After receiving nearly 55 acres of the closed Williams Air Force Base from the federal government in 1993, John Schroeder, retiring provost of CGCC’s Williams campus, worked to keep its history alive as he grew and developed the campus.
For many East Valley residents, the sound of fighter planes is heard only at air shows. Younger generations likely don’t know that from 1941 to 1993, Mesa was home to Williams Air Force Base, the leading pilot-training facility of the U.S. Air Force. For 52 years, more than 26,500 men and women—25 percent of all pilots at the time—earned their wings at Williams.
After its closure in 1993, the federal government conveyed parcels to a number of organizations including Arizona State University and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, along with two pieces totaling nearly 55 acres granted to Chandler-Gilbert Community College (CGCC). As the campus developed, John Schroeder, retiring provost of CGCC’s Williams campus, worked to keep its history alive.
“John has led a transformation at the Williams Campus,” said CGCC President Linda Lujan. “He not only brought to fruition a vision for the development of our second comprehensive campus but also did it while paying respect to the base’s rich history.”
Schroeder was hired as director of the Williams Campus in November 2003 and became provost in January 2005. After a successful bond election, funds were available to develop the property and Schroeder began working on a master plan.
Since then, he’s overseen the development and construction of five buildings including a general education and healthcare building and an aircraft hangar, each named for a notable historical figure of the former base.
There’s Bluford Hall named for Guion Bluford, the first African American in space who attended pilot training at Williams; Engel Hall for Connie J. Engel, the first female pilot; and Bridget Hall after Major Bernard A. Bridget who supervised the final phases of construction of the base.
“What I appreciate about John’s development of the Williams campus was his leadership in naming the new facilities after people who were significant in the history of Williams Air Force Base,” said Lynn Kusy, executive director of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport also located on the former base. “He successfully linked the past with the present and even the future. As students enter and learn in the buildings, they become intrigued to learn more about those individuals and the history of the base.”
History can also be found in the hallways where paintings of the history of aviation remain on the walls and cases of Williams AFB memorabilia are on display.
Though John is given much credit for the buildings, he notes he is as equally interested in building people. “For at least 40 years, every job I have had involved building something as well as building people, and the ‘thing’ isn’t what it’s really all about.”
Many individuals gave testimony as evidence of this statement at John’s retirement party.
David Badame, an audiovisual maintenance technician, noted John’s trust in his staff. “John trusted me to do the job I was hired to do. He didn’t feel the need to micromanage me or oversee every project which gave me a sense of belonging and fueled my creativity.”
From project managers to vice presidents, individuals spoke of John’s passion, attention to detail, collaboration and ability to build partnerships. They noted that he built a legacy at the Williams Campus.
At the party’s closing, John said, “I appreciate the comments, but it’s way more credit than what I deserve. It was not a person who built the Williams Campus, it was a group of people. We’ve built a place that will impact our communities and we’ve done it together.”
That’s a man of history.
View farewell video here.
View dedicated song and slideshow On the River here.