Celebrate Scottsdale Senior History on Grandparents Day

By Joan Fudala

To mark National Grandparents Day on Sept. 7, it seems a grand idea to highlight Scottsdale’s senior history, and mention just a few of the countless contributions that those older than 65 have made to our community’s heritage.

In 1972, Jonathan Marshall, publisher of the Scottsdale Progress, proposed an annual Grandparents Day in Arizona. Marshall was appointed to serve as chairman of a statewide committee for the proposed observance, which was thought by many to be the first in the United States. On Sept. 30, 1973, communities throughout the state observed the first Grandparents Day, with then-Gov. Jack Williams issuing a proclamation urging citizens to honor their elders. The theme for the first Arizona Grandparents Day was “Give a Gift of Love – Adopt a Grandparent for the Day.”

In Scottsdale, churches held special services and dinners to honor their senior congregants, and local schools held programs designed for students to invite grandma and grandpa. The city of Scottsdale sponsored a chamber music concert in the City Hall Kiva (the Center for the Arts didn’t open until 1975), a swing concert in the amphitheater behind City Hall, a dance in the City Hall Kiva and an arts and crafts display on Civic Center Plaza.

Although the exact number of grandparents in Scottsdale is unknown, official 2012 demographic data tell us that 20.8 percent of Scottsdale’s population is 65 or older. While the city’s median age in 2012 was 46, there were some 46,000 residents over 65. According to the city’s Visitor Statistics Report of August 2013, the typical leisure visitor to Scottsdale is 58 years old. Anecdotally, we know that seniors support our arts and cultural institutions, patronize our restaurants and retail businesses, volunteer their time in numerous ways and sustain our faith organizations. They’ve created a market for upscale senior living communities that provide a continuum of aging care. As grandparents, they “attract” visits from their out-of-town children, and grandchildren too, boosting our year-round tourism industry.

Here are a few tidbits of Scottsdale’s senior history:

In 1965, the city of Scottsdale purchased the 1920s-vintage Chesnutt house and property on Granite Reef Road (just north of Camelback Road), and established it as Chesnutt Park. The former Chesnutt home became the city’s first Senior Center. Mrs. Laura Chesnutt was appointed to Scottsdale’s Senior Citizens Adult Center Committee, and served as the emcee at the first Grandparents Day ceremony at City Hall in September 1973.

In April 1972, senior citizens meeting at Chesnutt Park Senior Center declared the facility too small and inadequate to meet the needs of the senior community. They got the ball rolling for a brand new center.

Scottsdale’s Civic Center Senior Center opened Sept. 7, 1976, on the southwest corner of Second Street and Civic Center Plaza (now Drinkwater Boulevard). The center popularity is a tribute to the combined talents of city staff and volunteers in nearly all aspects of its operation. Volunteer roles performed by the seniors themselves included serving as concierges; organizing clubs, classes and intergenerational programs, and getting involved with providing brokerage services such as home-delivered meals, pets on wheels, and tax preparation. When Scottsdale entered the computer age, seniors also helped each other develop computer, email and Internet skills.

Scottsdale’s Via Linda Senior Center opened in March 1995 in response to new demand for senior services in the growing area north of Shea Boulevard. Phase II of the Via Linda Senior Center was completed in 2002, doubling its size to 21,000 square feet and adding classrooms, computer room, library and fitness center.

The city of Scottsdale opened the new 37,500-square-foot Granite Reef Senior Center on Granite Reef Road just north of McDowell Road on Sept. 14, 2006. It replaced the outdated Civic Center Senior Center, and offers many amenities, from a large fitness center, to a multipurpose room with a stage and high-tech, audio-video equipment for programs of all kinds.

Recognize These Names?

Here are just a few examples of seniors who have impacted Scottsdale history:

• Founder Winfield Scott and his wife Helen “retired” to Scottsdale in 1893, when he retired from service as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. The reverend and Mrs. Scott then launched encore careers as farmers/ranchers, Baptist activists and community builders. Rev. Scott was elected to the Territorial Legislature when he was 61, and continued his preaching and travels until his death in 1910 at age 73.

• Mort Kimsey, who came to Scottsdale circa 1917 and ran a service station and the electric company, became Scottsdale’s second mayor in 1958 when he was 69 years old, serving until he was 73. In 1968, he and fellow senior Pansy Beauchamp organized the Scottsdale Historical Society to save the 1909-vintage Little Red Schoolhouse from destruction during an urban renewal project. Kimsey served as the Historical Society’s president for its first few years, saving not only the schoolhouse, but also restoring and preserving knowledge about Scottsdale’s early history.

• Dr. Philip Schneider Sr. retired from his renowned OB/GYN practice in Illinois, and moved his family to Scottsdale in the late 1940s. He became the quintessential civic volunteer and downtown developer, credited with getting Scottsdale incorporated in 1951 (he chaired the petition committee), as well as building the first new apartments (The Adobe Apartments), a shopping center (Goldwater’s and other shops at Scottsdale Road and First Avenue), drive-in restaurant (Bimbo’s on the northeast corner of Scottsdale and Indian School roads) and other properties. He was also a key figure in the success of Scottsdale Baptist Hospital/Scottsdale Memorial Hospital, serving in many volunteer consulting and fundraising capacities.

• In 1991, retired Salt River Project engineer Chet Andrews, an avid hiker, joined the board of the then-new McDowell Sonoran Land Trust (MSLT), and provided volunteer leadership to the organization credited with saving the McDowell Mountains from development. Jane Rau was a founding member of MSLT (now the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy) while in her 60s, and continues her role as an MSC volunteer today, a remarkable achievement, as she’s over 90 years young.

Legacy of Knowledge

Our most-senior residents have done much to share their knowledge of Scottsdale area history with us. Paul Messinger writes a regular history column for the Scottsdale Republic, and turned many of his columns into a book. The Past Presidents Council of the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce—mostly comprised of retired business leaders—started and continues to organize the annual Scottsdale History Hall of Fame induction dinner. Joann Handley, a retired nurse, has been the volunteer director of the Scottsdale Historical Society Museum for many years. Retirees and seniors serve as volunteers at the Scottsdale Public Libraries, at Vista del Camino’s food bank and in the Scottsdale Unified School District; as docents at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, the Scottsdale Historical Society Museum and the Musical Instrument Museum; as stewards of the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy; and as volunteers at Scottsdale Healthcare and Mayo Clinic. Scottsdale Charro “lifers’’— many in their 70s and 80s—continue to work at Spring Training games and participate in other activities that raise money for Scottsdale-area youth organizations and civic groups. Many over 65 serve on Scottsdale boards and commissions; others decide to run for political office.

Programs like Arizona State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Encore University at Valley Presbyterian Church offer retirees and seniors the opportunity to continue to learn and enrich their lives.

So here’s a virtual hug to all who are grandparents, seniors and retirees. We value your experience, your knowledge, your wisdom and your dedication to Scottsdale. Happy Grandparents Day!

Joan Fudala is a Scottsdale-based community historian and author. Contact: jfudala@cox.net