For the past 20 years, it has been Joan Fudala’s life mission to uncover, preserve and present the interesting and inspiring history of Scottsdale.
Although she was born and raised in Cincinnati, Fudala has always felt a connection to Arizona. Her curiosity was sparked by Western-themed books and TV shows and solidified with a formative trip her family took to the Grand Canyon when she was 10 years old.
As a journalism major at Ohio State, Fudala took a single ROTC course to learn some military jargon and ended up sticking with the program, eventually becoming an Air Force public affairs officer.
“It was a very unpopular choice at the time because it was at the height of Vietnam protests,” Fudala said. “But it was a wonderful choice...the week after graduation I was editor of a base newspaper.”
Her first assignment was at Kelly Air Force base in San Antonio. There, she got her first taste of historical writing. Her first book, Pilots, Pigeons, Gents, and Jennies, was an account of the pilot training program at the base during WWI.
“That just really got me hooked on the people aspect of history and that’s always been what interested me the most,” Fudala said.
Eventually, the Air Force granted Joan’s requests to move to Arizona, and her lifelong wish of living in the state came true when she became the public affairs officer at Luke Air Force Base.
There, she met her husband Gene, a fighter pilot who passed away in 2012. Gene and Joan made many forays into Scottsdale while stationed at Luke and pledged to return to the city after their Air Force careers’ conclusions.
Joan worked in South Korea, Virginia, and at the Pentagon before leaving the Air Force and embarking on a civilian career. She worked in communications for multiple airlines on the East Coast before finding her way back to Scottsdale.
In 1991, she was made communications director of the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce. In that role, she began her first investigations into the city’s local history and her passion for this pursuit was ignited.
Since 1999, Fudala has been a full-time contract historian and has written hundreds of articles, published seven books, given talks and has assisted in big and small ways with community organizations and efforts.
“There’s something so compelling about Scottsdale history because there’s so many themes you can get lost in,” said Fudala.
These themes include sports, the McDowell Mountains, innovation, tourism and art. Through her work, she hopes to encourage pride and involvement in the local community.
“[Local history] really is a bridge that helps people feel connected not only to the place but to the people that they meet,” Fudala said. “I always strive to create topics that people can use as small talk wherever they go.”
A few nuggets she offers include: Scottsdale was the first place in the country to have mechanized garbage service; and due to a shortage of young boys during WWII, Scottsdale High School’s football team fielded just six players but played full-sized teams anyway.
“I want people to love history,” Fudala said. “It’s so much fun, it’s just so inspiring, I can’t believe all the fascinating people and stories. It just makes you so proud to be a part of the way things have unfolded.”
Scottsdale: A city of good sports
Civic Center Library - Copper Gallery
3839 N. Drinkwater Blvd., Scottsdale
Thursday, September 12: 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Joan Fudala presents a photo-rich presentation of Scottsdale’s evolution as a sports destination, from Spring Training to school sports.
For more: scottsdalelibrary.org