Arizona set out years ago to celebrate its 100th birthday by sprucing up the dingy Capitol district, hosting celebrations across the state and creating a lifetime of memories.
Then the economy crashed and the state cancelled funding for the bash three years ago.
But with the 100th now one year away, organizers are finding renewed interest in finding ways to celebrate, said Karen Churchard, director of the Arizona Centennial Commission.
“With the punches Arizona has been taking, it’s been interesting to hear the comments from the mayors and elected officials from throughout the state,” Churchard said. “They recognize there couldn’t be a better time to recognize Arizona than ever before. This is going to be a good time to be prideful of our state.”
The commission is looking to finalize plans for events and projects this year, both statewide and those in individual cities. They’re asking Indian tribes, professional organizations and other groups to recognize their contributions to the state through books, displays or monuments.
Just three East Valley projects have official recognition so far, but that’s expected to grow this year.
One is a new Chandler museum, though a lack of funding means a new building is years away.
Another approved project is improving the Mesa Grande ruins so the Hohokam settlement can be open to visitors on a regular basis. The city is looking to add its new Celebration of Freedom event in July, and to restore and move a 1912 locomotive at Pioneer Park.
But cities are working on plans for other signature events for the list.
Chandler is considering recognition of its Tumbleweed Christmas tree lighting ceremony, a multicultural festival and more, said Jean Reynolds, the city’s history coordinator. Traveling exhibits and publications will bring history to life, as well. One story likely will involve the importance of cotton and how it drew workers to Arizona. One newcomer was Coy Payne, who became Arizona’s first black mayor in 1990. The events will tie in with Chandler’s 100th birthday next year.
“A centennial is good because being able to showcase your history and identity, it’s good for the community,” Reynolds said. “Especially as you’re going through tough economic times, it’s nice to have a feel-good event to bring people together and create that sense of community.”
Gilbert plans a February 2012 event to recognize history makers in farming, business, education and more. A music festival will follow in what organizers plan to become an annual event, said Katie Stringham, co-chair of the Gilbert State Centennial Committee. The town wants Gilbert to be one place a historic Union Pacific steam locomotive will visit during a tour of Arizona, she said.
“We hope we’re one of those stops since we have such a strong tie to the railroad,” she said.
Tempe’s City Council will review centennial projects this week. Some likely candidates would involve Papago Park, where former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s former home is becoming a center devoted to renewed civility in politics.
The statewide effort involves K-8 students collecting pennies to fund restoration of the copper dome on the state Capitol, with the idea children should play a role in the centennial. The state will turn to some of the events and history in a new tourism campaign as well, Churchard said.
The growing number of events and greater publicity will likely get some folks to learn more about history, she said, especially those who moved here from another state.
“A lot of people are going to wake up on Monday and go, ‘Oh, we’re 99. I didn’t know that.’ ”
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