James L. Melikian

‘The Popcorn Man’s’ Success Story Continues at CSUF


PALOS VERDES, Calif. — In 2019, the Armenian Studies Program Director at Fresno State (CSUF) announced that the James L. Melikian L.A. Brothers Scholarship fund had been established. The effort to create the Fresno State scholarship was led by alumnus Melikian (“The Popcorn Man”), who established his company in 1977. A donation of $5,100 established the scholarship that will be awarded to deserving students studying in the Armenian Studies Program. Since 2019, James L. Melikian L.A. Brothers has donated a total of $8,695 in scholarship funding at Fresno State.

Each year, Melikian, a former Fresno State Top Dog award winner, and Armenian Studies Program donor invites friends to his Palos Verdes home (with beautiful Pacific Ocean views and Los Angeles vistas) to enjoy cognac and cigars for a private fundraiser. Melikian’s company provides school districts in California and other states with healthy, nutritious items for the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program, the Child Care Program as well as the After School Snack Program.

Fresno State President Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval posing with college officials and winners at the recent Armenian Studies Banquet

“We’ve made sure that every dollar we raise goes to the scholarship,” says Melikian. “There was only one problem. There were some members of the brotherhood who felt this scholarship should go to Cal State Northridge, USC, UCLA, et cetera. And I said, ‘That’s not going to happen. This is going to Fresno State.’” Melikian supports other programs within the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State, and said his love of the university drives his philanthropy. He looks forward to supporting students in the years to come with the James L. Melikian and L.A. Brothers Scholarship. This scholarship, and the 33 other named scholarships, create a lasting and life-changing impact on students’ lives.

The Armenian Studies Program was established in 1977 and the Center for Armenian Studies was founded in 1988. The Center provides an opportunity for students and faculty to interact and currently houses the Armenian Studies Program, the Sahatdjian Armenian Studies Library, the Avedian Armenian Studies Archives, the newspaper Hye Sharzhoom/Armenian Action, the Armenian Students Organization, and the Index of Armenian Art. The program engages students in the interdisciplinary study of one of the world’s oldest civilizations, by exploring the language, art, literature, and history of the Armenian people and connecting this knowledge to the world today.

The program has a distinguished history and Armenian and Armenian Studies courses have been taught at Fresno State for over fifty years. It is the largest undergraduate program in the United States, and was the first such program in the California State University (CSU) system. The Haig & Isabel Berberian Endowed Chair in Armenian Studies was the first Endowed Chair in the CSU system. The program administers 34 scholarship funds that provide financial assistance for students enrolled in Armenian and Armenian studies courses. Tuition has continued to increase and so the need for scholarships has also increased to assist deserving students.

“Last year academic year, 2021-2022, the Armenian Studies Program awarded $88,000 in scholarships to 50 students. The program offers a Minor in Armenian Studies, which provides in-depth experience into the field,” says Armenian Studies Program Director Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian.

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“The Armenian Studies Program sponsors an annual lecture series that brings speakers, films, and programs to the general public. This series has been an important means for community engagement with Fresno State. The program’s goal for this year’s Annual Fund Drive is $50,000,” he adds. “Since the beginning of the Armenian Studies Program, over 12,000 students have taken courses in the program, and 144 students have graduated with minor degrees.” See: https://fresnostatecah.com/2022/04/21/community-celebrates-student-scholarship-recipients-at-armenian-studies-banquet/

Melikian graduated from Fresno State in 1969 with a degree in mass communication and journalism, and was president of the Hye Society organization. He fondly reflects on the support and guidance he received from the late journalism and public relations professor Bernard A. “Bernie” Shepard, PhD and Dr. Arthur H. Margosian. (Shepard established the Public Relations program at Fresno State. He was a member of the Fresno State Department of Journalism for almost 30 years, joining the staff in 1943. He brought vision and a wide-range of experience to the department.) “My public relations aptitude and people orientation was nurtured by my education at Fresno State and my relationships with  Professor Shepard and Dr. Margosian,” says Melikian. One of Melikian’s efforts has been to provide funding for three scholarships for journalism department students specializing in public relations.

At Fresno State, Jim served as the manager for the legendary Bulldog baseball coach Pete Beiden the last two years of the Coach’s tenure. Melikian was one of the donors for the “Pete Beiden Statue” that sits in the shadows of the aptly named Beiden Field. As an up and coming journalist, he wrote political articles and his column, “In the Dog House,” which was a must read in the University’s “Daily Collegian.” As President of the Hye Society, he was responsible for bringing Fresno’s celebrated Pulitzer prize-winning author, playwright and novelist William Saroyan to speak at one of the Society’s meetings. Melikian was the keynote speaker for the mass communication and journalism department’s convocation prior to the 100th commencement at Fresno State in 2011.

Mother Arising Out of The Ashes (memorial statue to the Armenian Genocide) at the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia. This statue is a memorial to those who perished, survived and escaped the 1915 Genocide. It is a reminder of the indignities perpetrated on the Armenian people who stood resolute in their Christian faith and heritage. This statue was dedicated by the LUTHER ESKIJIAN and STEPHEN LAZARIAN families of Pasadena, California and is a replica of the original statue placed in the Ararat Eskijian Museum in Los Angeles, California, June 1, 2002.

In 2014, he was a recipient of the Fresno State “Top Dog” award, recognizing outstanding alumni, and he has been an active supporter of both the Armenian Studies Program and the Department of Media, Communications, and Journalism at Fresno State. He is an Alumni Association Life Member and a Bulldog Foundation supporter. He was one of 13 honored by Fresno State and the Alumni Association. Honorees came from Fresno State’s various Schools and Departments. Melikian was nominated from the School of Arts and Humanities.

“I have tried to build my life on the foundation based on faith, family, friends, fun and education. All of this has given me an entrepreneurial spirit to allow me to succeed in business,” he says. “It has been a wonderful ride.” Melikian has owned and operated his business for over 45 years. As such, he has been a mainstay for advocating on behalf of healthy student nutrition at both the state and national levels. He has attended almost all of the School Nutrition Association legislative conferences in Sacramento and 32 such events in Washington, D.C., educating legislators on child nutrition and various Armenian issues.

Melikian has three times received the distinguished “Donald F. Flahiff Industry Appreciation Award” from the California School Nutrition Association (SNA). In 2021, he received the prestigious Moscone Commitment to Child Nutrition Award for his long standing support of student nutrition. His “Popcorn Diplomacy” has been honored by the California State Senate and Assembly, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles City Council and the United States Congressional Record. Melikian is a member of the SNA, California SNA and the Southern California, Northern California, Central California and Mother Lode School Nutrition Associations.

Melikian and his wife Connie are residents of Southern California’s Rancho Palos Verdes and have long supported and participated in a number of organizations including the Alumni Association, Bulldog Foundation, Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Knights of Vartan, Palos Verdes Chamber of Commerce, the California Triple X Fraternity and the Town Hall of Los Angeles. They are members of the St. James Apostolic Church in Los Angeles.

Armenian Studies Program Director Prof. Barlow Der Mugrdechian and Fresno State alumnus James L. Melikian “The Popcorn Man” in 2019

His ethnic upbringing in Fresno has encouraged Melikian’s involvement in several groups including serving on the Board of the Southern California Regional Council of the Armenian Assembly of America, and he is a Godfather of the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of the Western Diocese. Since 1972, the Armenian Assembly promotes public awareness of Armenian issues, encourages Armenian-American participation in the American democratic process, and assists in humanitarian and development programs in Armenia and Artsakh, while strengthening the U.S.-Armenia and U.S.-Artsakh relationships. Melikian and his wife have endowed a summer internship for college students through the Armenian Assembly.

The Melikians support the Ararat Eskijian Museum located in Mission Hills, and commissioned a mother and child bronze statue at the museum entrance commemorating the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Through his enthusiastic “Popcorn Diplomacy,” Melikian admits that he has probably given away more popcorn than he sells. In being honored at Fresno State, it was noted that “his business truly represents the true spirit of the free enterprise system.”

“I’ve been very blessed in my life,” Melikian says.

For information and to contribute, go to: https://cah.fresnostate.edu/armenianstudies/support.html

The Armenian Studies Program appreciates the establishment of the new scholarship that will benefit students at Fresno State. To apply, go to: https://cah.fresnostate.edu/armenianstudies/students/scholarships-offered.html



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