I was born in Jerome, Arizona on July 24th, 1973, during a time when this historic town nestled above the Verde Valley of central Arizona was home to many talented artists, entrepreneurs and musicians, just as it is today.
I have fond memories of growing up in a place where people stood together in the face of any challenge. As a child, I wasn’t acutely aware that I lived in such a special place, but as I grew older, I began to understand how unique and exceptional our town really was. Although I have lost contact with many of the people I am writing about, I still hold them close to my heart and hope that they have found happiness in this unpredictable world we live in.
The kids of Jerome were an extraordinary group to say the least. We did not have any malls or recreation centers, yet we were happy, vibrant and excited about the world around us. My friends and I enjoyed exploring the many abandoned mines that litter the countryside around Jerome.
We could often be found ghost-hunting at the old hospital, which is now the Jerome Grand Hotel – looking for the spirits of the old miners and their families who once called this place home.
As we grew older, many of us took up skateboarding. If you have ever seen the streets that run through Jerome, you quickly realize how amazing it is that we didn’t kill ourselves in the process. A favorite pastime of ours was showing off our skateboarding skills to the tourists, across the street from the Spirit Room – where we would stand outside for hours and listen to our favorite local band – Major Lingo.
A few of us also had motorcycles that we would ride out to Perkinsville and Allen Springs Road. We were too young to have a driver’s license, so we utilized the many unpaved back-roads that surround this area, and often traveled from Jerome to Clarkdale, in order to visit our friends in the valley.
As we found our niche in this small town that allowed us to be rather independent and wise beyond our years, we traveled to other towns to attend school, which could be challenging at times, but also reinforced our strong bond to each other as we grew into young adults.
My father, Richard Martin, was the Mayor of Jerome from 1978 to 1982, as well as a Town Council member from 1986 to 1988, and was very committed to improving the town’s infrastructure during his tenure.
As a child, I must admit that I somewhat took for granted the beauty of this town that is my birthplace. These sights were not new to me and I always wondered why the tourists were so entranced with our town.
On a recent trip back to Jerome, I stood on Main Street and looked out at the Mogollon Rim and the San Francisco Peaks and I was completely awestruck by the incredible sight before me. I realized how lucky I was to look out at that view everyday as I was growing up, and I just stood there by myself for a while – taking it all in and wondering why I ever left.
I now have kids of my own who have grown into young adults, and I feel very fortunate to have raised them in a place that reminds me of Jerome in many ways.
A few years after graduating from Mingus Union High School in 1991, I moved to Juneau, Alaska, in 1994 with my wife, Lori, and our 1-year old son, Dylan. Our daughter, Megan, was born in Juneau two years later.
Jerome and Juneau have many similarities, as they both have a history of mining and possess a raw, natural beauty that attracts people from all over the world and are home to a vibrant art and music scene. While Juneau is the capital of Alaska, it has that small-town feel that allows you to put your guard down and take a deep breath.
Certain memories have not escaped me as others have, such as the annual event of Santa Claus riding on the local fire truck, on his way to Spook Hall to have the kids sit on his lap and tell him what we wanted for Christmas.
I knew that the person behind the white beard was our Chief of Police – Ron Ballatore, but that did not distract me from this experience that was always so exciting for the local kids. I remember riding on that fire truck and feeling like we had the best of everything.
Many of us found success, and when I write about success I am not only referring to monetary achievements. I must also point to success achieved through raising our families, taking care of our aging parents and being loyal confidants to our friends.
In order to find success in life, one must have a strong foundation of integrity and loyalty to those things that make us better human beings.
Some of us stayed while some moved away, but we all made our stand in life and we will always be the “Children of Jerome.”
Ian Martin is a former Jerome resident who now resides in Juneau, Alaska and works for the Alaska State Department of Transportation.