Across the East Valley this week, educators, school leaders, elected officials, family and friends expressed their sorrow upon hearing about the death of Eddie Basha, Jr.
Basha died Tuesday at the age of 75. The man behind the growth of Bashas’ grocery stores also took a role in public leadership, even running for Arizona governor in 1994.
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A strong public advocate of education as displayed by his many years of service in various elected and appointed positions, Basha made an impact on East Valley and Arizona schools, leaders say. He encouraged everyone, from school board members to teachers and parents, to demand the best out of students and schools.
Veteran Chandler Unified School District board member Bob Rice said when he was first elected several years ago,
ago, he sought out Basha to get his thoughts and ideas.
“I think he really impressed upon us to have high standards and expectations,” Rice said. “He acknowledged we had a good district, but that it was something that needed support and nourishing and good leadership to maintain.”
Friends and supporters say the most influence Basha had was behind the scenes — quiet work he did that few knew about.
“I just think he was born with a deep understanding and compassion for children. He never waivered from his belief that children were the future and it was our responsibility as adults to take care of them,” Chandler Superintendent Camille Casteel told the Tribune this week. “For as long as I’ve known him, Eddie’s carried that banner that children are our most precious resource.”
Casteel’s tie with the Basha family goes decades deep as her father worked for Basha more than 50 years. In fact, Casteel is named after Eddie Basha’s aunt, Camille. Basha helped Casteel get her first interview in the Chandler Unified School District in 1971, when teacher positions were scarce.
Basha knew the importance of education, Casteel said, but he also understood that it is hard to teach a hungry child.
“He had a strong belief that to expect a child to learn when they weren’t feeling well or well fed was so ridiculous, he flew us down to Tucson in his corporate jet to look at a school-based clinic. He said, ‘You know what? We need to do this in Chandler,’” Casteel said.
Out of that idea, the San Marcos Resource Center was born, a one-room outlet that provided food, clothing and medical care to students in some of the poorest neighborhoods of Chandler. Today, it’s grown into its own free-standing building and has been renamed the Chandler CARE Center. Through the donations of time and money from professionals and organizations, the center provides free medical, dental, counseling and social services.
Basha also knew that some children wouldn’t express a need. So quietly, he gave district leaders a credit card to purchase coats or shoes for children who showed up without them. And Basha expected it to be used.
“He would call when there were no charges and say, ‘There really isn’t one child who needs a jacket or a coat?’” Casteel recalls.
Basha’s roots in Chandler go deep. A graduate of Chandler High School, he raised his family there, spent three terms on the Chandler Unified School District governing board and kept the Bashas’ Grocery Stores headquarters in the city.
In the 1980s, seeing the strong hand of Phoenix on state politics and leadership, Basha brought together a group of East Valley business leaders to help usher in a new influence. That group — some say it called itself the “Elephants Across the River” — formed the beginnings of The East Valley Partnership.
“Eddie Basha has had, not only in Chandler, but he has had a very strong, lasting effect,” said Roc Arnett, president of The East Valley Partnership, which recently celebrated 30 years of cooperation among business, community and school leaders.
“He and his wife, Nadine, single handedly put together First Things First. They went and got the funding to support the initiative on the ballot and it passed.”
Again, Basha’s love and concern for children rose to the front as he helped bring about First Things First, a voter-approved initiative to fund early childhood development and health programs in the state. The measure passed in November 2006.
There was no sitting on the sidelines for Basha. Arnett said in a 2004 video created about Basha when he was honored by the East Valley Partnership, Basha told everyone to, “get involved.”
“He gives advice to people — to those who are listening — to become involved, become acquainted with the issues ... He lived by that mantra. He brought people together for causes,” said Arnett.
Involved, Basha was. Not only was he elected to the Chandler school board, but he was appointed to the state Board of Education and the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state universities.
The Chandler school district bestowed the Basha name on two schools. First, Basha Elementary in honor of the family and then, in 2003, Basha High School, in honor of the man. In December, the Arizona School Boards Association gave Basha the Barbara Robey Lifetime Achievement Award.
“He epitomized the belief that people need to be educated, that your only way out of poverty was education. He felt so strongly that education be equal access to everyone, that everyone was entitled to an experience that would allow them to improve themselves so they could be contributing members of society,” Casteel said. “The loss of Eddie Basha is a profound loss for me personally and also for the Chandler district and the entire community.”
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