Community Portrait: Downtown shop owner finds golden opportunity in USBy: Michael Kirby
Auburn resident Ben Asgharzadeh arrived in the United States in 1969 with his wife, $100 in his pocket and one suitcase.
He did not know English and knew no one. He had great hope, though, and a strong desire to live and succeed in a land that allowed personal freedoms and a government that permitted and encouraged anyone with a dream to achieve it.
“I wanted my freedom,” Asgharzadeh said.
He landed in New York City on the day before Thanksgiving, and on the day after applied for a job at IBM headquarters in the New York area. Even without being able to speak English, Asgharzadeh was able to impress his future employers that he had skills that could benefit their corporation and that he was determined to live, work and succeed in America. He was hired on the spot.
“I never had help from the government or anybody else and after two weeks on the job I bought a house in New York,” he said.
Asgharzadeh was born in Azerbaijan, a country in Eastern Europe that was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920 and did not regain its independence again until 1991.
The Azerbaijan government educated Asgharzadeh as a mechanical engineer, because Asgharzadeh possessed a photographic memory, a very valuable tool for obtaining new technology for his country. He then worked for the government as a mechanical engineer, but after a time in government service he immigrated to America to pursue his dreams.
“I had applied for a green card before I came and it took two years to receive,” he said.
He began a very successful 20-year career with IBM and retired only because of a series of back surgeries that made it very hard for him to work. “My health forced me to retire,” he said.
After retiring in 1989 at age 46, Asgharzadeh moved his family, wife and two boys to Roseville for a change.
“My doctor said a warmer climate would be better for my back and I chose California,” he said.
Tragedy struck his family within two weeks of moving to their new home. Asgharzadeh’s wife, Francis, and her sister were killed by a drunken driver on Sunrise Avenue. The driver was in a stolen car and received a three-year prison sentence for the crime.
The tragedy was very hard on Asgharzadeh, and extremely difficult for their eldest son, David, who was very close to his mother and 18 years old when his mother passed away. Asgharzadeh is a very outspoken advocate against drunken driving.
In September, Asgharzadeh publicly challenged the return of the Black and White Affair, a Chamber of Commerce fundraiser held downtown. He was concerned about attendees drinking and driving.
After his wife’s death, Asgharzadeh did nothing for a year.
He was an avid Swarovski crystal collector and, looking for a dealer in the area, he found the Golden Swann in Auburn and met Margareta Swann. They became good friends through their association and married in 1995. They moved their jewelry store to a larger storefront.
“We expanded and we have become one of the largest dealers for Swarovski in the United States,” he said.
The Golden Swann is also an authorized dealer for other collectibles, including Giuseppe Armani and Lladro porcelain and ceramic figurines. The Golden Swann also is a full service jewelry store.
Asgharzadeh and Swann are very involved in the Auburn community helping with many local projects.
Asgharzadeh speaks four languages and is a proud, patriotic American, becoming a citizen in 1978.
“I took a big gamble to come here, but I wanted to accomplish my goal,” Asgharzadeh said. “I became a successful man here, and was given a chance to grow in this country. Nobody held me back. This could not have happened in any other country.”