LOS ANGELES — Varsen Naciye Alpian was born in Tokat (Yevtogia), Turkey in February 1920 to a physician father and educator mother, both born in Sepasdia (Sivas). Her original birth name was Varsen Karageuzian, but because of the difficult times after the Armenian Genocide her parents changed their surname to a more ambiguous-sounding one with Armenian roots, Arkun, and also gave her a Turkish first name, Naciye, for protective reasons.
It was a difficult time to be raised in Anatolia as a female child. For that reason, she was only able to graduate from elementary school in Tokat. However, in her teenage years both of her brothers were sent to Istanbul to further their education. Her older brother Suren Sureyya Naci was in medical school, while the younger one, S. Vedat, was in an Austrian high school. So Varsen joined them and she started going to a fine arts school (Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi), where she excelled in drawing, cooking and tailoring.
At 24 years of age, she married her childhood friend and son of close family friends, Kegham Pabujian, whose name was changed to Kenan Alptekin for the same reasons as motivated her own parents. Eventually she became a mother of two boys, Arman and Sevan.
She and her family emigrated to the United States to join her two brothers in 1966 and settled in New York. Her fine arts school education bore fruit as she started to work at a custom shirt maker.
A few years later, in 1970, the family was able to purchase a dry cleaning store. The first few years were a struggle but her tailoring skills became very helpful. Within a few years, the small dry cleaning store had to hire 5 more tailors to catch up with the customers’ demands.
During that period, the US was involved in the Vietnam War and the country was in a deep recession. Both sons, who had become engineers, were struggling to find jobs and eventually they got into the family dry cleaning business as well. Shortly thereafter the business expanded to multiple locations.