Distant past doesn't dominate centennial narrative for Arizona, Chandler - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Distant past doesn't dominate centennial narrative for Arizona, Chandler

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

Posted: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 4:15 am | Updated: 5:28 pm, Fri Sep 16, 2011.

This column is about you, and it’s about Michigan Mary.

It’s about you — if you or your family migrated to the East Valley after 1980.

It’s about you — if you stuck around and made a contribution.

If you are passing through, don’t vote, not sure which city you live in and don’t care, it’s not about you.

What’s so special about 1980?

I learned the significance of 1980 from Jean Reynolds, the city of Chandler’s public history coordinator and the person who is in charge of planning the city’s 100th birthday party in 2012.

The year 1980, she said, represents a “good marker” for her city and its transition from “a farm town past with a little resort hotel into what we are today.”

It’s a “marker” because the year marked the beginning of staggering in-migration and change for the entire East Valley.

In 1980, the population of the city of Chandler was 29,673. In a single decade the population tripled.

In two more decades, the population had reached 236,123. That’s more than 200,000 people in 30 years!

After 1980 came Intel. After 1980 came the Price Road Corridor. After 1980 came Loops 101 and 202 and a downtown Chandler awakening.

The original focus of this column didn’t start out to be 1980. The original focus was 1912, when Chandler was founded.

Some months ago, Jean Reynolds contacted me to talk about Williams Field. 

Williams Field was a World War II U.S. military pilot training field that was built in 1941-42 in the middle of nowhere 9 miles east of downtown Chandler. 

It became an economic engine that pulled Chandler out of the Great Depression and sparked the town’s first growth spurt.

I knew something about Williams Field — now Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and ASU Polytechnic — because of research I had done for the Mesa Historical Society.

A few days ago, it was my turn to ask questions when I sat down in Reynolds’ office to learn more about her plans for Chandler’s Centennial Celebration.

I learned that May 17, 2012, will kick off a 100-year-old birthday bash that will last through the weekend.

You can expect public art pieces, a cake contest, block parties, art walks, a centennial quilt with historic Chandler images, courtesy of ladies at the senior center; a time capsule; airplane flyovers; the publication of a new Chandler history book; an essay contest for the school and more.

The goal is to promote community awareness and pride and build community experience, Reynolds said.

Chandler takes its history seriously. Reynolds gave me a copy of the Chandler Public History Master Plan adopted by the city in 1999.

The 21-page document bills itself as “a systematic blueprint for building history into Chandler’s future.”

The master plan is thoughtful in its approach and sophisticated in its understanding that history is not just about the distant past.

“The history of Chandler is much more than a simple progressive tale of small town to city, cotton to chips, few to many,” the report says in one passage that got my attention.

“It is also a reflection of … national migration patterns … the breakdown of the central business district, and the pursuit of fitness, quality of life, leisure and tourism.”

“Residents and visitors to Chandler need only a series of clues, of prompts, to see themselves in the stream of this history,” the passage declared.

Judging from the images used for the Centennial celebration’s announcement, the post-1980 crowd will have to squint hard to see themselves in this stream of history.

The announcement in print and on the city’s website is of images of A.J. Chandler, the city’s founder; of a rodeo star; a boxer who challenged Muhammad Ali in 1967; a Korean War veteran; cheerleaders from the 1940s; men in front of a vintage locomotive; and more.

There’s time and Reynolds is on it.

“I think it would be SO GREAT if we could come up with a creative way to get those ‘newer resident’ stories as part of the Centennial,” she told me in an email postscript to our meeting.

Michigan Mary’s story would be a good place to start.

Mary Douglas wears her alma mater on her sleeve, but Michigan is not where this story begins.

After decades of teaching in Los Angeles, she retired in 1991 to Chandler because it was “clean and easy to drive in.”

She read about an open house in the now-defunct Chandler Arizonan Tribune, showed up and met a young city councilman by the name of Jay Tibshraeny.

She became a regular at council meetings and said Tibshraeny often asked her what she thought about various issues before the Council. 

The politician whose family settled in Chandler in 1947 and the retired newbie worked to better Chandler together. It’s hard to imagine stories like this in the old East, but not in the New West. 

One day the future mayor called and asked if she could set up a neighborhood meeting for him.  She did and the future mayor brought with him another future mayor. His name is Boyd Dunn.

She took it upon herself to monitor all development in her square mile bounded by Chandler Boulevard and Pecos Road and McQueen and Cooper roads. 

On one proposed development, she stood and told the Council they had talked long enough. They shouldn’t go home until they had made a decision. And they did.   

“I had fun. I was growing up with the city,” she said.

After 18 years of “fun,” the 85-year-old self-described community activist told me she sold her home in Chandler and moved to Friendship Village to die.

I’m not betting on it. She’s too busy.

She does demonstrations for school students for the East Valley Astronomy Club and helps out at the Mesa Community College planetarium, and she has a plan to pitch for cleaning up a blighted corner down the street on Southern Avenue and Alma School Road in Mesa.

God bless you, Mary, and all of you post-1980 kids who have made your East Valley towns better.

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

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