June 22, 2005 - While some high school students are using the summer months to catch up on poolside lounging, 16-year-old Emily Graves is keeping busy attending historical preservation conferences, serving on an Oro Valley historic commission and finalizing the details of a project she designed to teach young people about the history of her town.
Graves was introduced to the beginnings of Oro Valley a few years ago at a Greater Oro Valley Arts Council event, when she stopped at a table set up by Town Historian Jim Kriegh, who began to tell her about George Pusch coming to the area in the 1800s and establishing a ranch on what is now North Oracle Road.
She was fascinated to learn that what has become shopping centers, housing developments and roads was once the home of "real live cowboys and Indians."
"You watch old movies and you see them, but you don't really think they were once right here where you live, trading things," she said. The more she learned, the more she was interested to learn more and to share this information with other young people.
Graves has found history interesting for as long as she can remember. It's not a subject stressed in her family, although her father does have an interest in historical events. And she has not studied Arizona history in school, yet, but she is looking forward to a United States and Arizona history class she will take as a junior at Canyon Del Oro High School this fall. But despite having little direct exposure to the subject, for some reason she has always gravitated toward learning about the past.
"Everything builds on history, so when you are learning about history, you are learning about yourself," Graves said.
Emily Grave's mother, Victoria Graves, remembers when her daughter was much younger and the family went on a Sunday trip to Tombstone for the first time. Not knowing what to expect, they were surprised to find themselves suddenly in the middle of shooting cowboys re-enacting the days of the wild, wild West. Victoria Graves remembers Emily Graves being a little shocked and a little enthralled by the scene.
"Maybe that's when it started for her," Victoria Graves said, offering an explanation for where her daughter's interest in history originated.
She said she never considered Emily's interests unusual but recognized that it is more typical for adults to set out on missions to discover the past.
Emily Graves' interests recently got her appointed to serve on the town's newly formed historic commission, where decisions about historic sites, such as the Steam Pump Ranch and Honeybee Village, home to Hohokam Indian ruins, will be discussed. Graves said she attended a class at the Southern Arizona Center for Volunteers to learn the rules of serving on a town board or committee. As a liaison, she doesn't get to vote on the issues before the committee, but she gets to see how the decisions are made and she gets to offer input about how those decisions are relevant to young people.
"It has been such a learning experience," she said. "I'm thankful to have been given the opportunity."
After learning about some of the secrets of Steam Pump Ranch, Graves found out about a History Channel grant that would help pay for projects aimed at preserving local history.
She decided she would like to complete a project in Oro Valley that would teach elementary school students about the important role Steam Pump Ranch played in the founding of the community.
Graves wanted to come up with a project that would be hands-on, to keep the attention of the students she would work with. She decided she would put together a computer slideshow presentation of the history of the ranch and then design a tile mosaic that would represent the ranch. The mosaic would be the culminating activity of the project, which would be completed by the students.
Santa Theresa Tile customized several pieces that fit together to form the Steam Pump Ranch house. Graves picked several other tiles that feature animals or native plants to fit together in a desert motif. The finished project will be a large tile mosaic that can travel around to local schools and libraries to educate the public about Steam Pump Ranch and Oro Valley's history.
"It's so important to preserve our history," Graves said. "Oro Valley is such a new town. It's our responsibility to preserve what came before us."
The grant application was a multipage, complicated document, designed more for teachers and administrators who have familiarity with curriculum and school finance. But Graves put in hours writing the grant herself, without help from anyone at school.
"I love doing it, so it really wasn't work for me," she said, adding that the grant helped her to nail down specifics of her project, which helped her plan what she would do. She submitted the grant application in the spring but was informed that her project was not chosen for funding.
But that was not the final chapter in Graves' history project story.
Kriegh, who had been working with Graves throughout the process, said he was impressed with the work that she did on her own to apply for the grant and was disappointed to learn that her project was not selected for an award.
"She had to do a lot of work for that grant. And her writing is good. It sounds more like a college student writing for a Ph.D. than someone her age," he said. Kriegh has been collecting pieces of Oro Valley history, including pictures, books, maps and deeds chronicling Steam Pump Ranch and George Pusch for years. He also is on the historic commission and hopes the ranch can be preserved and perhaps turned into a historic site or even a museum that will be open to the public so people can learn about the unique history.
Kriegh said the competition for the History Channel grant was fierce, and not many awards were given. He did not want Graves' project to end with the rejection, however, and so he wrote a check from his personal account, totaling $1,750, and presented it to Graves at a council meeting the same night she was appointed as the student liaison to the Oro Valley Historic Preservation Commission.
"That was the most wonderful moment for me," Graves said, "to know someone was behind me all the way on this."
With the check in hand, Graves has been able to buy the materials needed for the project and is using the summer to finish her plans. She hopes to present the project to fifth-grade students in Oro Valley this fall.