The generations of Clarkdale

Benatz family has deep roots in the town

Back in September 1987, the editor of this newspaper, then a staff reporter for Verde Valley Newspapers' The Independent Express, wrote, "When the history of Clarkdale is written, you can bet there will be a chapter written on Dorothy Benatz."

The key words in that quote are "when" and "Benatz." Well, the time is now and, with last year's passing of Dorothy, the Benatz is Janice.

Janice Benatz, 59, is "just one of quite a group sharing what I've got for the 50th anniversary of Clarkdale's incorporation, she said.

As Clarkdale plans for its 50th anniversary, history is being organized; and that effort is important to fully understand how the town began and what has changed. And who better to tell that history then the generations of the Benatz family, who, as Dan Engler's headline read, is "intertwined in town's past, present growth."

When Janice Benatz was a young girl, her father strung Christmas lights over Main Street - Janice said it was magical and it's never looked as good - her mother Dorothy was taking over Herb Young's position as town clerk, and the thing to do was drive to Cottonwood to grab a bite to eat at the A&W then head off to the drive-in or perhaps the theater downtown.

It was the early '60s, and Janice was entering high school - playing in the band.

"You felt needed. If you could play an instrument you were in the band," Janice said. "Back then, there was a sense of unity. Everybody did everything because you didn't have the people to diversify."

The Town of Clarkdale's origin's begin in 1912, when the United Verde Copper Company began construction of a new smelter on the Verde River "to treat ores from its mines at Jerome," according to an information bulletin from the Town of Clarkdale dated Aug. 26, 1959.

The town was founded as "a residential and business facility to serve the employees of the company and its subsidiary corporations, as well as the business and professional people needed to serve them.

"SThe company aided in the establishment of schools, churches and recreational facilities. A sporty nine-hole golf course at Peck's Lake [which at the time was still in use] was financed by the copper company. The spacious Clark Memorial Club [house], with its library, bowling alleys, lounges, auditorium and swimming pool was built under a bequest of Senator William Andrews Clark, owner of the United Verde, and dedicated to the people of the community."

While the company town was growing, Dorothy Benatz was rolling into McNary, Ariz., in the family's Model T Ford. After obtaining her bachelor's degree in English from Arizona State Teachers College in Flagstaff in 1938, she relocated to Clarkdale to work at the Clarkdale High School.

About 10 years later, Janice was born.

According to the Town's Web site, Phelps Dodge operated the mining business and town from 1935 through 1953 following the death of several members of the Clark family.

"After 1953, Clarkdale was bought and sold by several different companies."

One of those companies included the Halliburton Corporation.

Eighty-six percent of the town people supported incorporating.

Janice was 10 when the town incorporated in 1957. Incorporation was an effort backed by residents and the Clarkdale Community Betterment Association, who felt unhappy about the way the company town was being managed and how it kept changing hands.

During this time, Janice was spending many of her days swimming.

"We'd just spend all our summer days there at the pool," Janice said. "Swimming in the summer was from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. - and they drained the pool every week, that was a lot of water flowing down the street."

But one of Janice's fondest memories was driving to Peck's Lake for the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks explode in the sky and reflect in the water.

"It was spectacular," she said.

To celebrate the town's 50th anniversary of incorporation that occurred July 1, a series of events are planned with a main event scheduled for the Fourth of July.

The first Town Council consisted of Daniel Bright, M.O. Lindner Jr., Raymond Pecharich, Edwin Starkey and Joseph Wombacher.

A few years before the first Town Council, the economy and population began to rapidly decrease due to the closing of the smelter and the halt in mining operations.

However, according to the town bulletin dated 1959, "The efforts of the Verde Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Jerome Historical Society, with its Ghost Town attraction, and other organizations resulted in bringing tens of thousands of tourists to the valley, many deciding to settle here.

"Population began to increase in Clarkdale, and upon the commencement of construction of the $16 million Phoenix Cement Company's plant on the outskirts of the town, houses became filled again. It will be an enduring industry with a permanent staff and working force."

The plant was built in 1959. Homes at the time were being sold for as little as $2,500 per house.

The year 1959 was also the time Dorothy Benatz got involved in town government, taking a clerical position. In 1966, she was appointed as town clerk, and in 1980 she was elected mayor with nearly a 100 percent approval from the voters. She received 198 of the 201 votes cast.

In the '90s, Janice said she was encouraged to run for Town Council. She said she won because of her family's reputation.

Her father George Benatz Sr. also served on the Town Council and was a member of the volunteer fire department. He also worked as a district serviceman for Arizona Public Service Company.

Janice said, mainly due to a controversial development, serving on the Town Council was one of the hardest four years of her life and it gave her a deep sense of respect for those who serve.

Much has changed since Janice's days of going to Cottonwood to see a movie at the drive-in -- from the days of fireworks at Pecks Lake and the nine-hole golf course.

Town Manager Gayle Mabery said the bowling alley beneath the clubhouse has been, for the most part, torn up and now acts as a storage facility. Janice cannot imagine the pool being as vibrant as she once knew it, and the golf course is a mere memory.

And some things have not changed.

But what's important is that the history is preserved.

That is why town officials are making such an effort to recover and organize documentation of years of events and crucial Clarkdale players.

That's why the town is not only gathering information on the past for the 50th anniversary, but also to store in the future Clarkdale Heritage Center.

"I think it's critical that Clarkdale has a place to store and display its history," said Councilwoman Pat Williams, who plans to be a docent at the Clarkdale Heritage Center once it opens. "I love history. I think when you got it you should flaunt it."

From the early days to the present, "very little has happened in ClarkdaleSof which Benatz has not been aware," Engler wrote. She remembers the days when the town operated on an annual budget of slightly more than $40,000."

Engler was talking about Dorothy, who died Oct. 4, 2005. But as anniversary planning is upon the Town now, Janice can start where Dorothy left off -- telling what is now and documenting what will be - which will later be history.

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