate of Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church; and a major donor to Fresno State’s Department of Viticulture and Enology and the Armenian Studies Program. Mr. Sahatdjian also donated to Fresno Community Hospital and to the Armenian Community School of Fresno.
He was a founding board member of the Armenian Technology Group and assisted in the rebuilding efforts in Armenia after a massive earthquake rocked the country in 1988.
“Dad was a real humanitarian and he did things to help people in his homeland and in our great country,” Victor Sahatdjian said.
Born: Jan. 2, 1920
Died: Dec. 29, 2015
Occupation: Farmer and co-founder of Victor Packing
Survivors: Wife Iris; sons Victor and Bill, daughter Margaret and their spouses; 12 grandchildren
Services: previously held