Monday, June 23, 2014

Thank You, Mr. Basha

June 16, 2014 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I first met Eddie Basha in Chandler, Arizona, when my father and I shopped at his father’s grocery store. This was sometime in the late 1940s.

I shouldn’t say I actually met him, but I talked with him briefly exiting the store. He was younger than I and he was busy at the time.

The next time I had any involvement with Mr. Basha was at his corporate offices on Ocotillo Road in Chandler in 1971. I was then scoutmaster for Troop 559 in Mesa. We were planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. I asked Eddie for some help with groceries for the boys. He generously complied with enough groceries to feed seventeen hungry boys, ranging in ages between 13 and 17, for two weeks. Again, in June of 1972, I ask him for help with food supplies for the same troop when they planned their Grand Canyon “Rim to Rim” hike. Mr. Basha was there again to assist me in this important endeavor. Seventeen young men earned their Grand Canyon Council Rim to Rim patch. This was certainly an accomplishment for these young men that they would never forget and an experience that would live with them for the rest of their lives. 

It was August of 1973 when I began teaching at Apache Junction Jr. High School. Early in 1974 we formed the Apache Junction Jr. High School Hiking Club. The hiking club spent many weekends hiking the trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area. Early in May of 1974 the hiking club planned a trip to the Colorado Rockies. Again, I called on Eddie Basha for assistance. He provided groceries for 24 young boys and girls for a two week expedition to the Colorado Rockies.

We spent most of our time hiking in the San Juan Mountains and visiting historical locations in southwestern Colorado. I required each of my students to keep a journal of their experiences. To this day I have heard from students who still have those journals and talk about that trip.  It was a fantastic experience for my students and we had Eddie Basha to thank for it.

The next time I asked for help from Mr. Basha I invited him to be our guest speaker at the Apache Junction Unified School District’s Community School “Thank You Banquet” in 1984. At the time he was a member of the Arizona State Board of Education. He graciously accepted the invitation and made a fine presentation to about five hundred citizens of our school district. He talked about what a fine resource our young people were and they were our responsibility to educate. We, as citizens of this school district, held their future in our hands.

Mr. Basha loved to impersonate people. He would call me and disguise his voice and say I am so and so. Once he had me hooked on his impersonation of some important person, he would then laugh and say “Hello brother, how are you doing?”

One time he called me and said he was the Governor’s assistant and that I was needed for a meeting at the Governor’s Office. I immediately laughed this one off, however in the next breath he said we were meeting with the Governor on the 15th of the month and he wasn’t joking. We indeed met with Governor Rose Mofford.

Another time I told Eddie about an old friend of ours named Billy Martin Jr. I told him we should all get together and get him nominated and inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. Eddie said we would have to form a committee and meet once a month until the job was done. He said he was far too busy to chair such a committee so he assigned me the task. He said he would get a couple of friends and I could get a couple of friends. Eddie asked Norman Saba, Bill Workman and Sonny Felix. I ask Marvin Smith and Billy Early. We had our committee and we worked for three years to get Billy Martin Jr. inducted in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in March of 1990. Movie star great Sam Elliot introduced Billy Martin Jr. the night of his award in Oklahoma City.

Over the years I called on Eddie Basha many other times. One of the most traumatic times was when my nephew, Benjamin Farr, age 16, was at the University of Arizona Medical Center awaiting a heart transplant. This was in the fall of 1991. His mother told me her son’s dream was to meet Phoenix Suns basketball star Cedric Cerbolles. I didn’t know where to start, but I knew how much Ben loved the Phoenix Suns basketball team. I called Eddie Basha and ask him if he could help me with such a request. He and his office took on this enormous and challenging task. Eddie contacted the Phoenix Suns owner and presented the problem to him. It wasn’t long before Eddie’s secretary called me and said I needed to have somebody at the Tucson International Airport to pick up Cedric and drive him to the University of Arizona Medical Center. I called on an old friend and principal of mine, Dr. Phillip Corkill, who was the Assistant Superintendent of Flowing Wells School District in Tucson at the time. He assured me he would meet Basha’s airplane and take Cedric to see Benjamin. Cedric gave Ben a Suns basketball and autographed it. Sadly Ben died three days after Cedric’s visit still waiting for a heart. Eddie’s office staff mourned the news of Ben Farr’s death when he didn’t get his heart in time.  Phil Corkill told me this was one of the most gratifying experiences of his life to see a brave young man receive his dream. Since then, Eddie Basha has always been a special part of our family and our prayers.

Eddie Basha was always there for me and my various requests over the years. Shortly after my grand daughter died in 1997 he called me late one evening to express his sincere sympathy. Something I never expected, but I wasn’t shocked either. His words are still a comfort to my wife and me.

Eddie Basha is more then just a corporate grocery store owner. He is a true humanitarian who cared about people.  His work and donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital speak highly of his character and his dedication to helping children. His stores often hire special handicapped young people giving them an opportunity to succeed. He has been a very generous person over the years when it involves assisting children in need.

You might ask me what Eddie Basha has to do with the Superstition Mountains. Surprisingly, he was very knowledgeable about the area. He just happened to be a friend of the Martins who have worked cattle in the Superstition Mountain for three generations. Eddie even knew some of the characters that prospected the Superstition Wilderness Area and heard their stories. He helped my Apache Junction High School Hiking Club on many occasions; therefore I feel he truly was a citizen of our community. I am not sure I am quoting Mr. Basha exactly, but he said something like this once, “Children are this nation’s greatest resource and we must take the responsibility to educate and care for them as citizens.” I am extremely proud to call him my friend.

 Eddie Basha Jr. was born on August 24, 1937 and passed away on March 26, 2013. Basha’s philosophy included many quotes. “Leadership is an opportunity to serve; not an invitation of self-importance”,  “Art is the signature of civilization”, “Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, and riches take wings. Only one thing endures and that is character,” “We make a living by what we get; a life by what we give”, and “Act justly, love mercifully and walk humbly with God.” Yes, those foregoing words define the man Eddie Basha was.

Eddie’s memorial service at Grady Gammage Auditorium was a celebration of his life. The United States Marine Corps Color Guard paraded the colors. Not many people were aware that he served his country as a U.S. Marine.

Eddie Basha, Jr. 1937 — 2013.