Retired Phoenix Official Pens a History of Homesteading in Cave Creek

Posted By Mike Padgett

Dec. 11, 2009

CAVE CREEK, Ariz. – The early years of a feisty Arizona community north of Phoenix come to life in a new book by a new author.

The book, “Homesteading Along the Creek,” is Patrick Grady’s first book. It outlines how more than 100 homesteaders settling 37,000 acres were responsible for the growth of the community of Cave Creek during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“What will surprise readers is this untold story of how this village evolved from 1890-1940 as a direct result of the Homesteading Act of 1862,” according to the book’s synopsis.

Grady uses data from the National Archives and other sources to focus on the lives of nine pioneer families. They settled along the creek from which the town’s name was adopted.

“I’ve always loved local history,” he says. “I was reading a book on Cave Creek history, written about 20 years ago, and a couple of thoughts came to mind. I just kind of took off with it and a year and a half later, here I am. I love the writing and I like the research.”

Grady, in his research, found records in the National Archives on 109 homesteaders in Cave Creek’s history. He talked with several adult children of the Cave Creek homesteaders as well as a Valley woman he says is one of the last living homesteaders.

Most of the homesteading activity in Cave Creek was during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The book, with about 180 pages, will be available at local museums and bookstores. Grady will sign his book for customers Dec. 12, starting at 2 p.m., at the Cave Creek Museum, 6140 E. Skyline Drive.

More information about the book, including how to order it, is available at

“This is my first book, but it’s not my last,” Grady says. “I have some other ideas I’m working on now. My next book, I’m hoping to go for more of a statewide audience.”

Grady retired in 2005 from the City of Phoenix. He served first as director of Community and Economic Development, and later as director of Downtown Development. His undergraduate and graduate degrees are in history and urban studies.

Grady also worked with municipal development offices in Ohio, Maryland and Florida. He relocated to Arizona from Ohio in 2000 after he was approached by an executive headhunter hired by Phoenix.

Grady and his wife Leslie volunteer for the Foothills Caring Corps. Grady also is chairman of the Cave Creek Green Advisory Committee.

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Dec 11th, 2009
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Former Charity ‘Grand Dame,’ at 93, Enjoying Her Return to Workforce

Posted By Mike Padgett

Dec. 10, 2009

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – This year’s holiday season, for me, arrived in early December. The gift began taking shape a few days ago while listening to Ann Graham voice her optimism and hope.

I asked to meet her when I learned that she had returned to work at a law firm to help pay her bills. Graham, at 93, is about 30 years beyond the usual retirement age.

Graham represents a growing number of older Americans who are going back to work or delaying retirement. Some have no choice. Their investments, including Graham’s, have been decimated by staggering losses on Wall Street.

Despite her misfortunes, Graham displays hope in much of what she says and does. She has had her rough patches, like many others. But for anyone who listens to Graham’s words, I mean really listens, her words become gifts.

Our paths crossed at a time of year when eternal hope is key to the holiday celebration.

I arrive for our meeting a few minutes early. I stand in the waiting room of the Rose Law Group in Scottsdale where Graham works three days a week. It was a quiet Thursday afternoon.

Graham enters the room. “Mike? Pleasure to meet you,” she says, extending her hand.

Graham is dressed professionally. She carries a black Prada purse with a gold chain. I am about to learn that behind her disarming smile and the sparkle in her eyes is a former investor in a poker palace in California. She later became a grand dame of charity fundraising in metro Phoenix.

More on those chapters in her life later. Today, she is a hard-charging optimist, even after recent six-figure financial losses.

“Where shall we go?” she asks.

We enter the law firm’s conference room and sit at the custom-made conference table.

‘Office Muse’

Graham is rare among office employees. Not only is she a youthful 93, but her business card says “Office Muse.” The title conjures up visions of a confidante in a flowing white toga offering words of wisdom, strength and grace, especially in difficult times.

After listening to Graham for 90 minutes, I saw that I was right. In another life, Graham would wear a toga. She knows much about people because she’s seen many types, good and bad.

Humor, respect for others and compassion are important to Graham. And she believes that for every door that closes in someone’s life, another one opens, sometimes with greater opportunities.

In the Rose Law Group offices, Graham is the designated backup employee who receives any overflow filing work from her new colleagues. Many are half or a third of her age.

Many of the people Graham knew or worked with during her younger years are gone. Actuarial tables show that of every 100,000 women born in the United States the year of her birth, 1916, only 15 percent are alive today.

But Graham always has been a survivor. She was born into a Slavic family in Berkeley, Calif. She tells me about catching the flu when she was 18 months old, and that she wasn’t expected to live, according to what she learned from her mother.

Russian interpreter

In her younger years, because she became fluent in her family’s native language, Graham dreamed of becoming a Russian interpreter. She attended business college, and she worked for a few years as a secretary.

During World War II, when she worked as a secretary in the shipyards in the Bay area, she helped her employer’s wife christen a battleship with a bottle of champagne.

After the war, she worked for a cosmetics company, traveling 11 western states to train other employees. Her father died in 1952, so she decided to leave California. She and a boyfriend traveled in the United States and Mexico by car for several months. This was before construction of the U.S. interstate highway system later in the 1950s.

Graham and her boyfriend finally settled in Los Angeles. She used some of the inheritance from her father to buy a restaurant and bar. It became popular with blue-collar workers, so she kept a large amount of cash in the safe to cash their payroll checks.

The money stash became too tempting for a friend, who eventually robbed her. He became one of her regrettable memories. If Graham held any animosity for him, it didn’t show on her face or in her words.

‘Poker palace’ venture

It was during this period, in the late 1950s, that she learned golf. She played 10 under par, and she had three holes in one. During one game, a golfing buddy offered to introduce her to connections opening “poker palace” businesses in Gardena, Calif. She invested $10,000, joining judges and lawyers who were among the 30 or so other investors.

Graham eventually sold the restaurant and bar. Graham met another man, and they moved to Phoenix in the early 1960s, where they married. Over the next few decades, Graham became active in raising funds for nonprofit groups and charities in metropolitan Phoenix.

Financially, before the poker venture went out of business, Graham’s investment treated her well for several years. She used much of her poker venture income to buy stock. But those Wall Street investments eventually went sour, as did her marriage.

More recently, Graham lost $100,000 when a Phoenix businessman committed suicide. She says she lost another $200,000 to friends. She adds that after her divorce, she found herself forced to return to work.

Several times during our 90-minute meeting, Graham said she regretted not keeping a diary. The name of the battleship she helped christen and other details and dates have faded, like mist.

Listening to her, I imagine her growing up and entering the work force in the 1930s. It was a time before television, freeways, road rage and junk food. Doctors made house calls. Radio and newspapers were the major news sources. Snail mail was the only mail.

Fan of opera, newspapers

Graham enjoyed going to the opera. She remembers rushing for copies of the San Francisco newspapers every day as soon as they hit the newstands. Her favorite columnists were Herb Caen, who wrote about the city for decades, and travel guru Stan Delaplane.

She describes those years as a more genteel time when people were more respectful toward others. Rude behavior was a social faux pas. Favorite pastimes included visiting neighbors on their porches and enjoying Bay area dance bands in major hotels.

“I’m so glad I was raised in my era,” she says. “What do kids today have to look forward to? War. No jobs. They’re going to keep outsourcing. You can’t trust your neighbors.”

As Graham recounts important times her life, I am transported into a different era. I imagine the busy and noisy shipyards where she worked during the 1940s. I could almost hear the poker dealers shuffle their cards across the green felt tables.

Graham’s positive attitude is admirable. She believes negative thoughts are harmful to personal growth. She enjoys an uplifting sermon in church. And she believes that setbacks are followed by opportunities.

Like the unexpected call she received about that land she bought decades ago in Riverside, Calif. That call led to her selling her share in 2008, receiving some needed income.

Job offer renewed

One day last summer, she joined Jordan Rose, managing partner of Rose Law Group, for lunch. The two have known each other for several years. Rose had asked her a couple years ago if she would come to work for her. At that time, Graham was financially comfortable, so she declined. But as the economic times have changed, so has Graham’s situation.

At lunch, Rose repeated her offer, adding that it would be part time and that she would arrange for another part-time employee who lives near Graham in central Phoenix to drive her to and from work in Scottsdale. Graham accepted the offer.

Graham remembers Rose and her staff discussing a title for her. “Office Super Mom” was offered. Graham rejected that idea. She had her own suggestion.

“I said about my title, I’m the office flunky because I do everything that nobody else wants to do,” she says. “I said I love it. All my life I’ve wanted to be a flunky and not have a worry or care. That’s perfect. And they said no, they’re not going to call me that.

“And then one of the girls says,” Graham pauses, handing her business card to me. It reads, “Office Muse.”

“Is that darling?” she says. “I love it. Everybody who sees this card wants one.”

Recites psalms

Graham works four or five hours three days a week. For her daily inspiration, she recites the 23rd Psalm, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and the 91st Psalm, which during World War I became known as the Soldier’s Psalm.

Rose first met Graham in the 1990s. Rose was in law school.

“I met her through some involvement I had with the Scottsdale Symphony or the Phoenix Opera,” Rose says. “She’s kind of the grand dame of Phoenix in charity stuff, or she certainly was at the time.”

In Rose’s words, Graham is a rare individual. “If you came to work with anything other than a fantastic mood and you look at Ann, who is always happy, motivated, positive and working hard, you can’t do anything other than be productive and positive and hard working.”

Rose says she and her partners and staff are inspired by Graham’s inner strength and her positive outlook.

“It keeps her optimistic,” Rose says. “While she may have worries just like all of us do, she puts the thrill of life above any worry.”

Graham says working again and receiving a paycheck makes her feel like she’s in her second childhood. It also reminds her of her own belief that with every negative, such as her financial challenges, a positive will follow. This time, the positives are her friendship with Rose and her new job, which she started a few weeks ago.

“I get so choked up when I think of how the Man upstairs has looked after me,” she says. “Why didn’t I keep a diary? I’ve had such a great life.”

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Dec 10th, 2009

Former NFL Player Merging Sports and Science with Genetics Startup

Posted By Mike Padgett

Dec. 1, 2009

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The head of a California genetics research company, who also is a former pro football player, is leading a new type of recruitment effort that could involve more than 1,000 professional athletes in a scientific journey.

Jim Kovach, who for seven years was a middle linebacker in the NFL, is a cofounder of Athleticode, an Oakland, Calif., startup formed in recent months to find the ultimate sports gene. He currently is president and chief operating officer of The Buck Institute for Age Research, a genetic research facility in Marin, Calif.

When I first read about Athleticode (in a recent editorial in The Phoenix Business Journal), I thought Athleticode’s program could have Arizona connections. Several sports teams have deep roots here and metro Phoenix is home to a growing biotech community, which includes the Translational Genomics Research Institute.

I found Kovach’s e-mail address and sent him a note, explaining my interest and asking whether he had contacted TGen. He responded, and we set up a telephone interview for the next day.

Anticipating Kovach’s call, I researched his background and learned that his sports, academic and scientific achievements are worth a future sports-and-corporate success story.

His work at The Buck Institute, and now his venture with Athleticode, are the latest in an impressive string of corporate, academic and sports achievements. He also:

• Was executive vice president and COO of Athersys Inc., a Cleveland, Ohio-based biotech company.

• Was director of the Office of Technology Management at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

• Played for seven years in the National Football League as a middle linebacker for the New Orleans Saints from 1979-85 and the San Francisco 49ers in 1985. His teammates voted him MVP in 1983.

• Obtained his medical degree in 1984 at the University of Kentucky, studying in off seasons.

• Continued his studies after his medical degree and received his law degree from Stanford University.

‘Superman gene’

While I was thinking that Kovach, 53, could have his own genes studied to help learn what makes him tick, my phone rang. Kovach graciously outlined the Athleticode proposal and said that while he hadn’t done so yet, he planned to contact TGen. He says he knows someone who worked at TGen in its early phase, but who has since moved to another company.

Athleticode, Kovash says, wants to study the DNA of athletes to teach them about strengths – or weaknesses – that could impact their performance.

According to its company overview, Athleticode “is leading a merger between the worlds of science and sport to help identify critical information that can help athletes exceed their potential.”

Typically, research into someone’s genetic code often begins with a sample of their spit. Kovach says the research can help answer many questions about a pro sports player’s endurance, strength, speed, reaction times and many other characteristics, including how they metabolize drugs and retain salt.

For example, only 4 percent of the general population has what’s called the “Superman gene.” That is a gene that cues the human body to make a protein that keeps ligaments and tendons strong.

Kovach says one of his former roommates at the Saints, Hoby Brenner, learned after he retired in 1994 that he has the rare “Superman gene.” Had Brenner known that about his strong genes prior to retirement, he might have added a year or two to his 13-year career, Kovach says.

That kind of information is beneficial to players and coaches because they could add specific exercises to strengthen certain muscles or tendons, Kovach says.

“The kind of tests that we’re putting together, I think, can help athletes make choices about how they train, how they hydrate themselves, that will all come together and kind of help optimize their performance,” Kovach says.

Thousands of volunteers needed

To determine the strengths or weaknesses of an athlete’s genetic code, Kovach says Athleticode would need a database assembled from “somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000” players. That is his goal.

This type of research could be modified to benefit others. For example, predictions about a person’s future as a musician, lawyer, doctor, teacher or myriad other professions probably would require similar massive databases assembled from the donated DNA samples of people in those careers.

As fascinating as it is, this research area has a dark side. Insurance companies, and maybe employers, could be interested in learning which policyholders or employees are more susceptible to diseases. For that reason alone, people may be reluctant to volunteer their DNA.

Kovach is one of those rare executives who, because of his achievements on the gridiron and in the corporate arena, could merge the two worlds of sports and science.

“My goal, my mission, is to connect those two worlds. And so I’m going to kind of do it step by step. And the more people who see the value of connecting those two worlds, the better.”

And in the process, he and his partners at Athleticode could open the door for further studies in genetics. “We’re right at the moment in all of human history that genetics is going to be accessible to everyone,” he says.

Athleticode’s other cofounders are:

• Alex Bernstein, who was a Division III All-American Defensive Tackle while studying at Amherst College in Massachusetts. He entered the NFL in 1997 as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens. Bernstein currently is a managing partner at North Venture Partners, an investment and advisory firm focused on the incubation of new ventures. He previously was senior vice president of corporate and business development at Virgin Digital, a new media technology venture of Richard Branson’s global Virgin empire.

• Huntington F. Willard, director of the Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy at Duke University. Willard has been in genetic research for nearly 25 years. He serves on review boards for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. Willard has been the author or co-author of more than 300 scientific publications, including co-author of Genetics in Medicine, a widely-used textbook now in its sixth edition.

• Pete Koch, another NFL veteran and a health and fitness expert who created the FAST (Functional Advanced Sports Training) system. He lives in Los Angeles where he works with many actors whose roles require specific body types. Koch was drafted in the first round of the 1984 NFL draft. He played five seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Raiders.

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Dec 1st, 2009
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Entrepreneur from London Adding Energy to Downtown Phoenix

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 20, 2009

PHOENIX, Ariz. – The November sunrise is an hour away, but an entrepreneur and his clients in his downtown Phoenix exercise studio are primed for the new day.

“Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One!” says studio owner Amen Iseghohi, clapping his hands to the music. He walks among his exercising clients, counting down to the end of a routine. “Go! Go! Go!”

Much of the rest of the city is just beginning to rise. But in Iseghohi’s studio, mental clarity is erasing the night. The physically fit charge harder.

His clients’ pumping arms and legs are synced to high-energy rock ‘n’ roll. They are deep within “the zone,” that addictive personal region of inner peace fueled by endorphins and muscle burn. But instead of modern exercise equipment, Iseghohi offers several routines that revolve around used tires.

Iseghohi, 33, opened his exercise studio earlier this year in a red brick warehouse near First and Buchanan streets. It’s one block south of US Airways Center. His neighbor to the west is an architectural company. East two blocks is the Phoenix Job Corps Center, whose students have permanent invitations from Iseghohi.

“I let the kids in the Job Corps come here and work out,” he says.

The focus of Iseghohi’s studio, Amenzone Primal Fitness Training, is a return to basics, a personal adventure he experienced as a boy living with his grandmother in Benin, a small country in West Africa.

Born in Belgium

Iseghohi, named after his architect father, was born in Belgium. He grew up in London, except for the nearly three years – starting when Iseghohi was 8 – his father sent him to live in West Africa.

“He wanted me to have an appreciation for culture, and he wanted me to be able to speak my own language,” Iseghohi says.

Benin is in West Africa, bounded on the east by Nigeria, on the north by Niger and Burkina Faso, and on the west by Togo.

Iseghohi says his diet in Benin depended on what he helped capture in the wild or harvest from the rice, yam or casaba crops.

Iseghohi’s introduction to his grandmother’s lifestyle in Benin was a culture shock. He had grown up in London attending private schools and living in a household cared for by maids. In rural Africa, he picked his own mangoes when he was hungry. There were no cars. Most people went barefoot.

“It wasn’t go to Walmart and get a couple of mangoes,” he says. “It was go climb that tree and kindly get us some mangoes.”

He adds that his grandmother required that he – and his younger sister, who joined him later – get daily exercise.

Since they didn’t have access to high-tech exercise studios with wall-to-wall mirrors, Iseghohi and his sister used old tires as their exercise equipment. They ran while rolling the tires. They used the tires as pushup benches. They jumped in and out of the tires, and just about any way imaginable, to get exercise.

“My grandmother wanted us to stay fit. She was the one who said, ‘You guys are going to go out there and start working out.’ She’d have us do pushups.

“We couldn’t get around it, so we tried to make it fun. So within ourselves, we started to create fun things. And she had us using tires around the compound to work out. That’s how I came up with my idea here.”

No mirrors allowed

That routine with tires is the focal point of Iseghohi’s regimen in his Phoenix studio. There are no mirrors or computerized treadmills or banks of muted televisions audible only to customers wearing headsets.

Tires flat on Iseghohi’s concrete floor become benches for pushups. The tire becomes the individual workout bull’s-eye that his clients dance in and out of during their exercise routines. For variety, customers can use punching bags or pull-up bars or climb the thick rope to the high rafters.

Iseghohi says families, business owners, downtown workers, tennis players and other sports figures have been among his clients, either in groups or in personal training.

A smile dominates Iseghohi’s face. His biceps stretch his shirtsleeves. When his classes are in session, Iseghohi is alternately the group leader, a cheerleader and a teammate.

He starts a workout routine, one of 40 he’s developed. Several involve the tires. He walks among his clients, clapping and cheering. He stops next to a client or two or three, and exercises with them. Their fresh workout shirts are starting to hang damp.

“When your body is right,” Iseghohi says to his visitor during a water break, “your mind is right. You can have all the money in the world, but you can’t buy your health.”

In London, Iseghohi gained experience in the Excel Personal Training program. Here, his goal is certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Some of Iseghohi’s classes start at 5:30 a.m. in his 3,000-square-foot workout studio. Weather permitting, he will move his routines to a larger space outside his studio at 106 E. Buchanan St. And the night before a class, he often sends inspirational text messages to his clients.

One of his fans is Teresa Olguin, a registered nurse and medical case manager. Olguin joined Iseghohi’s workout classes in July. Since then, she has lost a few pounds and gained a sharper mental focus.

“I always ran, worked out in a gym,” Olguin says. “I’ve always been disciplined, but he pushes you. And I think that’s what it is. I just get stronger and stronger in every class. It’s awesome. You just burn everything up here, and it’s great. He has completely changed my life.”

Iseghohi lives in Scottsdale. He and a partner own a company, One Source Interiors, that installs flooring and countertops. His customers have included custom homes and a luxury hotel. He started his exercise studio partly because of the slowdown in the local residential market.

Exercise tones the brain

Iseghohi admits that people sometimes lack the motivation to exercise. Maybe they didn’t eat properly the day before. Maybe they didn’t sleep well. But generally, after a few minutes of exercise, energy makes a comeback.

“People don’t understand that working out and exercising is almost a spiritual journey, I think. It really is. It’s not a mechanical thing. It’s spiritual. Your mind and body are one. They’re not separate.

“So when you body is physically moving and you’re perspiring and sweating and your heart rate’s up, your mind engages. It’s energized. That’s when you notice that when people are working out, they feel better afterwards. They feel lighter on their feet. It helps them in so many different ways, mentally and physically.”

Children’s diets

Iseghohi also is concerned about the impact of a lack of exercise upon children in America today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites studies comparing the childhood obesity rates in 1976-1980 and 2003-2006. For children between the ages of 2 and 5 years, obesity increased from 5 percent to 12.4 percent; for those between the ages of 6 and 11 years, the rate increased from 6.5 percent to 17 percent; and for those between the ages of 12 and 19 years, obesity jumped from 5 percent to nearly 18 percent. More details about the CDC report are available at

Many children today ride to school, either on buses or in their family cars. In addition, many schools – because of budget cuts – have reduced or eliminated their physical education classes.

“The kids are the future for us,” Iseghohi says, “and our future is in terrible shape. We need to take care of our future a whole lot better than how we’re doing it right now.”

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Nov 20th, 2009
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Custom Skateboards Auctioned to Raise Awareness of Autism

Posted By Mike Padgett

Nov. 7, 2009

PHOENIX, Ariz. – If the inspirational artwork now hanging in the After Hours Gallery in central Phoenix were displayed outside, it probably would stop traffic.

As it is, the nearly 200 wooden skateboard decks covering walls two stories high in the gallery are stopping visitors in their tracks, especially younger visitors who may identify with skateboards. There is so much to absorb, so many images, and each with a story to tell, a slow motion button would be helpful.

The custom artworks were created for an auction to increase public awareness of autism, a prevalent development disorder facing children. The All Decks on Hand art auction is a collaboration between the Phoenix gallery and the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, or SARRC.

The creative skateboard decks, each about 8 inches by 30 inches, are as provocative and different as Arizona sunsets. They are hung on the walls vertically or horizontally, depending on the artwork.

Most of the decks (minus the wheels) are painted. Others are carved or covered with mosaics, photographs or other media. One is covered with handprints.

One deck was cut in half and assembled into a display that includes gears and a drive chain. Another, because it is signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, is registered with Major League Baseball.

Skateboard champion Andy Macdonald donated the board he used in the 2009 X-Games Big Air Competition. He autographed the board for the auction.

The artists range from professional to amateur to preschoolers. Most of the artists are in Arizona or other states. Some are in Canada and the United Kingdom. A few of the colorful skateboard decks are the work of teens and young adults affected by autism spectrum disorders, or ASDs.

Gallery owners Russ Haan and Mike Oleskow are overseeing the display in their gallery at 116 W. McDowell Road. They said the idea originated with Trevor R. Hill, a designer with After Hours Creative. Hill said he was inspired by his experiences with someone who has autism.

Haan said the proposal to auction custom skateboards to boost awareness of autism was embraced quickly because of the prevalence of autism. Research shows that one child in 150 has some form of autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Bids for the artistic skateboard decks start at $100, with challenge bids set at $25 increments. Online bidding starts today, Nov. 7, at

Bidding, either at the gallery or online, closes Dec. 3. Additional bids may be placed Dec. 4 at the gallery during the last First Friday event of 2009. For more information, contact gallery employees at or call 602-710-2398.

The artists treated the decks like canvases, turning them into interpretations of what they see out their windows, or maybe what they visualize through the private windows of their minds. And like many artistic creations, each work is subject to individual interpretation.

The imaginative artwork shows roses and other flowers, individuals and religious scenes. One skateboard deck is coated with candy wrappers. Another makes me feel like Gulliver traveling – it shows Lilliputian game boards for chess and backgammon.

Two mermaids dressed like Wonder Woman are on another deck. Close by is a deck with a buffalo head. In another row is a skateboard painted end to end like a jigsaw puzzle.

And yet another deck has “In Bot We Trust” under the painted image of a robot standing guard in the clouds.

Standing in the gallery, admiring the skateboard creations in the morning light pouring through the giant windows, I tried to imagine what I might paint on a blank wood canvas the size of a giant hot dog. I’m sure my creation would be influenced by my personal dreams and achievements and screw-ups on life’s interstate.

On the painted decks hanging in the gallery, I saw much talent and original creativity. I saw colors, designs and images in harmony. I could only imagine how the art was influenced by each individual’s complex experiences.

But that’s just my opinion.

It was American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “In art, the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can imagine.”

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Nov 7th, 2009
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Personal Comfort Zone Began With ‘Croc Spotting’ on the Coral Sea

Posted By Mike Padgett

Oct. 30, 2009

CAIRNS, Australia – Searching for crocodiles at sunset and staying alert for a dangerous bird as tall as a man topped my list of wanderings in northeastern Australia.

Those first steps into a rejuvenating comfort zone occurred three years ago. That was when, after 30 years as a newspaper reporter, an opportunity to unplug the deadline clock presented itself. It was time to leave the main drag. Enjoy slow dances and the scenic back roads. Release the gypsy.

Writing news stories about business, the economy and crime are important. They can help readers in their daily lives. But equally important, and better for the soul, are stories about inspirational people who make a difference.

Some of the people we pass on the sidewalks every day have fascinating tales worth telling. They could be a hot dog vendor, a homeless musician, the pretzel man, soldiers returning from combat, parents of autistic children, or a doctor searching for a cancer cure. Their stories show the resiliency and the depths of the human spirit.

My first back road away from newspapers took me to Australia three years ago. The realization of life after 30 years in newspapers began taking shape while I was in the Rattle N’ Hum Bar and Grill in Cairns, Queensland, in northeastern Australia.

This city is a backpacker’s paradise. The music of many languages fills the air. No distracting e-mails for me. No worrying about those stories I’d have to write the day I returned to my desk.

Aussie pub popular

The Rattle N’ Hum is an Aussie pub on The Esplanade, a main street in Cairns. The restaurant is a laid back eatery popular among locals and tourists alike. Rock ‘n’ roll played in the background. On the menu were pizza, burgers, steak, lamb, chicken, fish and chips, calamari and barramundi.

I wasn’t interested in dining alfresco, so I sat inside. I had a view across the sidewalk, the street and the city park next to the bay. Beyond were the Coral Sea, the Great Barrier Reef and the Pacific Ocean.

I found the Rattle N’ Hum during our first trip to Australia. Most mornings, I was up early to watch sunrise from our hotel balcony. The air was clear. The bay turned silver from the low angle of the sun’s rays darting through the clouds.

On the street below our balcony, a block to the east, the roundabout intersection was empty at sunrise. Australians drive on the left side of the road. But rather than rent a car and focus on remembering to stay on the left side of the road, I’ll use the bus system and taxis. I’d rather soak in the scenery and talk with the drivers and passengers. If we would listen to each other, would we need so many politicians?

‘Croc spotting’

Our first night in Cairns, before dinner, friends took us croc spotting along the beach. Except for the yellow sign warning us to stay out of the water, we returned from our beach hike with empty cameras. But a walk with friends at sunset on the Coral Sea beach, more than 7,500 miles from home in Arizona, was refreshing.

A few days later, I did see several crocodiles. I accepted a ride-along invitation from an American friend who rented a car. My wife had a schedule that day, so I was on my own. My gracious friend with wheels picked me up at the hotel, and we headed west from Cairns on the Captain Cook Highway.

We stopped at Port Douglas for breakfast, where we also walked through the local arts and crafts show near the beach. After that, we returned to the highway and headed for Cape Tribulation, where the pavement ends and the dirt track begins. Our trip included a 10-minute ferry crossing at the Daintree River.

During our drive to Cape Tribulation, we stopped and joined other visitors for a walk through the rainforest to the beach. We learned about the Southern Cassowary, a large flightless bird related to ostriches and emus. It grows to 60 to 70 inches tall. If cornered, the shy bird can use its sharp toes for defense.

Returning from Cape Tribulation, we stopped for a local riverboat tour. The guide steered the boat across the river, where we saw a crocodile partly hidden in the vegetation. I couldn’t estimate its size. But it clearly was large enough to be dangerous.

The guide steered us a place upriver from the dock. In a calm backwater, he pointed out some tiny crocodiles floating on leaves and vines in the water. They were only a few inches long, bug-eyed and tiny versions of what they will become.

Cairns was home base

Cairns became the base from which my wife and I toured the region. We boarded a catamaran for a daylong visit to diving platforms anchored at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef a few miles offshore.

Days later, we climbed aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway for a ride to Kuranda Village high in the rainforest west of Cairns. We visited many shops that sold the work of local aboriginal artists. I never figured out how to pack a six-foot carved didgeridoo into luggage.

For our return trip down the mountain, we traveled by Skyrail. Our aerial gondola carried us over the tropical canopy of the Barron Gorge National Park. We disembarked at the Skyrail terminal at Caravonica and boarded a bus waiting to return us to our hotel in Cairns.

Next stop: Sydney

Our 10 days in Queensland were nearing an end, so we were anticipating a flight to Sydney, where we were ready to explore for another 10 days. We stayed at the Old Sydney Holiday Inn. The hotel is in The Rocks, one of the city’s historic areas. We were within walking distance of the Sydney Opera House, downtown Sydney and Sydney Cove, where river catamarans and other water craft docked to unload and load commuters and tourists.

From the hotel’s roof, we had views of the bridge, the harbor, the opera house and the city. One Friday afternoon, city workers planted street barricades and vendor tents next to the hotel for the regular weekend street fair called The Rocks Markets. Phoenix, and other U.S. cities, could consider a similar weekend event for downtown.

The hotel at George and Playfair streets has its own restaurant, but we were curious about local eateries. Within walking distance were several, ranging from breakfast and lunch delis and sidewalk bistros, to restaurants in renovated spaces in 100-year-old buildings.

Another day, we joined a bus tour to the Mount Pleasant Winery, where we toured the winery before lunch. Our next stop on the bus tour was the Hunter Valley Gardens, where 12 gardens of flowers, trees and shrubs cover 60 acres.

Later that week, we boarded a bus for a ride to the Blue Mountains, stopping at Featherdale Wildlife Park along the way. The mountains get their name from the haze that often settles over the region.

Sydney walkabouts

Downtown Sydney became one of our favorite walkabouts. We toured the Queen Victoria Building, which is a shopping center created from an 1898 building that – according to its web site – originally “housed a concert hall, coffee shops, showrooms, warehouses and a wide variety of tradespeople.”

The building, an example of Byzantine architecture, has several floors and covers a city block. Designer Pierre Cardin described it as “the most beautiful shopping center in the world.”

We walked to the Sydney Opera House several times, just to admire the architecture and soak in the ocean air. It was on the other side of Sydney Cove from our hotel. Playing at the opera house was “The Pirates of Penzance.” We were within a few days of returning to Arizona, so we thought it was too late to get tickets.

But just in case, we got in line at the ticket counter. Sold out, we heard the clerk say to the couple ahead of us.

As the couple walked away, the clerk answered her ringing phone. And as my wife asked about tickets, the clerk says two reservations had just been canceled. We bought them. The performance, which was memorable, was the following night.

Favorite memories of Australia:

• Getting busted by a beagle at the Sydney International Airport. The dog walked casually among visitors, sniffing luggage for food, which cannot be brought into Australia from other countries. Next to my luggage, the beagle with friendly eyes sat down and looked up at its handler, its cue that I had contraband. I had to surrender raisins and nuts trail mix.

• Rattle N’ Hum Bar and Grill in Cairns.

• Visits to Kuranda, Great Barrier Reef, Cape Tribulation, Blue Mountains, Sydney Opera House, and walking through downtown Sydney and along the waterfront.

• Riding the Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Skyrail in Queensland and a “river cat” (catamaran) in the river in Sydney.

• Writers’ Walk on Circular Quay (the harbor in Sydney), where brass plaques set into the concrete contain the names and quotes of 50 distinguished writers. They include Australians Peter Carey and Miles Franklin, as well as Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, D.H. Lawrence, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Darwin, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others, and the dates of their visits to Sydney.

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Oct 30th, 2009

Former Phoenix Mayor to Lead Effort for Long-Term Funding for TGen

Posted By Mike Padgett


Oct. 27, 2009

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Former Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza, who helped attract the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) to Arizona, will lead an effort by the TGen Foundation aimed at providing long-term funding for TGen’s cutting-edge research programs.

The TGen Foundation’s board of directors today named Rimsza the chairman of the Foundation’s Legacy Society, through which he is expected to engage the many individuals whose past support has made TGen a major international biomedical research institute.

Rimsza played a leadership role in the 2002 effort to attract TGen to Arizona. That achievement led the way in building TGen’s state-of-the-art headquarters at the center of Phoenix’s downtown Biomedical Campus.

“TGen is so special because every day they (TGen researchers) are making scientific advancements and changing the face of human health, not only locally, but around the world,” Rimsza said.

Because TGen’s findings are made public, Rimsza said, its research discoveries are shared with other scientists worldwide in an effort to conquer diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.

“TGen has proven to be an extraordinary charitable investment for the thousands of contributors who have supported its many programs,’’ Rimsza said. “Those who have been committed to TGen have come to realize that their investment in TGen’s cutting-edge research to find cures for a broad range of disease is also an investment in the economic future of Arizona, as evidenced by the recent economic impact report.”

A report released Sept. 29 by the independent research firm Tripp Umbach showed that TGen provides Arizona with an annual total economic impact of $77.4 million. The report predicted that TGen’s impact would grow to $321 million annually by 2025.

Bennett Dorrance, the TGen Foundation’s Board Chairman, praised the board’s selection of the former Phoenix leader. Dorrance said that since Rimsza has been one of TGen’s biggest advocates, “it is only fitting that he will lead the effort to insure TGen’s lasting legacy.”

TGen Foundation President Michael Bassoff said that Rimsza’s leadership of the Legacy Society would precipitate tremendous community support for TGen.

“Mayor Rimsza’s strong leadership skills and his broad range of experiences enable him to engage the financial and legal professionals, and to provide additional leadership to TGen’s development program,” Bassoff said. “His involvement will help expand the public’s awareness of TGen and communicate the advantages of contributing to the institute’s scientific research.”

Among Rimsza’s many accomplishments, he was elected three times to serve as Phoenix’s 50th and longest-serving mayor (1994-2004). Rimsza, whose family has contributed to TGen for years, was a founding member of the TGen Board of Directors, and subsequently became a founding member of the TGen Foundation Board. The Foundation was established in 2004 to insure long-term community involvement and financial support for TGen’s mission.

For more information about TGen and the Legacy Society, contact TGen Foundation Associate Vice President Denise A. McClintic, J.D., LL.M., at 602-343-8611.

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Oct 27th, 2009
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Conquering Kilimanjaro a Rare Journey for a Phoenix Father and Son

Posted By Mike Padgett

Oct. 19, 2009

PHOENIX, Ariz. – A Phoenix teenager who trekked into the international mountain climbing history books a few months ago is considering hiking the Grand Canyon. Or joining the annual swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco.

Whatever Max Ashton, 13, decides to do next, it will be difficult to top the heights he reached in late June when he became the youngest blind climber to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

That’s because not only did Max reach the summit, he immediately retraced his final 100 yards to the top of the 19,340-foot mountain to help his father complete the journey with him.

“Greatest moment of my life,” is what Max says about the trip.

Max suffered a pounding headache from the high altitude during the climb, as did others. Breathing was a challenge for everyone, says his father Marc Ashton, 43, executive director of the Foundation for Blind Children in Phoenix.

Max was among the first in the Phoenix group of 25 climbers, eight of whom are blind, to reach the top of the mountain. When he realized his father wasn’t with him at the summit, Max went back down the trail to reach him.

Reached summit together

Marc Ashton says he was at the rear of the group because he was struggling during that final leg of the climb. He could only walk 20 steps or so at a time, and then he had to sit down. At that altitude, he could barely breathe. Altitude sickness is deadly.

Max, after reaching the summit, walked back down the trail to his father. His encouragement helped Marc get to his feet. Together, taking small steps and power breathing because of the thin oxygen, the Ashtons completed the final 100 yards as a father-son team.

They touched the sign marking the summit. They hugged and shook hands. Ashton doesn’t mind being the last in the Phoenix group to reach the summit. Better him, he says, than one of the blind climbers.

The trip, while challenging, was an adventure. Six days up. A day and a half down. Along the way, like many climbers, the Ashtons got a little closer to discovering their personal limits.

The group stayed in touch with family and friends with a satellite phone loaned by P.F. Chang’s restaurants. One climber used his iPhone.

Team captain and organizer

Marc Ashton started organizing the trip and a training schedule in early 2008. He also helped raise funds for the expenses. He and others in the group ignored critics who said mountain climbing is risky for everyone, especially for people with visual impairment.

The team flew from Phoenix to Newark, N.J., then to Amsterdam and finally to Kilimanjaro International Airport. Luggage of two of the climbers arrived a day late. The Phoenix group was joined by several guides and the 68 porters who carried food, water, sleeping bags and other equipment for the climb.

The next day, the entire group walked through the Machame Trail gate. There are several gates, each one leading to different trails to the summit. Many blind climbers use a hiking stick in each hand. Others keep one hand on the backpack of their guide in front of them.

The climbers trekked through five climate zones. They experienced temperatures ranging from tropical to freezing. Eventually, the climbers found themselves sucking frigid air.

Like other climbers before them, the Phoenix hikers hugged the rock face on narrow ledge trails. The trail includes a place called “Kissing Rock,” so close do climbers have to stay to the mountain.

On one narrow trail, a climber heard someone drop a water bottle. Several seconds passed before the water bottle’s crash was heard.

Gasping for air

The blind climbers avoided danger by listening to their sighted guides, who were their eyes on the trip. The Phoenix guides told the blind climbers, ‘Don’t step left, don’t step right,’ or, ‘That’s a death drop.’ At the same time, the thin levels of oxygen near the summit made breathing difficult.

For much of the climb, Max had two sighted guides. One was Patrick McFarlan. McFarlan, now studying business administration at the University of Chicago, says he had to stop climbing for a few hours when he became sick. He was unable to eat or drink for about 40 hours. Later, McFarlan and his porters caught up with the rest of the group.

McFarlan says the final leg of the trek was the most strenuous. He could hike for 20 minutes, then he would collapse and sleep for 10.

Despite the challenges – the altitude, the cold, the sickness, dangerous trails and fatigue – team spirit kept the group going.

“You’re going on adrenaline,” McFarlan says. “You’re so motivated that it wasn’t hard. Motivation just overcame it all. Staying warm was hard. You were so cold, no matter how many layers you had on, you were just cold.”

Life-changing experience

Marc Ashton says as many as half of climbers who start the trek on Kilimanjaro drop out, for various reasons. But of the Phoenix group, all 25 members reached the summit.

“To get to the top was an extreme sense of satisfaction,” he says. “We accomplished what we came to do, and everyone made it. And we were able to share the top together as a team, which is very rare.”

Another reason for the trip was to show that the challenges of blindness can be overcome.

“We are trying to show everyone that regardless of disabilities, you can do anything,” Ashton says.

In a gesture of appreciation, the Ashtons gave their boots to their porters. Some of the porters wore tennis shoes.

McFarlan says his experiences changed him. He says he often catches himself doing everyday tasks, wondering how they would be performed by someone with a visual impairment.

“I definitely learned that motivation can overcome all obstacles,” McFarlan says. “Looking back and seeing videos on it (the Kilimanjaro trip), it’s still awe-inspiring for me to think that blind individuals did that.”

Son and father summit together

McFarlan adds that he will never forget watching Max help his father. McFarlan, after he and Max reached the summit, watched Max go back down the trail.

“He went back because his father was struggling,” McFarlan says. “His dad was the last one to reach us. And he want back to walk up with his dad.”

Equally impressed was the Phoenix group’s guide, Nickson Moshi of Masai Giraffe Safaris in Arusha, Tanzania. Moshi, in an e-mail response, says that of the hundreds of groups he has guided to the top of Kilimanjaro, the Phoenix group was among the most inspirational.

“This climb is challenging for even the most trained and experienced climbers,” Moshi says. “These special climbers have an additional challenge in each step they take up the mountain.

“I am so impressed with their strength and so inspired by the courage they showed each day,” Moshi says. “I feel that if these young people can conquer Kilimanjaro the way they did, they can accomplish just about anything they want to do in the future.”

Max adds: “I still can’t believe I did this, no matter how long I trained and how much effort I put into it. “Every time I think about it, it’s still kind of amazing to me.”

A glimpse of the Phoenix group’s climb is available on the Internet at

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Oct 19th, 2009
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Ballads, Art and Nature Often Spark Childhood Memories

Posted By Mike Padgett

Oct. 18, 2009

SHOW LOW, Ariz. – Memories sometimes are unlocked by the most unexpected of keys. And with one memory can come a flood of others.

When I look at this photo, I think of the work of an Arizona artist and the ballads of a California singer. And that combination of two artists’ individual magic sometimes unleashes memories of my rural childhood.

I captured this photo during a recent trip to Show Low in northeastern Arizona. The pastoral scene looks like an isolated area, but the location is a few minutes from downtown Show Low. It was midmorning in early October. Fall was approaching. Waves of giant clouds filled the sky.

Studying the photo today, I think of my dusty cowboy boots, favorite Levis and worn leather gloves. I think of sore muscles after milking cows and wrestling bales of hay. I remember steam rising from the fermenting corn silage I shoveled to feed our cows on winter mornings before sunrise, before school.

The water and the fence in the photo remind me of irrigating pastures and repairing barbed wire fences and building corrals. The forest in the background reminds me of tramping through the woods, hunting for deer.

Painful memories

Besides the happy memories, there are sad ones. I remember a sister who died when she was 3. I was in the fifth grade. In the decades since her death, several times she has wandered into my thoughts unexpectedly, like a rainbow after a storm. I wonder who she would have become and what she would have achieved, had she won her battle with leukemia.

I remember the names of two fifth-grade classmates. One day, they went target shooting with their rifles. Only one returned alive. The other boy, while he was climbing through a wire fence, accidentally shot himself.

I remember another classmate who tried to steal one of my assignments in art class. I think it was a state map. He did a poor job of erasing my name from the back of my map.

I remember the morning when I had the flu and I had to get out of bed to milk one of our cows. She balked at letting anyone else milk her.

Sick, injured livestock

I remember loading a rifle for a calf suffering from a stubborn lung infection. It wasn’t responding to medication, and we had it isolated so other calves wouldn’t get sick. As I aimed, I remember the calf’s helpless look at me that dark, cold morning. Sorry, little guy.

That rifle was the same one my father used on my dog, Boots, who caught distemper from a pheasant hunter’s dog. Shooting my dog was the right thing to do. I was at school at the time.

I remember one of our horses bumping an exposed bolt on a corral post. The bolt tore open her shoulder, like a 90-degree, 4-inch tear in a shirt. The flap of hanging skin exposed her quivering muscle. Our veterinarian arrived. The horse stood still, trembling a little, as the vet gave her a local anesthetic. Then he grabbed a needle and thread to sew up the wound. She healed with minor scarring.

Dogs and horses are my favorite animals. I don’t remember the age of our first horse when we first brought her home, but she and I bonded quickly. She had a bit of a limp in one front leg.

I remember the birth of my horse, Smokey. She was black with three white feet and a white star on her forehead. We grew up together, so getting a saddle on her the first time, and then easing into it, was easier than I expected.

We had two saddles. One was tan, with the rough side out. The other saddle was an antique. It had dark brown stamped leather, a brass horn and a high back, or cantle. Wish I’d kept that saddle.

Riding adventures

One day, as I rode Smokey across a pasture wet with irrigation, she lost her footing on the slippery grass. I jumped off as she fell. She wasted no time in getting back on her feet. Smokey was okay. So was I.

That adventure was mild compared to the day years earlier when I was thrown by another horse. I was riding Blackie, the mother of my horse. Blackie was a high-spirited black flash. Black as coal and with one of the most comfortable of gaits. Sometimes, she would ease into what is known as a pace. That is when her legs on each side would move forward together, instead of her legs diagonally opposite moving forward together.

I had walked across the pasture one day to put a bridle on Blackie. She stood still as I eased the metal bit between her teeth and buckled the bridle.

I planned to ride her bareback to the barn to get a saddle. But as I jumped up on Blackie, something spooked her. She bolted. I grabbed her mane to stay aboard. Blackie was a powerful horse. We didn’t know much about her heritage, except that she was smart and quick. Riding her could be a challenge, if you wanted to stay aboard.

Blackie flashed across the pasture, with me wondering how this ride would end. Without warning, she stopped at a wooden crossing over a dry irrigation ditch. I flew over her head, somersaulted and landed in the ditch.

Injured rider

After a few seconds, I got up. I was groggy. My first recollection is standing up and seeing my father running toward me. I never knew his short legs could move that fast.

Dad asked if I was okay. I said yes, and I walked toward Blackie. She hadn’t moved since her sudden stop.

I picked up the reins and jumped back on her. She walked across the cattle bridge. I touched Blackie’s flanks with my heels. She eased into a fast trot for the barn.

Our doctor said I had a mild concussion. My left shoulder hurt, too. He said it probably was bruised or stretched ligaments.

Other memories include the day our largest dog, Joe, a collie-chow mix, bolted across the road in front of a gravel truck. The driver stopped and moved Joe’s body off the road.

When I got home that day from school, Mom told me about Joe. I remember cradling Joe’s limp body out of the roadside weeds. His eyes were closed. I buried him in the pasture, near some trees.

I remember the day I ran over another of our dogs, Skeeter. I was driving our cattle truck onto our property when he ran to greet me. He always stayed a few feet from our trucks. But not this day.

I remember the sickening feeling of the bump as he fell under my rear wheels.

Chores and summer jobs

One summer in high school, the only job I could find was hoeing weeds in a field of sugar beets. I wasn’t alone. Carrying hoes with me were a Hispanic couple and their three children. They were not bilingual. Neither was I. Smiles became our shared language.

I remember the year, after graduating from high school, when I worked in a food processing plant. I packed boxes of frozen vegetables and drove a forklift. A few months later, I joined the military.

Growing up on a small cattle ranch in the 1960s was memorable. There was plenty of healthy work to go around. The doors to those memories often open when I listen to thoughtful ballads like Kate Wolf’s, and when I study Ed Mell’s lithographs and paintings that show Arizona’s canyon country and skies filled with giant clouds.

Wolf died in 1986 while undergoing treatment for leukemia. She was 44.

Mell continues his work in Arizona.

Wolf’s ballads about people and Mell’s artistry showing dramatic landscapes remind me of rural Americans, with their daily lives and hopes, and the gorgeous country they call home.

Those realities are what I think of when I look at this photo I captured on the edge of the forest near Show Low.

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Oct 18th, 2009

Arizona Conference to Promote More Public, Private Partnerships

Posted By Mike Padgett

Oct. 15, 2009


PHOENIX, Ariz. – Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters is the keynote speaker at a Public Private Partnerships Conference late this month in Arizona.

Arizona State University’s Alliance for Construction Excellence is sponsoring the Oct. 22 conference at the Arizona Grand Resort at Baseline Road and Interstate 10. The address is 8000 S. Arizona Grand Parkway in Phoenix.

“We’re bringing in those who know the process best so they can share their experiences and help us grow this type of development in Arizona,” said Gary Aller, director of the Alliance for Construction Excellence (ACE) at ASU’s Del E. Webb School of Construction, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

Public-private partnerships are a process in which a public entity and a private company join together for the purpose of financing, designing, building and operating public facilities.

The conference will feature case studies and discussions from experts locally and nationally, including representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation, Arizona Public Service, Salt River Project, Tucson Electric Power, Arizona’s three universities and Arizona Department of Transportation.

“This type of development scenario has been an established method for procuring public projects for nearly two decades, and we’re really just at the beginning of seeing the potential for its use in Arizona,” Aller said.

The conference will feature profiles of PPP projects by experts in the fields of construction, consulting and finance. They will discuss the principles of PPP structures, business case development, appropriate risk allocation and asset management and performance techniques.

For a complete schedule or to register, visit

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Oct 15th, 2009
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