Movers & Shapers – The El Rio Theater

Ginger Harding El Rio Theater     El Rio Theater, Spvl

“PreServing popcorn, soda, candy and a movie on a single screen”

SPRINGERVILLE – In February 2014 Ginger and Allen Harding came to check on their house in Alpine. Allen noticed that Sam Madariaga, owner of El Rio Theater in Springerville, had died. Wondering what would now happen to the historic community theater, Allen inquired and discovered it was for sale. After meeting with Kirk Madariaga, Sam’s son, they set about to do their due diligence.

They knew 35 mm was soon to be obsolete, and an almost 100 year old building probably needed upgrades which an inspection would reveal.

They had made a plan years before to retire in Alpine, and they knew, active people they are, they would like to have a business there. They decided this would be that business.

With Allen committed to a contract with his employer, the decision was made for Ginger to be the on-site person. She would live in their retirement home in Alpine and they toggle between their two worlds until Allen retired.

“We wanted to rescue and resuscitate a really important fixture in the community,” said Ginger. “We love serving the community and the families who live here. Many of the adults have gone to this theater since they were little children, or worked here.”

Word spread quickly that someone was going to “save the theater.”

When Ginger first arrived on scene and was actively renovating the theater, she frequented True Value Hardware, often in her “grubbies,” not her normal attire. She introduced herself to owner Deanna Davis and explained she and her husband had purchased the theater and were renovating it. Showing gratitude that would be echoed by the community, in typical Springerville fashion, Deanna asked if she could give Ginger a hug. That hug had meaning. Deanna proves it weekly as she and a host of her employees spend Saturday nights at this theater.

“When we have a family movie, we do an extra show on Friday afternoon with special pricing, and then show it again on Monday,” said Ginger. “It feels good to see two or three generations of a family going out of the movie holding hands.”

“We decided to keep the prices the same as the previous owner,” $6 for adults, $5 for students, and we added military and first responders to this group. It is $3 for children. We also kept the concessions the same prices, Popcorn for $2, $3 and $4, sodas for $2 and $3, and candy for $3.

“The 1946 Manley popcorn machine, which had not been used for quite a while, is being rebuilt in Florida. We want to keep the historic feel, the nostalgia.”

With El Rio being the oldest theater in the State of Arizona, now 101 years old, the Hardings joined the League of Historic American Theaters.

While attending a conference of the group in Colorado, they found themselves in the minority with regard to ownership. Most historic theaters are now run by non-profits. When a question regarding community data base came up, Ginger realized she was that person and needed to add that to her role.

Though Ginger is the mainstay at El Rio for now, when Allen comes up, he loves to do the ticket booth. Though still working, he has played an active part in the remodeling.

Spending time alone in Alpine now, Ginger finds plenty to do. Choosing not to have TV in Alpine or at the theater, her love of reading fills some of that time. Ginger easily has six to eight books going at once.

She has also joined the chamber of commerce and the VFW Ladies’ Auxiliary Post 9897.

“Running a theater, you don’t get to participate in many community events,” said Ginger.

There are two holidays, however, she will not miss, the Fourth of July and Veteran’s Day Parades. With her own bright purple 1964 Chevy pickup, sporting glasspacks, she dons the car with movie stickers and is a regular entry.

Ginger belongs to the Alpine Community Church and on Sundays after church she heads to either the VFW or Trailriders Restaurant. Ordering her usual tacos and tea and prepares to enjoy some football. Not your average female football fan, Ginger knows the game, and doesn’t really care who is playing. She just wants to watch some football, even if it is only one quarter before she heads to open the theater.

Her younger brother played Pop Warner and she was his statistician. That is where she developed her love for the game.

Ginger and Allen are native Arizonans. They did not arbitrarily choose Alpine for retirement. They lived in Alpine over 20 years ago as on-site managers for Tal Wi Wi Lodge, owned by Allen’s parents. As managers they were 24/7, doing everything. When their first born was on the way, they transitioned back to the Valley for a lifestyle more conducive for family, but always knew they would return to Alpine.

Ginger graduated from Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix, went on to Business College and ASU. She was Political Science major, looking at law school, which is where she and Allen met. He was also a Poli-Sci major. Though they changed their minds about law school, they didn’t change their minds about each other. This November they will be married 28 years.

They have one son, Alexander, who currently works at Grand Canyon University, who, like his father has earned two degrees. Their daughter, Nicole, is a nurse who works with autistic children and adults.

Ginger has been successful in several fields. She ran a surgeon’s practice, worked as a paralegal for 20 years for government agencies including the attorney general and the Maricopa County legal defender. Since 2008 she has served as liaison for Phoenix Community Women. She was also a sales director for Mary Kay, and yes, she earned a car, but not the pink one. Added to that list now is theater owner and operator.

Ginger describes herself as a recovering feminist. Today she believes there is an order to things.

“We all have our jobs,” she said.

Ginger has no bucket list.

“I have been so blessed and have had so many crazy adventures,” she said. “I traveled with the city council to the USS Phoenix Nuclear Submarine for one its final voyages when it was docked in Florida. I have done glider planes, parasailed in Mexico with my baby brother.”

“Thanks to my hard working husband and his career, I have been to Sweden, Montreal, and Italy. On our 25th Wedding Anniversary, we went to London, and I spent a day in the British Library. We took a shuttle to Paris. I took French in high school and got to spend time with a French family. On one of my birthdays, my husband took me on a Route 66 trip where we stopped at all the little places along the way. My husband is a Renaissance man. His depth and breadth are unmeasurable.”

Not bad for a woman who in second grade was told by her teacher that she could be the first female President of the United States. She never forgot that.

Though her goal never to be the first female President, Ginger has obviously been first in many other things, and she is not done.

The 101 year old El Rio Theater in Springerville, purchased by two driven people who realize the value of history and community, not only want to continue that tradition, but add to it. They love the community and its people.

“People just drive through here on the way to somewhere else,” said Ginger. “They don’t know the people and what we have here in this community. I would like it be more of a destination to here, than through here.”

One thing Ginger would love, and it is not really for herself, but for posterity’s sake, is to locate photographs and information about El Rio. What little information they have found is on the website. Her deepest desire is for people who may have something to add will come and share it so it will be available for everyone as a part of El Rio’s history.

In a theater where people say John Wayne, a night owl by nature, sat and watched movies until the wee hours of the morning, there surely is more to tell. Since the walls cannot talk, perhaps some of the movie-goers will.

As caretakers of Arizona’s oldest movie theater, Ginger and Allen Harding have preserved memories for Round Valley and for Arizona. They have also made it possible for new memories to be made for generations to come.

Visa Credit Card founder and CEO Dee Hock said, “Success follows those adept at preserving the substance of the past by clothing it in the forms of the future.”

Thus it is with Ginger and Allen Harding, added now to the list of Apache and Navajo County “Movers & Shapers.”


Movers & Shapers – John & Diane Hendrix

M&S John & Diane

John & Diane’s Painting, painting the picture of life in Heber-Overgaard|
Barbara Bruce, The Independent

Famed motivational preacher Joel Osteen always asks, “Are you living your best life now?” Most of us could not unequivocally answer “yes” to that question, but John and Diane Hendrix can.

They love where they live,what they do personally and professionally, and who they are as individuals and partners.

John and Diane Hendrix are painting contractors, owners of John & Diane’s Painting in Heber-Overgaard.

John is from Southern California, followed by a short stint in Colorado before arriving in Arizona in 1991. After high school, he painted his way through Bible college and seminary. John was from a family of evangelical preachers. He pastored one year, and then went back to painting which he has done for 37 years.

Diane is originally from Ohio, but found her way to Arizona via Pennsylvania.

John and Diane,both married before, found each other at Bethany Christian School in Tempe where she worked as the secretary. John’s son and one of Diane’s daughters were in the same class. John and Diane were both runners and began running together as friends. The rest, as they say, is history.

John has one daughter and one son, Diane has two daughters and one son, and now the Hendrixes have three grandchildren.

In the Valley they worked together as painting contractors for years. In 2006 they bought a vacation home in Overgaard. Shortly after arriving, people asked what they did for a living. They told them they were painting contractors. That got them a job and from there it snowballed. That was a sign. They sold their Valley home and have never looked back.

John and Diane employ three people, and their work ethic dictates they call people back, show up, and do a professional job. They don’t take payment up front. They do the job, take pictures of the job, and then collect, because they know their customer will be satisfied with the job they did.

It is no wonder the Hendrixes never lack for work, even in the winter.

“The last two winters, winter never showed up,”said John, “but not this year. We have lots of work waiting. We usually save the interiors for winter. It is different for paint than stain. Stain needs to be warmer, 45 to 50 degrees, and we can get something done. It may not be all day, it may just be 4 or 5 hours.”

This month they painted the Baptist church.

“Humidity is low here and paint dries very quickly,” said John, “inside.”

“Much of our business is staining and cabins need to be stained every two or three years, or at least one side. It is not a luxury, but something you have to have. It is an education process to the consumer.” “The best protection for a deck is to have a roof over it. Most people think wind or snow is what affects wood, but it is Arizona sun. If you have 10 things on the list that will affect your deck, one through nine is Sun.”

“Staining is preventative, not corrective. Once the wood is damaged, the only thing you can do is stop further damage.”

John and Diane have done their homework on stain products and found one they preferred. A little Mom & Pop business in Payson carried it for them. When the local ACE Hardware approached them and offered to stock whatever they were using, they were happy to bring that business locally.

“We have worked hard to protect our reputation,” said John. “We have done better here in our business than we did in the Valley.”

“The three guys who work for us show up early every day. Brandon calls us sometimes at 10 p.m. and tells us he has been thinking about a job and tells us what he thinks we need to do. They take ownership in the business.”

After meeting June and Jerry Call, the Hendrixes got “sucked in” with the chamber.

John says, “Sucked in, in a good way.”

The Hendrixes could not believe how much the Calls did for the community, and they wanted to help.

Jerry said the chamber was on life support, and the Calls were working tirelessly to get it back up, juggling 25 balls in the air at a time.

“Our business got going and we started spending more and more time volunteering,” said John. “You would think there would be no time for our business, but the more we gave away, the more we made. It works that way.”

“The Chamber of Commerce is a huge full time job. There is not a day we do not work there.”

The chamber only has two paid employees, the office manager and the maintenance director who handles Navajo County Park.

Jerry is vice president of the board, and he and Diane prefer a support role in helping the President. He calls himself the Joe Biden of the chamber.

John, a great photographer, recognized there was no photographic history of the area for the chamber and made that a priority. Each year he also does a one to two minute video of the past years events and embeds it on the website and puts it on YouTube. He also does Facebook. They got 40,000 hits on the website last year and have 3300 followers on Facebook.

“I am so proud to help play a role to bring credibility to Heber-Overgaard,” said John.

With work and volunteering, the Hendrixes are not neglecting themselves.

John runs 70 miles a week which equates to 15 to 20 hours. He will run his first 50 mile marathon in Sacramento in April.

“We were born to run,” said John. “Early man was either running to get food, or running not to be food.”

Diane is a cyclist, inspired by the Special Olympics Torch Run which came through Heber-Overgaard on the way to Payson. She has done three 100 mile races and rides about 150 miles a week. She has a Trek Emondo road bike which only weighs 17 pounds and she rides to Clay Springs and even Show Low. In the Winters she either uses her indoor trainer which converts her bike to stationary, or layers well and rides by herself.

“On Christmas Day we went to the Fire Department and John got the treadmill out of the exercise room and I brought my bike and trainer,” said Diane. “We exercised for three hours in concert with a movie. It was fun.”

They also bike and run with their two Australian Shepherds.

John says, “ We say exercise burns off the crazy. We feel energized.”

The Hendrixes are dedicated to whatever they set out to do. Two years ago they changed their diets, giving up all processed foods, breads and pasta. They do not do carbs.

“I cleaned out the kitchen,” said Diane.

“Our staples are now spinach, avocado, almonds and blueberries,” said John. “We like a plant based diet, but we do eat meat, steak. We burn off so many calories.”

They do have cheat days. Their favorite cheat is a hamburger, one Diane makes herself. She grinds her own meat and then grinds bacon and adds that to it.

John said, “We have eaten pizza with friends. We ate three slices and it was not that great. We felt so crummy afterward. When you eat crap you get thirsty, and your hunger is not satisfied. It is not what fuels us.”

With their new way of eating, Diane lost 40 pounds and John lost 42.

When they first started losing, they carried out 11 bags of clothes,gave them away, and bought a whole new wardrobe. They were,, a bit premature, their body weight not yet regulated to their diet and exercise regimen. When they reached their ideal, they gave the new clothes away and bought more. .

“Not many people can work together 24/7,” said John. “This is our lot in life right now. If we could do anything else, it would be more promotion for Heber-Overgaard.”

John’s video of the Hashknife Pony Express Ride through Heber-Overgaard was recruited for the Hashknife Living History website, one more opportunity to show off Heber-Overgaard..

John and Diane also wear other hats. He is on the fire board for the District, and Diane does some catering. She has everything necessary to cater an event, and has done this on the side for years. John says she is quite good at it.

Doing good has its own rewards, but it does not come without discouragement.

When things get tough, John says he remembers the words of the late Lewis Tenney, former Navajo County supervisor, leader and statesman. Tenney told both the Calls and the Hendrixes, What you are doing is making a difference. It gets discouraging, but the community needs people like you.

John said, “Lewis Tenney said this matters, and we have to stick to it.”

John and Diane Hendrix are “living their best life now,” proving once again that “the love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay; love isn’t love until you give it away.”

John and Diane Hendrix are “Movers & Shapers.”