'Renaissance man' Jon Huntsman Sr. has a legacy of giving

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 25 2013 2:30 p.m. MST

Children at the Gyumri Village School in Armenia greet Jon Huntsman Sr. at the dedication of the school in 2000.

Photo courtesy Huntsman Corporation

SALT LAKE CITY — Narine Sarkissian remembers when the earthquake "that pretty much leveled a quarter of the country" hit Armenia.

It was December 1988, and the earthquake, measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, flattened buildings constructed of gravel, sand and water in northwestern Armenia. An estimated 25,000 people died.

Jon M. Huntsman Sr. was among those who stepped in to help the struggling country, and his assistance continued over the years. Sarkissian, a native Armenian, credits Huntsman and his company for saving the country.

“If it wasn’t for that help, I doubt it if Armenia would have survived," she said.

December marks 25 years since the earthquake hit. Soon after, Huntsman's charitable work began in the country.

Huntsman is the founder of Huntsman Container Corporation that made its mark with the invention of Stryofoam egg and the McDonald's clamshell containers. He is also the father of Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah, former U.S. ambassador to China and 2012 Republican Party presidential hopeful.

At age 75, the billionaire has left his mark on the business world with the global company Huntsman Corporation, now headed by his son Peter. He also donated a reported $1.3 billion in his lifetime and $76.8 million in 2012, moving him into the No. 22 spot on Forbes magazine's December list of 50 Philanthropists Who Have Given Away the Most Money.

“When you talk about Jon Huntsman and generosity, where does it end?” said Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Because Huntsman already had a company in Moscow, it was easy for him to help the Armenians when the quake hit in 1988.

He and his family visited the country after the earthquake and were shocked by the amount of destruction. Amid the rubble, Huntsman said he found resilient people who were doing what they could to move forward.

“From the ruins of devastation, they began to rebuild. It captured my heart … to where I said, ‘I have to help these people. I have to be part of it,’” Huntsman said.

He originally planned to be involved in the country for only two years but soon realized he would be involved more extensively.

Members of his family have made a combined 46 trips to Armenia over the past 25 years.

One of Huntsman's first orders of business was to construct a pre-stressed concrete plant. This not only created jobs for the Armenians, but also provided materials with which the country could build buildings more resistant to earthquakes.

“These businesses, this business in particular in Armenia, was built to bless the lives of the people, and so it had a different bottom line, if you will, than a business that would be built just to make money,” said Elder Ronald A. Rasband, former president of Huntsman Chemical and current senior president of the Presidency of the Seventy for the LDS Church.

Over the years, Huntsman and his company built apartment complexes, a tile roofing plant and a school for the Armenian people.

The Huntsmans have given more than $53 million to the country through their humanitarian service.

As a man who values Christianity, Huntsman was impressed by the country that claims to be the oldest Christian country in the world.

“I think there was a bonding that occurred between the Huntsman family and the Armenian people and that bonding is centered in Christ,” Elder Ballard said.

The people of the country have awarded him with two medals of honor and granted him citizenship.

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