Garry Walters is a longtime South Phoenix resident. He likes to say he’s “South Phoenix, born and raised!” He spent much of his career working with Southwest Gas.
Garry Walters was born in Phoenix on July 2, 1951 at Memorial Hospital. His family was originally from Louisiana but moved west to the Phoenix area for cotton farming. His dad did construction work and his mom worked domestic cases part-time. When not working domestic cases, she was at home raising her kids. When Garry was 11, his mom passed away which left him to help raise his three younger siblings. In high school, he attended Phoenix Union and was on the football and basketball teams.
Garry Walters was a senior in high school in 1968, the year Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X were assassinated. As a result, local officials placed a strict curfew in Phoenix for people of all ages. One night Garry was headed home from a dinner at his oldest sister’s house just before the curfew and he got pulled over by multiple Phoenix police officers. The sergeant was there and placed a loaded shotgun on the seat. Then they made him and his siblings get out of the car. The police checked his car and they found gasoline in the trunk. They were questioning him about the gasoline and he began to tell them how his gasoline gage was broken and that he kept gas in there in case he ran out. Garry was terrified. Surrounded by white men with loaded guns after the two biggest black activists were killed. After hearing Garry’s reasoning, they let him and his brothers go and they made it home safely.
As a student, Garry was an athlete activist. During his senior year of high school, Garry organized a protest with his basketball team when their high school moved their biggest basketball rival game of the season to 4:00pm instead of 7:30pm. The school perhaps thought that changing the time would prevent fights between the rival parents. This change upset Garry and his teammates, because none of their families would be able to make it to the big rival game. Garry remembered, “no one is off of work at 4:00!” So Garry and his teammates drove to South Mountain High School to clandestinely meet with members of the rival SMHS basketball team. Together, the two teams agreed to not show up to the game in protest. However, the SMHS team ended up backing out. Garry had to come up with a new plan.
Garry and his teammates turned to another form of protest. They altered their uniforms with black electric tape. Every time Phoenix Union made a basket, Garry and his teammates raised their fists in the air like John Carlos and Tommie Smith of the 1968 Olympics. Phoenix Union won their game by 30 points and Garry was very proud. Later that week Garry got pulled into the principal’s office because of what he had coordinated. He was suspended for a week. Garry still says that this was his proudest moment in life. Despite being suspended, his family had his back and was also proud of him for what he did.
After high school, Garry went to Phoenix College where he played college football and basketball. He got hurt early in his freshman year from catching a football that was thrown so hard it cut open his hand. This kept him out of the football season, but not basketball. He turned his attention to academics. During his freshman year, Garry was a part of a block program. The block program allowed him to be a teacher aid at his previous high school. He would go to class one half of the day and then head to Phoenix Union to be a teacher’s aid. At Phoenix College he was the representative for the homecoming of the African class. He remembers being a well-rounded student athlete who contributed a lot to his schools.
Garry lived at home until he transferred to Northern Arizona University to play football. Growing up in Phoenix, he didn’t like the cold nor was he used to it. He remembers one very cold day in Flagstaff when the temperature was 17 degrees! So he skipped class that day because it was way too cold for him to walk there. After his first year, he got a job at the agricultural center on campus. When he started his job, he decided to skip out on the football season that year because he was making plenty of money. Because of his love for basketball, his sophomore year he decided to try out for the NAU basketball team. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the team. So Garry finished out that semester at NAU and moved back to Phoenix. He had three years of college and no degree.
Garry’s first job out of high school was with Air Research. After two years of lots of late night shifts, he started working for Arizona Public Service (APS). He worked with APS until 1984, when they sold their company to Southwest Gas. After the transition with APS, Garry moved to Chicago for a brief time looking for more jobs and worked as a car salesman. He did not like working out of Chicago because he felt that he was missing out on his son’s life. So he moved back to Arizona. His first job back in the state was with Southwest Gas in Yuma, AZ. Later, he relocated to Phoenix for a new job with Southwest Gas. When he moved back to Phoenix, South Mountain CC was in the process of being built in his neighborhood of South Phoenix.
Garry joined the South Mountain Chamber of Commerce, where he became very close with Verna McClain. Verna was an instrumental piece in South Mountain CC history and South Phoenix.
Inspired by his time in South Phoenix and his relationship with McClain, Garry recognized opportunities for improvement in his community. He approached Southwest Gas and asked if they could transform the South Mountain community into something spectacular. He got Southwest to be a sponsor of the SMCC Chamber. A very large contribution to the South Mountain area began when he was looking for homes in South Mountain. Garry and his wife decided they wanted a dual-energy home. So he partnered with Elliot homes and they began working on building homes that would help with the air quality in Phoenix.
Garry now lives in the first subdivision that was dual-energy in South Phoenix. He is proud to have been a pioneer, and marvels now at the mass development in the area. So many homes and neighborhoods in the community are now built as dual-energy because of him.
Garry loves the South Phoenix area. He believes “it’s the zip code to have” because South Phoenix has everything. It’s close to the airport, freeway, downtown, and etc.; Garry and a friend of his used to put together bus tours and show everything and how amazing south Phoenix is. There whole goal of the tours was to show where and why it is the best zip code to have. On the tour, Garry would point out significant places around the city and the history of South Mountain. These tours brought in developers that made contributions to the city that made a large impact. Garry made significant contributions and is essential to the growth and success of Phoenix.
|Birthdate||July 2, 1951|
|Place of Origin||Phoenix, AZ|
|Place of Residence||South Phoenix, AZ|
|Occupation||Businessman, Southwest Gas|
|Recording Date||August 31, 2021|
|Location||Classroom Studio, South Mountain Community College|
|Interview Conducted By||Faculty Researchers Dr. Summer Cherland and Dr. Travis May|
|Story Written By||Student Researcher Kylie Rehberger|