Artists and entrepreneurs. Athletes andactivists. Legends and legends in the making.
Find them all in this year’s across-the-board salute to the 48 most influential people living in the Valley today. Plus: Our heroes of the coronavirus.
By Judy Harper, Leah LeMoine, Craig Outhier & Madison Rutherford
Photography by Camerawerks
Introducing the Great 48 class of 2020.
We think you’ll agree: They’re a dynamic group of Phoenicians.
In February 2019, we began soliciting our subscribers and social media followers to nominate Valley residents who are “moving the chains, making a difference or otherwise crushing it” in the realms of business, sports, the arts, media, philanthropy, politics, et al.
We had three criteria:
1. Candidates must live at least part of the year in Maricopa County.
2. Candidates must demonstrate “brilliance or exceptional accomplishment in their field.”
3. Candidates must avail themselves to a brief interview and photo session.
* From more than 300 nominations, PHOENIX editors culled their favorites and added their own nominees, ranking their favorites in several broad fields (e.g. law/politics, the arts, etc.). A final list of Great 48 inductees was drawn up (actually slightly more than 48, since we grouped some colleagues into collective “spots”). Enjoy getting to know them. We did.
Great 48 Data
Over the course of interviewing our Great 48 inductees, we collected basic, standardized information about their origins, education and backgrounds. Before we meet them, let’s crunch the data.
THE COUNTERCULTURE MAESTRO
Kirk Strawn, M.D., 59
Founder, Walter Productions
Kirk Strawn has no problem wearing a mask. The University of Iowa-educated family physician preached the principles of hygiene while leading a nationwide network of in-home medical providers in the 2000s. Later, he became a devotee of the Burning Man festival, a yearly counterculture campout on the alkaline salt flats of Nevada, where daily dust storms make the stylish concealment of one’s nose and mouth a matter of necessity. An inveterate gearhead, he also built big, crazy, magnificent “mutant vehicles” that roamed the festival carrying hordes of admiring revelers. Those art cars, including his pièce de résistance, a fire truck chassis converted into an oversize VW bus, became the driving force of Walter Productions, Strawn’s Phoenix-based event company. Formed in 2009, Walter has produced parties for the likes of Google and SpaceX and has since diversified with ventures like Walter Station Brewery. Strawn’s latest passion? Making face shields for Banner and other medical providers. “If you’re not into wearing a mask, maybe you’ll wear a shield?” he asks. “It’s about working together, fighting the virus and not each other.
Last book read: Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Bridget Pettis, 49
Food Activist and Retired Baller
After seeing family members struggle with diabetes and other ailments, retired Phoenix Mercury star and current Chicago Sky coach Bridget Pettis was determined to clean up her own act. “I gotta take the medicine first if I want to heal somebody else,” she says. She started growing her own food at a community garden three years ago and distributed extra produce to local food banks. In late 2019, she launched Project Roots, a half-acre community garden and soup kitchen benefiting Phoenix’s homeless. “These people don’t get to choose what they want to eat on a regular basis. They’re so grateful that they’re able to get nutrition,” she says. “It makes me think I could feed the whole world.”
Speaks Italian and has an African tattoo meaning “God is king.”
Avery N. Crossman, 52
Attorney and Animal Advocate
The phrase “Renaissance woman” has become trite, but Avery N. Crossman is truly a paragon of multihyphenate mastery. By day, she’s a workers’ compensation attorney. On nights and weekends, she volunteers as president of the board at Home ‘Fur’ Good, a no-kill animal shelter in North Phoenix. She’s also reading the top 100 books of the last 100 years (James Joyce was “miserable,” but she likes having “bragging rights”) and is proficient at bagpipes, bongos, glassblowing, belly dancing, tightrope walking and karate. “It’s kind of the perfect mix. I never get bored with one aspect of my life.” Of all her passions, though, HFG is her raison d’être. “There’s just something about an animal – you look in their eyes, and you just kind of see their souls. If humans could have that kind of presence, we’d be better.”
First concert: Devo in 1981
Aaron Blocher-Rubin, 42
CEO, Arizona Autism United
According to Aaron Blocher-Rubin, individualized care is the most critical need for families with a child on the autism spectrum. In 2006, he founded Arizona Autism United, a nonprofit that provides quality, comprehensive support to people with developmental disabilities. The organization deploys direct services such as in-home or clinic-based speech therapy and behavioral intervention. Blocher-Rubin’s work is personal – his younger brother, Andy, was diagnosed with autism when Blocher-Rubin was in high school, which led him to study the condition in college. After earning a psychology degree from University of California, Los Angeles, he moved to Phoenix and worked for the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, where he developed a program for parents of autistic children. He applied this family-centric approach to Arizona Autism United. “I wanted to take these great treatments and supports that exist and make them available to as many people as possible,” he says.
FUN FACT – Last book read: A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
THE CHARITY LEGENDS
Yvonne Fedderson, 85, & Sara O’Meara, 85
Bonding on the set of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, needling Ricky and David to take them to the sock hop, rising actresses Sara O’Meara (née Buckner) and Yvonne Fedderson (née Lime) never imagined they’d be roommates almost 70 years later, let alone running one of the world’s most effective child advocacy organizations. “We’ve neverhad any major argument,” Fedderson says of her friend and fellow widow, with whom she shares a Biltmore home. “We give each other space, and we generally see things the same way.” Back in 1959, that meant sharing the same drive to help a group of “throwaway children” they met during a USO trip to Tokyo – fathered by U.S. servicemen, rejected by their cultures of origin. Two decades and five orphanage builds later, the duo pivoted to the cause of child abuse at the behest of friends Nancy and Ronald Reagan. National Child Abuse Prevention Month? Their passion project, along with a pioneering live-in treatment center and 1-800 hotline. After moving their base of operations to Arizona 25 years ago, the friends continued to innovate, launching the nation’s first texting-based hotline, which O’Meara sadly reports is being “bombarded” in the wake of the pandemic. She and Fedderson also continue to rack up Nobel Peace Prize nominations – five to date. “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” O’Meara winks
FUN FACT – Yvonne
Played policewoman Gloria Harbor on Dragnet 1967.
FUN FACT – Sara
First concert: the Knoxville Philharmonic
THE EDUCATION MOGULS
Michael K. Block, 78, & Olga V. Block, 63
Founders, BASIS Educational Ventures
Olga Block only wanted a rigorous education for her daughter. Ultimately, she and her husband, Michael Block, changed the education landscape as we know it. In 1998, the couple rented space at a Jewish temple, placed enrollment fliers on car windshields and welcomed 56 students to their fledgling Tucson school. From those humble beginnings, BASIS Charter Schools has grown to 27 schools, becoming perhaps the most illustrious charter school system in the U.S., known for high-performing K-12 students and high elite-college admission rates. “What we do is pretty straightforward,” Michael says. “We are really serious about students gaining a solid education, conceptual knowledge and the ability to use it. We use things that are tried and true; we just use them in different ways.” He says every student who graduates is accepted into a four-year university, many of them Ivy League. “And a significant number come back and teach for us,” Olga adds. As for her daughter, “she was among the first to graduate and is opening a preschool in Prague for my granddaughter.”
FUN FACT – Olga
Last book read: Great Society: A New History by Amity Shlaes
FUN FACT – Michael
As a lad, wanted to be a rancher when he grew up.
THE FIRST RESPONDER
Greg Hawk, 55
Captain, Phoenix Fire Department
Greg Hawk was delivering pizzas and going to school for electrical engineering when he was first introduced to the world of firefighting. He dropped off a pie at a fire station in Phoenix and the squad asked if he wanted to go for a ride on the truck. “I was immediately hooked,” he says. He’s been with the Phoenix Fire Department for the past three decades – and he has a slew of hilarious and heartbreaking stories to prove it. “I’ve got everything from fun times to laughable times to tragic times,” he says. Hawk is also a passionate “picker,” buying and selling vintage curios through his antiques shop, Hawk Salvage, in Downtown Phoenix. Hawk often embarks on cross-country road trips to pick up pieces for his collection, a “relaxing and rewarding” project that he plans to continue into
Last book read: Flu by Gina Kolata
Ryan Mattheis, 30
Culinary Arts Teacher, Barry Goldwater High School
At an age when most kids favor cartoons, Ryan Mattheis was interested in cooking shows. It wasn’t until he took a culinary class in high school that he learned he could turn his fascination with food into a career. He went on to study at Scottsdale Culinary Institute, cut his teeth at resorts and restaurants around the Valley, including Binkley’s and elements at Sanctuary on Camelback, and owned his own catering business. Ultimately, he ended up teaching at his alma mater. “At first, it was weird coming back and calling my former teachers by their first names,” he admits. “But it’s an honor to teach at Goldwater, and I’ve passed down my skills to students that were in my shoes.” Mattheis oversees Avenue 27, the school’s student-run restaurant. “I teach a lot of cooking skills, life skills and career skills,” he says. “I also like to teach them how to be a self-advocate, to remain humble and never stop learning.”
Has 19 tattoos. Favorite: an Alphonse Mucha painting on his left shoulder.
Ntombizodwa Makuyana, 24
Gates Cambridge Scholar
Ntombizodwa Makuyana grew up in a community in Zimbabwe where women were not encouraged to seek an education. She broke the mold by attending Arizona State University, where she studied medicinal biochemistry. She didn’t stop there. Upon graduating, she received a Gates Cambridge scholarship, a prestigious grant with a 1 per-cent acceptance rate. At Cambridge, she will be pursuing a Ph.D. in biological science, studying how immune processes can be harnessed to prevent diseases. Makuyana co-founded the award-winning initiative Female Dreamers, a project that aims to empower girls and women in Zimbabwe to be economically independent by providing them with poultry-rearing skills. “I come from a community where female education is not prioritized, so it’s about inspiring other young girls,” she says.
Favorite coronavirus quarantine activity: cooking Indian food.
The Food Pros
Lori Hashimoto, 46
Owner and Chef, Hana Japanese Eatery
Like many restaurateurs in the Valley, Lori Hashimoto soldiered on with curbside service at Hana, her beloved BYOB eatery in North Central Phoenix, after the pandemic hit. Unlike many of her colleagues, she was rewarded with brisk, if uneven, business. “Nobody’s making the money they should right now, going into the summer,” she says. “But… I’m grateful to our regulars.” Hana’s ability to weather COVID-19 speaks to its owner’s unique symbiosis with the Valley. Though born in Arizona, her teenage father was confined to a Japanese-American internment camp near the Oregon border during World War II. When the Hashimotos returned to Arizona, impoverished and dispossessed, a tight-knit community of farmers – including “the McClendons down the road” – helped the family revive its vegetable farming operation. Hashimoto grew up in Chandler, where she learned both the family trade and the traditional Japanese recipes that helped her claim one of only two perfect scores at the most recent Devour Culinary Festival. “I love Arizona,” she says. “There’s such a natural beauty here.”
Dream job as a kid: pharmacist.
Nick Campisano, 37, & Josh James, 37
Restaurateurs, Born & Raised Hospitality
They say a business partnership is like a marriage. For Born & Raised Hospitality owners Nick Campisano and Josh James, that’s especially apt. “He is very sensitive and more like my wife, and I think I’m probably more like his wife,” James says of Campisano. Despite their differences, their values align in their “more humanitarian approach and family-oriented, value-driven way to run a business,” James says. It’s been working for nearly a decade and through three successful concepts – Clever Koi, Across the Pond and Fellow Osteria – and one on the way, a fast-casual, build-your-own ramen shop called Broth and Bao slated to open in late 2020 or early 2021. As with a good marriage, “the trust factor is huge,” Campisano says. “We have each other’s backs, whether we’re in the deep crap or on the highest peak.”
FUN FACT – Nick
Loved Magnum, P.I. as a youngster and aspired to be a private investigator.
FUN FACT – Josh
Last book read: The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart
Ivan Carreño, 34
Owner, Mezcal Carreño
Growing up as a first-generation immigrant from Oaxaca, Ivan Carreño “thought everyone’s family made mezcal.” His own has been producing it at their ranch in the southern Mexican state – the mezcal world’s answer to Napa Valley – since 1904. After a trio of serendipitous experiences, his best friend, Abel Arriaga, convinced the young distilling scion to go into business with him to bring the Carreño clan’s high-octane agave spirit to the United States. In one year, they got their products into the Valley’s finest restaurants and won double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits competition. Now they’re plotting mezcal experiences at Hacienda Carreño. “I want people to fall in love with Oaxaca. We look at this as helping our family, helping our town.”
He wanted to be an OB-GYN when he was growing up, and he’s assisted five births.
Alana Yazzie, 32
“The Fancy Navajo” Lifestyle and Food Blogger
She shares fashion tips and bakes cupcakes, but Alana Yazzie is not your average blogger – her clothes are often created by indigenous designers, and those cupcakes are made with blue corn. Yazzie is bringing centuries of Diné tradition into her millennial milieu as “The Fancy Navajo,” her blog and Instagram account where she focuses on “the brighter and happier side of Native American culture… Our culture can be fancy.” Her work goes beyond “eating traditional foods with gold flatware,” she says – it’s quiet activism. “My type of activism is in the way I’m representing myself, and how I’m… expressing my native identity in a way that, I guess, silently resonates with everyone who feels the same way, that you don’t have to be this dominant force.”
One of three Great 48ers who count the Warped Tour as their first concert.
Craig Harris, 52
Reporter, The Arizona Republic
Though he skinned and mounted some of Arizona’s worst charter school self-dealers, The Arizona Republic reporter Craig Harris is no enemy of enterprise. Having interviewed the likes of former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos while working in Seattle, Harris claims to have a healthy respect for capitalism and “risking everything to make a fortune.” Still, he has a hard time suffering greed. Raised by an adoptive Japanese-American single mother, the Oregon native lived off food stamps and government flour as a child, all of which imbued him with “an underdog mentality” – not to mention a protective streak when it comes to public funds. Starting in 2014, Harris dived into a series of articles exposing extra-legal opportunism in Valley charter schools, winning the Arizona Press Club’s Virg Hill Award in 2018 and sending the owners of one illicit operation, Goodyear’s Discovery Creemos Academy, to jail in the bargain. “Charter schools can be fantastic. The academics can be fantastic,” says Harris, a born-again Christian who once worked as a minister. “But they were never ever intended for self-dealing and making people millions.”
First concert: Amy Grant
John Holmberg, 47
Morning Radio Host, Holmberg’s Morning Sickness
John Holmberg has been compared to reigning shock radio rabble-rouser Howard Stern, but don’t call him a shock jock – he prefers the term “controlled chaos” to describe his morning show on 98KUPD. “I try to keep my fingers on the pulse of what I see and how people would react to it, and just be honest with my assessments and unapologetic without being malicious,” he says. The result is the Valley’s highest-rated morning show. Holmberg also co-hosts a podcast with comedian Frank Caliendo, a hilarious highlight reel of interviews, impressions and anecdotes. “We’re like two 12-year-olds at a slumber party,” Holmberg says. The radio host is also a staunch supporter of animal rights and has five rescue dogs of his own.
Favorite quarantine activity: whiffle ball
Olivia Fierro, 44
Anchor, Good Morning Arizona
After brief stints at a clothing brand, record label and public relations firm in college, Olivia Fierro landed a TV station internship in Los Angeles. “I’ve never not worked in a newsroom since,” she says. Fierro loved the vibrancy of the newsroom, and as a “chatty, curious” student, she fit right in. Following reporting gigs in Flagstaff and Amarillo, Texas, Fierro joined 3TV’s Good Morning Arizona in 2003, leaving the station for a six-year stretch before rejoining in 2015. “What I enjoy about it the most is the pacing, the opportunity to connect with people in a more personal way and the fact that every day is truly different,” she says. Fierro is a champion of several charities like Valley of the Sun United Way and March of Dimes. When the animated anchor isn’t navigating the local news cycle, she’s spending time with her 8-year-old son. “I’m trying to get better at Nintendo Switch Mario Kart and not getting so annoyed when Nerf bullets are flying in my face,” she quips.
Favorite quarantine activities: Zoom yoga classes led by local instructors, and blasting through “all the rosès at Total Wine
Mark Curtis, 63
News Anchor, Channel 12
Mark Curtis planned to become an OB-GYN until he realized he “didn’t have the chops” for the math. He switched to psychology and later dabbled in real estate and tended bar at a disco. When the DJ called in sick, Curtis was asked to spin. His interest in broadcasting was sparked. He worked at a radio station in the ’70s before earning his street cred interning for a Washington, D.C., TV station. His first interview: Muhammad Ali. A staple of Valley news since 1995, the anchor has covered presidential inaugurations, eight Olympics and the Diamondbacks-Yankees World Series weeks after the 9/11 attacks. “We were on buses from the airport and they took us right to ground zero. It was still smoldering. And then to have the Diamondbacks win – it was the thrill of a lifetime.” A serious journalist who doesn’t take himself too seriously, the father of three humbly acknowledges his 13 Emmys and other accolades. “It’s such an honor to cover these events and I never lose site of the fact that I am really, really lucky.”
Favorite quarantine activity: working in his vegetable garden
THE PR WHIZ
Grant Crone, 36
Owner/Partner, MMPR Marketing
Grant Crone makes things happen. As owner/partner of MMPR Marketing, one of the Valley’s longest-running public relations agencies, at any given hour he might be developing a brand strategy for a real estate firm, tweaking a boutique’s website design or coordinating a photo shoot at a hot new restaurant. “I definitely know I’m doing what I was meant to do,” Phoenix native Crone says of his lifelong goal to “bridge the gap between culture and business.” When he’s not working, he loves mountain biking, snowboarding and hiking with his wife and two young sons. His secret to keeping all his plates spinning? “Relationships are what this business is all about,” he says. “We have a love and passion for all the people that we get to work with, and that brings a sense of stewardship along with it.”
Favorite quarantine activity: Playing Uno with his family. “My 3-year-old smokes us all!”
Carvin Jones, 53
Bluesman and Philanthropist
If you want moral instruction on how to “pandemic well,” look no further than legendary Valley bluesman Carvin Jones. Forced to cancel a European tour when the pandemic hit, the Gilbert resident had time and energy on his hands. “I’m what they call a boring rock star,” he says. “Never drank or smoked a day in my life.” But he understood that people were hurting. After hearing reports of elderly people being swindled out of grocery money, and seeing it with his own eyes, the Texas native leapt into action, soliciting fans on his social media channels for the names of Valley seniors who might need food assistance. “Word got out pretty quickly,” he says. Over the next two months, Jones made roughly five grocery deliveries a day, six days a week, to seniors all over the Valley, paying for the food out of his own pocket. Local news station 3TV took notice, honoring Jones with its Pay It Forward award. “I love old people,” he says. “I was raised by my grandmother and her sister. They bought me my first guitar when I was 7. So, I really just wanted to raise awareness.” He plans to resume touring this month.
Also acts! Check him out in Scrutiny.
Ib Andersen, 65
Artistic Director of Ballet Arizona
This year marks Danish ballet legend Ib Andersen’s 20th anniversary as artistic director of Ballet Arizona. “When I started, I thought [Phoenix] was like a very big city, behaving like a very small city,” he says. “Culturally, it wasn’t super sophisticated… That, for sure, has changed a lot since then.” He’s helped our progression with a steady stream of classic ballets and more daring, modern productions, including his pioneering “ballet in the round” series at Desert Botanical Garden. “What I have always liked about Arizona is the audience has always been hungry, from day one. Whatever I’ve served them, they have eaten.” We’ll have seconds, please.
Last book read: Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Rosemarie Dombrowski, 45
Professor and Poet Laureate of Phoenix
Kansas-born Rosemarie Dombrowski is a Phoenix literary legend. She teaches creative ethnography classes at Arizona State University, oversees literary magazine Write On, Downtown, founded the Phoenix Poetry Series, runs local micro-zine publishing company Rinky Dink Press and produces independent newspaper The Revolution (Relaunch). She is also Phoenix’s inaugural poet laureate, a position she wields to make poetry more accessible to the community. She has spearheaded programs, such as First Friday Poetry on Roosevelt Row, that she hopes will have longevity long after her laureateship. “That has ultimately become my greatest achievement,” she says. “Not just making poetry part of the vernacular in Phoenix, but creating the programs that helped to make it part of the vernacular, and then handing those programs off to people that are equally as passionate about keeping poetry as an art form in the public eye.”
Has 15 tattoos. Favorite one: Walt Whitman’s signature on her right wrist.
Lalo Cota, 41
painter and muralist
A multitude of masterpieces by Mexico-born muralist Lalo Cota grace the walls of buildings and galleries in Downtown Phoenix. The prolific painter is inspired by Valley life, car culture and Mexican folk art, and his large-scale, spray paint pieces often depict skulls, sunsets and desert imagery. While he has been creating since 1984, Cota says his most meaningful painting is “always the next one, because that’s what I live for.” The self-taught artist is also a father of five. “I enjoy having kids around because they are creative, with unique ideas that I could steal,” he says. The mural maestro’s next move? “A big studio for bigger paintings and sculptures.”
Last book read: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Heroes of the Coronavirus
Lauren Leander, 27
Critical Care RN, Banner University Medical Center
Throughout her life, Lauren Leander earned high grades and praise from her teachers except for one recurring comment: “She’s so quiet; I wish she would participate more.” The ICU nurse laughs about the irony now, weeks after she made a powerful statement in her scrubs and mask standing up to protesters rallying to reopen Arizona businesses. “I was there to advocate for patients, and feel fortunate I was able to say so much without saying anything at all,” says the ASU alumna, who works in the COVID-19 unit in the same hospital where she was born. Leander dreamed of being a Suns dancer, but chose nursing after going on a medical volunteer trip in college. “It’s emotionally and physically exhausting, but I love the one-on-one patient interaction. We are intimately involved in people’s worst days and sometimes their best days, and it is an absolute honor.”
Last book read: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Robert Riley, 54
Cardiothoracic Surgeon, HonorHealth
As a cardiothoracic surgeon, Robert Riley regularly treats lives in the balance. When a COVID-19 patient on the brink of death presented in March, he and his team performed ECMO – a rare and risky treatment – in a desperate attempt to keep the man alive. “It was definitely a last resort, but we were at the end of what the ventilator could do.” The man was among the first 10 COVID-19 patients in the world to survive the disease with ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), which essentially takes a person’s blood and circulates it through an artificial lung. “I have a video of him being wheeled out of the hospital as 100 hospital workers cheered.” Riley, who cherishes time with his family and horses, decided to become a doctor in kindergarten, with “frequent boyhood stitches” prompting the decision. He zeroed in on heart surgery as he matured. “It’s very technically demanding and instant gratification. You see the problem, fix the problem and go from a life-threatening condition to improvement right before your eyes.”
Favorite quarantine activity: playing rummy with his girls.
Carolyn Sechler, 67
CPA, Sechler 501 Consulting
Carolyn Sechler is all about paying it forward. The accountant provides services to the nonprofit sector on a pay-what-you-can basis. “This continues my commitment to support our community and be sure these nonprofits get the professional guidance and resources they deserve,” she says. She was recently recruited by Local First Arizona to support small businesses during the coronavirus crisis, helping them navigate through a multitude of misinformation and assess their options through webinars and virtual meetings. Sechler founded her own firm, Sechler CPA, in 1985, which she subsequently sold in 2018 to focus on her consulting company. She worked with nearly 800 nonprofits during her time as the CEO of Sechler CPA. “We all need a nonprofit at some point, whether it’s a membership organization or something relative to health, education or advocacy,” she says.
Has nine kids, and her first concert was Steppenwolf.
David Engelthaler, Ph.D., 50
Director, The Translational Genomics Research Institute North
While the coronavirus outbreak compelled most of us to isolate and stay indoors, other people necessarily remained on the front lines, fighting to find a solution. Dr. David Engelthaler is one of those people. As the director of TGenNorth, The Translational Genomics Research Institute’s infectious diseases sector, he studies genomes to respond to public health crises in Arizona and beyond. TGen’s mission is to make an impact on human health using next-generation tools and technology. Engelthaler has been a part of public health for 25 years – he was formerly Arizona’s state epidemiologist and worked with the Centers for Disease Control in Fort Collins, Colorado – but feels he has made the biggest impact on public health at TGen. “We get to solve these outbreaks and provide resources to clinicians to help manage their patients better,” he says.
Last book read: The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
Sandra Watson, 51
President and CEO, Arizona Commerce Authority
As Arizona’s leading economic development evangelist, Sandra Watson oversees a department of 100 people, and “99 of them were working remotely” during the pandemic. The lone outlier? “Me!” the Ontario, Canada, native happily reports. Crisis management is new territory for Watson, who moved to Arizona in 1992 with her late husband and volunteered in Chandler’s development department for months while awaiting a work visa. From there, she climbed the Valley’s job-creation ladder, culminating in her stewardship of the ACA, the public-private state agency launched by Governor Jan Brewer in 2011 to diversify Arizona’s one-trick construction economy. It worked: Manufacturing jobs now outnumber construction jobs in Arizona, a fact Watson hopes will accelerate the state’s COVID-19 recovery, along with the suite of emergency finance primers and “small-business boot camp” programs her agency authored in a whirlwind week of triage in the early days of the pandemic. “Having everyone [in the ACA] work remotely, we discovered that our productivity really did increase… staying focused on our core mission, but pivoting to include programs to help small businesses navigate the crisis
Became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2007.
Art “Karts” Huseonica, 69
Lauren “Lolo” Sherwood, 26
Record-Setting Yukon Tandem
As this issue rolls off the press, a float plane is splashing down on Bennett Lake in Canada, where Art Huseonica and Lauren Sherwood will step into a canoe and begin a 60-day adventure as the oldest male and youngest female to traverse 2,000 miles of the Yukon River. A 20-year Navy veteran whose resume is packed with daredevil feats, Huseonica began training with Sherwood in May 2019, locking into a coordinated paddling rhythm while working on core strength and strategies to navigate the challenges of hypothermia, wildlife and remote villagers. “There are risks, but that’s why they call it an adventure,” says Sun City’s Huseonica. “I love the surprises, not knowing what’s around every corner.” Sherwood, an avid backpacker and scuba diver, admits to anxiety about bears. “In Prescott, the biggest thing I worry about is a mountain lion – they pounce on me and it’s over – but a bear’s going to want to play with me a bit. I mentally prepare by envisioning myself paddling into the Bering Sea at the end, knowing we were successful.”
Follow the trip at yukon2020.com
FUN FACT – Lauren
First concert: “Besides local symphonies and ballets, The Offspring!”
FUN FACT – Art
Favorite quarantine activity: “Seeing my neighbors out walking past my house. Never saw them before.”
James Jones, 39
General Manager, Phoenix Suns
Many people close to the NBA were surprised when the Phoenix Suns leapt to a 7-4 start this season, without the services of suspended star center Deandre Ayton, no less. General manager James Jones wasn’t one of them. After all, it was Jones – a versatile 6-foot-8 former swingman who once played for the Suns, and won three NBA championships alongside LeBron James in Cleveland and Miami – who engineered the team’s return to respectability, signing free agent point guard Ricky Rubio and re-upping on breakout forward Kelly Oubre Jr. before the 2019-2020 season. Even if that season goes on permanent hiatus due to COVID-19, the future looks appreciably brighter for the franchise, which will play in a renovated Talking Stick Resort Arena during the 2020-2021 campaign. “It’s important that we stay on schedule [with construction], but at the same time, it’s important that we play these games, and we’ll figure that out if we get to that point.”
His uncle, Ricky Gutiérrez, had an 11-year Major League Baseball career.
W. Scott Jenkins Jr., 43
Attorney and Tournament Chairman, 2021 Waste Management Phoenix Open
Hanging out at the 16th tee box as he watched Tiger Woods ace the par-3 hole in 1997, W. Scott Jenkins Jr. never dreamed that two decades later he would manage “The Greatest Show on Grass.” “I’m a commercial litigator who just happened to get tapped to run the largest PGA Tour event in the world by accident,” he jokes. A life member of the Fiesta Bowl, Jenkins joined The Thunderbirds in 2015 and quickly rose through the ranks. “Having grown up in Phoenix and knowing the importance of The Thunderbirds to the community, it was a no-brainer,” he says. Jenkins unplugs from his fast-paced lifestyle by coaching his sons’ baseball teams. “It’s a great release to be on the field without a cellphone. I love the game of baseball and the opportunity to spend time with my sons and their buddies.”
First concert: Lilith Fair with his then-girlfriend, now wife
Jade Carey, 20
As a toddler, Jade Carey remembers trying to imitate the older kids who tumbled, flipped and dazzled at her parents’ gym. Today, all eyes are on the grown-up Carey, who leapt to an elite level in 2017, and mathematically clinched an Olympic berth (in vault; she also excels in the floor exercise) last spring. “I’m really proud that all my work has paid off, but it was kind of weird because I found out on the internet. My dad [coach Brian Carey] double-checked all my points and made sure, and then I started getting calls for interviews.” With the Tokyo Games postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus, the athlete also will delay her collegiate career at Oregon State University. “It’s hard to be so close to something and have to reset, but I’m excited for an extra year to learn new things and get better.”
First concert: Elton John, with her dad in Australia
Eno Benjamin, 22
Running Back, Arizona Cardinals
Just as he dodged flustered linebackers in college, newly drafted Arizona Cardinals running back Eno Benjamin will escape the awkward rookie-in-a-new-city phase of his pro career. As a three-year starter for the ASU Sun Devils, the 5-foot-10, 207-pound playmaker is already well-acquainted with the Valley. “I don’t see any minuses to [staying local], to be honest, only advantages,” the Dallas native says via phone while making the 18-hour drive back to Arizona in May. “I can get right to work and not waste time getting oriented.” To be sure, making an immediate and strong impression with Cardinals decision-makers is a top priority for Benjamin, a model citizen in Herm Edwards’ program who was pegged by many experts as a potential third- or fourth- round pick in last April’s NFL Draft. Instead, he fell all the way to the seventh – a steal for the Cardinals, and motivational grist for Benjamin, who could see volume snaps playing behind starter Kenyan Drake, who happens to be playing on a one-year contract. But first, the young tailback needs to find a place to live. “I feel like I need to get out of my comfort zone. I’ve already done Tempe, I’ve already done Scottsdale. I’m ready to try someplace new.”
Favorite Valley special-occasion restaurant: Mastro’s City Hall.
Nicole Stanton, 48
Vice president and General Counsel, Harvest
When Nicole Stanton was ready for a change in 2019, she turned to cannabis. Not that way. The former first lady of Phoenix left the traditional law firm where she’d spent nearly 20 years to enter the fledgling field of pot law as vice president and general counsel at Harvest, one of the largest cannabis companies in the country. “Virtually everything we do is almost precedent-setting in some way, because it hasn’t been done before,” Stanton says. “It is very exciting. I enjoy the challenge.” Other challenges: raising two kids, supporting her beloved Phoenix Mercury, keeping her anti-bullying and adverse childhood experiences initiatives going and supporting her husband, Greg, in his congress re-election campaign. Would she ever run for office? “Maybe down the road,” she says. “I do feel like I’ve been able to make an impact without [being in] public office. There are a lot of ways to lead.
Favorite quarantine activity: Riding bikes with her kids at night
Charlene Reynolds, 54
Assistant Aviation Director, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
If you love “what they’re doing” over at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, with its emphasis on local restaurants and Arizona-centric gift options, Charlene Reynolds is one of the people you can thank. As the executive overseeing business planning, the Michigan native packs as much of the Valley into its 4 million square feet of terminal space as possible. It’s the latest stop in a career focused on the “movement of people” for the boot-strapping Reynolds, who put herself through business school after moving to the Valley 34 years ago to work for Valley Metro. “I’ve had a very diverse career path,” says Reynolds, who had a hand in the creation of the Red Mountain Freeway while working in the private sector. “But I’ve always been interested in the airport, and I finally got the opportunity to come and create a brand new division… when Sky Harbor became self-sufficient in how we handle [food and service] contracts.” Her next big challenge: stripping away red tape in the post-COVID-19-era, so local vendors can “access kiosks and other small spaces” in Sky Harbor terminals.
Last book read: The Forgotten Man, A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes
Glen Lerner, 55
Principal, Lerner & Rowe Law Group
Phoenix started out as a “hiding place” for celebrity attorney Glen Lerner. So much for that. Deemed “the most-known person in Nevada” by a Las Vegas newspaper thanks to his addictively goofy TV ads, the jovial Boston native “was bigger than Wayne Newton” in the early 2000s, he says. “It was hard to walk down the street.” In 2006, Lerner and fellow attorney Kevin Rowe relocated their newly combined practice, Lerner & Rowe, to the Grand Canyon State, where TV audiences were just as powerless to resist the Tulane-educated barrister’s unabashed Southie accent and brawny charm – not to mention the firm’s sticky TV catchphrases (“In a wreck? Need a check?”). Raised in poverty by a single mom while his father served a sentence for double homicide, the Paradise Valley resident is more soulful than his shtick might suggest. A former scholarship soccer star at Duke University, he views his expanding legal empire – now with 500 employees in seven states – as a “ministry.” “I’m a big believer in the Christian concept of stewardship,” the father of three says. “Most employers have the mindset of ‘How much can I extract from this person?’ I say to myself, ‘What can I give this person?’”
Favorite quarantine activity: “Hanging by the pool and working out.”
The People’s Entrepreneurs
Heidi Jannenga, 51
Founder and Chief Clinical Officer, WebPT
Heidi Jannenga founded WebPT, an electronic health record system for rehab therapists, in Tempe in 2006. The first web-based application of its kind, it is now a multimillion-dollar company with more than 500 employees in eight states. “WebPT is here to empower therapists to achieve greatness in practice by providing an intuitive, easy-to-use platform that allows them to get back to doing what they love to do, and that’s treat patients,” the former physical therapist says. Jannenga played basketball at University of California, Davis, where she was originally pre-med. A knee injury her junior year put her on the path to becoming a PT. “I had a great therapist that rehabbed my knee and got me able to play again,” she says. “The lessons that I learned as an athlete really prepared me for where I am now,” she says, “whether that’s teamwork, tenacity, the practice, preparation and planning that it takes, discipline or hard work.”
Lone tattoo: a Japanese fan with the Kanji word for “friendship” on the inside of her left heel.
Blake King, 31
Foundeer and CEO, GlassKing Recovery & Recycling
Bottle service at a club usually leads to something sleazy, not something sustainable. But for Prescott Valley native Blake King, a stint working for a Scottsdale promotional company planted an eco-friendly seed. “I saw the influx of bottles going to the landfill, and I thought to myself, ‘There has to be someone collecting this stuff and processing it.’” There wasn’t, so in 2013 he started GlassKing Recovery & Recycling, which diverts glass from landfills and returns it to productive use. King started collecting bottles from Valley restaurants and malls and recently expanded to recycling windshield glass. Next up: pitching residential programs to cities, so that one day we’ll have a glass bin along with our recycling and trash bins. “That’s our goal for the future,” King says.
Wanted to be an NBA player growing up.
Chrissy Sayare, 52
CEO and Founder, To Be Continued
Chrissy Sayare has always been a treasure hunter. Growing up with modest means in Massachusetts, she scoured thrift stores for bargains on designer duds. “I always had sort of a nose for the good stuff,” she says. After 18 years as a high-tech recruiter, Sayare moved to Paradise Valley with her husband, Mitch, and they opened luxury consignment boutique To Be Continued in Scottsdale – with the consigner in mind. “It’s not just people buying from you, it’s people who trust you enough to leave their valuables with you,” she says. “We were able to garner that trust very early on, and it is not something we ever take for granted.” TBC has expanded to a second Scottsdale location and stores in Dallas and Los Angeles.
Last book read: Point of View by Tonne Goodman
Wendell Burnette, 58
Wendell Burnette is part engineer, part poet. The architect behind such Valley landmarks as the Phoenix Central Library, Palo Verde Library/Maryvale Community Center, St. Francis restaurant and the forthcoming Christopher’s at The Wrigley thinks and feels very deeply about each of his projects. “The first rule of sustainable design is good design that touches the hearts and souls of the community that it’s designed for,” Burnette says. “Architecture doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s about humanity.” A student of Frank Lloyd Wright and Will Bruder who loves “being creative within parameters,” Burnette also designed the award-winning Amangiri resort near Page, where the Kardashian clan frequently decamps. “It’s not about the image, it’s not about the accolades, it’s not about the cover. It’s about experience. It’s about something that enriches humanity.”
First concert: Fleetwood Mac at Memorial Coliseum Nashville, with his parents as chaperone
Spike Lawrence, 52
Founder, Spike Lawrence Ventures
Downtown Phoenix turned cool. Gilbert turned cool. Now Chandler is stepping up to bat with adaptive reuse projects, mixed-used developments and all the other hallmarks of New Urbanism that makes our local-loving hearts go pitter-patter – and Spike Lawrence is running point. Having left his mark on the East Valley with such high-concept residential developments as Downtown Ocotillo and The Falls, not to mention restaurants like The Living Room Wine Bar and The Sushi Room, the Arizona State University-educated developer returns this spring with New Square, a mixed-use contraption that will bring unique shops and restaurants to Chandler, along with the town’s first new hotel (a Hilton Garden Inn) in two decades. “It’s because the residents here want it,” Lawrence says of Chandler’s resurgent lifestyle and hospitality industry. “With all the tech jobs, and magnets for young professionals, it’s definitely not your grandfather’s Chandler anymore.”
Favorite quarantine activity: Drinking wine and watching sunsets on the roof of his office with friends. “No more than 10.”
The Public Servants
Robert Meza, 56
Arizona Representative, District 30
The Cal Ripkin Jr. of Arizona politics? Going by the numbers, it’s House member Robert Meza. The Phoenix Democrat’s election victory last November to represent District 30 in the lower chamber was his ninth consecutive successful campaign – a remarkable streak of longevity spanning 18 years in which Meza termed out twice, hopping from the House to the Senate and back to the House again to remain in office. Cited as one of the most collaborative and productive lawmakers by Capitol insiders, Meza credits his enduring popular appeal to two mentors: an ethics professor at Notre Dame University, where he went to college, and Valley spiritual adviser Will Heywood, whose Buddhist lessons of emotional intelligence and soul-discipline helped the openly gay Meza “create balance in my lifestyle… to know where not to waste time, and what my priorities are.” The lawmaker believes his pluralistic worldview is well-suited to District 30, encompassing a tract of West-Central Phoenix that’s “the most diverse in Arizona… with over 65 languages spoken,” the father of two proudly reports.
Favorite quarantine activity: Tennis at a distance four times a week.
Allister Adel, 43
Maricopa County Attorney
The election of Kyrsten Sinema to the U.S. Senate in 2018 left but one major glass ceiling in Arizona politics, and Allister Adel remembers exactly how she smashed it. “I was following the vote on a live Twitter feed,” the ASU-educated attorney says, recalling the moment the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted to install her as the replacement to outgoing County Attorney Bill Montgomery last October. “And then [they] said, ‘Get down here… you’re being sworn in in an hour!’” The appointment put Adel, who previously worked for Montgomery before specializing in nonprofit consultation, in charge of “the third largest prosecutorial body in the country,” with more than 1,000 employees – the first woman to hold the position. It also instantly transformed the Republican mother of two into a politician, who will face a Democratic challenger this November riding a platform of accountability, victims’ rights and sensible criminal justice reform. “Our operational motto is: Do things for the right reason every time,” she says.
Last book read: Love Your Enemies by Arthur C. Brooks
Recker Eans, 9
Forget books and board games. For Recker Eans’ fifth birthday, he asked for a drum set. “I feel like I just got the rhythm in me,” says the pint-size percussionist. “Drums were the answer.” At 6 years old, he started taking drum lessons at School of Rock, making him the youngest student in the Scottsdale music academy’s history. Now 9, Eans has played with big-name bands like Authority Zero, Pennywise and The Used, and drums in two local rock outfits, The Twits and Silence the Voice. Eans’ small stature belies his big goals – his aspirations include playing for an audience of 100,000 people, touring the world and acting in a zombie film. He has also used his talent to bring awareness to important causes such as the Salvation Army Christmas Angel program. His advice for other musicians? “Don’t let negativity get in the way of your passions,” he says. “Just keep going.”
No tattoos, but “[his] dad is covered.”
Tony Valdovinos, 29
CEO and Founder, La MachinE
In 2013, Tony Valdovinos became the first DREAMer to work for city hall and worked on the campaign to elect Phoenix’s first female mayor, Kate Gallego, to office. He grew up dreaming of joining the Marines, but his undocumented status barred him from enlisting. “I was meant to fight in a different kind of battle,” he says. “I was going to be a warrior for our people.” Valdovinos founded La Machine, a consulting firm that specializes in helping clients reach voters. Valdovinos’ life story is summed up in the locally produced hit musical, Americano!, which broke the state box office record in February. Seeing the production for the first time was an emotional experience. “It was the toughest re-enactments of moments that truly defeated me, but created me at the same time,” he says
Last book read: Leading Marines by U.S. Marine Corps
Kimber Lanning, 52
Founder and Executive Director, Local First Arizona
Kimber Lanning is a builder, but not in the literal sense. “I’m building a movement,” she says of Local First, a nonprofit that aims to construct a more cohesive economy throughout Arizona. “I wanted to provide a voice for small businesses and create a level playing field for locally owned businesses to be able to compete in a fair environment.” Best known for staging the Devour Phoenix food festival, Local First most recently raised $1.2 million to help local, family-owned businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus crisis, led by Lanning’s relentless engagement on social media and canny work with policymakers. Lanning is a small business owner herself – she opened Stinkweeds, a record store that has become a formative fixture in the Phoenix community, in 1987.
Was a military brat, born in Okinawa.
Herm Edwards, 66
Described as “the most positive and enthusiastic person I have ever been around” by one of his staffers, ASU head football coach Herm Edwards arrived in Arizona a full-fledged sports icon in 2017 – a former NFL player and head coach who spent the previous eight years in a high-profile analyst gig at ESPN. Equipped with a Heisman-caliber quarterback in sophomore Jayden Daniels and a Top 30 defense, the program could be poised to deliver Edwards his first PAC-12 title this season – if they play, that is. True to form, Edwards is optimistic. “You’ve got to adapt to change,” he says, describing the “virtual meetings” and limited training sessions that will follow the university’s presumed lifting of sanctions this summer. Edwards’ pro-style, tape-oriented system appears well-suited to COVID-19-era virtualism, but he still has practical locker room concerns. “The question is: How do you get togetherness with separation? Personal interaction is the essence of our sport.”
Has a degree in criminal justice from San Diego State University.
Jerry Moyes, 76
Owner, Antelope Point Marina
Billionaire or no, every retiree needs a serenity garden. For Jerry Moyes, it happens to be Lake Powell. Semi-retired since merging his Swift Transportation trucking empire with a competitor in 2017, the Phoenix resident spends much of his free time cruising the scenic reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border in his luxury houseboat, often with his growing stable of grandchildren in tow. “It’s one of my happy places, for sure,” says the genial businessman, who also owned the Phoenix Coyotes for a hot minute in the 2000s, an ultimately costly endeavor that he calls “a fun project,” with pointed irony. In 2008, Moyes opened Antelope Point Marina as an upscale option for Powell visitors – and has been trying to figure out ways to get Arizonans hooked on the wholesome vice of houseboating ever since. “Believe it or not, about 85 percent of our visitors are from Utah, so Arizona [awareness] is something I want to focus on,” he says.
He and his wife of four decades, Vickie, have 10 adopted children.
Sam Baker, 97 2/3
Author, Retired Engineer, Etc.
Sam Baker has packed more life into his nine decades on Earth than most folks could into nine lifetimes. The Mississippi native served in the Marine Corps in World War II, became an ensign in U.S. National Geodetic Survey, flew over the North Pole, worked at Cape Canaveral in the nascent days of the space program, consulted on nuclear projects, sold GPS systems and, after retiring to Scottsdale, began writing children’s books. “I’ve had a terrific life, I really have. I’ve moved around a lot,” Baker says. “And everywhere you went, there was a story.” Baker exercises five times a week, reads avidly and attends discussion groups, but he has no prescriptions for a long life. “I don’t know that any of us have a key to longevity. You roll the dice, I guess, and some come up with seven and some come up with deuces,” he says. “Life is a joy. You live every day.”
First concert: Boston Pops, summer of 1946