Former Mesa City Manager Charles K. Luster, who devoted 42 years of service to the city at a time of its most dynamic growth, died Oct. 24, after a brief illness. He was 98.
Mr. Luster left a long legacy of accomplishments throughout his four-plus decades of public service, working with 11 mayors and city councils as the city transitioned from a quaint town of 27,000 to America’s 38th largest city with 400,000 residents at the time of his retirement in 2000.
But along with those accomplishments, Mr. Luster also left a legacy of fairness and personability as he rose through the ranks of the city’s administration from his first job as city engineer in 1957 to eventually city manager for 21 years.
“He was the fairest guy I’ve ever been around,” said East Valley Partnership Vice President Mike Hutchinson, who worked under Mr. Luster for 19 years.
Mr. Luster’s accomplishments can be seen throughout Mesa.
Under his watch, the city constructed multiple water-treatment plants, deep wells and CAP water allocations that ensured ample water for future development and countless streets.
Perhaps two of Mr. Luster’s most significant contributions to the city’s future involved the transformations of the city’s two airports.
He oversaw the repurposing of Falcon Field, once a World War II pilot training center and now one of the city’s primary economic development engines.
He also oversaw the conversion of another World War II airport, Williams Air Force Base, into what is now Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, a facility that has continued to grow and become a vital economic development driver not only for Mesa but much of the East Valley.
Another signature development was Hohokam Stadium, which helped assure Mesa’s place as a lynchpin of Arizona’s Cactus League for decades to come.
He devoted so much work to that kind of development that Mesa in 2015 renamed its utilities building on Mesa Drive after him, crediting his work for expanding police and fire facilities and other “foundational cornerstones in the vital infrastructure that served Mesa well as it grew.”
But Mr. Luster just wasn’t concerned about the nuts and bolts of city infrastructure.
He also devoted his attention and energy to ensuring the city’s quality of life, spearheading the development of its library system, parks and recreational facilities, senior and multigenerational centers and, in the words memorialized on the building that bears his name, “other amenities that assured all Mesa residents of diverse opportunities to live, work and play.”
Hutchinson, who eventually became Mesa’s city manager himself, credited his mentor and colleague for his vision and forward thinking.
“Charles Luster had the vision to help create the infrastructure the city needed to handle its phenomenal growth, while, at the same time, being the champion for quality of life projects and programs to make Mesa a great place,” Hutchinson said, adding:
“I had the privilege to work with him and he was not only forward thinking but a man of great integrity.”
At the dedication, Mesa Mayor John Giles said, “The reason for his long tenure was his absolute integrity. Everyone trusted his character and professional ability.”
Mr. Luster said he was “deeply humbled” by the building’s name change, but demurred at taking all the credit given him.
“I share this honor with mayors and council members that I worked with, along with hundreds of current and former employees, community and business leaders and our residents,” he said.
Mr. Luster is survived by his widow, Bertha, and two sons, Steve and Scott.
A final farewell is planned for next weekend, beginning with a viewing 6-8 p.m. Nov. 1, at Bunker Family Garden Chapel, 32 Centennial Way, Mesa. At 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, a service will be held at the Mesa Mountain View Stake Center, 1550 N. Val Vista Drive, Mesa, with a viewing at 9 a.m.
Interment will follow at the Mesa Cemetery.