George Tumanjan: The Story Of A Man Who Changed Not Only My Life - KMSP-TV

From Anchor Araksya Karapetyan

George Tumanjan: The Story Of A Man Who Changed Not Only My Life…But So Many Others

Posted: Updated:

George Tumanjan is the definition of the American Dream – forced to leave his homeland at a young age to join the Allied forces during World War II, he later came to America and through hard work and dedication achieved incredible success. He became the President and CEO of the largest poker facility in the United States- Commerce Casino.

His life had a positive influence on thousands of people.   He was a multi-dimensional individual that made things happen, from his determination to accomplish what was right for his family & friends, and in his business ventures, to making the time to take his grand kids to the park or pier, or to play tennis. He could make friends with anybody and see the good in all.  He had no fear, loved to celebrate, and was relentless in the pursuit of his ideals.  He was a Visionary.

George was born on February 2, 1923 in Gyumri, Armenia to his loving parents, Hratch and Gayane, a family of dried fruit merchants.  He was the first of their 3 sons.  Growing up he was very close to his father, who was well respected in town.  He would often go to their family store where Hratch's friends would gather after work to eat and drink together, share stories and to wish well to one another, accompanied by local musicians.  George always reminisced about "tava" made of beef and vegetables roasted in the oven.  Being a hardworking, honorable business man, Hratch and his brother were noticed by the repressive and terrorizing communist government and were exiled to Siberia in 1932 when George was 9 years old.  The family fell into a desperate condition and his mother, Gayane, along with her 3 sons, George, Yasha and Rafik had to move to the smallest room in their own home because the rest was given to the families of communists.  To sustain her sons and herself, Gayane then 28, worked in a factory.  George remembered always getting letters from their father telling them he missed them and asking them to listen to their mother.  Hratch lasted barely one year in prison.  In 1933 he twice attempted to escape and was caught and taken back, and he was fatally shot on his third attempt to escape.  The children were growing up in harsh conditions, missing their father and continuing to handle life's difficulties.  George continued to be a good student and was very involved in many extracurricular programs.  He was especially fond of photography and gymnastics.

Upon completing high school, George entered the military academy and became an officer.  He was placed on a military border where they built and lived in underground bunkers for months.  There was an escape of a prisoner across the border, for which George and others in his unit were held responsible.  He was demoted and ordered to the battlefront as a result of this incident.  His brother Rafik remembers running alongside the train which was taking George to the front until the train pulled away.  George would never return home to Armenia again.

In the spring of 1942, George's Red Army division was stationed at the Northern Caucuses at the front line as part of the artillery command.  There was fierce fighting for months protecting a strategic oil rich region and the division prevented the Nazis from advancing to Baku where significant oil reserves were located.  George was wounded and due to his heroic actions his officers' status was reinstated.  The fighting continued and George now had 250 soldiers under his command.  After nine months on the battlefield, he and those under his command were captured in battle on October 25, 1942.  George was hit by shrapnel and was unconscious at the time.  His men removed all indications of his rank to prevent him from being executed, and the captured soldiers were put on a railcar to Vienna, Austria.  Only George and one other soldier survived the journey.

In the Vienna prisoner of war camp, George was placed in forced labor at a locomotive plant.  He escaped and was recaptured twice while there, and had planned a third attempt but he was moved to Freiburg, Germany by the Nazis to work in a textile factory.  He was later taken to Dusseldorf, Germany where he was finally liberated in 1944 by the advancing Allied armies, American 3rd Armored Division.

George joined with the American Army as support, carrying munitions to the front line.  He would help load machine guns, drive and repair vehicles, and do whatever was requested of him until the war ended on May 8, 1945.  He was able to see President Truman in July of 1945 as Truman's car passed in front of him on a tour of the 3rd Armored Division at the Potsdam conference.

Thereafter George was employed by the Headquarters European Command, Civil Affairs Division, Displaced Persons Branch in Frankfurt, Germany, where he worked as an interpreter.  His linguistic abilities included fluent Armenian, English, German and a working knowledge of several Slavic languages.  He also chauffeured officers and worked as a mechanic, keeping three vehicles in working order day and night, impressing the higher command with his desire and ability to handle initiatives and details not specifically assigned to him.

During this time, George was able to interact with fellow Armenians and was introduced to a family with a beautiful daughter by the name of Irene.  He soon fell in love with Irene and her family, and on January 1st, 1947 George and Irene were married.  Irene and her parents, Arthur and Elba, were sponsored by Irene's aunt Jeanne to come to America and George bid them good-bye as they left in early 1947.  During this time, George went to the DP camp and was thought to be a spy.  However, Eddie Sarkissian opened the door for him.  The opening of this door led to a new chapter in George and Irene's life, as the families he would meet there would come to America and become lifelong friends.

George continued to work at the Civil Affairs Headquarters, constantly impressing his superiors to the point that they were somewhat reluctant to lose him, however they recognized he was an outstanding candidate for immigration to America under President Truman's immigration policy for displaced persons.  He formed a great relationship with his superiors, including Air Force Major Jaroff, and in short order received high recommendations for his immigration.  George's sponsor was the Catholic Church and he departed for America filled with the joy of freedom and hope for opportunity.  Upon first sight of the Statue of Liberty on February 6, 1948, and with great celebration knowing he was a free man, he threw his hat into the air and watched as it settled into the ocean.

Newly reunited with Irene and her parents, they all took jobs to support themselves in New York, until seven months later when Major Jaroff contacted George and suggested that they go into business together in San Francisco.  Temporarily leaving his new family behind, and with $89 in his pocket, George left for San Francisco.  Major Jaroff had acquired a service station and together they worked the business as 50/50 partners.  During this time, George met Harry and Vera Orbelian, who became lifelong friends.  A year later, Major Jaroff decided that he did not like pumping gas and wiping windows after being a Major in the army, so the station was sold and George moved to Los Angeles with a desire to become part of a larger Armenian community and reunite with the families he met in the DP camp.

After arriving in Los Angeles, his wife Irene and newborn son Michael along with Irene's parents joined him and they settled in East Los Angeles.  A few years later Irene and her mother suffered the loss of her father Arthur.  From that point on, her mother lived with the family for the next 40 years, which enriched the children and grandchildren's lives.

George could not find work for several months until he met Steve Nickol, owner of a Shell gas station, who hired him after George offered to work without pay for two weeks as a test period.  Eventually, George purchased the station from Steve and was able to provide jobs for a number of his DP camp friends.  During this time, George was also able to sponsor additional families wanting to come to America for a life of freedom, and he helped many in financial need to establish themselves in their new country.  His generosity would be one of his signatures throughout his life.

George sold the service station and purchased a large Mobil Station in 1955, hired 20+ employees, and the business was very successful.  Five years later, he entered the waste disposal business in the City of Hawthorne and successfully ran that business with his partners for 30 years.  During that time he created a number of innovations for the industry and initiated a charitable company philosophy.  He was actively involved in all aspects of the City and became great friends with many respected individuals, encompassing many departments and service organizations such as the Rotary Club.

George and Irene celebrated the birth of their second son Harry in June 1952 and their daughter Jeanne in August 1957.  In 1961 the family moved to Palos Verdes.  Irene was his foundation; she made the house a home as they raised their three children and helped raise their grandchildren. They were exceedingly proud of their children and grandchildren and all they had achieved.  Being with his family was an integral part of George's life.  

George and Irene loved to entertain and were ready to welcome everyone.  The celebrations were amazing and their friends would stay into the early hours of the morning.  They took many vacations with their friends and extended family.  They would pack up the station wagon and travel up and down the west coast.  Lake Tahoe later became a favorite destination.

Beginning in 1971, George and the family invested in and developed real estate including retail, commercial and over 700 residential homes. George was involved in all aspects of these ventures, and particularly enjoyed adding all the final landscaping touches to the projects.

Since the first day George reached America he longed to reunite with his mother and brothers.  After thirty years of separation and hard work George's perseverance was rewarded when his mother was allowed to visit. In 1990 his brothers, Yasha and Rafik, along with their families arrived to live in America.  George's mission was complete and the families built a beautiful life here, with all the children and grandchildren achieving great success.

In early 1983, at the age of 60 when most individuals are focused on retirement, George chose to become involved in a new and exciting gaming enterprise, Commerce Casino, and began a new journey filled with many complex challenges.  Fortunately George was not alone in this endeavor, and there were many individuals that contributed to the success of the company throughout the years.  George was elected President by the Board of Directors of the company and he served in that capacity for more than 25 years.  He concurrently served for 30 years as a Director.  For years George worked seven days a week including holidays with enthusiasm and a strong sense of purpose and commitment, always placing the company and its employees first.  He was always pro-active in problem solving and in moving the interests of the company forward.  George embraced the challenges that the company and industry presented and loved working with all Board members and employees, always thinking of them as extended family.  Commerce Casino continues to support many charities and programs that had been established over the years, helping people achieve their potential.

Irene's death in November of 2000 was devastating for George and the entire family.  With God's grace, the family was able to pull together and continue. The support of his family helped him survive, but there was a void in his soul until the end.

George endured and recovered from many critical health issues with God's divine intervention and the dedication of his family, doctors, and many other individuals.  His incredible will to live and desire to be with his family allowed him to complete his life's work here.

Throughout his life, George overcame personal loss and many struggles, yet never lost his desire to help others. He is renowned for his humanitarian deeds and has received many accolades for his philanthropic efforts.  He created a facility to encompass youth activities, and their involvement in the church.  For that purpose he donated and developed the Tumanjan Youth Center at the Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral.  George was named Man of the Year by both the Boy Scouts of America and the YMCA for his continued support for youth programs. George also received an honorary Philanthropic Doctorate from Pepperdine University for his desire to always help others.

George Tumanjan was recently awarded the Knight of Cilicia medal from his holiness Catholicos Aram I as a reflection of his five decades of humble and selfless service and support of the Holy Cross Armenian Apostolic Cathedral.  George was very grateful to receive this honor.  He understood the essence of life:  God, family and friends.

 

The story of a man who changed not only my life… but so many others—George Tumanjan

I know this is part of life...

But it doesn't make it any easier...

I have been dreading this moment for a long time now...

I knew it was going to hurt... I just didn't realize how much...

 

There is an emptiness in the air…

Uncertainty surrounds me...

I feel lost...

My heart is broken...

And I know I am not alone in feeling this way.

 

There are no words to express what you mean to me..

What you mean to all of us...

We each have a special relationship with you...

 

When I speak of your passing...

I realize in describing your technical relation to me-- my great-uncle, my grandfather's brother-- it puts a distance between us...

That title doesn't describe who you really are to me and what you mean to me.

We call you Jorah Papik...because you are our papik...

 

Your love has no labels…no bounds..

Neither does your heart...

You will forever be the man with the biggest heart.

The kindest soul…

The purest spirit…

The warmest smile...

The deepest eyes...

 

You made us all feel safe…protected…and cared for...

Your generosity has no limits...

Not only for your family and friends, but even complete strangers...

 

People of your caliber are lacking in this world...

I have often said, and will continue to say, if more people like you existed in this world, the world would be a better place...

 

It's no secret that so many have become something because of you...

The Armenian communities, both here in America and back in your homeland, have flourished because of you...

Lives have forever changed- and continue to change- because of you...

 

You leave behind an incredible legacy...

A story that will be told for generations to come...

Generations that you helped shape... will speak your name...

 

You planted the seeds…nourished the foundation...and now we will continue to grow...

 

You once told me it was your duty to do what you did for your brothers and their families when you brought us all to America…and gave us a chance to achieve the American Dream...

But the truth is...it wasn't your duty... it was the love you had for your family...your deep appreciation and understanding of the importance of family that led you to take on this enormous undertaking...

 

You welcomed us with open arms...

In an instant you went from a stranger I had never met to one of the most important people in my life.

You are the root... and the cause of all of our successes...

 

Not a day goes by where I don't thank you for everything you've done for all of us.

Every time I drive past the ocean and head towards the beautiful cliffs of Palos Verdes, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing us to paradise.

God blessed you...and you blessed us in return.

 

You have made it all possible…

Without you we wouldn't be where we are...

You are behind everything...

You opened the door to all the abundant possibilities...and showered us with opportunities... and we will continue to work hard to make you proud... and carry on your name with pride.

 

Your story is one of a kind... just like you.

And we will make sure your legacy lives on through all of us....

 

May you rest in peace Jorah Papik...

We miss you more than words can say...

But I know you are with us always... you are everywhere we look...

And just know we are with you.

  • Share ThisMore>>

  • myFOX Tech

    Tired, Sore Eyes? Enter: Gunnar Optiks Intercept

    Tired, Sore Eyes? Enter: Gunnar Optiks Intercept

    Tuesday, April 15 2014 11:22 AM EDT2014-04-15 15:22:42 GMT
    I met the folks from Gunnar Optiks at CES this year and they had something new to show me. The Intercepts. I have a big head, these are big frames, it was kismet but do they work as good as they look? We'll see.
    I met the folks from Gunnar Optiks at CES this year and they had something new to show me. The Intercepts. I have a big head, these are big frames, it was kismet but would my eyes revel in this serendipitous confluence of events? We'll see.
  • Sure, Cats Make Messes, But At Least Willie Cleans Up After Himself

    Sure, Cats Make Messes, But At least Willie Cleans Up After Himself

    Thursday, April 10 2014 12:05 AM EDT2014-04-10 04:05:18 GMT
    How about a little lesson on conservation from Willie the Cat. Willie starts unrolling all of the paper until it is all on the floor. But you have to watch what happens next in this viral video.
    How about a little lesson on conservation from Willie the Cat. Willie starts unrolling all of the paper until it is all on the floor. But you have to watch what happens next in this viral video.
  • myFOX Tech

    Review: The New HTC One M8

    Review: The New HTC One M8

    Wednesday, April 9 2014 1:02 PM EDT2014-04-09 17:02:46 GMT
    In 2013 the HTC One (M7) was one of my favs, so I was excited to see what the next gen model would be have in store. One word, "impressive!" Beautifully crafted, possibly the best on the market. Behold: HTC's One (M8)
    One of the phones I loved in 2013 was the HTC One AKA the M7, so I was excited to check out what the next iteration of HTC's flagship would have in store. This is one impressive handset! Beautifully crafted, possibly the best on the market. Behold: HTC's One (M8)
Powered by WorldNow

KMSP-TV
11358 Viking Drive
Eden Prairie, MN 55344

Phone: (952) 944-9999
Fax: (952) 942-0455

Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Ad Choices