There is always something to do in a family business. Karen’s career began at a young age, licking and stuffing statement envelopes at Gar Tootelian, Inc. (GAR). After receiving her Bachelor of Science in marketing from Fresno State, Karen accepted positions supervising and training point of sale installations, accounting conversions, auditing procedures and technology implementations for two public Bay Area companies. In 1979, Karen married Gregory, and in 1982, they returned to the Valley and the family business with their daughter, Christina.
Karen’s current responsibilities as managing partner of GAR Bennett (GB) include overseeing and coordinating community outreach activities. She writes and records GB’s radio messages, promoting and building awareness and appreciation for agriculture’s broad and diverse contributions to everyone’s daily lives. Since 2014, Karen’s handiwork in the one-day Feeding Families Food Bank “GB Match” has raised more than $2.5 million and provided 15 million meals for Valley families.
Karen spends most of her time as CEO of the Gar & Esther Tootelian Charitable Foundation engaging, developing, and directing philanthropic gifts promoting agricultural careers, activities and awareness. Since 2003, the Foundation has granted $1.8 Million in scholarships and gifts in support of local agricultural groups, educational institutions, community outreach, and charitable organizations it considers critical to the future of Central Valley agriculture. One of her proudest achievements is The Fresno Chaffee Zoo Valley Farm showcasing the Valley’s farms and diversity in a fun, family-friendly and interactive environment.
“Mom and Dad were special people. One good deed leads to another, and a handshake is all it takes,” explains Karen. “They were always ready to lend a helping hand.” Family and friends are important to Karen. When she’s not working, you’ll find her talking and messaging friends or painting fingernails, playing, coloring, or learning about dinosaurs with her grandchildren, Grant and Grace.
The Fresno Chamber selected Karen in 2019 as the Leon S. Peters Award Recipient for her leadership and philanthropy. Karen stays busy serving on the Board of Directors for: Central Valley Community Bank; Valley PBS, Fresno County Farm Bureau; the Rotary Club of Fresno; Fresno Storyland & Playland; Fresno Grizzlies Advisory; Fresno Unified CTE Advisory; and Ag One Common Threads.