With his typical self-deprecating humor, Woody Wilson, the 37th recipient of the Don Carlos Humanitarian Award presented by Tempe Community Council, mused that at least his selection will not negatively impact attendance at the awards ceremony Oct. 14.
That’s because this year it will be presented virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“And I won’t have to lose 20 pounds to fit into a suit,” Wilson said.
TCC announced the winner of what is regarded as Tempe’s most prestigious distinction, sponsored by Salt River Project, in early August.
Don’t let Wilson’s penchant for poking fun at himself belie his many civic accomplishments. The Don Carlos recognition, named after Tempe founder Charles Trumbull Hayden, known affectionately by Hispanic pioneers at the time as “Don Carlos,” honors individuals who have made Tempe a better place to live through impactful and lasting work that addresses human-service needs.
“It’s kind of an out-of-body experience,” said Wilson, 73. “I’m humbled, for sure. When I got the phone call from (TCC Board Chair) Tammy Reed, it never entered my mind that’s what she was calling about. It’s an exclusive group. I’m delirious about it.
“Everybody dreams of winning the Don Carlos, but I never thought I’d win it.”
Wilson and recipients in four other categories will be honored: TCC Impact Award to Tempe Empty Bowls; Volunteer of the Year to Amela Duric; and Young Humanitarian Scholarship and Awards to Tempe High grad Karla Daniela Salazar Chavira and Corona del Sol High grad Nathaniel Thompson.
Wilson, founder and president of Lakeshore Music, a nonprofit that presents an annual jazz-concert series at Tempe Center for the Arts, made wide-ranging impact in Tempe that enriched, improved and advanced the community.
Among his accomplishments:
Appointment to the Tempe Leadership Program; co-founding Tempe Neighbors Helping Neighbors to assist older adults in the community; activism on the city’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission; past president of Tempe Community Council; advisory board member of Tempe Community Foundation; past Tempe Historic Preservation Foundation president and manager of fundraising to save the Rose Eisendrath House; and tirelessly working with former City Council members Pam Goronkin and Barb Carter two years ago to pass Proposition 417, an arts tax that permanently extends a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax to funds arts and cultural programs in the city.
At a time when political ideology sharply divides the country and often hampers efforts to affect positive change, Wilson, a Republican working largely with Democrats in a Democrat-controlled city, reflects how much good can be done when politics is checked at the door.
“Woody Wilson absolutely embodies the humanitarian spirit of the Don Carlos Awards,” awards chair Reed said. “From helping ensure that our seniors can age in place, to promoting arts and culture in our community, to working to preserve Tempe history, Woody is a tireless advocate and consensus builder who always knows how to get things done.”
Wilson calls the rehabilitation of Eisendrath House and survival of Tempe Neighbors Helping Neighbors his proudest achievements.
“The things I’m involved in are things that I feel passionately about,” Wilson said. “Tempe Neighbors Helping Neighbors, when we started it years ago, was just to help older people take care of their yards. We would get together on a Saturday morning and go do an older person’s yard and take care of the weeds—things that they couldn’t do anymore.
“And it sort of evolved into a relationship with the city and their code-enforcement program. If older people would get a code violation, we would go help. It was strictly a volunteer effort and we just kept adding more volunteers.”
Demand got so big, Tempe Neighbors Helping Neighbors needed help. Kate Hanley, then head of the TCC, helped the group land a grant from the Maricopa Association of Governments to expand the program into more areas that would help senior citizens who were homebound or not able to look after themselves, according to Wilson.
“We became part of agency review at the city that qualified for city grants and we were able to hire somebody to run the program,” Wilson said.
“Then about two years ago, we decided that we needed a bigger partner if it was really going to be effective, and we merged with Tempe Community Action Agency.
“We saw early on that older people who are aging in place really need help. They’re often isolated with no family. They’re having a hard time paying bills. They’re unable to look after themselves. You don’t hear about them much. So many more seniors are served now than before in a way that is more effective and better for the community. This need is only going to get bigger. Tempe is aware that there are a lot more older people who are going to need these services in the years to come. We’re geared up for it in Tempe.”
Historic preservation is another of Wilson’s passions. His project for Class 21 of Tempe Leadership was raising funds for the Eisendrath Project, which was partnering with the Tempe Historic Preservation Foundation, of which Wilson ultimately became president. Then former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman appointed Wilson to the Rio Salado Foundation, which spearheaded rehabilitation of the property.
The 2018 arts tax creates funding to build, operate and maintain city art centers. It was first approved by voters in 2000 and would have expired Dec. 30 of this year if not extended. Before the pandemic, it was estimated to generate about $8 million annually. It helps the city expand its arts program to South Tempe, as well as operating and maintaining four historic properties, the history museum and Tempe Center for the Arts.
Wilson said that his work on the arts tax, coupled with his jazz series at TCA and being a principal in Cuba Rhythm and Views, which conducts cultural tours of Cuba each year, make this year’s Don Carlos Award, in his words, “a crossover.”
“For me, it’s a crossover between the arts and the community engagement and human-services part,” he said. “I work in both worlds. As I read it, this year this award is for someone who contributes to the community in a general way with things I created or helped create in other areas, not just on the human-service side.”
Finally, Wilson gives a shout out to the people with whom he worked on various projects.
“All these years went by in a flash,” Wilson said. “But really what it was about was the people—people like Kate Hanley and Gary Roberts (Tempe Neighbors Helping Neighbors Board) and Hugh Hallman and members of Council.
“There are dozens of people in Tempe who do this job every day and I was always lucky enough to work with the best people. Tempe has been so good to me and allowed me to do the things that I really enjoy doing.”
Now, Wilson said, he will occupy a unique place in Tempe history:
“I’ll have the designation of being the first virtual Don Carlos recipient—and hopefully the last.”