I haven't seen it all, but came closer in 2011 - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

I haven't seen it all, but came closer in 2011

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Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at jimripleyaz@gmail.com.

Posted: Wednesday, December 28, 2011 7:30 am

You might think, as a long-time newspaper guy, I have seen it all.

Haven’t and won’t. There’s just too much to see, too much good and too many people making things happen here in the East Valley alone to digest it all.

But in 2011 I took a bite out of it. I spent the year meeting and writing about people and what they are doing to shape our side of town and beyond.

Inspite of the economic gloom, 2011 has been, for me, an uplifting year of discovery.

In that respect, I hate to see it close.

Before it does, I have some unfinished business. I want to bring you up to date.

“Thanks for the article on Parkinson’s soon-to-open wellness center. Please let us know when it opens,” reader G. Wise wrote back on Sept. 28. “This is absolutely huge for people with PD.”

Dear Mr. or Ms. Wise: Banner Neuro Wellness opens on Jan. 14 at 207 N. Gilbert Road, Suite 205, in downtown Gilbert. For more information, call (480) 361-5775.

Banner Neuro Wellness came about through the philanthropy of Alan and Sheila Fitzgerald.

My friend and former Gilbert town councilwoman Linda Abbott introduced me to the Fitzgeralds late last summer. Sheila has survived Parkinson’s for 19 years.

Sheila told me her story of living with Parkinson’s. Then she and Alan told me what they are doing to help others.

One final word from reader G. Wise: “Please, see if you can pull some strings and get the Tribune to give its opening front page coverage.”

Thank you, G. Wise. I’ll make sure my editor, CeCe Todd, sees your request.

The philanthropy trail took me to an unlikely destination last May — Holmes Elementary School in Mesa.

There I learned about the BEEPs program that is funded by John and Dolores Whiteman and the Whiteman Foundation. The foundation is an outgrowth of Empire Southwest, a heavy equipment dealership in Mesa.

Whiteman’s passion is early childhood development. Simply put, the brains of preschoolers are developing rapidly and need to be nurtured if children are to grow up to be successful.

Some of the children who have graduated from the program are now fourth-graders; and, when I was at the school early last May, it was for a reunion at which the Whitemans were the honorees.

Whiteman’s work has continued on a grander scale with the Sept. 6 opening of Educare Arizona — a 35,000-square-foot school entirely devoted to working with some 175 preschoolers and their families.

In October, Whiteman and school director Billie Enz gave my wife and me a tour of this impressive early-childhood learning center near McDowell and 48th Street in Phoenix.

While we were there, one of the kids decided the fire alarm system needed testing, and the orderly evacuation of children and babies in rolling cribs was kind of fun.

As for Holmes, 14 children ages 4 and 5 are enrolled in this school year’s BEEPs program.

Scott Boisvert was never a BEEP, but his brain has developed quite well, thank you.

Concerned about Arizona’s lackluster record of producing scientists and engineers, I went searching for answers last spring.

My search took me to Basha High School in Chandler, to Boisvert who was then a senior and to one of his mentors, chemistry teacher Mike McKelvy.

Boisvert was only the second Arizona student in this century to have made it into the top ten of Intel’s annual Science Talent Search.

I caught up with Boisvert who was home from Duke where he is in his freshman year. He plans to major in biology and couple that degree with a certificate in global health.

Boisvert told me that Basha High had prepared him well for one of America’s elite universities.  

Credit that preparation in part to McKelvy, who retired from Arizona State University where he was a senior research scientist and affiliate professor to follow his passion for teaching at the high school level.

McKelvy, too, had some news to report. Since we had last talked, he was named a semi-finalist in the competition for teacher of the year in Arizona.  Congrats, Mike!

I met Dr. Edgardo Rivera last May. That was four months before the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center opened its doors in Gilbert near the Superstition Freeway. Rivera is the center’s medical director.

For an end-of-the-year update, I called Susan Gordon, the center’s publicist and my tour guide of the then unfinished center.

Since it opened on Sept. 26, the cancer center has logged 5,404 patient visits, she told me.

Throughout the year I have reported on aviation, aerospace, and defense activity in the East Valley because it’s such an important part of our economy.

The good news is there has been a lot of progress—more than I can possibly stuff into this year-end updater.

I will touch on three:

First, this year’s transition of the Air Force Research Lab to city of Mesa ownership and rebirth as something called the Arizona Laboratories for Security and Defense Research, or AZLabs for short, has been remarkably successful.

Critical to its future in defense-related research was the Nov. 3 announcement that the Department of Defense has decided to continue the laboratory’s certification as “a secure facility.”  

Take a bow, City of Mesa. 

One of the first columns I wrote in this outgoing year was about the launch of something called the Aerospace and Defense Research Collaboratory.

“Arizona is moving to reassert its claim as a top tier aerospace and defense player,” I wrote in that February column, with “an impressive gathering of engineers, academics and industry players on the campus of Arizona State University Polytechnic” in east Mesa not far from the AZLabs facility.

The initiative encourages collaboration among universities and, as one speaker put it, teams“our best and brightest.” 

The $1 million grant that had funded the Arizona Defense Initiative and the collaboratory has been spent, but the work goes on, according to AnshumanRazdan,  project director.

“The ADRC moves into its second year with activity on a number of fronts.  We continue adding new partners and supporting research that will help create a competitive advantage for the aerospace and defense sector in Arizona,” the associate professor said in a statement.

“In February, ADRC is partnering with the Army to host a two-day industry/government conference at the ASU College of Technology and Innovation on the Polytechnic campus focused on systems that will help reduce resource needs for in-theater combat installations.”

My path crossed Razdan’s one other time this year at a ceremony under a hot morning sun in mid-July at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. A small crowd of people connected to economic development and aviation had gathered with Mesa Mayor Scott Smith to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the beginning of flight in Mesa.

You see, on July 16, 1941, a previous generation of dignitaries gathered for ground-breaking ceremonies at two military aviator training fields. One would be known as Williams Air Force Base; the other Falcon Field.

A little over a year ago, the idea of a year-long celebration of Mesa’s aviation and aerospace heritage took shape under the name “Mesa Takes Flight.”

Mesa Takes Flight culminates with a festival on the weekend of Feb. 10-12 in downtown Mesa. You can find out more by visiting http://www.mesaartscenter.com/index.php/events/free-events/MesaTakesFlightFestival.

Well that’s my year-end update.

I hope to be in touch next year.

In the meantime, have a happy and safe New Year.

• Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at jimripleyaz@gmail.com.

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