When the community lost Kip Culver, the captivating and much loved director of both the Globe Main Street Program and Center for the Arts this past July, it was as though a dark cloud drifted over downtown Globe. His passing was a loss that most everyone in town felt.
For weeks, bouquets and notes continued to appear on the steps of the Center for the Arts. A large banner with a photograph of Kip hung outside the center; printed next to his photo were the words “A Great Man.”
Indeed, his absence did not go unnoticed.
At his service, held at Miami High School Auditorium with nearly 1000 people in attendance, local Paul Tunis echoed what many were feeling:
“It can be hard when you lose someone like Kip; you’re not only losing a friend and a family member, but because he was a visionary and an idealist, you feel the loss of what he was making, the ideas that he had. And when he’s gone, you feel like you’re not going to get to see Kip’s vision of the future… and not going to get to live in the community that Kip saw we could have.”
Picking up the pieces, Tunis, who is the program director for the Summer Youth Musical Theatre Program and the new director of the Center for the Arts, moved to establish the Kip Memorial Fund with the blessing of Kip’s family, and began asking people to submit ideas they felt would be a fitting legacy project.
“Kip was a big vision sorta guy and he was really good at relaying his excitement for a project, no matter how grandiose, to anyone who would listen,” Tunis says.
“Everyone in town had at least one conversation with Kip about the things he saw, about the potential for things to be changed, rebuilt, or done,” he adds. “Tons of people came forward with ‘Kip-always-wanted-to-do this’ kind-of stories.”
According to Tunis, there were so many, it was clear to everyone that if they (the board at the Center for the Arts) didn’t corral the ideas to focus all that energy, that none of it was going to happen.
“It was the same problem Kip had,” Tunis says. “There are all these ideas – and he was a dreamer… He would throw out silly ideas, and may have even believed something silly was worth doing, but when given the opportunity to do something, he knew how to focus his energy.”
While Kip may have suggested many grandiose things – what he would do would always be the “smart, thoughtful, and useful thing,” Tunis says.
In a similar fashion, a committee comprised of a board member from the Center for the Arts, the Main Street Program, the City of Globe and Kip’s family has been set up to sort through all the ideas being submitted for the legacy project. The deadline for submittals has been extended to October 12, and forms may be picked up at the Center for the Arts.
“Our goal is to identify those projects that Kip would have done with the money, as opposed to the things he might have imagined,” says Tunis.
Globe has a self-esteem problem sometimes, Tunis says. There are those who think Globe is not good enough and those who like to talk about what is wrong with this town.
But Kip, he adds, never saw any of those things.
“Kip’s life at the Center, and in our community, was all about potential,” Tunis says.
And no worthy idea was too big to tackle: a new elevator for the Center for the Arts, the restoration of the 1916 train depot and freight office, bringing an excursion railroad operation to life, replacing cornice and restoring facades were just a few of his accomplishments – and part of his lasting legacy.
And he performed his share of miracles.
Father Brian Mills of St. John’s Episcopal Church recalled the time he met with Kip to discuss a problem they were having: namely not having enough money to put a new roof on their old building.
“And so he said, ‘let me work on it,’” Father Mills recalls with a smile. “And we’ve laughed about this for years because he did the impossible… For he wrote a grant for a church, and we received a substantial amount of money from the State of Arizona … through the lottery fund.”
As the director of both the Center for the Arts and the Main Street Program, much of what Kip did was outward-bound with a sense of community-building in mind, Tunis says. And this was not only apparent in projects like the Episcopal Church , but also in the numerous events which he helped create to get people to come downtown and enjoy the historic district – to create a sense of community.
“People may not understand,” Tunis says, “…but events like Fall Festival required a ton of work and many volunteers, and it was all done by Kip and Molly [Cornwell] and our board.”
The Fall Festival, which has gained statewide notice, grew from a one night trick-or-treat event to a three-day festival that partnered with many in the community to raise funds for their causes and provide family fun and community memories.
Like so many of these events, which were done to reach out to the community and bring people downtown, the benefit was to the greater good.
Main Street and the Future of Broad Street
As for the Main Street Program, the City of Globe is currently deciding whether to continue to fund Kip’s position, which was a hybrid job description created by the 2010 mayor and council who sought to keep Kip working on behalf of downtown development.
The city had been paying the Downtown Merchant’s Association (dba the Main Street Program) $35,000 for a director since mid-2006, when the organization’s bed tax funding was slashed by over half. Even in 2006, when Kip had been on the job for just one year, he had begun to make so many positive changes – like entering into an agreement with Arizona Eastern Railroad to restore the old freight office, beginning a ten-year effort to bring an elevator to the Center, and rescuing the Globe Cafe, that the then mayor and council voted unanimously to give the group $35,000 to pay Kip’s salary.
“Kip was a wonderful ambassador. He was wonderful with people,” recalls Fernando Shipley, who served as city mayor at the time and became friends with Kip. “He was truly in love with this community. He could sell Globe to anybody.”
Whether it was about Globe’s history or architecture, Kip’s enthusiasm spread.
“Even nasty, crotchety people, they would love to help Kip,” Shipley remembers. “He made everyone feel special for their contribution. Somehow, someway, they walked away feeling great about it.”
Four years after the city council’s vote, the City of Globe and the downtown district saw tourism soar with the addition of the Copper Spike Excursion train – a project which earned a Governor’s Award and brought in 13,000 riders the first year. Culver, who led the renovation of the freight office and 1916 train depot, which entailed thousands of volunteer hours, also oversaw the daily operation of the ticket office and was responsible for creating many memorable special events involving the depot and the Copper Spike train.
The last year in operation, the Copper Spike booked over 27,000 riders and brought in significant tourism dollars to the downtown district.
It was at this time that the city created a hybrid position for Kip to bring him under the city umbrella so he could get health insurance.
Dezi Baker, who was the District 4 Councilman at the time, said that he called around to other communities to find out how Globe might establish a position which would mirror the type of work that Kip was doing on behalf of the downtown district.
“What I found out when I called around is that some of them were already talking to Kip about moving,” he laughs. “And that’s what compelled us really to create that hybrid position to be able to keep Kip in Globe.”
“When we finally did that,” Baker says “during those years, we saw some of the most successful downtown events and successes that this town has ever seen.”
Last month, as the city council was debating the pros and cons of continuing to fund Kip’s position, Baker reminded them that they could “do anything as long as it was legal” and suggested that the council continue to fund the position this year with monies that had already been allocated for the position. He then suggested that when they reconsider it a year from now, they should consider increasing it (the amount).
Tom Thompson, local attorney and board member of the Downtown Association, told the council that the investment of $35,000 for a director would return ten, twenty, even fifty percent of their investment and noted that without that support, he believes the city will effectively kill the program.
As the Globe’s mayor and city council members wrangle with the issue of whether or not to continue supporting the program, or a hybrid position, efforts are being made to find ways to honor Kip’s legacy, carry on the work he began and ensure the gains he made on behalf of the community do not get lost in the transition.
Had it not been for Kip Culver’s passion and dedication to his hometown, Globe would be a much different place than it is today.
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In addition, when state agencies discovered the City Council was debating whether to continue funding they wrote these letters of support to the Council and Mayor.
“Please continue to fund this important program, which we believe is the best in Arizona, and will continue to pay back in dividends by way of tourism, thriving businesses, and strong home-town pride…” Kimber Lanning. Local First Arizona.