One American Dream

This article was originally published on KRMG.com on Tuesday, June 14, 2016.

Man who opened Tulsa flag store truly achieved the American Dream

By Russell Mills

Shop LIBERTY FLAGS' military flags and memorial accessories
The interior of the LIBERTY FLAGS showroom in Tulsa, OK. Photo credit: Russell Mills. Click the image to shop LIBERTY FLAGS' American flags and accessories.

Sometimes as a reporter you think you're going to cover something fairly mundane, only to discover a much deeper, more impactful story.

June 14, 2016 was Flag Day in the U.S. - it commemorates the adoption by the Continental Congress of the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the incipient nation in 1777.

So I was assigned to visit a Tulsa company known nationwide for the quality of its flags, and perhaps one of the largest distributors of Old Glory in the world.

This particular Flag Day, the nation was still reeling from the horrific massacre in an Orlando nightclub.

So as I pulled in to the parking lot of Liberty Flags (5634 S. Mingo in Tulsa) I noticed a giant American flag flying at half-staff.

I made a mental note to ask about flag sales as they relate to national tragedies, and went inside.

Make no mistake, there were stars and stripes aplenty on display, but of course Liberty Flags has many other products for sale, and can even make customized flags.

But the story I found wasn't about flags, per se, nor about Orlando, nor about Flag Day.

The story unfolded as I spoke with the owner of Liberty, Charlotte Jones (neé Zakharian), the daughter of the man who founded the company in 1982.

She began telling me about her father, Arthur Zakharian, and how he came to America as an immigrant in the late 1940s.

Arthur was born in Russia, to a family of Armenian Orthodox Christians, at a time when Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin' communist regime was doing all it could to exterminate religion.

Arthur's father was convicted of "crimes" he never committed and shipped off to Siberia.

He, his sister, and his mother, were among those ordered to leave the country.

They ended up in Iran.

As fate would have it, Charlotte told me, "there was an American presence in Tehran at the time, so we had American G.I.s there, and they kind of befriended my dad. They said 'you know, there's nothing here for you as a handicapped person. You need to go to America - you can have a job, you could get help.'"

Arthur, you see, had polio, and was unable to walk without the aid of canes.

Still a teenager, he took the soldiers' advice, she says.

"He came to the United States, I think it was 1948. He had some operations that allowed him to walk without canes," Charlotte told me.

He ended up in northwest Arkansas, but eventually moved to Tulsa with his wife and growing family.

Fast forward to 1982, when his youngest, Charlotte, graduated high school and moved away to college.

"I'm very certain at that point, that's why he spread his wings and said 'okay, I can take a risk now that I haven't been able to take. And there were two things that he loved. He loved America, beyond measure, and he loved to read. Well, a bookstore was not going to be something he could make a go of it. But he looked around in Tulsa and said 'we have a real need in Tulsa for a flag company. We can walk into some of these home improvement stores and we can buy something, but - oh my gosh! - we turn it over and it's made in wherever. Wherever but America.' And he thought that that was a terrible tragedy. So, that's how Liberty Flags got started."

And Liberty's flags are made in America. With American cloth, American thread, American dyes, American grommets - you get the idea.

Now the business quickly outgrew its original space - Charlotte's old bedroom in the family home.

They moved to 26th and Sheridan, but Arthur still had a dream - to build a new location, from the ground up.

"We had the land here, we had all the drawings for the building ready to go, his hand was in everything - he passed away. I kind of lost my zeal to go ahead and make that happen, so we waited a year."

Then they laid the foundation, and carried on his legacy.

But Arthur's spirit lives on, in his daughter, and in that building.

When she walks in, she told me, "it's almost like walking into his arms."

And on Flag Day, it struck me how appropriate it is to realize what that powerful symbol means to those adrift in the world, who need a reason to hope, a sanctuary, a chance to make a life for themselves and their families.

And now, I'll think of a man who saw that symbol, realized its potential, actualized its meaning, and then made it the focus of his American dream.

This article was originally published on KRMG.com on Tuesday, June 14, 2016.

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