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 Winners: People & Places

Is your child’s teacher an everyday hero? Is the guy who serves up your morning latte a bastion of good old-fashioned customer service? See your picks below.

Best Community Garden
TRIB PICK

MCC Community Garden

Best Community Garden

When you’re craving the most flavorful tomatoes to top off that salad, odds are you won’t find them in the produce aisle at the megamart. That’s why we appreciate the community garden at Mesa Community College.

It’s a great place to get a plot of your own and put your green thumb to use. And it’s the kind of spot where you can get inspired by seeing what else is sprouting from the earth. There’s usually a friendly face around to chat up and get other ideas for the next season. Community gardens are regaining their long-lost popularity with the recession. But the experience of places like MCC’s garden goes a long way toward reminding us why it’s so fun, and tasty, to get our hands dirty once in a while.

1833 W. Southern Ave., Mesa
http://www.mesacc.edu/community/garden/geninfo.html

Runners Up:

Gasca Gardens (Tempe)
Best East Valley Hero
TRIB PICK

Kiana Banks

Best East Valley Hero

Heroes come in many forms. Sometimes it’s the bystander who runs into the burning building to pull out someone trapped inside. Sometimes it’s the player who scores the winning basket or touchdown. Sometimes it’s a caped cartoon figure in tights battling the evils of this world.

And sometimes, it’s not the bravest or the biggest, but the person who shows the most heart.

That’s the case with this year’s Best Hero of the East Valley: 7-year-old Kiana Banks of Chandler.

This Hull Elementary School second-grader rallied the community around classmate Amber Fernandez, who is battling acute myeloid leukemia, by setting out to raise $100,000 to help her friend. She’s raised $6,000 so far.

Through fund-raising events and a class quilt project, Kiana has shown Amber a community that cares — and the East Valley a young hero whose compassion for another leads the way.

Congratulations, Kiana!

Best Person to Trade Places with for a Day
TRIB PICK

Ed Hochuli (attorney, NFL Referee)

Best Person to Trade Places with for a Day

Truth be told, we don’t want to trade places with long-time East Valley resident Ed Hochuli for a day. Give us two.

“I am certainly flattered,” he said. “Trust me, though, there are times out there... I’m thinking those ‘wanna get away’ commercials.”

Wanna get away? Not us. It’s Hochuli’s seat among the most well-respected in both chosen professions (that’s plural) that makes us want to try on this Wisconsin-born-turned-Tempe-area lifer’s shoes for a day (or two).

On Sundays, Hochuli, 61, dons the striped getup for his gig as one of the National Football League’s most well-known — and well-respected — referees. The next morning: back to the “day job,” holding court as a corporate litigator for Jones, Skelton and Hochuli, P.L.C., the Valley-based law-firm he helped start nearly 30 years ago.

“The two careers complement each other so much. I am a much better lawyer, and a much better referee, because of the other,” he explains. “When I’m in the courtroom, the whole concept of being nervous is so foreign... I’m used to being on a football field with 70,000 people and so many more on TV.”

Even amidst Super Bowls and other well-known moments, Hochuli finds it “bizarre” that his football celebrity has soared in recent years. He’s known for giving sermon-like rules interpretations — “If you give a lawyer an open microphone and a captive audience, you get what you deserve,” he quips — and his likeness has been used by the EA Sports Madden NFL video game series, the best-selling sports video game franchise of all time.

“I’m very humbled by it,” he said. “The players are the ones with the talent, the ability. They’re the show. All I am is the administrator of the show.”

Runners Up:

Michael Pollack (real estate magnate and owner of Pollack Tempe Cinemas)
Best View of the East Valley
TRIB PICK

ASU Sun Devil Stadium (Section 232, Row 38)

Best View of the East Valley

A number of obvious places exist to get great views of the East Valley — that is if you have the cash, or the connections.

Be it the control tower at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (no dice, unless you happen to, you know, actually be an air traffic controller) or a penthouse apartment in Tempe’s trendy, semi-exclusive West 6th high-rises (around $3,000 a month for a two-to-three-bedroom unit), the good things, sadly, are often about access.

But on a half-dozen or so Saturdays each year, a 10-spot and your gold and maroon foam finger provide that access to this year’s pick for “Best View of the East Valley.” That would be the top row (of the upper deck) in the northeast corner of Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.

Sure, there are other nearby spots (top of Tempe Butte/A Mountain, for one) that offer similar vistas, but few do it in a 360-degree ambiance that happens to include 70,000-plus of your closest friends or a prime view of a late summer/early fall Sonoran sunset shining down on Tempe Town Lake. Even fewer do it for the $10 to $20 an upper-level ticket to an ASU football game will run you.

Affordable as it may be, alas, even this accessible view of the East Valley and vicinity — including looks at Four Peaks, Red Mountain, and the Superstitions off in the distance — is limited access. You can only see it if you buy a ticket to a game; the facility is closed to the public on all non-game days.

Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe (Section 232, Row 38, to be exact)
(480) 727-0000
http://www.thesundevils.com

Runners Up:

Rustler’s Rooste Restaurant, Ahwatukee Foothills; hot-air balloon rides departing from Chandler or Gilbert
Best Coffeehouse Barista
READER PICK

Sam Clark, Lo-Fi Coffee, Mesa

Owner Sam Clark wanted to be part of the downtown Mesa community when he opened Lo-Fi Coffee last year on Main Street. The coffeehouse, which specializes in vegan baked goods, hosts literary events, poetry open mic nights and live music. But, the star of the show at Lo-Fi is the coffee, and according to voters, Sam serves a great cup roasted by Xanadu Coffee Co. in downtown Phoenix.

Location: 105 W. Main St., Mesa
Website: www.loficoffee.com

Voter Comments:

“Knows his coffee, is passionate about his craft, and always has something fresh-baked from the oven! Plus he’s super nice too!”

“He’s the bees knees!”

“He’s a really cool guy, takes his work very seriously

Runners Up:

Brian Bergeson from Bergies Coffee Roast House (Gilbert)
Best EV blog
READER PICK

i heart mesa

Best EV blog

Started in 2008 as “a guide to loving & living in Mesa, Arizona,” iheartmesa really is all about community pride. The two women behind the blog are friends from Mesa with families in Mesa and even sell Mesa-made T-shirts to help spread the Mesa love. The blog’s posts and guides offer things to do, family tips and business happenings — all in Mesa.

iheartmesa.blogspot.com

Voter Comments:

“Being a Mesa native, I like their blog.”

“Best free or fun things to do in Mesa.”

“They promote community.”

Runners Up:

Lightning Octopus, lightningoctopus.com
Best Bartender
READER PICK

Casey Hamilton, Hollywood Alley, Mesa

You can’t top beer and rock ‘n’ roll, and Casey Hamilton can get you both at Hollywood Alley, the family-owned and operated live music venue that has been hosting bands for more than 20 years in Mesa. Throw in a little problem solving, and Casey has you covered.

2610 W. Baseline Road, Mesa
(480) 820-7117
www.thehollywoodalley.com

Voter Comments:

“Serving beer and solving your problems! Plus if a crazy trucker tries to kill you he’ll stop them cuz he’s a giant!”

Runners Up:

Amber Fessette of Cadillac Ranch, Tempe; Jacki Willis of Hollywood Alley, Mesa; Tina Pizzuti of Applebee’s, Mesa
Best Local Band
READER PICK

36 Cents and a Dream

Friends following a dream — that’s what they are about. From Tempe, the blues rockers 36 Cents and a Dream have been able to appeal to a wide audience playing the local bar circuit. And if you want to listen to them at home, you can pick up their debut album “Long Ride Home” on their website.

www.36centsandadream.com

Voter Comments:

“They have an awesome live show!”

“Heli has a great voice, so unique and soulful!”

“They let me play the maracas!”

“Soulful, bluesy, and fun!”

Runners Up:

Burn Down the Charade
Best School Mascot
READER PICK

Gators, Higley’s Gateway Pointe Elementary School, Gilbert

Gators are known to defend their territory and instill fear with their sharp teeth and powerful bite — perfect for a little school pride, right? The students and staff of Gateway Pointe, a K-8 school in the Higley Unified School District, sure have pride in their swamp.

2069 S. De La Torre Drive, Gilbert
(480) 279-7700
www.husd.org

Voter Comments:

“Inspires fear in rival schools”

“We’re cool!”

Runners Up:

Knights of Higley High School, Gilbert; Toros of Mountain View High School, Mesa
Best Elementary School Teacher
READER PICK

Robert Wyatt, Higley’s San Tan Elementary School, Gilbert

Teachers are supposed to care about the students and be good role models. It takes a little extra to make science fun for sixth-graders. And that’s just what Robert Wyatt does. A native Arizonan, Wyatt teaches at San Tan Elementary in the Higley Unified School District. Voters recognized him for not only being a good teacher, but going beyond expectations.

Voter Comments:

“Mr. Wyatt makes learning fun. He takes different teaching approaches and makes sure he finds the teaching strategy that works for each individual student he teaches.”

“Great role model for the kids ... does more then expected of him.”

“My child gets it. He makes science so much fun!”

Runners Up:

Cadi Hunsaker of American Leadership Academy, Gilbert; Jannifer Ziegler of Higley Elementary School, Gilbert
Best Middle School Teacher
READER PICK

Tera Geyer, Higley’s Gateway Pointe Elementary School

Anyone can be good at math. That’s how Tera Geyer approaches teaching the subject to eighth-graders at Gateway Pointe. She takes the fear out of math and helps students find success. And according to voters, she makes connections that go beyond her math class.

Voter Comments:

“Because she cares in so many ways and is always there to help you.”

“She has the best teaching strategies and they are easy to understand!”

“She cares a lot about us and always makes us laugh”

Runners Up:

Anne Marshall of Grand Canyon Preparatory Academy, Tempe; Sarah Giddings of Taylor Junior High School, Mesa
Best High School Teacher
READER PICK

Stephen Heiser, Tempe’s Mountain Pointe High School, Ahwatukee Foothills

A 13-year teaching veteran and mathematics department chair, Heiser has made quite an impression on students, parents and colleagues alike. Heiser teaches AP Calculus and AP Statistics, as well as first- and second-year geometry, so he works with a wide range of students and is able to bring out the best in them. “What sets Mr. Heiser apart from others is his innovative approach to teaching,” said principal Bruce Kipper. “He has embraced technology and makes learning fun and relevant.

Voter Comments:

“Innovative, caring, funny, and passionate.”

“Out of the box thinker, hard worker, caring.”

Runners Up:

Anne Marshall of Grand Canyon Preparatory Academy, Tempe; Jim Beall of Higley High School, Gilbert; Tamara Scott of Mountain View High School, Mesa
Best Private School
READER PICK

Seton Catholic Preparatory, Chandler

Best Private School

One of the older private schools in the state (opening in 1954), Seton Catholic Prep is in the middle of a renovation project that has been years in the making. The new campus features a new academic and fine arts building, a new chapel and a new football stadium. Seton, with 550 students, made the National Catholic High School Honor Roll as one of the 50 best Catholic secondary schools in the United States. Seton has a strong academic reputation, as well as a solid history in athletics, making it a desireable educational destination.

1150 N. Dobson Road, Chandler
(480) 963-1900
www.setoncatholic.org

Voter Comments:

“They do the best job of preparing students for college and more importantly, life in general.”

“Seton is consistently student centered and all ... strategies, whether improved facilities or academic program review are geared to providing the best.”

Runners Up:

Christ the King Catholic School, Mesa
Best Public School
READER PICK

Gateway Pointe Elementary

Still a young school at just 7-years-old, Gateway Pointe seems to be maturing with age. One of eight elementary schools in the Higley Unified School District, Gateway Pointe serves kindergarten through eighth grade and does so with a staff that is described by voters as “professional, caring and dedicated to helping students.” The school offers clubs, fine arts and athletics, with 13 different sports options for middle school students, as well as spirit line, drum line and marching band.

2069 S. De La Torre Drive, Gilbert
(480) 279-7700
www.husd.org/Domain/1214

Voter Comments:

“The staff is fantastic at what they do and they care about all students.”

“Rigorous academics and community atmosphere.”

“They work hard to help every child do well.”

“Because the students are the best!”

Runners Up:

Grand Canyon Preparatory School, Tempe; Academy with Community Partners, Mesa
Best Charter School
READER PICK

American Leadership Academy, Queen Creek

With K-8 campuses in Gilbert and San Tan Valley and a high school in a strip mall in Queen Creek, American Leadership Academy is the only “The Leader In Me” Lighthouse School in Arizona. The school uses the “Leader in Me” program and Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to teach students leadership skills. Students must demonstrate these skills by giving service hours, leading classroom discussions, participating in ceremonies and accepting leadership responsibilities — and parents are encouraged to attend seminars to extend the principles at home. Daily homework, 20 minutes of nightly reading and a 95 percent attendance record are required. There’s also a dress code. Like all charter schools, American Leadership Academy is a tuition-free public school that is privately operated.

K-8 campus, 17019 S. Greenfield Road, Gilbert; K-8 campus, 34696 N. Village Lane, San Tan Valley; high school, 22721 S. Ellsworth Road, Suite 103, Queen Creek.
(480) 988-3204 (Gilbert), (480) 420-2100 (San Tan Valley), (480) 987-4500 (Queen Creek)
www.alaschools.org

Voter Comments:

“I love that ALA teaches my kids to be leaders first and to make great choices. They are the leaders of themselves.”

“Since we have switched our children from public to this charter school, our children have thrived and succeeded.”

Runners Up:

Grand Canyon Preparatory School, Tempe; Academy with Community Partners, Mesa
Best College
READER PICK

Arizona State University

Best College

The stats make it easy to see why ASU gets high marks in Arizona higher education: The school ranks among the top in the nation in student entrepreneurs, is one of the top 10 producers of Fulbright Scholars in the U.S., and is home to 612 National Merit Scholars and 324 National Hispanic Scholars. Faculty members include three Nobel laureates, 12 National Academy of Sciences members, 11 American Academy of Arts and Sciences members, 114 Fulbright American Scholars, 25 Guggenheim Fellows and three members of the Royal Society. Its business, education, public affairs, design and arts programs have been rated in the top 25 percent in the nation. For voters, those things mattered — but so did far less weighty factors, including “bright and beautiful” campuses, Sun Devil sports, “cool” school colors and the linchpin for one voter: “It’s not the UofA.”

Tempe and Mesa
(480) 965-2100
www.asu.edu

Voter Comments:

“There are bargains galore, if you are willing to sort through some junk.”

“An amazing variety of gently-used household goods, furniture, books and clothing. Check out the baby clothing for great deals.”

Runners Up:

Goodwill Stores; multiple locations; My Sister’s Closet, multiple locations; Deseret Industries, Mesa
Best East Valley Landmark
READER PICK

Mormon Temple, Mesa

Best East Valley Landmark

For the non-LDS member, what makes the Mormon Temple unique and inspiring is the transformation it makes as the year goes by. In the early part of the year, it transforms into a giant theater as it puts up the massive stage for the annual Easter Pageant, which draws people from all over the world. Then in the summer, it transforms into a park, with green grass, plenty of shade, and plenty of places to walk and contemplate. Late in the year, it becomes a giant Christmas display. All of that happens on the outside of the Temple itself, which is an impressive structure, and serves as a special, holy place for those who enter it.

101 S. LeSueur, Mesa
(480) 833-1211
www.ldschurchtemples.com/mesa (unofficial site)

Voter Comments:

“Beautiful building in downtown Mesa.”

“It’s a beautiful structure.”

Runners Up:

Gilbert Water Tower; Superstition Mountains
Best Real Estate Agent
READER PICK

Kenny Klaus

Best Real Estate Agent

Leader of a stable of local real estate professionals, Klaus has been a licensed Arizona realtor since 1999. Together, his Kenny Klaus Team has more than 100 years of experience and ranks in Keller Williams North America’s Top 20. He keeps in touch with clients via a website, Facebook page, Twitter handle and blog, where team members give perspective on local market activity. Klaus hosts a free monthly workshop with a real estate attorney and CPA on short sales and foreclosures.

Keller Williams Realty, 2919 S. Ellsworth Road, Suite 133, Mesa
(480) 354-7344
www.thekennyklausteam.com

Voter Comments:

“Negotiation skills and experience.”

“Very passionate, hard worker, posivite attitude, loves to help people.”

Runners Up:

Jennie Hallock, Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Mesa; Rob Feidler/Agent 4 Autism, Giambi & Murdoch Real Estate, LLC, Chandler; Steve Wasson/The Real Estate Chef, United Brokers Group, Chandler
Best Place to Work
READER PICK

Keller Williams Integrity First Realty

With the volitile nature of the housing market in the East Valley, one might think that working for a large realty company would be stressful. But judging from the comments about Integrity First, that is not the case. The voters were generous in their praise of a workplace that was described as “fun, successful people helping each other,” and “one big family.”

2500 S. Power Road, Suite 121 Mesa
(480) 854-2400
www.integrityfirstrealty.com

Voter Comments:

“Work environment, people and culture support your success.”

Runners Up:

Higley Unified School District, Gilbert; Ironwood Cancer & Research Centers (multiple locations); Verve Wellness Center, Mesa
Best EV Politician
READER PICK

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith

Best EV Politician

Smith burst onto the political scene when he won his initial race for mayor in 2008 and has worked his way into becoming a national figure. A big part of that rise in prominence has been his work for the city and the region. In Smith’s tenure, Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport continues to expand. He also worked to lure a college to open a campus in the city in Benedictine University (to open in 2013). He’s also been part of the planning for the Chicago Cubs new spring training complex, as well as the First Solar complex at the old General Motors Proving Grounds.

2076 E. Southern Ave., Suite C101, Tempe; 2730 S. Val Vista Drive, Gilbert
(480) 644-2388
www.mesaaz.gov/mayor

Voter Comments:

“Makes things happen, states vision, gets it done. Cheerleader for entire East Valley.”

“He’s navigating Mesa through some tough times, and making it more viable.”

“Rejuvinated Mesa and changed perception of the city.”

“He is the absolute best mayor Mesa has ever had. Probably the best in the Valley.”

Runners Up:

Congressman Jeff Flake; former state Senate Russell Pearce; state Sen. David Schapira