If you’ve been to Tempe Beach Park lately, you’ve seen the new Tempe Public Safety Memorial that’s dedicated to Tempe’s fallen heroes. Situated at the entrance to Tempe Beach Park and Tempe Town Lake, the memorial is a stirring and poignant tribute to the Tempe fire and police officers and canines who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The three larger-than-life figures—a firefighter, police officer and canine has been beautifully executed with meticulous attention to detail.
The first time I saw the memorial I was moved to learn more about how it came to be and discovered that former Tempe police officer and current owner of Special Moments Catering, Al Taylor was involved from the beginning as a member of the memorial’s project organizing team.
I met with Al to discuss the memorial and it became apparent that he’s a man of many talents who loves to take on big challenges. Al was part of the project team that was responsible for raising the funds and selecting the artist. And, after getting to know more about him, it was easy to see why Al Taylor was well equipped to make it happen.
Al’s a man who likes to take charge and get things done. He’s resourceful, enterprising and always optimistic. He loves taking on challenges and has an unwavering can do attitude that, along with lots of hard work, has served him well in life. From how he teamed up with his equally resourceful, enterprising, optimistic wife, Michelle, to overseeing the Public Service memorial, Al makes things happen.
Al and Michelle met in Detroit just as he was drafted into the Army and shipped off to boot camp in Ft. Knox, while Michelle and her family moved to Phoenix. Al was undeterred. Determined to not lose Michelle he managed to be assigned to Military Police (MP) unit in Yuma, which allowed him to visit Michelle in Phoenix on the weekends.
Al completed his service in the Army and in 1974, he and Michelle were married. His MP experience combined with great people skills enabled him to join the Tempe Police Department where he moved up the ranks to Lieutenant.
In 1983, with their daughter and son in school, Michelle decided to start her own business baking specialty cakes. Al remained on the Tempe PD, but helped provided elbow grease as needed, like cake delivery detail. True to their combined entrepreneurial spirit and sense of humor, they approached the mundane task of delivering cakes with flair by dressing up as characters that related to the cake décor—like delivering a bat cake to a Halloween party dressed as vampires.
The cake business was successful, but limited and so they expanded it into a catering business, which Michelle named Special Moments. During the 80s, the popularity of mystery and casino parties motivated Al and Michelle to add entertainment to their business. Al’s experience in solving real crimes came in handy when writing and producing mystery parties.
Al remained on the force where he was in charge of the Crime Prevention Unit whose goal is to help educate citizens on how to reduce the risk of being victims of crime. Al’s entrepreneurial approach and business experience prompted him to work with the Tempe Chamber of Commerce in implementing a FAX tree program to quickly alert businesses to possible threats. He partnered with Home Depot stores to develop a crime prevention landscaping program (i.e. plant prickly, thorny plants under your windows). In both instances Al was able to multiply many times the number of business and homeowners who could be reached with critical and practical information.
Al retired from the force in 1996, but kept his ties to the PD, when Police Chief Tom Ryff, asked him to join the Tempe Police Foundation. The Foundation accepts donations to support specialty units, programs, and initiatives that might not otherwise be funded. Eventually Al became the Foundation’s President. Which brings me back to the big part Al played in the Public Service Memorial.
Chief Ryff approached the Tempe Police Foundation about taking on the creation of the Public Safety Memorial. Al, as president of the foundation, spearheaded the drive to fund the memorial. The Tempe City Council voted to match up to $175,000. Through a series of fundraisers, corporate and individual donations plus the tireless efforts of the PD’s spokesperson, Assistant Chief Angel Carbajal, an additional $186,000 was raised in two years.
The City published a request for qualifications for artists; 73 from throughout the U.S. applied. A selection committee comprised of 15 people, including Al, reviewed the artists’ proposals and narrowed the field to four artists and chose Benjamin Victor of Boise, Idaho, who has created numerous public pieces throughout the country.
The Tempe Public Safety Memorial was dedicated on December 6, 2016 with Al giving the keynote address. The memorial has special significance for Al. One of the officers memorialized was his friend, Lieutenant John Bradshaw. They worked the same detail, but different shifts and saw each other daily during the shift change. On September 20, 1987, John, a 20 year veteran of the Tempe PD, was shot and killed while responding to a call for assistance from another officer.
When Al and I visited the memorial, he told me the story of each of the six police officers, the fire officer and two canines who are remembered. It was obvious that it has special meaning for him. He said, “it’s my major accomplishment in life.”
Spend a little time with Al and it’s obvious that has accomplished a lot in his life through his core qualities of resourcefulness, optimism and willingness to take charge and work hard. Al will tell you that he’s a lucky man. But he’s also quick to say, “The harder I worked, the luckier I got!”