Authors Articles byRaquel Hendrickson

Raquel Hendrickson

Raquel Hendrickson
917 Articles 3 COMMENTS
Raquel, a.k.a. Rocky, is a sixth-generation Arizonan who spent her formative years in the Missouri Ozarks. After attending Temple University in Philadelphia, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and has been in the newspaper business since 1990. She has been a sports editor, general-assignment reporter, business editor, arts & entertainment editor, education reporter, government reporter and managing editor. After 16 years in the Verde Valley-Sedona, she moved to Maricopa in 2014. She loves the outdoors, the arts, great books and all kinds of animals.

by -

A new Judith Lang Zaimont composition will be just one element of the second annual Winter Serenade Saturday.

The Maricopa Music Circle and the Maricopa Chorus are again joining harmonious forces to perform two concerts of deeply literate and orchestral holiday music. A combination of “classical, choral and holiday favorites,” the events provide an arena for the rich musical talent in Maricopa.

“Some of the music is really challenging,” Maricopa Chorus conductor John Janzen said.

The first concert is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Black Box Theatre at Maricopa High School’s Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.

“That’s a wonderful venue,” Zaimont said. “It’s so immediate between the audience and performers. It makes everything very communicative.”

The second serenade is 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 20, at the Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, 6400 W. Del Rio St., in Chandler.

“This is the second or third time we’ve exported Maricopa concert music talent outside of the city,” Zaimont said.

Zaimont, whose award-winning classical compositions have been performed across the country and around the world, founded the Music Circle in 2011. Just this spring, she created an original carol, “Little Angel,” which makes its Arizona premiere at the Winter Serenade.

“I had been thinking about a carol for a couple of years,” Zaimont said. “As creative artists we don’t want to tread in shoes that have already been worn. So I was looking for a new approach.”

She delved into nativity art from the Renaissance and Middle Ages and noted that above the manger there always seemed to be an angel indicating the sacredness of the event portrayed.

A story formed in her mind of a child at the inn where Mary and Joseph were turned away. The child sees the light – “that special glow,” Zaimont said – and asks permission from the angel to enter the scene.

“It’s intimidating,” Janzen said of performing a piece in front of the composer. “Here’s the composer, not just any weekend music composer, it’s a big- time composer. We’ve been working on that one to have it up to her standards.”

“Little Angel” is written for sopranos and alto with a soprano solo. Janzen said Zaimont stayed after their final dual rehearsal and worked with the singers. That “kicked it up a notch,” he said.

She explained to the singers the emotion she wanted out of the piece. “It was a lot of fun to see that come to life like that,” Janzen said.

The four-verse carol is uncommon for Zaimont for a couple of reasons. She composed the lyric as well as the music, and it was a personal work rather than commissioned.

A lion’s share of her work is commissioned. She just returned from Vienna where a commissioned piece was performed, and she is now working on a new commission, a four-movement piece honoring the family of Vice President Walter Mondale.

But she keeps her ear to the ground locally. Last year, when she learned Janzen wanted the Maricopa Chorus to perform with an orchestra, she was on the spot.

“You listen to what people’s dreams are,” she said.

The Winter Serenade includes well-known Christmas tunes and some rare pieces, like Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Bells.” Zaimont’s husband Gary, a painter, also arranged orchestral parts for songs like Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” by Walter Kent and Kim Gannon.

“The arrangements are tailored to our specific instrumentation,” Judith Zaimont said. “It does make an absolutely full orchestral sound.”

There will be music from Dvorak, Mozart, Beethoven, Bizet and Debussy, among others. Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” has a special place in the evening’s performance.

The grand finale will be five movements (four vocal) from Handel’s “Messiah.”

“It’s a real event,” said Zaimont, who hopes local residents will turn out big to cheer on Maricopa talent.

A new Christmas celebration had hundreds of residents enjoying winter fun at Copper Sky Dec. 6. Click here to see our gallery.

The inaugural Merry Copa Holiday Festival was a four-hour festival that included the unveiling of the city Christmas tree. On a warm day that shifted into a chilly evening under a full moon, children played in the Snow Zone or tried their skills on an artificial ice rink.

Santa also dropped in to greet the children and pose for photographs.

For the grown-ups, more than 30 vendors of arts and crafts, services and food participated, with the Creativity Co-Op LLC serving as presenting sponsor.

After the unveiling of the Christmas tree, lights reflected in the park lake, there was a screening of “The Polar Express.” Throughout the day, five local groups performed on stage. That started with the Leading Edge Academy Choir followed by Up with Kids, the Maricopa High School Symphonic Band and A Positive Attitude. The trio Uptown wound up the evening.

Some attendees parked at Copper Sky for a fee, while others took advantage of the free shuttle service. Though official numbers are not yet available, shuttle drivers agreed they were not as full as they have been at established events like the Salsa Festival or the Fourth of July, but visitors were consistent throughout the first-time event.

Picking up where an Eagle Scout left off, a collective of outdoor enthusiasts will be cleaning up Box Canyon on Saturday.

Last year, Rion Radford was working for the ultimate scouting prize when he organized volunteers and organizations to haul out trash from the popular desert recreation area west of Maricopa. This year, many of the same groups want to make it an annual event.

“It is an opportunity to get the community together to clean up a popular recreation site,” said Gina D’Abella, executive director of Environmental Concerns Organization, Inc. (ECO) and a co-coordinator for this year’s event. “It’s popular for shooting, off-roading, hiking, horseback riding, almost everything recreational.”

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) range stretches across 21,000 acres on the Pinal side of the county line. For the cleanup, only 40-50 acres will be covered, according to D’Abella. And that will include ravines and canyons. Volunteers have already been sending in RSVPs, and she estimates about 100 workers if the weather is good.

Organizers are seeking volunteers to run the registration table and food service area. Plus, they will be taking prizes for a raffle drawing up until the time of the event.

“It’s a common phenomenon that after lunch people disappear, and [the raffle] gives them reason to stay around,” D’Abella said.

So far businesses have donated recreational gear, shooting range time at a local shooting range, binoculars, gift certificates, T-shirts, and more.

From local individuals to government groups like BLM and Arizona Game & Fish Department to organizations like ECO, the Dusty Bunch and Tread Lightly, D’Abella said they “really appreciate all of the volunteers.”

The popularity of Box Canyon has made cleanups a constant effort. D’Abella has made it her life’s work.

“I’ve sponsored cleanups in that area since 1998,” she said. “We’ve cleared hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash and tires in that whole area [adjacent to the 21,000 acre BLM range].”

There are responsible recreationists who pick up after themselves and “there are people who obviously don’t care,” she said. “Anytime we have one of these cleanups, it’s a good time to show appropriate use of public lands.”

While mostly supporting the Arizona Department of Transportation’s preferred option for an overpass on State Route 347, residents are still requesting some tweaks.

That was the result of Wednesday’s public hearing on the environmental assessment of the proposed grade separation that would carry SR 347’s heavy traffic over the Union Pacific Railroad. The recommended alternative dodges the officially historic part of Maricopa on the south side of the tracks.

The plan does, however, mow over the 60-year-old First Baptist Church.

In a packed room at the Maricopa Unified School District office, only five people directly addressed their comments to the ADOT members attending. Of the five, three expressed concern for the church.

“We want to preserve as much of the history of Maricopa as possible,” said Councilmember Nancy Smith. “The First Baptist Church is part of that history.”

She suggested an alternative alignment.

The church’s pastor, Jim Johnson, too made a plea for his church, which just underwent a remodel. He said church attendance has grown with the city’s population, and the building is also used for other community functions.

“But the First Baptist Church does not want to hold up progress for the city,” he said.

Mayor Christian Price, too, pointed to that as an area that should be tweaked. He also expressed enthusiasm for the advancement of the overpass project. He said it had been needed for 10 years.

“We cannot have an hourglass with a pinch-point known as 347,” Price said. “This is beyond a want but rather a necessity.”

ADOT consultant Elijah Williams said ADOT guidelines seek a straight entry into an intersection. Avoiding the church would put the alignment on a curve. That particular “tweak” would also require other connected changes.

“It’s not just engineering; it’s two dozen things at the same time,” he said.

Wednesday, besides directly addressing the ADOT board, attendees could have their comments taken down by a court reporter. They were also given the information for sending in comments via email or postal service.

Businessman Dominic Palmieri was concerned that while ADOT studied four specific impacts – human, cultural, physical and natural – “there was no economic assessment.” He said businesses in the building he manages south of Hathaway Avenue would be hampered by lack of access for northbound traffic.

The hearing was a presentation and not for questions and answers. However, attendees had plenty of questions to ask in the neighboring room, where boards from the PowerPoint were displayed and study team members were stationed.

There was also a video animation of roughly how traffic would flow on the preferred alternative. That includes a southbound off-right exit to turn left onto eastbound Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

In the words of new Vice Mayor Marvin Brown, it was “a very emotional evening.”

Before a packed house – and Santa – a new city council was sworn in Tuesday and a long-time community leader stepped aside after 11 years. Edward Farrell II, a founding board member at incorporation and the city’s first mayor, was given a sendoff by all of Maricopa’s mayors.

“This has been the most humbling experience of my life,” Farrell said of his time on council as his mother Alma recorded the proceedings on her phone. “No more meetings,” he told his twins. “Dad’s coming home for good.”

A Maricopa native, Farrell received a standing ovation from the standing-room-only crowd. The council also bid farewell to Julia Gusse and Dan Frank. Gusse reminded the attendees that nearly the vast majority of residents are transplants and the love for the community is “what connects us.” She also presented plaques of appreciation to Fire Chief Brady Leffler and Police Chief Steve Stahl, whom she called the best Maricopa has had.

Frank, who was an appointee to fill a vacancy, said it was a great experience. He encouraged residents to “keep getting involved in the community.”

There was a large contingent of family and supporters for new and re-elected board members. Henry Wade, Vincent Manfredi and Nancy Smith took their seats after being sworn in by Judge Pro Tem Lyle Riggs. Also taking the oath were the re-elected Mayor Christian Price and Peggy Chapados.

Wade quickly made the motion to name Brown vice mayor, which became the unanimous decision.

Though there was time spent lighting the City Hall Christmas tree, hearing carols from the Leading Edge Academy choir and rubbing shoulders with Santa and Mrs. Claus, the council did conduct some business.

The new council was updated on the progress of 2040 Vision, which just completed nine community forums. There is a 16-member steering committee, and so far 52 people have volunteered to be on the issue project teams. Residents are still welcome to join in the project teams.

Former Justice of the Peace Scott Sulley has been disbarred.

The Arizona Supreme Court handed down the ruling today. Sulley was also ordered to pay more than $2,000 in court costs and attorney’s fees.

In September, the Supreme Court issued Sulley a lifetime ban from serving as a judge. The disbarment from practicing as an attorney in the state came on the recommendation of the State Bar Association after an investigation into the Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court that started in 2013.

Sulley was accused of mishandling more than $200,000 in the Justice Court and failing to oversee the administration of the court to the point of preventing appropriate administrative training. The Commission on Judicial Conduct also found that he created a hostile work environment.

The State Bar also accused him of verbally abusive behavior, inappropriate remarks from the bench and generally giving the court a bad reputation in the public eye.

The order of disbarment was issued by Chief Justice Scott Bales. According to the record, when the State Bar filed its brief recommending disbarment, Sulley did not file an answering brief.

“Upon review of the State Bar’s brief and the record, it is ordered that respondent Scott Sulley is disbarred from the practice of law in the State of Arizona effective the date of this order,” the document states.

Sulley practiced law in Pinal County for 15 years before he was elected to be JP for the Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court. He was also the first magistrate of the City of Maricopa after incorporation in 2003.

In all practicality, a disbarment is a death knell for a law career. According to Rick DeBruhl, chief communications officer with the State Bar Association, a disbarred attorney who wishes to re-enter the legal field must wait five years, take the bar exam again, “and basically start over.”

They will also be judged by the Bar on a “character and fitness” assessment. “Needless to say, character and fitness will work against them,” DeBruhl said.

He called coming back from disbarment a “Herculean effort,” to the point that no one at the State Bar Association specifically remembers anybody who was able to do so.

He pointed out a disbarment is also reciprocal in other states, so a former attorney like Sulley cannot simply pick up and pass the bar in another state and start practicing.

By DeBruhl’s estimates, disbarments in Arizona run from around a dozen to as much as 30 per year for a variety of offenses.

Last month, Lyle Riggs was elected to take over the JP court.
 

It may not be as entertaining as usual, but Wednesday’s public gathering with the Arizona Department of Transportation will still have important information at hand.

ADOT is asking for public comment on the latest stage of the proposed overpass at State Route 347 and the Union Pacific Railroad. The hearing, which starts at 6 p.m., focuses on the new Draft Environmental Assessment for the study.

The overpass proposal is intended to increase safety as well as convenience.

“When a train comes, it divides the city,” said City Manager Gregory Rose.

ADOT is being very clear this is not a question-and-answer session.

“This is a more formal meeting than most we conduct,” said Tim Tait, ADOT assistant division director for communications. “This is a hearing on the draft environmental assessment, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (the federal law that we are required to follow in order to use federal funds).”

Even without the Q&A, the public can make formal comments on the EA that night, comments that could potentially influence the final draft, Tait said.

“There will be project staff available to answer general questions, but the purpose of the hearing is to receive formal input from the public on the proposed project,” he stated.

The public comment period began Nov. 18 and continues until Dec. 18. The project would replace the at-grade intersection with an overpass. It is meant to promote safety by taking traffic out of the path of a busy rail line and also allowing emergency vehicles faster access to both sides of the tracks without being stalled by a train.

 “There has been very positive community feedback,” Rose said. “There is good support for joining north and south Maricopa.”

He said the residents see the project as a step forward. Despite the prospect of suffering through the inconvenience of the construction phase, community members see it as a long-term solution, Rose said.

Funding is a different matter. The proposed project is currently estimated at $54 million.

The project is a partnership of ADOT, the City of Maricopa and Union Pacific.

“As the project moves forward, all funding sources will be considered as part of the implementation plan. The strong community partnership is one reason this significant project is able to move forward,” Tait stated.

“There is work we still have to do in securing funds,” Rose said.

The City of Maricopa has committed $8 million. “We’re exploring all of our avenues. With the help of the mayor [Christian Price] and Kelly Anderson with the State Transportation Board, we’ve had good success acquiring $18 million in state/federal funds,” Rose said. “We’re also appreciative of the support from the Ak-Chin community.”

With a new council being seated Tuesday night, a refresher on 2040 Vision seemed a good idea.

Maricopa City Council will meet at 7 p.m. for its regular session. The agenda includes a status report on 2040 Vision, which is meant to guide the city for the next 25 years.

“We thought it would be a good time to provide the council with a briefing on one of the most significant projects in Maricopa,” City Manager Gregory Rose said.

Since the creation of the steering committee this fall, there have been nine forums around the community. Some of the public feedback was expected and some was in the form of new ideas.

Issues that have been at the top of the list of officials and validated through the public forms have included economic development and transportation. Rose said residents want more jobs and more business recruiting in Maricopa. Transportation concerns expressed by the public have not only been about infrastructure for getting people safely back and forth in their cars, he said, but also making Maricopa a walkable community.

The discussions also brought up the new idea of laying the foundation to bring light rail to town, Rose said.

If the council stays on course, it could be set to adopt 2040 Vision in the spring.

“Everyone we’ve talked to has been very supportive of the process,” Rose said.

At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, newly elected council members Vincent Manfredi, Henry Wade and Nancy Smith will be sworn in with re-elected incumbents Peggy Chapados and Mayor Christian Price by Judge Pro Tem Lyle Riggs.

Outgoing council members Edward Farrell, Dan Frank and Julia Gusse will be recognized for their service.

In other matters on the agenda, there will be a public hearing on the use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds and State Special Projects (SSP) funds. SSP funds are competitive, while CDBG funds are a set amount that must be used in a set timeframe.

On the consent agenda are purchases of shelving for the library (up to $35,000), 15 sets of Personal Protective Equipment for fire support services (up to $46,000), two bronze plaques for Pacana Park and Copper Sky Recreation Complex (up to $8,000) and three sets of extrication equipment for fire support services (up to $131,000).

The Maricopa Fire Department is also applying for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which must be approved by council. One for $1.3 million would purchase a ladder truck. This includes a matching-fund requirement of 10 percent from the city. The other grant for up to $345,000 would allow MFD to host a regional education/training event with Mesa Community College and its Virtual Incident Command Center. This grant, too, requires 10 percent in matching funds.

The council will also look at accepting a grant award of $250,000 from the Rural Economic Development Grant program as part of the Edison Road Extension. The required matching funds of $25,000 come from the 10-Year Capital Improvement Plan.

Kim Kwiatkowski of Circle K at 19864 N. John Wayne Parkway is applying for a new liquor license. After a change in officers at the company, Michael Basha of Bashas’ at 21044 N. John Wayne Parkway is applying for a control change under the Arizona Department of Liquor License and Control.

A line break Sunday morning slowed impacted Global Water Resources customers in Maricopa. Some customers experienced only a lowering of pressure while other had practically no water all for a couple of hours.

According to Global Water General Manager Jon Corwin, there was a large water main failure and a leak of a “significant amount of water.” The main breakage was reported around 6:35 a.m. Sunday.

“We were unable to keep up with the pressure demand throughout the city of Maricopa,” Corwin said.

The company isolated the problem and restored pressure to the customers by around 8:30 a.m.

Customers closest to the distribution site were least impacted, he said. Those farthest away had the most noticeable decrease in water. “But it affected the entire city of Maricopa,” Corwin said.

Global’s delivery runs on a loop system, he explained, and they were able to send water through a “different set of pipes” to get water back to the customers. He said workers expect to have the main failure repaired in a week. 

A Maricopa woman was transported to the hospital Saturday after driving her car into a house she had just rented.

According to Maricopa Police Department spokesman Ricky Alvarado, the incident happened around 3 p.m. on the 43000 block of West Kramer Lane in the Villages at Rancho El Dorado.

The woman had rented the home the day before and was unpacking items from vehicles. When she backed up, the vehicle “took off fast,” smashing through a front window and stopping in the dining room, according to the report.

Alvarado said she was taken to Chandler Regional with neck pain. Blood tests were taken, but it is not believed impairment was a factor in the incident.

by -

For Our City and the City of Maricopa again took the lead in the Community Thanksgiving Dinner Thursday at Copper Sky Regional Park.

Around 400 people were involved, whether dining or volunteering, from firefighters dishing up dinner and taking children on a tour of a fire truck, to musical entertainment and the creation of lots of tasty dishes. Everyone who signed up ate for free.

For Our City is a collection of local organizations, churches and businesses that chipped in food, time, funds and talents to create a community bonding experience.

The City of Maricopa next will host the inaugural Merry Copa Holiday Festival Dec.6, 3-7 p.m. at Copper Sky. The event will include the lighting of a Christmas tree, an artificial ice rink and snow zone, performers, cookies and hot chocolate and, of course, Santa. Click here to register.

The overhaul of the Maricopa Fire Department is making headway.

Brady Leffler said he inherited a situation of mismanagement and lack of foresight, “and we’re still paying for it today.”

Approaching his first anniversary as chief of the department, Leffler is watching the results of his reorganization efforts in personnel, equipment and training. Now he wants the department on the road to accreditation.

“They are doing an exceptional job at this point,” said City Manager Gregory Rose, with whom the chief works out his budget priorities. City Hall is also keeping an eye on the direction of the department as things evolve.

The restructuring at MFD involved adding a full-time position and upgrading two others. “That expanded the budget a little bit,” Leffler said.

Still, the department is understaffed by his estimation. Changing that, of course, is an objective. “But I know that comes with a hefty price tag,” he said.

The reorganization has allowed the department to segregate functionality within the department. Part of that has meant playing catch-up in gaining a records management system and creating a full operations track under Assistant Chief Bobby Miller. Early on, they sat down with a multi-page checklist to hit every area of concern.

So far, Rose sees the changes at MFD as effective. The City of Maricopa is expecting expansion in all departments as the community grows along with the demand for services, he said.

MFD is in the process of developing all EMS modules of training, prevention and investigations. There were components that Leffler said were “ignored completely” in a dearth of forward thinking. That, the chief said, is something that can impact insurance ratings.

Leffler came into MFD as interim chief last year in the midst of a swamp of dissension within the department. Then-Chief Wade Brannon had received a vote of no confidence from the Professional Firefighters of Maricopa Local 4561. Brannon later resigned.

Even before officially being sworn in as chief in December, Leffler was instituting changes. Since then, he’s had staff implementing priority components he felt have long been missing.

We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it,” Leffler said.

Besides operations leadership, MFD had issues with employee morale. Things are different now, according to Local 4561 President Carlos Schulz.

“There has been a big change in how we view ourselves and how we are viewed from outside,” Schulz said. “The guys’ attitude is overwhelmingly supportive and positive.”

Crew members are much more motivated now to go back to school, get additional training and “better themselves in their current positions,” he said.

The experience (“100 years combined,” Schulz points out) brought in by four new chiefs has gained new connections and opportunities, according to Schulz. He said the employees have also been impressed with the strong relationship between management and labor as they have worked to restructure.

That has put everyone on the same page as they look at needs and expenses. Living within the MFD budget puts limits on staffing and equipment upgrades, but options are available.

“We are so aggressive. We are seeking out any and all grants,” Leffler said.

A new ladder truck is also in the Capital Improvement Projects plan.

In the future, Leffler would like to go after accreditation, something that could take two to three years of development. But the means to do it is in place with clerical help, he said.

Of great concern is the expansion of the community south of the railroad tracks, where there is currently only one station. One passing train can exacerbate an emergency situation.

by -

Former real estate broker Dawn Anderson, formerly Dawn Madden, is now inmate 003479764 in the Pinal County Jail.

Guilty of theft, forgery and fraudulent schemes, the former owner of Maricopa Properties LLC entered the Pinal County Adult Detention Center on Nov. 10 after the Oct. 31 disposition in Superior Court.

Anderson’s Maricopa-based company was audited by the Arizona Department of Real Estate in March 2013 for records covering Jan. 1, 2012, to Jan. 31, 2013. That led to allegations of mishandling nearly $280,000 in trust money and a cease-and-desist order.

The trust account held rent payments and security deposits.

ADRE accused Anderson of using trust money for personal expenses, including debit card use in Hawaii and New Orleans. Overdrafts in that trust account began showing up in late 2012, according to the department findings.

What followed was an investigation by the Maricopa Police Department and the Attorney General’s Office, not to mention a civil fine of $12,000. A grand jury indicted Anderson on three felonies in March of this year, and she was prosecuted by the state.

After reaching a plea agreement, Anderson, 41, was sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay back victimized renters and owners. Those number up to 200 people.

by -

For Our City and the City of Maricopa invite residents to the annual community Thanksgiving dinner in the Big Ramada at the Copper Sky Recreation Center on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Food will be provided by area churches, businesses and organizations. The event is free, but make your reservations by Saturday, so they will know how many people to prepare for.

In English, call 520-413-2303. In Spanish, call 520-208-0586. Or email director@forourcitymaricopa.org.

This is the third year For Our City and the City of Maricopa have hosted the dinner, which was started by the Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church. While both the City and the For Our City organization are involved in several projects during the year, this is one of only two in which they spearhead the event, according to Mayor Christian Price.

He says it is a great opportunity to bring government resources to local organizations “to accomplish what’s good for the community.”

The food and service are all volunteer, based on assignments.

Though last year ran as a potluck because of organization issues, Price said those attending this year don’t have to bring anything.

The City recently held a turkey drive, and the turkeys were split between the food bank and the community Thanksgiving Dinner.

by -

It is an evolving idea. The promotion of atypical art in the community is behind the launch of an exhibition series at the Maricopa Center for Entrepreneurship.
 
Thursday is the opening reception for the works of Devin Gregg at the new MCE gallery.
 
"Artists have always been entrepreneurs," said Dan Beach, executive director of MCE. "There are a lot of artists in Maricopa, and we want to bring awareness to the community."
 
MCE added Art & Entrepreuneur to its programs after Beach learned several high-level universities like Duke had courses on art and entrepreneurship. Eventually, the new program could lead to workshops for artists on promotion and sales.
 
For now, MCE is opening its walls as an art space, a Maricopa gallery that does not currently exist. The hunt is on for a different kind of artist.
 
Devin Gregg produces the kind of unusual wall art that Beach was looking for. A 15-year-old Maricopa resident, Devin produces works that have "a Nightmare Before Christmas look," according to Beach.
 
Her pieces can be widely interpreted, provoking and perhaps controversial. Definitely "not typical," Beach said.
 
He found her the way he is finding other artists for the gallery, by talking to his clients and asking about unique artists who would fit what MCE is seeking. One suggested the teenager.
 
The opening reception for her art will be from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the center, 20800 N. John Wayne Parkway, suite 108. It's all about a relaxing evening.
 
"People can just come in and see her art, have a glass of local wine and some appetizers," Beach said.
 
The plan is to seek out other artists for future exhibits. The MCE gallery will show eight to 12 pieces for four to six weeks each.
 

Art may not be the first thing people think of when they think of Maricopa. One group of artisans is working to change that.

The second year of Art on the Veranda had an expanded number of artists and media on exhibit at The Duke Golf Club today.

Local artist Linda Demain said it continues to be "a learning experience."

"I'm learning what people will buy and what they won't buy," she said.

Maricopa Artisans debuted the event in March 2013 to give exposure to area artists and promote the local business community.

"It's all about keeping revenue in the community," said Cynthia Portrey, one of the five artists who founded Maricopa Artisans. "We may be in the country, but you don't have to go to Phoenix for something like this."

The artisans approached the City of Maricopa about supplying some kind of bags for the attendees. The timing happened to be perfect for the City's Shop Local campaign, which seeks to boost Maricopa's businesses. The first 100 attendees received the Shop Local bags, and there were even more Herbalife bags marked with Shop Local stickers.

Further enticements included free raffle tickets (and an extra raffle ticket to those who brought food to be donated to the needy).

New this year was a wine-tasting booth.

Instead of just being around the restaurant's veranda, artists were spread out farther along the course, at the encouragement of the management.

"The Duke was extremely accommodating," Portrey said.

Making it even more of a community event, high school students helped with setup Saturday morning, hauling in six dollies of equipment. The Maricopa Police Department agreed to let cars park on side of Rancho El Dorado Parkway when the parking lot was full of attendees and golfers.

"It was really a cooperative effort," Portrey said.

Designer Michele Fredericks, also a founder of the artisans group, said the switch from spring to fall was advantageous. March, it turned out, was already hot, she said, and the November setting brought in the part-time residents returning for the winter.

Other founding members are Diane Hebert, Karen Stephenson and Bonnie Del Turco. Portrey said they want the Art on the Veranda event to be consistently high-quality fine arts and crafts.

Maricopa Artisans jury the participating artists. Some apply on their own and some are invited to submit their works for consideration (the work of Casa Grande pottery artist Lois Dieringer was spotted in a shop window).

Maricopa's wild horse herd remains a popular sight along State Route 347.

By Michael K. Rich

Cell phones, laptops, the Internet…the world is transforming into a place in which everyone is connected one way or another through a complex series of wires, signals and telephone lines.

However, neighboring the city of Maricopa, spread across 372,000 acres of land, you’ll find 600 to 1,000 horses running wild and free. These majestic animals survive, as they have for decades, living off the land and fighting for dominance, living on their own terms.

If only people could truly disconnect themselves and live so free.

“The horses do what they want; they have no master; they are what freedom used to be,” said Emmet White.

The 72-year-old White is a Pima, referred to as “a cowboy” by many of his peers. White has many stories about his interaction with the horses and growing up in the Indian community, but this tale begins before White or the wild horses set foot on the land.

Long, long ago

To understand how the horses came to live on the land, it’s helpful to get some historical perspective.

Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Francisco Kino first visited the Pima and Maricopa people living along the Gila River in 1694. He and other explorers to the area described the tribes as friendly, living in a series of villages located generally between where the modern communities of Sacaton and Gila Crossing lie today.

Their economy was based on agriculture, using the land adjacent to the Gila River to cultivate beans, corn, pumpkins, watermelons, muskmelons and cotton. However, it wasn’t the descriptions, which would impact the Indians’ culture,  that these explorers, missionaries and others brought back to the civilized world: it was the animals.

Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, the Indian communities relied essentially on their hands to complete day-to-day tasks. Yet, many of the people who came through the area left behind horses and other animals that became entrenched in the lifestyle of the community, said Robert Johnson, a 51-year-old member of the tribe and cultural educator at the Huhugam Heritage Center.

“The horses, donkeys and other animals became a way of improving agriculture in the area, and a further means for the tribe to protect itself from the Apache,” Johnson said.

“We were not originally horse people,” White said. “We adapted.”

Those frequent travelers who left behind sick and tired animals were not only exploring Spaniards, but also 49ers, who passed through in route to California to search for gold.

In the spring of 1849, many of these gold hunters, an estimated 25,000 to 40,000, took one of the northern routes up the Platte River Valley and through the South Pass in Wyoming. They made their way to Salt Lake City and then across Nevada, more than 2,000 miles across mostly unsettled country.

However, another 9,000 to 20,000 travelers took one of the southern routes, which included the Gila Trail and Cooke’s Wagon Road, as well as other trails across northern Mexico. Most of the southern trails came together at the Gila, where travelers left wounded or exhausted animals that the tribes adopted and nursed back to health.

These American equines would often breed with Spanish steeds to form new mixes of horses. “The horses are a symbol,” White said. “They are something special given to us by the Holy Spirit.”

Recent history

A then 12-year-old White and several of his friends crept quietly toward a group of horses. It had long been a sort of ritual of passage among the many members of the tribe to rope and ride the horses in the herd, and White was not one to back down.

He lassoed a horse and pulled himself up on its back.

“The horses were strong and very tough; we always tried to ride the smaller ones because the large stallions would not have it,” he said. “It is funny because back then there were hickory trees with big thorns, and the horses always seemed to buck you off into one of them. It was like they knew.”

While riding the horses was part sport, it was also a mode of transportation for the young Pima.

“When I grew up it was either walk or find a horse to ride,” White said. For many years, White rode horses in the herd and only gave up the hobby as he became older. However, experiences with the herd were not reserved for tribal members.

Former city councilman Brent Murphree’s family managed nearly 1,000 acres of farmland, which bordered the Indian community, when he was growing up.

“Many people say those were the good ole days, but if you look how we lived back then compared to today, life was really a lot more difficult,” he said.

Some of those difficulties revolved around the herd. Several times a year, the horses would get into the family’s acreage and eat the crops. “They would break the stalks and make it difficult to harvest,” he said. However, the Murphree family had a solution—dirt  bikes.

When the horses came into the fields, Murphree and his brothers would mount up on their dirt bikes and chase the horses off the land.

“It was kind of an odd sight to see us chasing these horses on dirt bikes,” he said. “I remember one time I was chasing a group off and hit a branch and flew off the motorcycle.”

In addition to the trouble they caused in the field, the herd used to wander onto State Route 347. “I remember the year before they put the fence up, nine horses were killed; it was very dangerous to drive down that road,” Murphree said.

Cultural symbols

Today, the horses have become somewhat of a symbol of a time past and are not an everyday part of tribal life.

“Every family used to have a horse for work or transportation, but those days are long gone,” Johnson said.

The tribe does not actively manage the herd, but does operate a solar-operated well to help keep the horses hydrated, according to Cliff Targowski of the Gila River Indian Community’s natural resources conservation department.

At one time, the tribe would round up the horses and auction them off, but due to financial reasons, that practice has stopped.

While the herd continues to inspire a sense of the romantic West in passersby, Johnson said it can still be a nuisance. The stallions will oftentimes find domesticated mares on the ranches in the community and draw them away into the pack, Johnson said.

In some cases, it takes the families three months to track down their horses, he added.

“A lot of the cowboys just chase the horses away when they come near a settlement,” Johnson said.

Herd behavior

Wild horses, or mustangs as they are known, are no different from many pack animals and have distinct markings and behavioral patterns.

“The horses live in herds of typically one breeding stallion, one to 12 breeding mares, their nursing foals and weaned colts and fillies,” said Bobbi Royal, the director and co-founder of Nevada-based Wild Horse Spirit, a hands-on, non-profit wild horse rescue, sanctuary and advocacy organization.

Once the weaned fillies and colts reach the age of three, they are typically driven from the herd to prevent inbreeding by the dominant stallion. These then go on to establish herds of their own.

“Horses are very attached to their mothers and don’t want to leave the herd,” Royal said. “The stallions give them no choice though.” Those males that don’t find any females to join their pack will often form bachelor herds, she added.

Along the Gila River, there are essentially four larger herds, consisting of 25 or more head and many other groups of two to three, according to Johnson. The stallion in the herd serves as the protector of the group and will stay and battle if danger approaches, while the group also features a lead mare that navigates the group to safety.

Battle for control

A combination of time in the herd, size and temperament determines the pecking order in the herd. While a herd will stay together for many years, each breeding season brings about opportunity for change.

During this season the stallion of the herd will aggressively drive back any mares who try to leave the group by laying his ears back and twisting his head and neck in a snaking motion.

Stallions will also battle for control of the herd in this same manner, in addition to nipping and rearing up with their hooves. If a stallion is displaced from a herd, they typically go on to join a bachelor herd.

While characteristics of life in the herd are amazing to observe, Royal says it’s the toughness of the horses at which one marvels. “These horses will eat almost anything and travel more than 30 miles to find water,” she said.

White said he has seen the horses even dig in the ground to find water. “It is amazing; it is like they know exactly where the water is,” he said.

And the horses aren’t too particular about their diet, even eating tumbleweeds and branches. But two of the lesser-known facts about these animals are their digestive system and ability to prevent wild fires, Royal said.

“A herd will eat the grasses most responsible for causing wild fires, and their digestive system is such that seeds pass through it. This means they are constantly reseeding what they eat.”

Where to find the horses

There are an estimated 600 to 1,000 horses roaming the Indian community, mostly running in packs of five or less. However, there are three larger packs with more than 25 head each. Here are the areas those packs frequent:

• The Gila Butte herd roams east of Interstate 10 between Gila Butte and Goodyear Village and can be observed on any given day.

• The Pima Butte herd roams between Pima Butte and just east of  I-10. They cross back and forth under State Route 347 at the Gila River Bridge and are usually spotted along SR 347.

• The Estrella herd roams mostly in the scrub-mesquite growth along Santa Cruz Wash and the Estrella Range. This herd can be seen only sporadically along Beltline Road; it is the largest of the three packs never coming in contact with humans. If the herd is spotted, it’s usually taking water from the irrigation canals. They raise a dust cloud when in motion.