It was a time to learn about Ahwatukee’s history from some of the people who made it and, in one poignant moment, a time to honor and thank one of the community’s most influential “founding fathers.”
About 200 people turned out Jan. 21 at the Ahwatukee Recreation Center for the first of three presentations on Ahwatukee’s history that the ARC is offering to the public free of charge as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
With Ahwatukee historian Marty Gibson narrating, the group was enthralled by stories of the community’s early years by three significant contributors to its growth: Mark Salem, who owned Ahwatukee first gas station; Rick Savagian, who as founder-owner of Mountainside Martial Arts Center owns the community’s oldest single-owner business; and Bruce Gillam, president of Presley Development Company of Arizona – which built the community’s first subdivisions.
But the afternoon also became a celebration and a time to thank one of Ahwatukee’s most influential early settlers – Clay Schad, founder and longtime owner of the Ahwatukee Foothills News.
With his wife Jackie Schad at his side, Schad was surprised by an award from the ARC thanking him “for his tremendous support in establishing the community of Ahwatukee.”
As he presented the award to his decades-long friend, Ahwatukee Realtor Chad Chadderton recalled how he was sitting in the backyard with Schad one evening in 1988 and mentioned that no one had picked up the Independence Day fireworks show that developers once sponsored as a way to lure prospective homebuyers to the community.
“And he said to me, ‘why don’t you do the fireworks show?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know anything about fireworks.’ He said, ‘Well your network: you know people. I’ll back it up with the paper.’
“And from ‘88 for 10 years, I did the fireworks show. Thanks to Clay, when we finished up we had the third largest firework show in the state. It’s all to Clay.”
That wasn’t all that was “all to Clay,” Chadderton and the other speakers told the audience about Schad, who started the paper in 1978 and grew it from a single sheet of tidbits of information on community happenings into an Ahwatukee institution that he oversaw until he sold it in the late 1990s to Thompson Newspapers. At that time, the corporation also bought the Mesa Tribune and several other East Valley weeklies.
Chadderton recalled how he used to accompany Schad as he delivered the papers from a pickup truck.
And when he wasn’t delivering papers or selling ads, he said, Schad was hustling stories in support of businesses and organizations in the community that were going through their own birth pains.
“He helped us with many things,” Chadderton told the audience. “We mentioned the Jaycees – it was a really good service organization that was here in the 70s and 80s. And he always gave us good coverage. When we started Kiwanis, he gave us coverage – and for the Toastmasters Club, the Optimists Club. Clay was always there.”
Gibson’s other three guests wholeheartedly agreed.
Savagian recalled how, as the first director of the Ahwatukee Community Center, he wanted to start a “continuing education program for swimmers to go on to the next level and Clay consistently gave us that front page.
“Clay was so instrumental in the building of our karate program,” Savagian continued. “We got a lot of front page news on the karate program because our students started performing at very high levels and competing at high levels and doing extremely well.”
He also publicized the dozens of runs and races Savagian organized that put Ahwatukee on the map for nearly a decade as a runner’s Mecca.
“Clay’s coverage literally had major sponsors coming to us,” he added.
Salem said, “Everybody that was open, we used Clay. We did our ads with Clay, we talked about our hours of operation. He would oftentimes take our ideas and we put them down on paper and he changed them for the better because we weren’t media people – he was.
“He’s directly responsible for Millie’s (Hallmark store) and Circle K and much of the Presley activities,” Salem continued. “One of the biggest things we did that made a difference for us is we got Clay to put in a (newspaper) rack. So once a week, he would bring the magazines and put them in the rack and then people would flood the gas station to get them. And so he helped drive business in that way.”
Speaking via Zoom from his Colorado home, Gillam recalled how he and other Pressley employees would give Schad articles and ask him to turn them into fliers for circulation among the few hundred homes that existed in Ahwatukee at the time.
“And then I think we came in one day and started talking about the newspaper,” said Gillam, who asked his father, a newspaper publisher in California, if he’d like to start a newspaper in Ahwatukee.
“So Clay, having produced these things was a logical choice for me,” Gilliam said. “And when I went to Clay, he’d have a lot of good ideas on how to make it better. And I said, “I know you’re going to need some support and we’ll give you that, but I’d rather give it to you in ads in the paper, rather than just cash subsidies. But we probably did a little both.
“And he took it from there and just fire-stormed that thing and made it into some great newspaper that I just never imagined.”
Physically unable to say much, Schad appeared overwhelmed by the tributes, saying “It was very important for me to be part of it.”