Wayne Pomeroy prides himself on saying he’s always had a job.
He sold canteloupes from a red wagon at just 6 years old, and delivered telegrams and newspapers (including the Mesa Tribune) when a little bit older. He worked for an aircraft company in California after high school, and served in the Air Force during World War II. He’s been a city councilman, and even the mayor of Mesa for two terms, and today, just weeks after turning 90, coming to work at his own downtown Mesa men’s store is still part of the routine.
Pomeroy, who recently turned 90 years old on March 13, has run Pomeroy’s Missionary Shop in Downtown Mesa for 62 years.
The owner’s office at Pomeroy’s is full of items that not only tell the story of his life, but also the history of Mesa itself.
Born and raised in the city, Pomeroy has not only seen how Mesa has changed from a small town to the third-largest city in Arizona, he’s lived it. The great-grandson of Francis Martin Pomeroy — one of the pioneers considered essential to Mesa’s founding — Mesa had only about 3,500 residents when Wayne Pomeroy was born; today that number tops 440,000. And it was during Pomeroy’s time as mayor, from 1976-1980, that Mesa went through a progressive stage that earned it the award of “All-American City” by the National Municipal League.
Born on March 13, 1923, Pomeroy remembers how fond he became of wandering Mesa’s downtown area as he grew up.
“There was no air conditioning,” he said, noting that when the house would get hot during the summer, he’d head outside just about all day long.
In high school, he played fullback on the Mesa High School football team, and even though he weighed 104 pounds, he earned the nickname of “toughie” because of how he played. Pomeroy also met his wife, Cecil, during his senior year when she transferred from Utah. They’ve known each other for 72 years and have been married for 69 years.
It was also during high school that Pomeroy was hired to work at a men’s store, and it was from that point on that he knew he wanted to own one himself.
“I’ve always thought I had a good fashion sense and I love business,” Pomeroy said.
After graduating from high school in 1941, Pomeroy went to California to work for an aircraft company for a short time. It wasn’t long before he joined the Army Air Force and became a tail gunner on a B-24 bomber during World War II. During a mission over the former Czechoslovakia, his plane was shot by enemy fire.
Even though he was wounded, he managed to take down the plane that was trying to bring them down, he said. Pomeroy received the Silver Star, Purple Heart and Air Medal for his actions during the war.
After the war, Pomeroy went back to school, attending Brigham Young University and New York University and earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business.
Even though he worked for a big company at the time, Pomeroy missed his home and came back to Mesa in 1950.
Finding a business partner to help him get started, he was able to open his downtown Mesa store in 1951.
“In those days, the 50s and the 60s, there weren’t shopping centers,” Pomeroy said. “If you didn’t have a store in downtown you weren’t going to do much.”
Even though Mesa was still rather small, Pomeroy’s business began to thrive, and he opened more locations when shopping centers started to become more prominent.
Since 2000, the downtown location is the only one that exists, but Pomeroy owns the building — built by his great-grandfather in 1878 and bought back by Pomeroy in 1977.
Looking back on his tenure as both a city councilman and mayor, Pomeroy remembers the creation of a new community center and library, the beginning of the Mesa Fire Department and paramedic services, new council chambers and the beginning of the computerization of library, police and financial records.
Sarah Moorhead, a local oral historian, said that Pomeroy’s time as a mayor can only be defined as a time of progress. She said that during a community survey in Mesa in the 1980s about famous public figures, Pomeroy won, beating out a other famous figures like Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Serving as mayor for two terms, he was also at the helm during Mesa’s 1978 centennial celebration.
Throughout his life, Pomeroy has met with a number of famous political figures, including President Gerald Ford, Goldwater, Spencer W. Kimball — the former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and more recently Mitt Romney.
After finding his own niche running a small business, Pomeroy said he sees a bright future for Mesa. He said he trusts the current mayor and government and the work they are doing for the city.
“Mesa is a great place to raise a family and live,” he said.
What: Pomeroy’s Missionary Store
Where: 136 W. Main Street, Mesa
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed Sundays)
Information: www.pomeroysonline.com; (480) 833-0733
Abel, a senior at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.