Statue of Liberty His Special Angel

Times Staff Writer

When Harry Nadjarian takes his oath of U.S. citizenship next week, the Studio City resident said, he will raise his right hand and give thanks to "the luck of the lady."

Nadjarian doesn't just mean any lady. He means the biggest lady of them all, the Statue of Liberty. And he will be in New York City to thank her, he says, for the inspiration that has made him a successful businessman.

Nadjarian, a 33-year-old Armenian from Lebanon, was chosen Monday by Gov. George Deukmejian to be one of two California residents to represent the state at the Statue of Liberty centennial celebration. It will begin next Thursday with the oaths of citizenship administrated to a select group on Ellis Island.

Nadjarian said he was "bowled over" when he was chosen by Deukmejian, who selected comedian Yakov Smirnoff as the state's other representative. Both will be honored this morning for their "hard work ethic" in downtown Los Angeles by Harold Ezell, Western regional commissioner for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

'I Never Expected This Honor'

"I support the governor, and I've seen him during his fund-raising events, but I don't know him and I never expected this honor," said Nadjarian, co-owner of Western Diesel Inc. in Commerce. "Just lady luck, I guess."

But Donna Lipper, a spokeswoman for Deukmejian, said Tuesday that luck had nothing to do with the selection. The governors of each state were asked last year to choose two residents to attend the citizenship ceremony, Lipper said, and Deukmejian decided that he would select those who have greatly contributed to the state's well-being since they emigrated from their native countries.

"We were looking for the American success story, somebody who epitomizes the American Dream," Lipper said. "I think we've got one of the best."

Nadjarian takes the praise with pride, explaining that he was "just an open-minded young man who had no choice but to go up in the world" when he left Beirut in 1977 in the midst of Lebanon's civil war.

A former marketing manager for a travel business in Beirut who began to see "there was no future in it," Nadjarian said he first arrived in New York with little money and even less command of the English language.

Received Bank Loans

After a few odd jobs, he moved to California in 1979 and managed to persuade several banks to loan him enough money to buy 50% of Western Diesel, then a struggling company that re-manufactured industrial motor parts and employed only a handful of people. Annual sales were estimated at only about $150,000, Nadjarian said.

Through hard work, research and good fortune, Nadjarian said, the firm now does about $4-million worth of business each year, sends paychecks to about 40 employees and is seriously thinking about starting a new division to build its own engines from scratch.

"The immigration office told me I'm a model for California," Nadjarian said.

INS spokesman Duke Austin said Nadjarian will be one of about 200 immigrants--100 selected by governors and other special guests--taking their oaths of citizenship next Thursday before retiring Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. The ceremony will be broadcast to about 16,000 others who will be sworn in as citizens in Tampa, Fla., St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington, Austin said.

The trip to New York, which Nadjarian will pay for, will be just one highlight of the week for him. On Tuesday, if doctors can be believed, Nadjarian's wife, Cheryl, will give birth to a baby daughter to go along with the couple's 5-year-old son, Nick.

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