Gulbank Gulbankian was the first Armenian attorney to practice law in the new Armenian community [in Racine, Wisconsin]. His office was located a short walking distance on Main Street off State Street. He was joined a short time later by his sister, Vartak. They were a great help to Armenians who needed legal assistance but were handicapped by their language limitations to seek help from an outsider. — Racine County Eye: “Racine Remembers: Why So Many Armenians Chose Racine.”
George K. Gulbankian was a well respected lawyer in the Racine area for over 50 years. Upon his sister Vartak’s graduation from high school at the age of 14, he selflessly took out a mortgage on his car so that she could pay for tuition to follow in her brother’s footsteps. Gulbank Gulbankian became prominent for defending workers and farmers in Racine when labor strife tore the country. His sister Vartak (who also worked with him as a partner in the downtown law firm) said once in an interview that her and her brother would often forgive legal bills owed to their clients, some upwards in the thousands of dollars, during the Christmas season. He was given his nickname “George” from farmers because he was honest like President George Washington.The Gulbankian family, seven children total, was born in Talas, a mountainous region in the state of Kayseri. Like many Armenian families, the two sisters said they had to flee Turkish Ottoman Empire soldiers who were hunting them down. Gulbank was able to escape on an English boat from Constantinople, which took him to New York, where relatives directed him to Racine, where other Armenians had settled, including a brother.The sisters themselves, one a baby, the other about 3, hid for four months with their family in a castle in Hamah, Syria, a home of a Muslim friend of their father, where hundreds of Turkish troops had also stayed, taking over the ground floor. Their father, Kerope, recognized in town, was murdered during this time. The sisters escaped with their mother from Izmir before the city was destroyed by fire. They arrived in Racine in 1921. The family operated a variety of businesses, from farming to a produce store to a billiards hall to a tobacco store.The incredible hardships the business-wise family endured created a great sense of generosity with the Gulbankians. In 1998, George’s sisters, Akabe and Vartak Gulbankian, donated a small parcel of land on the south side of Highway K just south and east of the Caledonia-Mount Pleasant Park, where a memorial stone honors Gulbank “George” Gulbankian.