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Old timers recall city's past
By Jonathan Cooper

October 22, 2005

Hundreds of long-time Tempe residents, a few dabbing at tears as they reminisced, stood patriotically at attention and sang along with God Bless America to celebrate a tradition now in its 96th year.

The hymn was performed by Jesse McGuire, the trumpeter who gained national acclaim from his 2001 performance of the Star Spangled Banner at game seven of the World Series in Phoenix, with his signature poignancy. 

It was just one small but moving moment from the 2005 meeting of the Tempe Old Settlers Association.

Approximately 250 of the group met at Arizona Community Church to share old memories and make new ones, as they have done almost annually for more than a century.

The meeting had a built-in segment for “old-story time,” when longtime residents could come to the microphone and retell their favorite memories of decades past. They reminisced over Tempe’s small-town days, when hundreds of children’s bikes would be parked in the heart of town, unchained, but still unmolested. When the roads still didn’t cross the river. (That’s why the names change, they reminded visitors, when you drive into Scottsdale.)

Clare Schrieks moved to Tempe in 1952. She remembers when the city limit was the railroad tracks between Apache Boulevard and Broadway Road--“and they said it’d never grow south.”

“My kids picked onions at Guadalupe and Rural, in the onion fields,” added Mary Parker, a 48-year resident sitting with Schrieks. “On the southeast corner. All this was farmland, as far as the eye could see.”

But some old stories came through even without words. In the back of the room sat an old scrapbook; a collection of newspaper clippings, member directories, event programs and other memories that have accumulated over the years, all telling the nonverbal stories of Tempe’s rich heritage.

A 1920 phonebook was an inclusive list of Tempe’s residents. It was just two and a half pages long.

A 1938 historical document told the association’s history. Born in 1902 when “Mr. and Mrs. Petersen had a picnic at their house in honor of the dear old pioneers,” the Old Settlers Association has lived on to this day, meeting on the second Saturday of October every year since its inception, with the exception of only a few years during World Wars I and II.

Today, the Old Settlers Association is open to 30-plus year Tempe residents, and its meetings are attended by notables such as Mayor Hugh Hallman, state Representative Meg Burton Cahill and former Councilman Dennis Cahill. When nobody stepped forward to be the organization’s vice president for the next term, Hallman volunteered.

The association’s members have watched their hometown transform from a tiny community surrounded by farms into a large, thriving suburban hub. That transformation has been both a blessing and a curse, a few attendees said.

“(The growth) is a positive thing in a lot of ways, but in other ways it’s kind of negative, with the crime and stuff that’s come because it’s gotten so big,” Parker said. “It’s had its ups and downs.”

“It just grew too big,” said Schrieks. “It was a nice little town to raise a family in. It’s grown so much that hardly anyone knows anyone anymore.”

That community atmosphere and small town feel is what the Old Settlers said they missed most. Parker and Schreiks recalled the old Tempe Hardware store on Mill Avenue, owned by the Curry brothers.

“You could go in there, you could get anything you wanted in a line of hardware.”

Former City Councilman and longtime south Tempe resident Joe Spracale, past president and key organizer for the Old Settlers, took a few moments to explain a plan in the works to build a memorial for Tempe’s veterans.

If sufficient funds are raised—approximately $900,000—the memorial will stand at the intersection of Veterans Way and College Avenue, a key hub in the light right system now under construction.

“I have a vision of a light,” he said, “that will shine forever here in Tempe.”


Photo by David Stone
































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