Mr. Vukasin was CEO of Peerless Coffee and Tea, the pioneering Oakland coffee roaster that made craft roasting popular long before Peet's and Starbucks were born. He was an early force of the Specialty Coffee Association and served several effective terms as the President of the National Coffee Association. During that time, he was awarded the country of Colombia's highest honor, the Manuel Meija Award, named after the father of the Colombian coffee industry, for the work he did to elevate Colombian farmers out of poverty.
Mr. Vukasin was born on April 18, 1933 at Merritt Hospital in Oakland, the son of John P. Vukasin, who had founded Peerless Coffee in 1924, and his wife Natalie. His only sibling, U.S. District Court Judge John P. Vukasin Jr., died in 1993.
Mr. Vukasin was educated in the Oakland public schools including Fremont High and attended UC Berkeley, Class of 1955, where he was one of Pappy's Boys, the football players who played for legendary coach Lynn O. "Pappy" Waldorf.
Criminology major, he had his heart set on becoming an FBI agent, but it was not to be.
After graduating from Cal he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, specializing in military intelligence. He completed his active service two years later and joined the Army reserves, where he served for 35 more years, finally retiring as Deputy Commanding General of the 6th U.S. Army, with the rank of Major General. Among the numerous awards and decorations earned during his military career, the honorable Army Distinguished Service Decoration for exceptional meritorious service made him the most proud.
Upon returning to civilian life in 1957 Mr. Vukasin rekindled his ambition to join the FBI, but his father summoned him home to work in and eventually take over the family business.
Mr. Vukasin quickly gained a reputation as a businessman who treated everyone fairly: his employees, his customers, his suppliers - even his competitors.
During the early years of his coffee career, he met a beautiful stewardess for Pan Am named Sonja Halvorsen. It was love at first sight and for the next 50 years they were partners in both life and in the thriving coffee business.
Branching out into the community, Mr. Vukasin served as Chairman of the Alameda County March of Dimes; President of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, board member of Summit Hospital, St. Mary's College and the Oakland Boys' Club; and President of the Oakland Port Commission, where he supervised the construction of Oakland International Airport and brought the Japanese container program to the Port of Oakland.
In 1969 Mr. Vukasin was elected to the Oakland City Council and served as Vice Mayor from 1975 to 1977. In 1983 he became president of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Board, where he served for 10 years without pay and helped establish the Coliseum as the best of example of one sports complex being the home to 3 professional sports teams.
He was also a longtime member of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, Yerba Buena Masonic Lodge, and the Scottish Rite for which he holds the prestigious 33rd Degree.
With all his accomplishments, if you asked George what he was most proud of, he would simply say his family. George and Sonja built a life together that was surrounded by fun, friends and family. They enjoyed travelling the world together, exploring exotic locales and building many strong relationships throughout the world that continue on today into the next generation.
Family was the center of his life and nothing made him happier than spending time in Alamo, Lake Tahoe and Los Cabos with his children, (Kristina, Michelle and George Jr.) and grandchildren. He would attend every school activity, sports game and social event he could just to support his grandkids. If there was ever an example of a great father and grandfather, he was it.
Mr. Vukasin is survived by his wife of 50 years, the former Sonja Halvorsen; his children George Jr., Kristina Brouhard, and Michelle Thomas; sons-in-law John Brouhard and Jason Thomas, daughter-in-law Beshka Vukasin; and grandchildren John, Natalie, and Samantha Brouhard; Pryor, Clayton, and Charlotte Thomas; and Ellis and George John Vukasin 3rd.
A public viewing is scheduled at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland from 4 PM to 6 PM on Sunday February 21st 2016. A memorial service is being planned for early next month.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Feb. 20, 2016