From humble beginnings to high voltage career, former city manager, retired APS executive and Make It Better – Casa Grande member talks about her path to leadership
Interview by Brett Eisele – Fall 2016
GC LIVING: Evelyn, tell us a little about yourself and your family. Where did you grow up? Do you have any siblings?
EVELYN CASUGA: I will start at the beginning. I am an only child of Filipino immigrants. So, my father arrived in the United States from the Philippines about 1922. Like many thousands of men from the Philippines at the time who came over to the United States, (he found) the streets paved with gold. He toiled in the fields and the farms and Alaskan canneries and the restaurants and hotels of the West Coast. There were laws at the time that did not allow people of a different race to marry white women, essentially. So they just had a great time as young men, working out in the fields and farms, throughout the country.
In the 1930s, the Filipinos were allowed to become naturalized citizens in the United States and my father took advantage of that. In the 40s, World War II broke out and thousands of these men joined the armed services. My father joined the U.S. Army and coincidentally ends up getting stationed in the Philippines. (Laughs)
My father and mother met each other through one of the celebrations there and fell in love. My father asked permission of my grandfather to marry. They were married after the war.
GC LIVING: In the Philippines?
EVELYN CASUGA: In the Philippines. I was not born until a few years later when they both came to the United States. He came back and brought my mother with him. I was born in the Central Valley of California out in a small town called Orange Cove – not unlike Eloy, Arizona, where I later moved as an adult. Although I was an only child and probably got the benefit of that, my father continued to work in the fields and my mother worked in the packing houses of the Central Valley. It was a total agricultural community. The Central Valley, the San Joaquin Valley part of the Central Valley of California, is the fruit basket of the world. That’s the quick story of mom and dad.
GC LIVING: And you went to school in California?
EVELYN CASUGA: Yes in Orange Cove. My recollection is that the public school system in California was one of the best in the nation, if not the world. So I’d like to think that I had a world class elementary education even in the small town in the Central Valley. Afterward, I had the good fortune…of getting an academic full-ride scholarship.
GC LIVING: So where did you get a scholarship to?
EVELYN CASUGA: I was a Regents Scholar recipient and went to the University of California Santa Cruz. And this would have been 1972-76.
GC LIVING: The great years.
EVELYN CASUGA: The great years. It’s a beautiful campus located in the Henry Cowell Redwoods of California, overlooking Monterey Bay – so just a fabulous setting.
You know with this side you have the forest, and if you walked a little bit further you could see Monterey Bay. So, (it was) a beautiful campus. I originally had declared psychology as a major. When you’re a freshman, you don’t know what you’re doing necessarily. So, I just picked that one and got into a different major as well – community studies. I ended up with a double major in community studies and psychology.
GC LIVING: Did you do that in four years?
EVELYN CASUGA: I did.
GC LIVING: Did you do any graduate work?
EVELYN CASUGA: I did, but not right away. I did a number of field studies while I was at Santa Cruz. In fact, I took a six-month stint away from the campus. I was in Seattle for part of my junior year and did a field study with Filipino Youth Activities.
GC LIVING: Did anybody have a profound effect on you or was there any specific professor who you remember that stands out?
EVELYN CASUGA: You know, probably… and this wasn’t a professor; this was at my field study that I just mentioned. The folks who I worked with in Seattle for six months on this field study, the organization, founded by a couple – Fred and Dorothy Cordova –
Fred was a little younger than my father in age. He was one of the children of that generation of my father – the first generation of Filipinos who came to the U.S. called the Manongs. And Fred was a child of that. He happened to be born here in the United States and he and his wife founded this organization to further the culture, the kind of understanding of one’s roots with the Filipinos who were located in Seattle because there was a lot of immigrants and a lot of first-generation and second- generation who were arriving, and this would have been in the 70s.
So Fred Cordova, who was a highly educated journalist for the Seattle Times also taught at the University of Washington and was a mentor. His ability to instill in those of us who were still young, to be proud of who we are and where we came from, but to understand that you needed to work very hard, of course, but never forget where you come from and to use that as a platform to grow and thrive. I never forgot that.
GC LIVING: Did you document a lot of history from your parents?
EVELYN CASUGA: I need to, and this is where I’m falling down. One of my big projects as a senior at UC Santa Cruz was to document my father’s story. And how I did it was, I used little snippets. I had interviewed him and so I had the front end of my chapters about his story but, of course, then there was the historical research that I had to do about that particular generation. And so, I have that captured, written by a 20-year-old in the house somewhere.
GC LIVING: What about your mom’s history?
EVELYN CASUGA: A friend of mine did do an oral history. This is so horrible, but they’re on a cassette tape and I never transcribed them.
My mother, who’s 90, is of that second wave of Filipino immigration to the United States, or the Filipino war brides. This is my mother’s generation You first had the men who came in the 20s. Then after World War II the Filipino war brides who all came out in droves because, you figure, there were these thousands of men who could not marry and finally go to the Philippines and fall in love…find a sweetheart, bring their wives over and start their families here in the U.S..
And then there’s a third wave of Filipino immigration that was in the 60s when the U. S. loosened up their immigration laws and a lot of professionals came over at the time, so the doctors, the nurses, the teachers and the professional ranks in the Philippines who wanted to leave because of political situations…
GC LIVING: Well, you did this internship in Seattle your senior year and it had a profound effect on you. You graduated and then what happened?
EVELYN CASUGA: After graduating, I did a summer project in Long Beach, working in a barrio with a program that took kids from the barrio and gave them summer school since they didn’t have access to any schooling over the summer. I was part of a team that was called New Dawn. I wasn’t in the classroom teaching, I was more of the support staff for the teachers. We were all college students and…
GC LIVING: …set the world on fire?
EVELYN CASUGA: (Laughs) Set the world on fire. We were going to change the world, right? So that’s what we did that summer.
GC LIVING: Was that a rude awakening?
EVELYN CASUGA: Well, it was! It was enlightening and not too unlike my experience working in Seattle. We were able to give these children an opportunity to experience the zoo. We actually went to Disneyland; we went to the beach. These are kids who lived close to all of these places, but could never have afforded to do it. And because of that summer program, we were able to share that experience with first through fifth graders.
GC LIVING: Was it after this that you knew what you wanted to do?
EVELYN CASUGA: No. (Laughs) After the program in the summer ended, I had to move back to my parents’ house
I moved back to mom and dad’s house. And I’m going to pause right there for a second because I have to tell you about mom and dad’s house.
GC LIVING: This is the house you grew up in?
EVELYN CASUGA: Yes it’s actually their third house. The first house they moved into was a three-room, not much of anything. But this was a decent house, in a good neighborhood in our little town. So my mother and dad’s house ended up being, as my uncle calls it, the “port of entry,” because all the relatives who came after mom and dad…a lot of the first-timers immigrating from the Philippines, ended up at our house. My father would take them out in the field and show them what real work was all about, which you have to do in America. And, you know, they got the message and a lot of them continued or completed their education or they finished up their degrees or became certified here in the United States. They all went on to establish themselves all over the country and started their own families and had their own houses. So that richness of those waves of immigration that have come to the United States over centuries, my family had a role in that part of the niche they played.
GC LIVING: And your moving back is when you started learning about life?
EVELYN CASUGA: Oh absolutely. I learned more just about everybody else’s stories. And, you know, I got my room back. That was good.
My parents, my father in particular, were very active in the community, so he happened to know the director of the Orange Cove Community Center. His name was Victor Lopez and Victor had an opening for an activities coordinator and my dad said, “Hey go ask Victor if there’s something you can do over there.” So I applied. I got the job because I was very qualified. I was a college graduate in a small town. And I thought, “Oh, what the heck else am I going to do?”
So I jumped in and did that role. It was kind of working in the community. I was working with a preschool program, a Head Start program, summer youth programs, a senior citizens program and, at the time, there was also this Disability Club. And I was in charge of doing outside activities with all these groups. I actually worked there for about three years. But what happened was Victor became the mayor of the city of Orange Cove in the middle of all of this.
GC LIVING: Ah ha!
EVELYN CASUGA: So it all starts coming together.
They also hired their first city administrator in that period of time I was working for the community center. And that city administrator was Bill Little. Some of you might recall, Bill Little ultimately became the city manager in Eloy. I actually moved over to the City of Orange Cove for work. So my old boss is now the mayor. They hired a brand new city administrator and I was still on this comprehensive employment training program, so the city didn’t have necessarily the funds but this was federal dollars to supplement employment, whether it was the public or the private sector. And so I happened to transition from the community center over to the city of Orange Cove. That was my first taste into municipal government.
GC LIVING: And Bill hired you?
EVELYN CASUGA: Bill hired me there.
GC LIVING: And was he a mentor?
EVELYN CASUGA: He was a mentor as well. So Bill Little was an out-of-the-box city manager. He had worked in Southern California and gotten his feet wet in Orange County. They were going through massive growth, lots of infrastructure projects. This would have been in the early-to-late 60s or early 70s. This was his first city manager job. He was an assistant in his previous jobs. So as kind of where I was in my career and where I had come from in my work experience, this was like a playground for me to learn so much about municipal government and to understand how to work with elected officials, how to work with public sector projects and different sorts of funding to get projects done.
GC LIVING: And you’re still in your twenties?
EVELYN CASUGA: I was 24, maybe a little bit older. Then what happened was Bill leaves to go back to graduate school in Long Beach. Can you guess what the council does? They make Evelyn, the greenhorn, the acting city manager.
GC LIVING: You obviously had an impact on the community or they wouldn’t have done it.
EVELYN CASUGA: I guess. I was scared to death. (Laughs)
GC LIVING: Now you’re in a management position?
EVELYN CASUGA: I’m in a management position. I knew I didn’t want the job, the permanent job, but because I was temporary, it was okay. And there were enough seasoned team members at the time who helped mentor .
GC LIVING: Here’s the trick. You allowed them to do that.
EVELYN CASUGA: Absolutely! Because I didn’t know what I was doing necessarily. I tried my best to pull it all together and would present proposals or recommendations to the council and that worked out. I did that for probably eight months. It took them about that long to hire the new city manager. And somebody warned me at the time saying, “You’re used to being at the lead. (Laughs) You’re not going to like working with another manager.”
GC LIVING: This was now on your resume though.
EVELYN CASUGA: Yes. This is true. I stuck around for about another year, because one thing I did recall was that you needed to be somewhere for three years to look good on your resume. So, I stuck it out and ended up working three years for the City of Orange Cove. And this is when I then left for graduate school.
GC LIVING: Why did you make that decision?
EVELYN CASUGA: I knew I was going to go to graduate school after I got that three-year work experience at a municipality, and actually, the next city manager I worked with, Izzy Rodriguez, was another mentor and one of the lessons that I learned from Izzy – and I’ve never forgotten this one – is you can be replaced. So never forget that.
GC LIVING: But having a master’s degree is sort of a hidden rule as you’re going to progress.
EVELYN CASUGA: It was the next step. Absolutely.
GC LIVING: So where did you go?
EVELYN CASUGA: I went to the University of California at Berkeley. I got my master’s in city and regional planning. I didn’t necessarily go a traditional public administration route at all. It was more kind of in the weeds.
GC LIVING: Did you get a scholarship?
EVELYN CASUGA: I did – a graduate scholarship fellowship. It was a two-year program.
GC LIVING: Were you being taught something that was different from what you’d learned from practical experience? Or was it pretty well the same?
EVELYN CASUGA: It was more the practical applications of what municipalities do and can do.
GC LIVING: All right so you’re in graduate school and you’ve had some experience. At what point in graduate school did you realize, “It’s time for me to start looking for work?”
EVELYN CASUGA: Understanding what it was going to take to find a real job and because the program allowed this, there were opportunities while in grad school for field work and internships. I worked for a small housing agency in West Oakland of all places.
GC LIVING: That’s a good experience.
EVELYN CASUGA: It was a great experience. I think I was just doing paperwork and grant administration for the agency, so that was a short-term gig, but that was good, so that’s just another thing on the resume. Then I got this great internship with the agency at the National Council of La Raza. It still exists today and is based out of Washington D.C. It’s a community-based organization that does a lot of social services, whether it’s housing or job training.
So I did that for six months and that finished up my last six months in graduate school in the summer after I graduated from Berkeley.
GC LIVING: Now does Bill Little enter the picture again?
EVELYN CASUGA: Yes, exactly. So in that period of time, Bill Little finishes up his master’s degree. He ends up in Eloy, Arizona because he followed his significant other at the time, because she had gotten a job with IBM Tucson in 1980. Bill ends up in Eloy because of Edith.
GC LIVING: Wow.
EVELYN CASUGA: So there’s that story. Upon graduating from Berkeley in 1983, some people who were here at that time might even recall Ken Buchanan was working for Bill at the City of Eloy.
GC LIVING: And we should interject that Ken was from Eloy.
EVELYN CASUGA: Ken was from Eloy and Ken, who had just retired from city management also … Well, I’ll just finish this story because the Town of Florence loses their city manager. Bill says to Ken, “I think this would be a good experience for you to go be the acting town manager in Florence,” so Ken takes that opportunity. Well, there’s a job opening in Eloy. That was the same time that I was getting out of graduate school.
GC LIVING: Did he call you?
EVELYN CASUGA: He called me. I had no idea. I mean we kept up communication, of course, and he says, “Hey Evelyn, I’ve got this job opportunity in Eloy, Arizona.” I’m like, “Where is Eloy, Arizona? Really?” So this was 1983. (Laughs)
GC LIVING: So you go from Berkeley to Eloy?
EVELYN CASUGA: Correct. I did! When I came out here, he flew me out here to check out the job, meet some of the folks that he was working with and then I’m thinking in my head, “I can do this for a couple years. I already know his management style. I already know that I’m going to learn a great deal from the experience, so I can do this!” I had nothing tying me anywhere else and I was applying for other jobs, but I was applying to planner-level jobs with some of the larger municipalities in the Bay Area. I’m glad that those didn’t work out. I got notices, but I had already made the commitment to come here. So I moved to Eloy, Arizona in September, Labor Day weekend of 1983. I have been here ever since.
GC LIVING: So you’re in Eloy and you’re working again with one of your previous mentors. What are you learning now?
EVELYN CASUGA: Yes. I came in as the assistant to the city manager in my original position. So I was covering the planning and zoning stuff. I was staffing various other boards and commissions at the City of Eloy – certainly helping to staff the council and knowing how Bill works, there were multiple projects going on at the time, and if we might recall from the 80s, those were some boom years for Arizona. All of a sudden, Arizona is starting to show up as a blip on people’s radar as a place to do business. Because of what has always been, as the magazine has called the “Golden Corridor,” these were just amazing opportunities.
One of my biggest projects was doing annexations for the city of Eloy. So if you look at the city boundaries of the community …
GC LIVING: They go to Los Angeles.
EVELYN CASUGA: (Laughs) They go to Los Angeles then go to Mexico. (Laughs) They go everywhere because – and this is one of these funny side stories – working with Bill in the City of Orange Cove in California, we were doing an annexation. Well, oh my God, that was tedious, just multiple agencies that had to approve one annexation. Arizona? It’s a little different, but the time and the rules have changed on how you do annexations in Arizona now. At the time, you just needed 51 percent of the property owners as well as 51 percent of the assessed valuation to approve an annexation. We were annexing property that the property owners were willingly saying, “Hey, we want to be part of the City of Eloy,” understanding what a municipality brings to the table and to the value of the property. So that was one of my biggest projects to this day – all of the I-10 interchanges were annexed while I was doing the legwork to make that happen.
GC LIVING: And how long did you do this for Eloy?
EVELYN CASUGA: I worked at the City of Eloy for a total of five years. The last two years of my tenure there, I was the city manager.
This is one of those ironies where the political wind shifted and as happens with city managers, they sometimes leave, whether by choice or not. So Bill left. Once again, I’m put in the position of an acting city manager, but this time I said, “I’m going to do this, this time.” So I applied for the job and I actually got the job.
GC LIVING: What project, while city manager of Eloy, are you most proud of?
EVELYN CASUGA: I would have to say getting those annexations done. I wasn’t the city manager at the time. I was just the behind-the-scenes “get this project done” person.
GC LIVING: Were you involved in the Eloy Industrial Park development?
EVELYN CASUGA: Yes at the ground level, whether it was doing some rezonings or helping write the grants to get infrastructure.
GC LIVING: All right. So you’re where now?
EVELYN CASUGA: I was in Eloy five years, two years as the manager and political winds changed again.
GC LIVING: Did you jump from there to Arizona Public Service?
EVELYN CASUGA: No I had a couple of interim spots before APS.
GC LIVING: Where did you go from Eloy?
EVELYN CASUGA: Knowing that there was an election, I kind of saw the handwriting on the wall. It was time to start looking for a job. Because I had … you’re just spreading your wings and you develop relationships. And young people, you should know, relationships are valuable.
GC LIVING: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
EVELYN CASUGA: My next job after Eloy was with the Western Gateway Team which was the first regional economic development organization in Arizona from back in the 70s started by a gentleman named Bruce Hillby, which I think the development community may know in the West Valley. So the Western Gateway Team served Avondale, Buckeye, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, and Tolleson. We were an office of three doing traditional business recruitment at the time. It was funded by private sector as well as the five cities that we represented.
GC LIVING: And in those days, those communities were way out in the middle of nowhere?
EVELYN CASUGA: Oh, they were these one square-mile towns with all of the cotton fields surrounding them. This is one of these ironic situations. So, I knew about Western Gateway Team because one of my professors in graduate school actually had done a consulting project in Arizona for Western Gateway. So I knew about it back in 1982 or 1983, so this is now 1988 and I’m going “Oh my God, I know about this place,” so Bruce Hillby, master development guy, he had put together some documentation. We didn’t have the Internet then; we didn’t have all of the access to all the social media and all of these other fancy electronic means.
So he produced a book, a very slick document that showed the five communities. It showed their infrastructure; it showed the water lines; it showed whatever he could show by electricity and showed the sewer lines. So it was a masterful document from 1980-something-or-other, mid-80s. This was the organization that I was now working for. So this was toward the late 80s and I did a lot of work with the municipal relationships because that’s what my strength was, but also worked with the clients if they came into town and were looking at X,Y,Z piece of dirt in Buckeye or Goodyear, whatever it happened to be.
Some of you might recall the late 80s boom years for Arizona again. This part of our funding came from Charlie Keating because he had a lot of property that he owned in the West Valley which tied to some Westinghouse land and then American Continental at the time. Well lo and behold, this is when he gets busted by the Feds. So our funding dried up …
GC LIVING: Were you the first to go?
EVELYN CASUGA: I was. We all went about the same time. Here’s another little irony … American Continental or AmCor was one of our big funders. Another big funder of ours was Sun Corp. Sun Corp was a subsidiary of Pinnacle West Capital Corporation with APS at the time. So our last check actually came from Sun Corp. Who knew?
GC LIVING: Was this during the Mark De Michele years?
EVELYN CASUGA: I think it was Turley still. It might have been Keith Turley, or else the transition from Mark De Michele. So my last check from Western Gateway Team came from Sun Corp, as I said, and we closed up shop. We were able, fortunately, to transition some of the work and some of the work products to the Tri-Valley Chamber of Commerce, which was a good thing.
GC LIVING: So you started looking?
EVELYN CASUGA: So I started looking. And from a personal side, this was all about the same time that I met Jerry, my husband.
GC LIVING: Where did you meet him?
EVELYN CASUGA: A mutual friend of ours introduced us at the Arizona Planning Association Conference in Scottsdale that year and he worked for the City of Scottsdale. Our first date was my last day at Western Gateway.
GC LIVING: So your life’s path has just been laid out for you?
EVELYN CASUGA: Laid out, but kind of fuzzy … very fuzzy-looking. I did indeed start looking for a job, so I leapt into city management again. And once again, you have your networks, and you have your relationships, and so Ernie Kleinschmidt, who was then city manager of Goodyear, thought I might be interested in the town of Marana, for the city management job. He was another mentor of mine who has since passed away.
GC LIVING: So you went Marana?
EVELYN CASUGA: I went to Marana.
GC LIVING: So are you married yet, when you go to Marana?
EVELYN CASUGA: No, we are still dating. I’m always up and down the I-10 traveling to see him.
GC LIVING: And he’s in Scottsdale, and you’re in Marana?
EVELYN CASUGA: He’s in Scottsdale and I’m in Marana. He would come over from Scottsdale on Wednesdays. So the I-10 is home to me. The road is my home.
GC LIVING: And you were in Marana how long?
EVELYN CASUGA: I was there for about two years.
GC LIVING: So you’ve built up quite a resume?
EVELYN CASUGA: I have. I was not looking for a job when I lived in the Town of Marana. I loved my job in the Town of Marana. I just enjoyed my time there being the city manager and working with a council that was very progressive in how they wanted to build their community, which was very cool.
GC LIVING: So you weren’t looking for a job, someone kind of recruited you?
EVELYN CASUGA: I got a phone call one day from the economic development director for Arizona Public Service, who I had …
GC LIVING: And how did he find out about you?
EVELYN CASUGA: I had worked with him. Once again, it’s the relationships and the connections you make in your life.
It was Paul Wiggs, who was the economic director at Arizona Public Service. So I get this call one day, “Hey, Evelyn, it’s Paul Wiggs, wondered if you’d be interested in becoming the community development manager here at APS to work with all of our rural communities in our service territory?” And he said it just like that, and I’m like “What?”
GC LIVING: If you want the job you can have it?
EVELYN CASUGA: “If you want the job you can have it and this is what we are going to pay you.”
GC LIVING: And now it’s private enterprise. It’s not government any more.
EVELYN CASUGA: Oh, yeah. So the salary scale was way more than I had ever anticipated. Although money has never been my driver in selecting the positions that I’ve chosen.
GC LIVING: How many minutes did it take you to accept the job?
EVELYN CASUGA: I hesitated because I really liked the job that I was doing in Marana working with that council, doing what we were doing at the time. Here’s another great story. This job offer happened on a Monday, so I called Jerry, because we were dating still at the time, and so I said, “You won’t believe this, I got this job offer that I didn’t know was coming, and they’re willing to pay me X.” And he said, “Really, are you going to take it?” And I said, “Well, you know, let’s talk about it. I told him I would call after the following weekend,” that was Monday.
I went up to Phoenix, and Jerry said, “Let’s go out to dinner and celebrate. I said okay, that’s cool.” So Friday night, he takes me out to dinner. We go to the Princess and it was a different restaurant that was there … shame on me for forgetting the name of it. So he takes me out to dinner; we walk outside and he proposes to me. So I got a job offer and a proposal.
GC LIVING: How many minutes did it take you to make that decision?
EVELYN CASUGA: None. That one was much quicker. So then I said “yes” to both the job offer and the marriage proposal.
GC LIVING: Did your dad like him?
EVELYN CASUGA: My dad liked him.
GC LIVING: So you had all of the approvals and the stars are lined up. So where was your new office?
EVELYN CASUGA: My initial office was at APS. So, I very sadly left my job at Marana. I had to tell the council that. That was very tough for me. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. So by November of 1990 I started with APS in the headquarters office at 5th and Van Buren streets, on the 6th floor of that tower.
Unfortunately, at the time, for the company, they were going through a re-engineering process, so I happened to get a job when a bunch of other people were losing their jobs, just because of the downsizing that was happening at the time. So it was a little heartbreaking. I didn’t know a whole lot of people and my job was really out in the field, so I stayed out in the field.
GC LIVING: Are you enjoying this work?
EVELYN CASUGA: Yes, I loved the job, because of the freedom. I was out in the field. I could develop relationships and talk about what APS could bring to the community. So that was probably the first two years, and then…
GC LIVING: They started moving you up the ladder?
EVELYN CASUGA: They started moving me up the ladder. First it was economic development. I was still working for the economic community development department for Bill Stephenson at the time, but then one of the vice presidents in the customer service organization had me working in this business unit as well, so I started to learn the core of the company, you know, the “keeping the lights on” side of the business. And then ultimately, what brought me back to Pinal County was being appointed the division manager for southeast Arizona, which I was the first female in that role, ever, in that company history.
GC LIVING: Was that a big change from working in community development?
EVELYN CASUGA: Not really, because for me, it was like being a city manager.
GC LIVING: So now you have to move back to Casa Grande and your husband still works in Scottsdale?
EVELYN CASUGA: Yes, still in Scottsdale, but I said, “Hey, I’ve got this chance for a promotion.” And he said, “Let’s do it.” So we left Scottsdale.
GC LIVING: And moved to Casa Grande?
EVELYN CASUGA: After 19 years.
GC LIVING: That’s true love.
EVELYN CASUGA: Yes. And he gets a job at Pinal County. In Florence as a senior planner and then he ultimately became the planning director, so it worked out for both of us.
GC LIVING: Is he retired now?
EVELYN CASUGA: He retired before I did. He retired in June of 2014. I retired December of 2014.
GC LIVING: And how long were you with APS?
EVELYN CASUGA: Twenty-five years. But I didn’t stay in the division manager’s office. Reorganization happens with a lot of these corporate roles and I ended up in 2007 or 2008, I started commuting back to Phoenix again because my job changed and I had more statewide responsibilities. So I just worked out of the corporate office, but kept an office here too.
GC LIVING: What was life like when your son was born?
EVELYN CASUGA: We got married in 1991 and our son was born in October 1993. My father passed away right before we got married, unfortunately. My mother moved in with us in ’93 and she’s been with us ever since. And now she’s 90.
GC LIVING: Did your son go to college?
EVELYN CASUGA: Our son has just completed his bachelor’s from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and their honors college. And he has just recently gotten a real job.
GC LIVING: What’s he doing?
EVELYN CASUGA: He is working for that brand new startup company called Zenefits. They’re in one of those shiny high rises off of Tempe Town Lake.
GC LIVING: So, with everything you’ve accomplished, you’re still not even retired?
EVELYN CASUGA: No, I retired from APS. Now I’m in an advisor role at Access Arizona.
GC LIVING: So you haven’t taken it over?
EVELYN CASUGA: No. We have no intent. I’m in an advisor role, but I’m also sitting on the board.
GC LIVING: Is that a conflict?
EVELYN CASUGA: I’m not getting any remuneration from the organization.
GC LIVING: Are you enjoying it?
EVELYN CASUGA: Oh, absolutely. Because it’s not that big of a role, but here, I’ll tell you all of the things that I’m doing now as I’m in this other phase of my life. I work part time at Central Arizona College as assistant to the president, so that’s one of the roles I play.
GC LIVING: You’re also involved in Make It Better – Casa Grande. Tell us about that organization and why you decided to be part of the founding group of individuals?
EVELYN CASUGA: Make It Better – Casa Grande (MIB) is a small group of individuals who proactively champion projects and/or other efforts that propel the community and position Casa Grande and the region as a forward-thinking area to live, work and play. Coming from very different political, organizational, public and private perspectives, the individuals involved are driven by the same desire to improve the well-being of the entire community.
My interest in Make It Better – Casa Grande stems from my own passion for community, economic development and civic engagement. Over my professional career, I have been an advocate, advisor and facilitator in this arena, working in other communities and with leadership organizations throughout Arizona. Now that I am in a different phase of my life, I have an opportunity to contribute in my own backyard. I still volunteer at Arizona Town Hall, the longest serving civic participation organization in the state, and I consult with the Center for the Future of Arizona whose mission includes a civic health component. For me, participating with Make It Better – Casa Grande is an opportunity to engage at a grassroots level.
Casa Grande and the region are in an enviable transition. We still have a choice to seize the unknown opportunities and determine our own trajectory and future.
GC LIVING: And what else are you doing now?
EVELYN CASUGA: I’m doing some consulting work for the Center for the Future of Arizona with Lattie Coor, president emeritus of ASU, who is the CEO founder of the center. And working on the two big ideas from that center – The Arizona We Want and The Education That We Need. So I’m on The Arizona We Want side doing some community outreach with them. Also working on the eight citizen goals that came out of a Gallup Poll from 2008 where Arizonans agreed on these eight citizen goals.
And then I’ve got a few volunteer gigs, Access Arizona, we can consider among those. But I’m also representing the college on there as well, so that’s kind of part of the role. And then working with Arizona Town Hall as the development chair for that organization. And then still sitting on the hospital advisory board at Banner Casa Grande.
And I sit on Business Development Finance Corporation, which is an SBA-approved financing organization working with the banks and financing economic development projects throughout the state. But that’s a very low-key role. And I also sit on the Arizona Rural Development Council that sits under Local First Arizona.And then I am chairing the Friends of Public Radio Arizona KJZZ 91.5.
GC LIVING: To close this interview out, is there something bubbling up down in the depths of your brain that you still haven’t done that you want to do?
EVELYN CASUGA: I think I want to continue using the skills and knowledge that I’ve acquired over the years. And with people of like-mind making – wherever I am and in this region – a better place.
GC LIVING: Evelyn, it’s been a pleasure.
EVELYN CASUGA: Thank you. This was fun.