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Elmer Bradley: His dreams, determination remembered

By: Doug Snover

Feb. 3, 2007

Elmer Bradley, the former Tempe mayor and successful builder who helped start several community churches, including Arizona Community Church, was remembered by his long-time friend and business acquaintance Doug Ross as a determined man who enjoyed a good negotiation, and who couldn’t walk away from a challenging opportunity.

Bradley died last week at age 76. He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Ellen, as well as three children and eight grandchildren.

Visitation was scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, at Carr-Tenney Mortuary, 2621 S. Rural Road. A memorial service to celebrate Bradley’s life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, at Grace Community Church, 1200 E. Southern Ave., one of three local churches Bradley helped create.

“Elmer Bradley was a builder by trade and the kind of guy who loved to get projects going,” recalled Ross, who met Bradley in 1970 when Bradley purchased the Chicago-based Christian publishing company Success With Youth Publications and relocated it to Arizona.

Ross came to Arizona with the company and began a long-time association with Bradley. He managed Success With Youth Publications for Bradley and later purchased the business from him.

Along the way, Ross became active in Grace Community Church and, with Grace’s founding pastor Guy Davidson and Bradley, helped found Arizona Community Church at the northeast corner of Rural and Knox roads in Tempe.

Davidson stepped down from his duties after suffering a stroke at age 70 several years ago. He was succeeded in the senior pastor position by Jeff Meyer.

Such was his faith that Bradley built the eight-acre Arizona Community Church campus with six buildings, including a 900-seat sanctuary, for just under $3 million before the new church even had a congregation. Its campus complete, Arizona Community Church opened for services on Easter Sunday, 1998.

It has grown continuously since then.

“How would I describe him? He was determined, he thought big. He was a risk taker,” Ross said.

And Bradley enjoyed the art of negotiation, Ross said.

Ross recalled a trip he and Bradley made to Chicago for a Christian conference when Bradley unexpectedly walked into a Chicago-area Cadillac dealership and began negotiating for a new car. After dickering for a long time, Bradley offered a price that was about $400 less than the dealer wanted, Ross said. When the dealer refused to budge, Bradley walked out of the negotiation.

Bradley wasn’t at all dismayed by the failed talks, Ross explained. “ ‘It’s the fun of the deal,’ he told me,” Ross recalled. “That was Elmer Bradley. I asked him how he would have gotten the car back to Arizona and he said, ‘You would have driven it!’ ”

On another occasion, Ross and Bradley talked about opening a Christian bookstore to complement Success With Youth Publications.
“One day at lunch, we sketched out on a paper napkin how it would be laid out, with the bookstore up front and the publishing business in the back,” Ross said.

The pair continued to dream about the plan but nothing definitive was said. “Until one day, I was driving by the property we’d looked at and there were stakes in the ground,” Ross said.

The Carpenter Shop bookstore on Southern Avenue west of Mill Avenue remained in business for a number of years.

Bradley tried politics in the 1960s. He lost his campaign for the mayor’s job in Tempe in 1966 to Rudy Campbell but tried again in 1968 and won a two-year term.

In the mid-1970s, he chaired the Billy Graham Crusade in Phoenix, Ross recalled.

When Pastor Davidson and Ross suggested founding Arizona Community Church, “He (Bradley) said, ‘Read my lips: No new churches,’ ” Ross remembered.

“It’s a lot of work and takes a lot of time,” Ross said.

But Elmer Bradley always appreciated a challenge.


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