Sun Cities Today Blog

Welcome to the communities that changed a nation!

Archive for the month “August, 2010”

Sun City Ripped!

Daniel Shorr once said “if you don’t exist in the media, for all practical purposes you don’t exist.” I’ve always subscribed to that theory, but two newspaper articles this week left me questioning my rationale. The Arizona Republic tarred us with one ugly brush of hating kids (though that was nothing compared to the follow-up by posters). And then to pour a little more gasoline on the fire, this New York Times article was nearly as nasty.

It seems every time the Arizona Republic does a Sun City story, the hate mongers come out in force. And while having my picture splashed across the country with Jane Freeman should seem like a “big deal,” i am really disappointed in the article written by Marc Lacey from the Phoenix Bureau of the NYT. We spent two and a half hours talking about what makes Sun City great and 30 seconds talking about kids or the lack thereof. I liked Marc a lot and was comfortable this story wasn’t going to become just another tacky ploy to sell papers; i thought the New York Times was well above that.

I guess we should be used to these kinds of age exploitation (and the accompanying Depends jokes) by now, but every time i see them i want to scream. Sun City is simply a sum total of its parts. There are hundreds of pieces to the puzzle that makes us a complete picture and that fact there are no kids here is just a small portion that has contributed to our success. Suggesting we made it for 50 years because we hate kids is journalism at its worst.

Worse yet are the attacks on SCHOA for doing their job. The age restricted nature of our community is part and parcel of the Federal Fair Housing Act. SCHOA is the reporting organization that yearly has to prove to the Feds we still qualify. The numbers of people trying to move into Sun City that are underage is off the charts and threatens our very existence. One only has to look at the mess Youngtown is to see why this is so critical to our future.

Come on journalists, making fun of or throwing stones at senior citizens may make easy targets, but it certainly shows little class and even less journalistic integrity. Balanced reporting was always what I heard they sought as their goal. However when it comes to Sun City, way too many of them just want to come out swinging. Sadly most of our residents will sit and take it, but i’ll be damned if I will, at least not without swing back.

Welcome to SunCitiesToday


Much like Sun City was the “great social experiment,” this blog is an experiment to see if we can entice, cajole or enlist you to become a willing participant in the exploration of Sun City past, present and future. We will start by showing visitors the unique history of two communities carved from nothing but cotton fields and a dream. Simply knowing the history, in my opinion, isn’t enough, it doesn’t take advantage of using it as guideposts to the future. We think this blog can become the Burma Shave signposts along the virtual highway. Once you have seen them, can you ever forget them? While Burma Shave only insured a smoother shave, we think we can help show you why there is no better place to live than Sun City and Sun City West, and in a way that will be memorable.

Let me start by thanking Pulte Homes/DEVCO (the old Del E Webb Development Corporation) for allowing us to use the Del Webb Sun Cities name on our museum. And thanks as well to the Robert H. Johnson Foundation and the Del E Webb Foundation for the awesome memorabilia we have on loan at the museum. In 2009 as we approached Sun Cities 50th anniversary, we saw an opportunity to take the remarkable collections we had and to turn the corner and look beyond the 850 square feet of the first model home that now houses our museum.

There has been a wonderful renewal of interest in our history with nearly 2000 people going though the museum in the first 7 months; almost equal to what we have had in the last three years. While we are excited by the growth, realistically we could never draw the numbers necessary to justify our existence. Understanding that, the museum’s board felt showcasing our collections on the internet would give us a wider breath and depth of audience. The Del Webb Sun Cities Museum site is laden with pictures, stories, marketing genius and an inside look at a community, the company and the residents that made it all work.

Sun Cities Today goes well beyond that. We see a potential to reach out and touch people in a way that was lost once DEVCO left Sun City. Their marketing strategies were all about bringing people together. Think about it: Age restricted communities are about gathering people in a single setting where varying interests of those living there suddenly all work for the common good. They come to understand how simple life can be when they are focused on the problems, issues and joys that are directly in front of them. Life inside these walls is that darn good.

You don’t have to take my word for it; we will give you ample opportunity to find out for yourselves. We look forward to this site becoming the “commons,” a neighborly gathering place where we can share stories, ask questions and find the solution to a “new way to live.” As we were leaving on a cruise one year, we stopped at a gift shop in Miami and were mesmerized by a sign on the wall, it said: Enjoy the journey, not the destination. We think if we can get you to slow down, dig deep and savor your time with us, you will begin to understand why the Sun Cities age restricted communities are about as good as life can get. Best of all, you don’t have to be here to begin that journey, walk through the pages of our history and you will hear, see and feel the emotional tug residents have felt from the very beginning.

Thanks for stopping by, we are a work in progress. so pardon our dust as this site takes shape and we make it a comfortable place to hang out. Those of us living here always talk about the serenity of coming home to our Sun Cities, hopefully you too will find that same quiet comfort of a simpler sweeter way to live.

Bill Pearson, president Del Webb Sun Cities Museum.

Low Hanging Fruit

Sun City’s history is filled with blueprints for tomorrow’s successes. One only has to open the pages of materials that are stored within our Museum to see how we move forward on a more positive note; even amidst these challenging economic times.

Rather than taking my word on ponderous pontificating, let me give you the perfect example: The first three years Sun City was open, DEVCO sold almost 3000 homes. in 1964 sales dropped to 433 and in 1965 they only sold 395 properties. It was crushing to them because added to the mix were the failing California and Florida Sun City developments.

Webb, who was fiercely loyal to his employees, did something extremely rare; he pulled the plug on the three employees who were the architects behind the Sun City concept. He brought in John Meeker and turned him loose. One of his first acts was to look at those early years and what he found was their success was from picking that low hanging fruit . Essentially the bulk of the sales came from within Arizona and California. Easy targets for sure, but more importantly, Meeker understood there was a whole ripe segment of the population yet to be plucked.

He devised a marketing plan i described here and it was pure genius. In the early 60’s the company did a great job in showing Sun City to the world, they did little to bring them to see it in person. John Meeker changed that 100%.

As he nurtured resident loyalty, he also inspired those living here to become their best sales people. They were the inspiration behind the ad campaigns and interactions with the visitors. His play and stay package brought thousands to Sun City and for many, it was an immediate love affair. Sun City was transformed almost overnight, as the demographic changed from buyers from the area to far more coming from the Midwest.

At the top of this article is a chart from Meeker’s files that show where Sun City residents had come from; by March 1974 77.4% of the residents were from outside Arizona. He had turned the tables on Sun City’s demise by getting people from around the United States to visit the community. The love affair was almost instantaneous and sales exploded, averaging 2000 home sales from 1968 through 1978 when it was built out.

The picture should be crystal clear; Sun City needs only to get potential buyers here to increase sales. Unfortunately realtors focus on that same low hanging fruit that brought about Breen, Ashton and Jacobsons removal from DEVCO. The good news is, they won’t get fired for it. The bad news is, it dooms us to languish in the land of slow sales or the inability of tapping into the friends and relatives that could bring about even more sales. Let me be clear, it’s not their problem or fault alone, we all need to look at what we can do to “market the community.”

Stay tuned as we look at how and what we can do to accomplish that.

If A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words, How Much Is…

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much are three thousand pictures worth? Stop, don’t grab for your calculators, the question is not really looking for an answer. The pictures we have in our files are priceless. While most only date back starting in mid 1959, the wealth of information and historical reference is spectacular.

DEVCO was throwing out the old Sun City files when they were closing their Sun City office. Jane Freeman (see her story on the front page of our Delwebbsuncitiesmuseum site) began the salvage job and thankfully the DEVCO folks quickly agreed to let her take it rather than pitch it.

The collection has grown over the past 25 years. There are 3000 Sun City photo’s, all which have been digitized and we are in the process of cataloging to go online. There also are hundreds of Sun City West pictures that need be digitized and brought to life. A task we are just beginning.

It doesn’t end there: Hundreds of print ads from the 60’s and 70’s; dozens of sales brochures from every new phase DEVCO opened; fabulous oral histories from the earliest pioneers and DEVCO employees; countless memories by those who built us and dozens of other odds and end.

Our collections are off the charts cool and for the first time in our history we are looking to get them out and open to the public in a way we have never dreamed of doing. It is an exciting time at the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum. The learning curve on doing this has been steep, but with each passing day we get that much closer to launching the first swipe at posting a nice mix of what we have in our collection. We think many of you will be as intrigued as we are, because as we post, we find ourselves sucked into the vortex of our past and staring at old photo’s and memorabilia that make you want to linger longer than you should. It is that much fun.

By the way, the above photo is the first gas station in Sun City that greeted opening day visitors to Sun City. It was located on the corner of 107th and Grand Ave, right across from the water feature. I’m sure plenty of the 100,000 visitors were glad to see it, given they were driving to the middle of the desert and miles from civilization. Can anyone see the price for a gallon of gas back then? (worth noting, .09 cents went towards the tax)

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Is there ever too much of a good thing? For example: Red grapes are supposedly a wonder cure. That begs the question; can I eat too many of them? Where’s the point where we cross the threshold and eating a pound or three a day is excessive and not healthy?

I know, what in the world does eating a bushel basket of red grapes have to do with Sun City? It’s so simple: Built on the premise of an active senior retirement community, our success was about people stepping up their game and playing non stop. I know guys who tell me they golf five or six days a week. Funny, they’ve said it’s almost like having a job.

Others join bridge clubs and play day in and day out. Stop by any one of our seven recreation centers at a given time any day of the week and you’ll find that same resident diligently sweating away. Of course we have those religious sun worshippers lazing by the pool and glistening golden brown. Zealots? Perhaps.

There’s no question in my mind; being over active is infinitely better than being a couch potato. However, those that have found balance in their lives and partake in several clubs, activities and organizations strike me as far more “normal” than those of us poor addictive compulsive folks who tend to overdo a “good thing.”

Sun City and Sun City West offer the most options of any retirement communities in the country. Because of our size and the fact we are unincorporated, our infrastructure is based on residents taking ownership. While everyone thinks of us as a great place to play their lives away, the balance that so many of us want is found in giving back our time and expertise. By combining play time along with volunteering at the organizations, churches and clubs our days are filled with a sense of value and purpose.

Many people see retirement through the eyes of fear; what will I do with my time they ponder? What they should be asking themselves is; when will I find time to do it all? Don’t fear retirement, long for it. Finally, be sure to eat those red grapes, just remember, moderation is the key.

Marketing Sun City

Think about it: Marketing in Sun City stopped the day DEVCO left and opened Sun City West. That was 1978. If my math is correct, some 32 years ago. And when Sun City West was built out in the mid 90’s the same thing happened. The communities were subsidized by DEVCO who had a vested interest in insuring they functioned well; it was the best sales tool they had. Once they left, we were on our own.

We saw in the thread “in Love All Over Again,” a brief glimmer of the brilliance of their marketing program. We are in the process of scanning every item worth preserving and storing it on a data based software system that will allow visitors online access to see just how extraordinarily good they were. You’ll be amazed.

Unfortunately, most of that effort will do little to market Sun City or Sun City West. Clearly it will help promote our history, but for our two communities to compete in the active senior retirement marketplace, we will need to be far more aggressive. The leadership within Sun City and Sun City West has to understand, promotion of what we have and why it is as good or better than other places is essential. The organizations they represent and the residents living here should make that one of their primary goals.

10,000 baby boomers a day will reach retirement age over the next 20 years. While retirement is being pushed back to later ages than it was 10 years ago, there will still be huge numbers of boomers looking for their little slice of heaven. Most of us who have found Sun City or Sun City West will tell you straight up, “it doesn’t get any better than this.”

Sun Cities Today will be just one of the vehicles we think can make a difference. While the Museum side will be about the past, this side will be about past, present and the future. The uniqueness of our communities, from their inception to today are what make us so special; we’ll show you exactly why these Sun Cities may well be your place in the sun.

“In Love All Over Again”

Picture yourself in 1960, imagine retirement being just around the corner. The kids are grown and gone, winters are just plain cold and the thought of suddenly just you and your spouse spending each day side by side seems challenging. Then you see this full page ad in your home town newspaper. The ad says this:

It’s the twinkle in their eyes and the radiant glow about them that tells you. They’re each amazed that the other could have developed such a delightful sense of humor, have learned so much and have become so attractive in such a short time. Actually it didn’t happen in a flash anymore than had the former sparkle of their partnership dulled in a moment.

As the children were growing up, they had begun to take each other for granted as people will. Then the children were married and gone and she took up club work and he filled his life with his job. And then he was retired.

Suddenly they were free, but they’d forgotten how to play together-they had no common interests-and they found that with him retired, they were now on the sidelines of life in their town. And then they discovered Sun City.

Now their life is full again, they’ve learned to play together again in the various activities. They’ve discovered each other since they came to Sun City and they are in love all over again.

Almost every day you’ll see them swimming, playing golf, shuffleboard or lawn bowling. They take an active part in the clubs and the social gatherings held in the Town Hall. She goes shopping or gets her hair done at the big shopping center while he works in his garden at the Agricultural Center. Then afterwards they have dinner at the HiwayHouse. Sometimes they just relax the day away reading or writing letters on the patio of their home. And it all costs so little. The homes and the cooperative apartments are priced from just $9,950, They pay just $20 each year to use all the facilities, except for the golf course which they play at greatly reduced rates.

Yes, they think they’re very lucky people and they are. You can be too, if you’re over fifty or are an adult partner of someone who is. Come out and see what we mean.

The advertizing from the Del E. Webb Development Corporation (DEVCO) was nothing short of spectacular. It changed how the country viewed retirement and opened up a whole new active way of life. In the coming weeks and months, we will post dozens of these ads in our collections for you to see. We think you too will find an appreciation in the quality of their marketing and begin to understand why buyers fell in love all over again.

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