By Dana Trumbull
Last week, we received word that Apache Junction’s own Lost Dutchman Marathon was named “Best Marathon” in Phoenix Magazine’s “Best of the Valley” 2018 edition.
The week before that, AJ Parks & Recreation was presented with three awards at the annual Arizona Parks and Recreation Association awards event: Outstanding Program (Youth Enrichment Award for the TGIF program), Outstanding Facility Award (Flatiron Park) and the Outstanding Special Event Award (Earth Day Ladybug Release).
The week before that, The Apache Junction/Gold Canyon News was notified that we have earned five awards in the 2018 Arizona News Association’s Better Newspapers Contest and Excellence in Advertising competition.
I could name numerous other honors bestowed on AJ individuals and businesses, but noting three in as many weeks really struck home for me.
What do these organizations have in common? Each is uniquely homegrown. The folks who started the organizations – the ones who gave birth to the visions and made the magic happen, were all either AJ born and bred or long time, fully assimilated residents. The folks who continue to drive all three entities are deeply embedded in our community.
They are AJ.
And it is the people of AJ who support the programs, who volunteer at the events, who follow The News, who have helped shape the businesses and events to the point of achieving statewide professional recognition and applause.
Last year, my husband and I accompanied The AJ/GC News Owner Robin Barker in attending the Arizona News Association awards banquet to accept an award in the Best Sports Story category for “Non-Daily Newspapers Greater Than 1o,ooo” (circulation). Of course, our category was toward the end, so we waited and listened through a long parade of speeches and presentations.
Among them was one speaker whom I will never forget. He was accepting an award on behalf of the widow of a news writer who was being acknowledged posthumously. At one point, speaking of the quality and influence of the man’s body of work, he said something to the effect of, “He wrote stories about things that mattered – not like a story about a trailer that burned down in Apache Junction, doing $10,000 worth of damage… and thus raising the property value by $10,000.” [Insert big laugh from the audience.]
After his speech, he returned to his seat in the audience… directly in front of us.
He didn’t stay very long after accepting the award. I’m not sure if it was because he didn’t feel anyone else deserved his respect, or if it was because he could feel the burn of three pairs of eyes boring a hole into the back of his head.
Ironically, on the front page of The News that week, was a story of a trailer fire. Whether the property value went up after the wreckage was removed, I don’t know; but I do know that a family’s home and all their possessions were lost – and that’s no laughing matter. I am also quite sure that our community rallied around the family to help them find shelter and clothing and a measure of comfort as they figured out what to do next. Because that’s who we are: A unique community of people who care enough to actually get up and help each other.
But, hey; he was an outsider. He obviously got his lesson in local geography from “Bad Santa.” (Bad movie.)
What bothers me more is when I hear locals put down Apache Junction. I wonder what kind of a carnival funhouse mirror they’ve been looking in, distorting their view and bloating the negatives way out of proportion. I know residents who tell co-workers in Phoenix that they live in “Pinal County,” instead of admitting that they live in AJ. When something bad happens, residents say, “Only in AJ,” as if the problems they are referring to don’t happen everywhere “civilization” draws people into close proximity. And how many locals have I heard repeat the joke about AJ’s favorite pick up line (“Mighty fine tooth, you’ve got there.”)? We repeat these mantras that limit our vision of ourselves and serve to validate the stigma imposed on our fair city by those who have no idea who we are.
Yes, there are a lot of manufactured homes in AJ. There are also million dollar homes. And warm communities of middle class homes where neighbors actually talk to each other. And we have horse property and working ranches. We have breathtaking views and state and national parks right outside the back doors of all of our homes. We’ve got a colorful history that still breathes life into our community. We’ve got people who are passionate and forthright who can count on each other – whether it’s a ride to the store when someone’s car breaks down or coming together for a spaghetti dinner to raise money for medical bills when kids are injured in an accident while returning from church camp.
We have people from all social and economic backgrounds working together to support our students and improve our schools. We have countless volunteers who open their hearts, their wallets and their schedules to help the homeless population, seniors, veterans and victims of abuse.
The problems we have are the same ones that every city struggles with – economic development, homelessness, drugs, bullies (both child and adult). I have lived in many cities and several states; I have seen these same problems in every one of them.
Our people, however, stand out: the passion for community and the innate belief that you don’t have to have a lot of money or “stuff” to make a difference in the world around you. You just have to get up and get involved.
We may butt heads… sometimes a lot. Ok, we do butt heads a lot. That’s what happens when people believe passionately in their ideals. But we come together when it counts. And that is NOT something I have seen everywhere.
This is AJ. This is the community that shaped the people who founded the Lost Dutchman Marathon and The Apache Junction/Gold Canyon News, and who tailored the Parks & Recreation Department to perfectly fit the contours of our population.
We need to give the funhouse mirror back to the carnival and gaze into the mirror that reflects how our homegrown organizations and individuals are evaluated by their professional peers across the state; the one in which the fruits (and, thereby, the people) of AJ are found to be “the fairest of them all.” WE are AJ.