September 14, 2004
Gail Barney still farms his family’s original 2,000 acres in Queen Creek, growing cotton, potatoes, alfalfa and cattle-feed corn.
At 56 years old, Barney has lived in Queen Creek since he was 6 months old and he said he has never wanted to live anywhere else.
"I still think it’s got a smalltown atmosphere with most of the amenities that people are looking for," said Barney, who farms with his father, Newell, and his brother, Kenneth.
Barney also is a town councilman and chairman of the 15th anniversary committee that helped organize Saturday’s celebration. The event will include an old-fashioned country fair, where there will be potato sack races, watermelon-eating contests and dancing.
The Barney family is one of a handful of families still farming in the area. They are also one of the Queen Creek families who enjoy sharing their stories about their lives in the growing community.
The Valenzuelas have lived in Queen Creek for several decades. Toni Valenzuela opened Rudy’s Restaurant with her husband, Rudy, 30 years ago.
She remembers a small town where everybody knew each other, a place where people could leave their doors unlocked and where farmers would come into the restaurant and talk about their crops.
"It’s not rural like we would like it to be," said Toni Valenzuela, 59, a councilwoman and vice chairwoman of the 15th anniversary committee. "It’s more suburban."
Valenzuela is one of 16 children and believes family is very important. Most of her family still lives in the area, including her two children, five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
"We like it here," she said. "I like the friendliness of the people that live here."
Longtime Queen Creek residents, such as Frances Pickett, remember traveling 30 miles to Chandler High School, which was the closest high school.
Born in Queen Creek in 1927, Pickett lived in the town until the family farm was sold in 1979. She taught art at the Queen Creek Elementary School for 19 years.
Pickett, whose family name is Brandon, remembers torrential floods, jackrabbits that would eat whole crops and horrible dust storms. She remembers a "homey familylike village" where the school was close-knit.
"It stayed pretty much the same until farmers started selling their grounds to make mini farms," said Pickett, who helped start the San Tan Historical Society and now lives in Sun Lakes. "After about 1972, the students weren’t the same. They didn’t have that bond we had before. It was just different from then."
Many people, such as Gloria Greer, enjoy horseback riding in the town and remain in Queen Creek even after their family farms are sold.
Greer moved to Queen Creek more than 30 years ago after she built a dairy farm with her husband, Philip, on 80 acres of land on the corner of Riggs and Higley roads.
The Greers have since sold the dairy farm business, but still live on a portion of the property with their son next door and daughter nearby.
Gloria Greer enjoys living in Queen Creek because she said there isn’t the pressure of a big city closing her in.
"It’s the lifestyle. It’s the people," said Greer, 63, a member of the San Tan Historical Society. "There’s just a bond you get with people after 33 years.
"We still have the cows in the back yard," she said. "It’s still home. It’s nice to have stability. I don’t know if it will ever lose its charm."
If you go
What: Queen Creek’s 15th anniversary celebration
When: 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: Founder’s Park, 22407 S. Ellsworth Road