Henry D. Sahakian
February 4, 1937 - February 23, 2021
State College, Pennsylvania - Noted businessman, Henry D. Sahakian, passed away Tuesday, February 23, 2021 in his beloved State College, Pennsylvania. He was born on February 4th 1937, into a Christian Armenian family that escaped the Armenian genocide and settled in Tabriz Iran. With the Soviet occupation of Tabriz, his parents, Israel and Armenouhi Sahakian, fled to Tehran. There, with other family members, they built successful lives and prosperous businesses. Henry's entrepreneurial spirit became evident as a child when he raised and sold silkworms to fabric companies and, at the age of 14, took and sold photos of couples at dance parties. The love of business and exciting new ventures never left him.
At the age of 10, Henry met the love of his life, Seda Aslanian Hovanessian, and immediately knew he wanted a life with her. He went so far as giving each boy in her class a photo of her and asking them to stay away from his girl.
Henry was a member of the Armenian Boy Scouts in Iran, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, and the Ararat Club, an Armenian youth program focusing on the benefits of sports, community, and charity. These early experiences created the foundation for lifelong friendships.
Fluent in Armenian, Persian and Russian, Henry traveled to the US in 1956 to learn English at the Perkiomen School, a college preparatory boarding school in Pennsburg, PA. After a semester, he was accepted to the Pennsylvania State University's Department of Mechanical Engineering. He had originally planned to return home after receiving his degree, but plans changed his sophomore year when his father passed away. He realized, "I didn't want to go back. The only place I considered staying was State College." This began his lifelong love and dedication to State College and the Centre Region. During a trip to Tehran during the summer of his junior year, he married Seda and the newlyweds returned to State College to complete his education and begin his career.
In 1961 at the age of 24, he founded Unico Corporation. His first of many developments was named Armenara Plaza after his mother which included an apartment building complex designed for students and featuring a bowling alley and a laundromat. Funding for this project was the most challenging of his career as the novel concept of students living off-campus seemed a risky idea to local bankers.
This first project demonstrated Henry's unique ability to read and lead emerging markets over the course of the next 58 years. Henry launched successful partnerships and start-ups that created thousands of jobs. His building projects accommodated the demand of a rapidly growing campus and city. As a result, a new cityscape emerged by his development of Americana House, Ambassador Building, The Downtowner Hotel (the Days Inn), Locust Lane Apartments, Hetzel Plaza, Beaver Plaza, University Gateway, Gateway Apartments (The Meridian), Addison Court, Bryce Jordan Towers, Ambassador Square, Centre Court, Campus View, Legacy Apartments, and Pugh Centre. Within the Centre Region and beyond, he also developed hotels, medical centers and commercial shopping centers.
Of his many businesses, he was most proud of Uni-Marts. It began in 1972 in downtown State College, with a single store franchise called Majik Markets. In 1982 when it had grown to 92 stores, he nullified the franchise and changed the name to Uni-Marts. At its peak, Uni-Marts operated 588 stores with 5500 employees in 6 different states. In 1986, Uni-Marts became a public-traded company, listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange, becoming the first business in the Centre Region to trade its shares publicly.
Henry's business ventures in the 1970's included the founding of Unico Construction Company and HFL Corporation, a commercial real-estate company named after his three children. As a pilot himself, he co-founded Sana Airlines with 31 airplanes, which later became Atlantic Airlines offering the first commuter flights out of University Park Airport. He purchased Meadow Pride Dairy, a company that would develop into 6 dairies and founded the Chunky Food Company which created Dino's Pizza. Over the years, he built and operated several restaurants including Pappy's Family Pub, The Press Box, Arthur Treachers Fish and Chips, Burger King, Arby's, and Blimpies. He also founded a chain of express drive-through instant oil-change and service centers called Uni-Lube.
Henry was dedicated to being a good corporate neighbor and worked tirelessly for the betterment of the Centre Region. Caring deeply about all citizens of his community, especially children, he and his companies have given generously of their volunteer time and helped raise millions in charitable contributions. Henry was an avid supporter Centre County Youth Service Bureau, Coaches vs Cancer, Centre County Chamber of Business and Industry, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and many others.
Henry's volunteer service included active participation on non-profit boards. He served as vice chair on the board of the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County and was presented with the prestigious Oak Tree Award by the Centre Foundation for his philanthropic support and devoted leadership service as chairman. He also served as a trustee of Lycoming College, a board member of Mellon Bank Central Region, and a member of the CEO Group of Centre County.
Henry's exemplary work ethic was only exceeded by his dedicated commitment to his valued business associates whom he considered part of his family. Believing there was no better place to live, Henry successfully recruited and relocated individuals from around the world to State College and nurtured their success. Through his extensive network of business colleagues, family and friends, he also attracted significant investments to the Centre Region.
A Lifetime Member of the Penn State Alumni Association, Henry actively recruited many of his extended family and Armenian students who became graduates over the course of decades. Henry was a founding member of the National Development Committee and served on the Grand Destiny Campaign Committee. He created the HFL Hotels Scholarship and the HFL Hotels Travel Fund in the School of Hospitality Management. A patron of the arts, Henry actively supported various artists and organizations in the community and at Penn State including the Center for Performing Arts, Penn State Centre Stage, Palmer Museum of Art, and WPSU. His contribution to the Bryce Jordan Center was made in honor of his admiration of the former Penn State president's leadership.
Henry's devotion to his Armenian roots never wavered. The Armenian flag's colors of red, blue, orange inspired Uni-Marts' corporate brand. More significant was his longstanding support and advocacy of the Children of Armenia Fund that revitalizes Armenia's villages and implements projects that provide immediate and sustainable benefits to children and youth. Through their support, Henry and Seda were responsible for helping build several schools in Armenia, a project close to their hearts.
Henry was a member of the Centre Hills Country Club where he enjoyed the friendships of fellow golfers. He was also a member of two Grand Lodges, a 33rd degree Mason and a member of the Supreme Council of Masons in Armenia.
Henry is survived by his wife of 62 years, Seda, three children Heddy Kervandjian, Fred Sahakian, Lara Sahakian, son-in-law Ara Kervandjian and grandchildren Alex, Taline and Shant Kervandjian who were his pride and joy and his beloved yorkie, Coco. He leaves behind many loving relatives, friends, and colleagues.
Henry once observed that he started his career with "a lot of dreams, a lot of hard work, a lot of hard times, and a lot of luck". Throughout his life, Henry's family would be his anchor and source of inspiration. Loyal and dutiful, he was always present for his wife, children, grandchildren and relatives generously giving time, support and loving concern. Henry's career achievements are eclipsed by his lasting legacy as a devoted family man and fellow human who helped others without regard to personal benefit.
A private service will be held at 11am, on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at Our Lady of Victory, State College.
In lieu of flowers, donations are being accepted at the Henry D. Sahakian Family Fund at Centre Foundation which benefits children of Centre County or at the American University of Armenia. https://centre-foundation.org/funds/henry-d-sahakian-family-fund/ https://giving.aua.am/online/