From athletes and educators to artists and entrepreneurs, these superlative Valley dwellers are raising the proverbial bar.
By Shi Bradley, Colton Cagle, Sara Crocker, Jessica Dunham, Brenna Gauchat, Marilyn Hawkes, Jason Keil, Leah LeMoine, Madeline Nguyen, Craig Outhier, Robrt L. Pela, Madison Rutherford
Original Photography by Camerawerks
Introducing the Great 48 class of 2023.
We think you’ll agree: They’re a dynamic group of Phoenicians.
In Spring 2023, we solicited our subscribers and social media followers to nominate superlative Valley dwellers in the realms of business, sports, the arts, media, philanthropy, politics, et al.
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/questionnaire.
* 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 inductees, we collected basic, standardized information about their origins, education and backgrounds. Before we meet them, let’s crunch the data.
FOOD & BEVERAGE
Kailee Asher, 38
Kailee Asher’s usually a behind-the-scenes gal. As the director of communications for Barter & Shake Cocktail Entertainment, she manages marketing, advertising and public relations for Century Grand (encompassing concepts Platform 18, Grey Hen RX and UnderTow, it won Best U.S. Cocktail Bar at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s Spirited Awards) and the new Sunny’s Lounge. But she’s stepping into the spotlight with her latest role: author. Asher, wife of Barter & Shake founding partner Jason Asher, recently published Mise en Place Marketing: A Realistic Approach to Marketing for Your Restaurant or Bar Business. Drawing from her own experiences, Asher demystifies marketing for business owners. “It’s intended to be a point of reference and resource for people who don’t have the money or time to hire or outsource marketing,” she says. Asher also serves as the education chair for the local United States Bartender’s Guild and is involved with a women’s bartender mentorship program. Her own aspirations are more personal: “I want to continue to find ways to be a really amazing, supportive and present mother and wife. My No. 1 goal in life is to be happy.”
As a child, she wanted to be a journalist or an interior designer.
Tyler Smith, 37
Even when he was working for one of the biggest sports apparel companies in the world, Tyler Smith was always passionate about home-brewing a frosty bottle of beer. When his wife asked the Nebraska native what he wanted to do with his future, he gave himself two years to pivot from Nike’s high-end sneakers to malted hops. Despite the swelling number of breweries in the Valley, Smith has found a way to make his North Phoenix brewery stand out without alienating the palates of craft beer fans. “When I opened Kitsune, I hoped to bring a space where the guy sitting next to you could become your best friend,” Smith says. “We offer classic styles and some cool stuff that isn’t overly represented in Arizona. We do smoothie sours, like Bantha Milk and strawberries and cream, and it’s an honor to be doing some out-of-the-box stuff and be recognized for it.”
Has five tattoos. His fave: “My daughter, Teddy Bear.”
Jamie Hormel, 54
What began as an act to save a building from demolition morphed into a life of philanthropy for Jamie Hormel. She and her late husband Geordie purchased the historic Wrigley Mansion in 1992 – before bulldozers were scheduled to raze it for condos. Meticulous restoration combined with the Hormels’ wish to open Wrigley to the public and Jamie’s deft guidance of it over the years have turned Wrigley Mansion into a beloved Phoenix landmark. Not to mention a hub of culinary gravitas thanks to Geordie’s Restaurant, Jamie’s Wine Bar and, perhaps most notably, Christopher’s, the seasonally driven, globally inspired, glass-walled restaurant by James Beard Award-winning chef Christopher Gross, Hormel’s partner. “I take my responsibility to share Wrigley with the community seriously,” she says. Throughout the last 30 years, she’s extended this ethos beyond Wrigley’s walls. Her involvement in local causes spans the arts, animals and more, from Arizona Humane Society and Almost There Rescue to Phoenix Theatre Company, Special Olympics Arizona and Hospice of the Valley. “There are many factors that guide my giving,” Hormel reflects. “Sometimes it’s a great organization being led well. Sometimes it’s a small organization that’s struggling. And sometimes it’s a cause near and dear to someone’s heart who is near and dear to me.”
Her first concert: David Bowie.
Fernando Hernandez, 38
Fernando Hernandez describes himself as a storyteller first and restaurant owner second, though a 2023 James Beard Award nomination might suggest a re-ordering of those titles. But founding Testal Mexican Kitchen stemmed more from Hernandez’s desire to give Phoenicians a peek into his homeland of Chihuahua, Mexico, than it did anything else. “Testal is an experience of culture,” Hernandez says. “We present traditional food from the region along with aspects of where that food comes from.” Hernandez’s mother, Ana Saldaña, crafted the menu, building on her own recipes, and cocktails feature sotol, a distillate similar to tequila or mezcal but made from a desert shrub common in northeastern Mexico. Testal also supports the Kórima Foundation, a nonprofit Hernandez started to bring aid to Indigenous communities in Chihuahua. These efforts have brought much acclaim to Testal, but Hernandez insists it all goes back to narrative. “We’re not reinventing the wheel. The food, the recipes… they’ve been there all the time. I just get to share it.”
As a child, he dreamed of playing for the Atlanta Braves.
Ric Serrano, 62
As CEO of family-owned Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants, Ric Serrano lives by the company’s mantra: Faith, Family & Food. “These values have always been at the core of the Serrano family, and we continue to be guided by our Catholic faith, commitment to family and traditional Sonoran Mexican food recipes to this day,” he says. Serrano’s has been in the Valley for more than 100 years, first as a store in downtown Chandler, and, since 1979, as a beloved Mexican restaurant chain in the East Valley that recently added fast-casual concept Pronto to its portfolio. Over the years, Serrano has cherished the time spent working with his late parents, his seven siblings and, now, his daughter. But he also considers his employees extended family and says they’re an integral part of the company’s success, as well as the support of loyal customers. Giving back is important to the Serranos, whose efforts include feeding the homeless at St. Vincent de Paul every month for the last two decades and raising funds for breast cancer research in memory of their sister, Stephanie. Another constant in Serrano’s life: golf. “Through business deals, personal desire or involvement in charitable work, my love for the greatest game ever played always shines through.”
Speaks “kitchen Spanish.”
Sue Berliner, 64
For Sue Berliner, juggling a career in magazine publishing and helming a burgeoning raw dessert company was a “disaster.” When running Sweat, a local health and fitness magazine, and b Naked Chocolates became too cumbersome, she made an “easy” decision: “I would rather sell chocolate than advertising any day.” Initially, the former endurance athlete and fitness model developed a line of raw chocolates because she wanted to eliminate dairy and refined sugar from her diet for health reasons. Eventually, she expanded her product line to include coconut macaroons, protein and fruit bars, brittles and a slew of other desserts that are free of dairy, gluten, grain, soy, eggs and refined sugar. Now, she’s a fixture at Valley and Flagstaff farmers markets and has garnered a loyal following. While Berliner is no longer an endurance athlete, she still enjoys hiking and running. The secret to her success? “Being persistent and staying the course. I like creating, and that’s what keeps me going. You have to constantly be looking for ways to improve,” she says. “I want people to be able to enjoy desserts with reckless abandon and not feel guilt.”
Spent $10 on her first concert ticket and saw Jefferson Starship, Fleetwood Mac, Jeff Beck, Ted Nugent and Bob Seger at Superjam ’76.
BUSINESS & TECHNOLOGY
Sam Fox, 49
Great restaurants always have that one thing in their repertoire that stays the same – their special sauce, if you will. But change is the one constant on the menu for Sam Fox, who sold his Fox Restaurant Concepts to The Cheesecake Factory in 2019 but stayed on as CEO. As his empire, which includes more than 150 restaurants – including The Henry and Culinary Dropout – spread nationwide, the state’s most successful restaurateur plotted a new hospitality course. This year, he’s making the leap into the world of luxury hotels with the highly anticipated The Global Ambassador in Arcadia. “There is so much overlap between restaurants and hotels that The Global Ambassador is the natural evolution of my passion for creating memorable hospitality experiences,” Fox says. Whether it’s a great meal or a relaxing vacation, the restaurateur aims to shine a light on metro Phoenix – with that Fox special sauce. “We want to further the Valley’s growth and attract locals and future visitors from all over the country and world to see why Phoenix is one of the greatest cities in the country.”
Last book he read: The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin.
Adelaida Severson, 58
Adelaida Severson, Ph.D., sums up the evolution of Bushtex – the international satellite company she started with her husband, Barry, out of their Phoenix home in 1994 – as going from “garage to global.” Now operating out of a 20,000-square-foot facility in Gilbert, Bushtex “supports the federal government with all the bells and whistles of certifications that come with that and has a presence internationally.” As Bushtex’s president and CEO, Severson helps connect professional broadcasters and private enterprises, builds custom satellite systems and produces and securely transmits video, audio and data around the world. She’s trotted the globe herself to consult on communications strategies. “This has been such a benefit to me in my career and life in that it gave me pause to realize that there is a purpose bigger than me,” she says. “I am just a small part of this wheel we call life.”
Has a Ph.D. in public administration from Arizona State University.
Michael O’Brien, 40
The CEO of Tempe cannabis company Sonoran Roots is living proof that productive stoners exist. Born and raised in the Valley, Michael O’Brien earned a finance degree from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and a law degree from New York University. “I never really had a sense of what I wanted to do when I grew up,” he says. “I knew I wanted to be involved in business, and I knew that I wanted to be able to control my own destiny.” In 2018, he was providing legal counsel for a client in the cannabis industry. “One thing led to another, and I ended up becoming a co-founder of Sonoran Roots and employee No. 1,” he says. The company owns and operates three cultivation facilities and an extraction lab in the East Valley, as well as dispensaries in Glendale, Chandler and Florence. O’Brien also serves on the board of directors of the Arizona Dispensaries Association and advocates for cannabis education.
Has a clock tower tattoo on his forearm bearing the names of his two daughters.
Shawn Bradford, 45
At the unexpected intersection of yoga and business is corporate health pioneer Shawn Bradford. Exhausted from working full time as a single mom to three young children, Bradford embraced yoga as a way to manage her stress and sleep issues. “If you’ve ever been through a bout of insomnia, it’s horrific. So, just getting the gift of being able to sleep back changed everything,” she says. Inspired to help others reclaim their health, she returned to school to get a master’s degree in health promotion with an emphasis in workplace wellness, then founded Breath and Work, a wellness service that teaches ways to implement yoga and mindfulness into your workday. Companies can book Bradford for in-person or online corporate yoga or meditation classes, mindfulness training and other wellness offerings. Currently, she has ongoing classes at U-Haul and HonorHealth. “I absolutely love all things to do with yoga, meditation, mindfulness and health,” Bradford says.
Her first concert: Paula Abdul. “So fun!”
Dawn Jones, 53
When Dawn Jones started as an administrative assistant at Intel in 1997, her goal was simple: get a job with health benefits for her family. Since then, Jones has moved up through the company to positions like public affairs manager, director of policy and external partnerships and her current role leading Intel’s social impact initiatives. Her responsibilities encompass many areas at Intel, from diversity and inclusion to the implementation of environmental, social and governance strategies, and have yielded industry-wide change such as the formation of the Alliance for Global Inclusion, a coalition that Jones launched of tech leaders who share diversity and inclusion metrics. Though Jones was named one of AZ Big Media’s Most Influential Women in 2022, it’s her own mother that she cites as inspiration. “My mom instilled in me what it means to lead from any seat,” Jones says. “Any room I’m in, I have a voice and I use it.”
As a child, she dreamed of being a CNN anchor.
Todd Stottlemyre, 58
For 12 years of his adulthood, every time Todd Stottlemyre looked in the mirror, he saw a killer staring back at him. When his younger brother fell into a fatal coma after receiving a bone-marrow transplant from Stottlemyre for his leukemia, the false guilt he felt drove the then-MLB starting pitcher into a rut – on and off the field. “Something I couldn’t control became something that controlled me,” he says. “I became a very dark person who hated himself.” It was his teammates and coaches – including his father, MLB legend Mel Stottlemyre – who finally helped dispel Stottlemyre’s darkness. After winning two World Series rings with the Toronto Blue Jays in the early 1990s, followed by stretches with various teams, including the Arizona Diamondbacks, he left the mound for good in 2002 and became a different kind of coach: a motivational speaker and financial advisor to people and businesses in need. He combined his skills as this “teacher of life lessons” with the competitive drive he honed in baseball to co-found the nationwide fast-casual chain Koibito Pokē in Scottsdale. “You need to get coaches because you need to borrow their belief in you as a human being that anything is possible,” he says. “Without that, I’d be living in darkness.”
Current TV obsession: Suits.
POLITICS & LAW
Hannah Moulton Belec, 38
The throughline of Hannah Moulton Belec’s career has been mission-oriented work, starting with environmental conservation and feminist issues while the Arizona native attended school in Washington, D.C., and continuing with nonpartisan advocacy for D.C.-area nonprofits. Her return to Tempe in 2015 shifted her attention locally. Belec began serving on the Tempe Neighborhood Advisory Commission, helping implement fairer grantmaking by recruiting underrepresented neighborhoods to apply for shade, art and infrastructure. She co-founded Broadmor Bike Bus, an advocacy program for safer streets. She joined a city-convened committee to rename Tempe parks and roads that were named for individuals connected to the Ku Klux Klan. And she managed Tempe mayor Corey Woods’ successful 2020 campaign while raising a family and working full-time for the Arizona Government Transformation Office. But don’t call Belec an activist. “I think of myself as someone who embraces the boring grunt work that it takes to make change happen. It’s extremely unglamorous. But it needs doing.”
First concert: “Ricky Martin at America West Arena.”
Adrian Fontes, 53
Considering the nationwide scrutiny Arizona’s elections have endured over the last several years, Adrian Fontes probably knew his work was cut out for him when he ran for secretary of state. But his job is more than protecting an essential democratic process. His office is also a resource for county election officials, many of whom have recently been elected. “New officials and those who remain at their jobs need help in the form of advice and technical support to guarantee the safe, secure and accurate elections that all voters deserve,” says the former U.S. Marine and Maricopa County prosecutor, who some pundits see as a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2030. But with the 2024 elections fast approaching, Fontes says he’s fully dedicated to protecting Arizonans’ right to vote. “I remain focused on the huge task in front of me, including bolstering our cybersecurity defenses against attack, training local and county workers in proper procedures, and defending against what promises to be a tsunami of mis-, dis- and mal-information about Arizona’s elections,” Fontes says.
Has a tattoo of three birds.
Sybil Francis, 66
“We’re driven by the mission of bringing people together to create a stronger future for our state,” says Sybil Francis, Ph.D. Francis is a cofounder of the Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit, nonpartisan “do tank,” as she calls it. “We like to think of ourselves as more than a think tank, because good intentions are nothing without action,” says Francis, who’s served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and as a senior policy director in the U.S. House of Representatives. “We founded the organization to mobilize information into action through programs and initiatives in education, workforce and civic engagement.” Those programs include Arizona Progress Meters, which provides valuable data on education, jobs, health care and the environment to local policymakers. “We get up every single day to move the needle on the aspirations Arizonans have for Arizona,” Francis says. “We’re driving positive change on behalf of Arizonans, convening partnerships and impacting hundreds of thousands of lives in the process.”
Francis was only the fifth woman ever to enroll in the Defense and Arms Control Program in the political science department at MIT.
Fred H. Rosenfeld , 86
Fred H. Rosenfeld has practiced law in Arizona for more than 60 years – a notable feat by itself. The firm also achieved historical significance a few years back when Gust Rosenfeld P.L.C. crossed the century mark. Rosenfeld’s father, Fred W. Rosenfeld, was one of the state’s first municipal bond lawyers, whose work made financing for public projects possible. Following in those footsteps, Rosenfeld worked on bond issues for schools and local governments. He even argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. But, perhaps the most impactful – and visible – example of Rosenfeld’s bond practice is the development of the Central Arizona Project. “We issued almost $1 billion in bonds,” he says. The 336-mile canal system delivers water from the Colorado River, serving 80 percent of the state’s population. When asked how long he’ll continue to practice, Rosenfeld says, “I’ll keep on as long as I can.”
Rosenfeld helped build the elephants for the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride at Disneyland the summer after he graduated from high school.
Rachel Mitchell, 56
When she was sworn in as interim Maricopa County Attorney in April 2022, Rachel Mitchell was taking over an office that was understaffed and in turmoil, following the resignation of her predecessor, Allister Adel. The Republican also had to quickly gear up for a special election in November, which she won. In office, the veteran prosecutor has focused on a hiring blitz to increase capacity and cut a case backlog by about two-thirds. “I’ve had a great team around me,” Mitchell says, adding, “The office has bounced back.” Mitchell has declared her intent to run for re-election in 2024 and points to “quite a track record” while she’s been at the helm, launching a task force to combat retail theft, adding a probation liaison role and piloting programs that divert people from prosecution to resources. “[The public] wants to be safe, and they want to have a prosecution agency that has integrity and is fighting for them,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell plays percussion in her church orchestra. She began playing the drums in grade school and was in her high school marching band.
Kristina Chumpol, 36
As chief of staff and vice president of community investment at the Fiesta Bowl, it helps that Kristina Chumpol loves football. But her job is about more than sports. “People tend to hear ‘Fiesta Bowl’ and immediately think of the bowl game,” she says, but “we are so much more. The Fiesta Bowl organization is a premier major event production company. People also may not know that we are one of the largest charitable funders in the state. The Fiesta Bowl has contributed $30 million back to our state in the last 13 years.” Chumpol joined the org in 2019 after 15 years at Boys & Girls Clubs, where she was a “Club kid” growing up. She quickly rose up the ranks, fueled by her desire “to make a difference in the lives of kids and families who need it most” in Arizona communities. “I love football, I love our place and tradition in the football community,” Chumpol says. “I love what we do off the field even more.”
She dreams of Taylor Swift playing the Fiesta Bowl. “Football + TSwift + impact = a very happy Kristina.”
Preston & Grace Summerhays, 20 & 19
Sports has many sibling rivalries, from the Williams sisters to the Manning brothers. But you won’t have much luck finding animosity between golfers Preston and Grace Summerhays. The duo, both Utah imports and star student-athletes at Arizona State University, believe they play smarter by working together on the green. “It means so much to share my success with my family,” says Grace, who played in the U.S. Women’s Open this year as an amateur. “They are so supportive in so many ways, and I am so blessed to have them in my life.” Credit for this approach goes to their father, coach and occasional caddy, Boyd, who also gives PGA star Tony Finau tips on his swing. “My dad has raised us and trained us really, really tough,” Preston, a former U.S. Junior Amateur Champion (2019), shared with USA Today. Selected to the 2023 U.S. Palmer Cup team, Preston looks to follow the Tempe-to-PGA path blazed by Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm – he was the 2022 PAC-12 Freshman of the Year and has already qualified for two U.S. Opens (2020 and 2023).
Preston’s current TV obsession: The Office. Grace’s: Friends.
Jack Florez, 18
When Jack Florez was 2, doctors told his parents that his cerebral palsy diagnosis might impede his ability to walk independently. His parents refused to limit his potential, and with supportive doctors and extensive therapy at United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona, Florez overcame numerous hurdles and began running cross country in sixth grade. Although he faced adversity along the way, Florez remained unfazed, drawing strength from his coaches and the running community’s unwavering support. “I return to running because of the friends I’ve made along the way… they treat me like a normal person.” Now, Florez runs cross country at Boulder Creek High School in North Phoenix. He says his confidence and resilience stem from his belief that hardship is an inherent part of life. His message is to persevere through life’s trials, seek support and “find the motivation to keep moving forward.” After high school, Florez aspires to serve a mission for his church, study film in college and write screenplays.
First concert: Tears for Fears, with Garbage as the opening act.
Nick Schmaltz, 27
As a Wisconsinite, Nick Schmaltz is helping continue a long tradition of Midwestern migration to the Valley of the Sun. He also has many of the typical heartland homesickness pangs – misses the seasons, misses beer-battered everything, etc. Then again, “[the] Arizona winters are really nice, and you get the sun and keep that tan year round.” This is not a trivial benefit when you make a living in an ice rink, and the emerging Arizona Coyotes winger figures to be doing it for a long time. Hindered by injuries coming out of the University of North Dakota as a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, Schmaltz has plotted a star trajectory since landing in Phoenix following a 2018 trade. In 2021-2022, he set career highs for goals (23) and points (59) – numbers he almost identically repeated last season as part of a potent line alongside forward Clayton Keller and center Barrett Hayton, on a gutsy Coyotes squad that overperformed playing in Mullett Arena for the first time. Expectations are higher this season – both for the team and its fleet right wing. “We’ve been building something pretty special over the last couple of years, and I want to play my part to keep improving this team.”
Currently reading: The Mamba Mentality: How I Play by late Lakers great Kobe Bryant.
LAND & REAL ESTATE
Katie Haydon Perry, 42
Growing up, Katie Haydon Perry babysat the children of the staff at Haydon, the general contractor founded by her father Gary in 1991 that has grown to become one of the largest construction companies in the Southwest. She admits that as a child, two careers that appealed to her were babysitter and lawyer. “I have always enjoyed small children and a good argument,” Perry quips. The mother of five currently serves as Haydon’s executive vice president and will become CEO next year. Taking over the family business “is emotional, stressful and overwhelming at times, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Perry, who joined Haydon’s accounting department in 2010 and has climbed the ranks and worked to reshape the company culture, harkening back to those days when Haydon was smaller. “Everyone deserves to show up for their workday and feel that they are making a difference, working with people they enjoy and for a company they can relate to,” Perry says.
Tattoos? “I had several, had some removed, currently have three. Favorite is an owl I have on my wrist to represent the Greek goddess Athena. Reminds me to be wise and aware.”
David Sellers, 45
Drive through the Valley, and your eye will undoubtedly catch a stunning new mixed-use development, modern industrial center or beautifully designed restaurant – and there’s a good chance one of David Sellers’ companies was behind it. Sellers is the head of LGE Design Build (a construction and design firm his father founded) and Creation (a real estate development firm he founded with Bob Agahi in 2018). Both made Inc. magazine’s 2023 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies. LGE Design Build has played a pivotal part in the development of Phoenix, Gilbert and Goodyear (notable works: The Colony, Overstreet, Heritage Marketplace), and Sellers has guided it through recessions, supply-chain issues and a pandemic with the strong work ethic he learned from his father. “Great things don’t come by sitting around and waiting for them to happen,” he says. “You have to grind, you have to put in the hours and you have to be dedicated to your goal.” Sellers is proud of the footprint he’s left and anticipates its growth with $2 billion in projects in the coming years for his firm alone. “I see some incredible projects being built.”
Last book he read: Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer.
Dan Stellar, 46
Dan Stellar swears his last name has never been a burden. “It’s a lot to live up to,” the state director of The Nature Conservancy jokes. “But I’ve had my name my whole life, and I don’t really take any kidding about it these days.” Steering the state branch of the world’s largest conservation organization is no mean feat. It helps that more people are talking about climate change and protecting the environment. “It’s easier to discuss tackling biodiversity loss when it’s in the news every day,” he says. “It was a fringe topic not that long ago, and it’s entered the mainstream conversation lately. Unfortunately, that’s partly because of the world’s increased water shortage.” He’s passionate about empowering youth in the workplace by way of TNC’s Young Emerging Professionals group. And when Stellar’s not running a global, earth-saving nonprofit, he’s running marathons. “Being an endurance athlete has been a big part of my life for a long time,” he says. “Even with a demanding job, I’ve learned to make time for distance trail races. It’s a work-life thing.”
Current TV obsession: Better Call Saul.
Deborah Thirkhill, 65
Retired Arizona State University gardening professor Deborah Thirkhill is obsessed with dates, but not the kind you explore on an app. Thirkhill, program coordinator at ASU Facilities Development and Management Ground Services, oversees the ASU Date Palm Germplasm on the Polytechnic Campus, managing a grove of 140 date palm trees that includes numerous rare varieties. One of her favorite responsibilities is teaching students and community members how to trim, pollinate and harvest more than 50 types of dates. “The Valley has a long history of farming, so when date palms were first introduced to the Tempe area in the 1890s by the USDA, dates became an important, nutritious, ready-to-eat crop in the Valley,” she says. “I feel it is important to continue to teach our community how to grow historic crops and dates in our backyard and support eating local.” Since 2021, ASU and Thirkhill have partnered with Scottsdale’s Sphinx Date Co. Palm & Pantry to package and sell dates. She also tends her own home garden’s bounty of Armenian cucumbers, okra, tomatoes, broom corn and white sage. When not gardening, she’s hiking the Arizona Trail.
Childhood career aspiration: “Trying to figure out how a girl could work outside with plants or animals, because at the time, women were only nurses or secretaries.”
Ed Robson, 93
“Creating something from the ground up has always been incredibly appealing to me,” says the founder of Robson Communities, whose portfolio includes seven master-planned communities, two senior living properties and an apartment complex in Arizona. Robson – who was a member the U.S. Olympic hockey team in 1956 and flew helicopters as a U.S. Marine – started his enduring real estate empire in the 1960s, selling homesites in Bullhead City. In 1972, he opened Sun Lakes, a resort retirement community southwest of Chandler that currently has more than 10,000 homes and 14,000 residents. Robson has managed to remain community-focused while scaling his business and catering to buyers’ changing interests. “I take pride in making a positive difference in people’s lives,” he says. “It’s important to give back to the communities.”
The hockey rink at Robson’s alma mater, Colorado College, is named after him.
MEDICINE & HEALTH CARE
Mary Lou Jennings, 66
After her son was diagnosed with leukemia, former crisis counselor Mary Lou Jennings became a fixture at Phoenix Children’s. In 2003, when the hospital received a grant to expand its existing Animal Assisted Therapy Program, Jennings was tapped for the job, because in addition to her health-care background, she had experience training companion dogs. During her tenure, Jennings devised a therapeutically based program for the hospital and conducted a research study showing how children benefit physically and emotionally from a five- to 10-minute visit with a therapy animal. Today, Jennings oversees about 60 volunteers and 40 therapy animal teams. “Because my son was a patient here, I know how wonderful it is for parents to have a break and see their kid having a good time, forgetting about everything that’s happening in that hospital room,” she says. “I’m also helping volunteers and their animals be the best that they can be. I love helping them develop their skills.”
Last book she read: The Year of the Puppy: How Dogs Become Themselves by Alexandra Horowitz.
Dr. Lisa Rimsza, 62
Dr. Lisa Rimsza attributes her career path to her “intense interest in the biological world,” from wildlife biology to human medicine. The pathologist grew up in Hawaii, spending her days swimming and scuba diving in the Pacific Ocean. She received her medical degree from the University of Arizona and currently runs the Molecular Diagnostics-Arizona Laboratory at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. “I chose pathology as a specialty due to the integration of medicine with the laboratory. I love the idea of working up a case and providing an answer to the patient’s doctor,” she says. “My research focuses on the genetic features of lymphomas and developing new laboratory tests to better characterize these tumors.” As a cancer survivor, Rimsza recognizes that treatment for the disease is not a one-size-fits-all situation. “The pursuit of more detailed information about a patient and their tumor leads me to work in this area of personalized medicine,” she says. In her spare time, she seeks solace at her beach house in Mexico and visits family in the Aloha State. “A stipulation of my living in Arizona was frequent access to the ocean,” she quips.
Appeared as a stunt scuba diver on the original Magnum, P.I. with Tom Selleck.
Tom Grote, 58
Even before being battered by the pandemic and politics, the beleaguered health-care industry faced many challenges. That adversity spurred Banner|Aetna CEO Tom Grote to unite two disparate entities for a common cause. In 2017, Grote forged a joint venture between Banner Health and Aetna that has since become the fastest-growing health insurer in Arizona, according to Business Wire. “Health care is a very fragmented system with financial incentives that don’t typically align between health insurance carriers and health-care providers, which causes great friction,” he says. “By aligning financial incentives through a joint venture structure, it presents a real opportunity for the insurance company to work collaboratively with the delivery system to deliver more efficient, higher quality care with an improved member experience.” Under Grote’s leadership, Banner|Aetna has helped more than 400,000 people access higher quality medical care more easily and affordably, and the company was named a 2023 Top Innovator by Modern Healthcare. In his free time, Grote plays golf, tennis and pickleball and vacations with his family.
First concert: Bruce Springsteen in the Meadowlands.
Jo Jones, 65
It’s not hyperbole to say Jo Jones is a trailblazer in Arizona health care. In 2016, the mother of five established the state’s first-ever center for substance-exposed newborns: Jacob’s Hope, named after Jones’ late son, whom she and her husband adopted at three days old after Jacob was born to a mother using crystal meth – he passed away at age 25. Licensed through the Arizona Department of Health Services, the center not only offers interim care and treatment for substance-exposed newborns, but expectant mothers can also find help. “Our organization faces the opioid epidemic head on, reducing stigma and ensuring that expectant moms with a substance-use disorder get the care and support they need while being treated with dignity and respect,” Jones explains. A typical day for Jones and her staff at the 24-hour center might include holding babies, calling insurance companies or checking on moms. It’s an all-hands-on-deck enterprise and one that’s critical to the community. “When I dream big, it’s a world where centers like Jacob’s Hope no longer need to exist because substance-use is no longer an issue,” Jones says.
Has two tattoos. “One on my forearm has my son Jacob’s name with an Iron Cross and feather. The one on my back shoulder has all five of my children’s names inside a heart.”
Randy Parraz, 56
According to The Arizona Republic, our state ranks 45th in overall education. This is after teachers around Arizona walked out in record numbers in 2018 to advocate for higher pay and funding, forcing state lawmakers to increase teacher salaries by 20 percent on average. Randy Parraz, who currently serves as the executive director of the Arizona Education Association and is best known for the recall and removal of the state senate president Russell Pearce, is now using his organizational skills to show legislators the importance of funding schools. “Public education should be a step up for all and a pathway to success for the students schools are intended to serve,” he says. “Unfortunately, voters can no longer stay inactive and silent when it comes to ensuring a quality public education for all Arizona’s children. Stay engaged [and] informed, and show up and speak out at school board meetings all across Arizona and at the legislature.”
Current TV obsession: Shrinking.
Pauline Cheong, 45
Hey Siri. Explain the interactions between communication technologies and cultural communities. Who needs Siri when we have Pauline Cheong, Ph.D.? The esteemed Arizona State University professor has made it her life’s work to examine how tech shapes human communication. Like, for example, the socio-cultural implications of big data, how nonprofit and spiritual organizations use artificial intelligence and digital platforms to form local and global communities, the biases in the design and implementation of AI automation or the limitations of human-machine communication. It’s heady stuff, and Cheong is among the foremost experts in the field. She has published more than 100 articles and books on the topic, earned national and international research awards and chaired doctoral colloquiums for the Association of Internet Researchers. Perhaps most importantly, she also teaches the next generation of thinkers. “Students today are living ‘hyperconnected’ and mediated lives,” she says, “so it gives me hope when they are moved to channel their know-how and energies into improving the social and cultural health of our communities.”
Last book she read: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. “I re-read this recently, as I am teaching classes related to globalization, communication and AI technologies.”
Melissa Drake, 58
As an electrical engineering major at New Mexico State University in the 1980s, Melissa Drake was her cohort’s odd one out – a woman in one of the country’s most male-dominated fields. But she resolved to never feel intimidated by the men around her. After more than a decade working as an engineer, she pivoted to teaching to plant that sense of courage in girls dreaming of entering the tech world. “When you show someone your successes and your failures, it makes you a human,” she says. “And you think, ‘Hey, maybe I can do that as well.’” In 2017, she co-founded the Phoenix chapter of Girls in Tech, a nonprofit bridging tech’s gender gap by hosting events for women of all ages. In only a few years, the chapter’s grown from 10 members to 1,000 and counting. It’s not difficult for Drake to make young girls feel excited about jobs in tech. Her work analyzing data for NASA’s space shuttles speaks for itself, and she also coaches pint-size future engineers on an all-girl robotics team. “The thing that gives me the most satisfaction is helping students, helping women,” she says. “That’s what I love to do.”
First concert: Van Halen.
Janel Huyett, 58
Janel Huyett grew up in a music-filled household, spending most of her adolescence in choir. “Music was always present in my life,” Huyett says. “I can’t imagine my life without it.” She felt driven to share it with future generations, and has spent a sizable chunk of her career with the Phoenix Children’s Chorus, joining in 2006 and conducting since 2008. Huyett has won several awards for her conducting and musical instruction, including the 2023 O.M. Hartsell Excellence in Teaching Music Award. She has also traveled the world with her students for competitions, including a recent trip to Barcelona. Huyett hopes that her teaching has encouraged students not only to love and appreciate music, but to work hard and to work well with one another. “I hope I have helped my students to understand the adage that, ‘The whole is more important than the parts.’ It is empowering to understand that we are better when we work together.”
Despite being a melophile, she doesn’t remember her first concert. “How about my favorite? Alison Krauss & Union Station!”
PHILANTHROPY & NONPROFITS
Steven & Levi Shade, 16 & 13
What were you doing when you were a teenager? Homework? After-school sports? Hanging out with friends? Brothers Steven and Levi Shade manage to do all of those things while running a successful candle business. Their company, Soda CANdles, upcycles empty soda cans into candles. The idea originated from Steven’s participation in a high school study-abroad program. “[He] was going on a trip to Europe, and we needed to find a way to raise money. So we thought of this,” Levi says. After watching others make homemade candles online, they were inspired to try it themselves. “We thought that it was really cool that they were able to take trash and turn it into art. So, we decided to do the same thing on a smaller scale,” Steven says. Since then, they have partnered with restaurants and bars in Surprise to pick up spent soda cans to reduce waste. Their unique candles can be found at local farmers markets and craft fairs around the Valley.
The Shade brothers love live music and recently gifted the band Less Than Jake a Soda CANdle. “We’ve got a cool video of them loving the custom candle on stage,” Levi says.
Alessandra Navidad, 47
Making the transition from director of the Arizona branch of the American Civil Liberties Union to CEO of the Arizona Animal Welfare League wasn’t that hard for Alessandra Navidad. “Both organizations are about culture work and leading teams,” she says with a laugh. “The main difference is that I’ve gone from leading lawyers to leading veterinarians.” This past year has been difficult for other reasons. “One of our beloved directors passed away,” Navidad says, “and then we had a fire at our facility. We had to evacuate the animals, and afterward it looked like a war zone in there. Luckily, no one was hurt.” Navidad is feeling more at home in her new job these days. “My first week, someone told me we’d had a panleukopenia outbreak,” she says, referring to a feline disease. “And I said, ‘That sounds terrible! What is it?’”
Childhood career aspiration: “I wanted to work as a marine biologist on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.”
Chrisie Funari, 44
Chrisie Funari wants families who are coping with a child’s cancer diagnosis to know they are not alone. Losing her daughter Ava to cancer prompted Funari to found Arizona Cancer Foundation for Children in 2014. “When your child is diagnosed with cancer, it’s so isolating, devastating,” she says. “It just turns your entire world upside down.” The nonprofit provides financial, social and emotional resources, such as help with bills; a safe, clean place for the entire family to hang out; and time with Leo, the foundation’s therapy dog. This year, the foundation will serve 400 families, and it has been a resource to more than 10,000 since launching. Funari’s aim is to continue to grow and add other supports at the organization’s Scottsdale headquarters, like an education center and on-site counseling. “It’s the first facility of its kind that we know of in the U.S. to offer all these programs to families who have a child with cancer,” she says.
Current TV obsession: The Morning Show.
Angela Hughey, 55
It’s no wonder Angela Hughey is an early riser. Whether she’s sitting on the board of Visit Phoenix, accepting honors like the Human Rights Campaign’s Individual Equality Award or meeting with business owners, Hughey maintains a full schedule. In 2008, she co-founded ONE Community as a way for LGBTQ+-inclusive businesses and organizations to support one another, and has since evolved it into a coalition of socially responsible entities working together to move diversity, equality and inclusion forward in Arizona. ONE Community has secured non-discrimination ordinances in cities across the state, for example, and advanced bipartisan legislation to update laws to be LGBTQ+-inclusive. For Hughey, though, it’s the UNITY Pledge that’s her proudest professional feat. “Ten years ago, we asked businesses, faith leaders and individuals to pledge to be LGBTQ+-inclusive in employment, housing and public accommodations,” she explains. “Today, it’s the largest equality pledge in the nation, signed by 3,600 businesses, 500 faith leaders and 22,000 everyday Arizonans.”
Has two cats, Muffin and Piper.
Roger Clyne, 55
Of all the “Arizona” things one can do in this world, hunkering down on a ranch in Sonoita to mend fence struts and pound split rails has to rank pretty high. No wonder it’s part of Roger Clyne’s process as he conjures songs for his eighth album of Arizona-inflected rock ’n’ roll with his band, the Peacemakers. “It definitely stirs up some inspirational energy,” the ASU graduate says during a break from songwriting on his father’s second-generation cattle property. Having shot to national fame with his original band, the Refreshments, in the 1990s, Clyne has spent the last two decades reinforcing his bond with Valley music fans, touring several months each year and selling out his annual Circus Mexicus bacchanal in Rocky Point, which has grown to four days and 5,000 fans. “The plan is for the new album to be out by the time [Circus Mexicus] rolls around next June,” he says while absently strumming a sturdy acoustic guitar made of mesquite wood – a birthday gift, he tells us, hewn from a felled tree on the family ranch. Like its owner, it sounds like Arizona.
Favorite filmmaker: Wes Anderson. He even has a Life Aquatic tattoo.
Lorraine Holnback Brodek, 83
Beverly Hills native Lorraine Holnback Brodek brought a little Hollywood magic with her when she moved to Arizona in 1971. She quickly became a doyenne of local media, establishing the Friends of Public Television (now Friends of Arizona PBS) on Channel 8. As chairman, she ran telethons that raised millions of dollars to “build new TV facilities at Arizona State University and provide quality entertainment.” In 1979, she launched the Warner Bros. Catalog (now the Warner Archive, made up of thousands of films and TV series from the old studio vaults) as vice president of direct marketing. Holnback Brodek has also authored four books, including her memoir, A Nobody in a Somebody World: My Hollywood Life in Beverly Hills, which includes stories such as when she “was terrified watching the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz” before discovering Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played the character, was her Sunday school teacher. That moment “put a new perspective on films.” Now living in Wickenburg, Holnback Brodek is still involved in the arts – she serves on the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts executive board and aims to spread the message of hope through her work as a humorist, which is “seeing the humor in the outrageous events that occur in life.”
Her then-home was on the cover of PHOENIX magazine’s February 1971 Special Homes issue.
Joe Ray, 64
The artist Joe Ray likes to refer to himself as a “Chinga Dadaist.” The painter and printmaker says, “it’s kind of a takeoff on the word chingadera,” referring to Spanish slang for a word that means something one can’t remember the name of. “It can also mean something that’s a bastardization of something else,” he says. Ray, whose work has shown worldwide, has made peace with the fact that Movimiento Artístico del Río Salado (MARS), the Phoenix-based collective of Chicano and Indigenous artists he co-founded in the ’70s, is often written out of the history of Phoenix culture. “You can’t look back all the time,” he says. “As artists of color, we have to stay in the present. We have to grab the steering wheel and say, ‘We’re not in the backseat, we’re driving this thing.’” One way of doing that, Ray has found, is by mentoring other, younger artists – something he’s done for more than three decades with Xico, one of the oldest arts organizations in the country. “I’ve learned as much from these younger artists as they have from me,” he says. “They see a world that’s more inclusive, they see themselves as part of the conversation about the arts. It’s kind of inspiring, you know? To see Latinx artists walking up and saying, ‘I’m here, and you gotta include me.’”
Current TV obsession: “Reservation Dogs, an incredibly funny and sublime series whose cultural nuances are spot on. I can’t recommend it enough.”
Michelle Hoffman, 57
Most journalists talk about the novel they’ll write someday, but former Arizona Republic theater critic Michelle Hoffman actually did it. The Second Ending, her critically acclaimed debut, is about a former piano prodigy and a YouTube sensation competing on a music reality show. The author, a piano player herself, took inspiration from her own life in this book about a middle-aged housewife who wants to resurrect her childhood superpower. “The theme is about dreams, and it’s about how dreams aren’t really the end goal,” Hoffman says. “It’s what gets you out of bed every morning – facing your fears and insecurities and moving through things.” The book is set in the Valley, where she finds inspiration in the extremes, from its temperatures to its desert landscape. “I think it’s unique,” Hoffman says.
First concert: “The Osmonds at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, 1973.”
Kourtney Hamidi & Bryanna Smith, 39 & 34
Kourtney Hamidi and Bryanna Smith became great friends through their shared love of art, coffee and Korean café culture. In 2022, they decided to share their passions with their community through Sketch Club Cafe, a nonprofit organization that provides an inclusive space for local artists to create and network, and to foster relationships between the local art and coffee scenes. “We wanted to create a space that felt comfortable and included [everyone],” Smith says. Sketch Club Cafe doesn’t have a concrete physical location – rather, Hamidi and Smith host a variety of meetups and events on Saturdays at different coffee shops, small businesses and libraries in the Valley. The two friends have also curated gallery shows and unique workshops, with an emphasis on local and underrepresented artists. “Sketch Club Cafe is a good place to network, to create, to socialize and just to have fun,” Smith says.
Kourtney: Taught school in Korea for a year.
Bryanna: Her favorite of her two tattoos: “A wrist tattoo of a paint swatch in my signature colors.”
Michael Wilbon, 64
In many ways, sports journalist Michael Wilbon is a typical Valley snowbird – 60-something, well-heeled, hates the cold, enjoys his golf. But he also happens to be a snowbird with more than a million daily viewers on ESPN, his droll, goateed mien beamed into countless sports bars and gyms during the network’s early-evening slot. Still, he doesn’t seem impressed by himself. “I’m recognized about as much as a good backup quarterback,” Wilbon says wryly after wrapping an afternoon shoot in Scottsdale. The Chicago native earned his journalistic gravitas as an ace reporter for The Washington Post through the ‘80s and ‘90s, covering big-ticket events like the Olympics and the Final Four, but achieved true stardom in the late 2000s as one-half of Pardon the Interruption, sparring with co-host Tony Kornheiser in a sporting-world version of At the Movies. Wilbon and his wife, Cheryl, are Washington, D.C.-based but have been Valley part-timers since buying their first Scottsdale home in 2004 – a fact even his local fans might not have known until seeing his saguaro-laden chroma key backdrop on PTI during the pandemic, when Wilbon began filming the show via satellite. “I spent 100 days in a row [in Scottsdale] during quarantine,” he says. “That was a new record for me, and I still do a lot of the shows here.” He recently changed the backdrop to include a shot of Downtown Phoenix and plans to make the Valley his forever-backdrop when he retires from TV. “I don’t like it here,” he says.”I love it. Obsessed with it.”
Co-wrote former Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul’s autobiography, Sixty-One, published this year.
Jaime Cerreta, 47
On weekends when Jaime Cerreta was a kid, she’d tag along with her dad to check on the family business, Cerreta Candy Company in Glendale. “They had a microphone to page [employees], and I would run up to that microphone, because no one else was there, and page my dad,” she says. “I had to be around that microphone.” Decades later, she’s still behind the mic – and still steeped in local business – as the host of Arizona’s Family’s Jaime’s Local Love (the TV segment and its podcast spin-off) and the News at 3 p.m., a new, fourth-wall-busting program. “This show is fast, it’s casual, it’s fun, it’s interactive,” Cerreta says. “Our goal is to show you journalism in progress and really peel back the curtain and show you how we’re making decisions in our newscast.” The on-air talent is happy to see the whole team shine. “It’s so fun to show off our buddies in the newsroom who help make it happen.”
First concert: “Tiffany at Celebrity Theatre with my sister, Molly, and her friends.”
Marc Garcia, 50
Visit Mesa President and CEO Marc Garcia is on a mission to make the East Valley burg one of the world’s most inclusive travel destinations. The city has taken steps to become the country’s first Autism Certified City, has partnered with Aira (an on-demand visual interpretation service) and has adopted the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program, allowing visitors and residents to self-identify a disability – and signal that they may need additional help – by donning a flower-print lanyard or bracelet. “One thing we’re really focused on is continuing to grow [and] expand our accessibility offerings,” Garcia says. The tourism group turned inward during the pandemic, featuring local businesses and developing a Governor’s Tourism Award-winning strategy to market Mesa to traveling digital nomads. As Garcia watches the “renaissance” happening in downtown Mesa, he says it’s giving Valley residents and visitors alike more to experience. “Over the next decade, downtown Mesa is going to be one of those places you have to go to,” he says.
Current TV obsession: Poldark.
Christina Estes, 53
Valley NPR fans know Christina Estes from her dispatches on Phoenix City Hall for KJZZ. But the senior field correspondent also worked in print journalism and won an Emmy for her reporting at ABC15. “I appreciate the opportunities to have covered everything from a fish going to the dentist to witnessing a lethal injection,” Estes says. “I’m grateful to the people who’ve trusted me to share their stories.” She’s sharing her own with Off the Air, her debut novel set for publication in March 2024. “Because I love mysteries and I’ve worked in radio and TV, the idea of a Phoenix TV reporter investigating the suspicious death of a radio talk show host organically evolved,” she says. “When I finished writing, I realized my book is a love letter to Phoenix.. I don’t mean a head-over-heels, early-in-a-relationship kind of love letter. More like, ‘You’re not perfect, I’m not perfect, but we’ve been together a long time, and it works.’”
Last book she read: The Butcher’s Boy by Thomas Perry.
Andrew Ford, 33
They say no one reads the newspaper anymore. And yet, it was the dedicated readers of The Arizona Republic who led Connecticut-bred investigative reporter Andrew Ford to his biggest scoop: The medical clinic chain Modern Vascular billed Medicare for unnecessary surgeries. “I was surprised the Department of Justice quoted our reporting in their complaint against Modern Vascular,” Ford says. “And I was surprised how quickly Medicare shut the company off, and it declared bankruptcy.” Despite the recognition and awards for his work (from the Association of Health Care Journalists, Society of American Business Editors and Writers, and Deadline Club, to name a few), Ford concedes that journalism is currently at a crossroads, and he’s relying on readers for tips on where to find his next story. “The need for reliable information is sky-high. And the barrier to tools to produce great reporting is historically low. So, this is a ripe time for investigative journalism. We just have to figure out the funding. Ideas are welcome.” Drop Ford a line at email@example.com.
Childhood career aspiration: “I wanted to be an attorney, and I still love to debate. I’ve been able to satisfy the zeal for righteous crusade as an investigative journalist.”