George Fridell awards honor man who felt teaching students was paramount
April 2, 2009
(On April 1 you received a story about CAC’s George Fridell Award winners. This story is a sidebar/companion piece about George Fridell and his importance to Central Arizona College.)
PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. – Each year Central Arizona College honors its outstanding educators with the George Fridell Excellence in Teaching Awards.
But unless you are part of the Central Arizona College community or had the opportunity to partake in one of his classes, the name George Fridell becomes just another adjective describing just another plaque among tens of thousands given out across this country every year.
Al Chew, a longtime professor at Central Arizona College, thinks you should know more – much more.
“If I were to begin a description of George, I would not say he taught criminal justice, but rather that he was a teacher,” he said. “His methods were often unorthodox, but he always based them on common sense.”
Common sense and high standards – it is why CAC’s President’s Award evolved into the George Fridell Excellence in Teaching Awards. The only thing that yanked Fridell out of the classroom was the cancer that cut his life far too short.
“After George found out about his cancer, he fought hard to beat it,” Chew said. “He attended every event he could muster enough strength to attend, including CARLOTA graduations where he would turn his plight into yet another lesson for his students.”
His life touched many – his loss still hurts employees like Chew who spent so many years with the man born to teach.
“Anyone and everyone who knew George Fridell had deep and heartfelt feelings for him,” Chew added. “One of the few times the Pence Center (CAC’s 700-seat theater) has been filled to overflow was during a memorial service for George. He would have been most proud of the crowd’s diversity - cops, cowboys, janitors, bankers, teachers, corrections officers - you name it.”
In life his standards were extremely high, and his innate ability to raise the performance of students – even ones who struggled with self-confidence – was a quality that could not be taught. It was an instinct.
That instinct created character, and since his passing the term “George was a character” is as commonplace as the Saguaros that climb Signal Peak Mountain.
“George was a cowboy in more than one sense of the word,” Chew said. “He loved horses and dogs. His horse, Katy, and his dog, Buster, were so well-trained that George often - with help from the CAC rodeo team - visited area elementary schools to perform what George called his dog and pony show.”
Fridell could entertain a group of school children for hours.
“The Central Arizona College rodeo hands would bring their horses, ropes and other Western paraphernalia and give the kids horseback rides, roping lessons, a chance to play cowboy, and a better understanding of the love and care of animals.” Chew said. “There was always a lesson on doing the right thing and being a good person.”
Fridell had an eclectic background, including a strong history in law enforcement before becoming a teacher. He was a Marine Corps police officer, served as chief of police in Aspen, Colo., and made many contributions to the CAC CARLOTA program where he taught classes.
“He taught the cadets many things that were not outlined in course syllabi,” Chew said. “Every professional law enforcement officer who knew George held him in high esteem, both personally and professionally.”
Chew and Fridell had their own dog and pony show as faculty senate president and vice president, alternating the positions for years at the college.
“Since the president could not succeed himself, we switched back and forth each year,” Chew laughed. “During our terms in office, the senate hosted a Western style cookout each year for the classified staff. One year when the budget projections were tight, George convinced our colleagues in the senate to forego any raise and asked the governing board to give the money for faculty raises to increase the raises for the classified staff. This is how he said thank you.”
Whether a first-year employee in charge of cutting grass or a top-level administrator, Fridell felt every position on the CAC campus was valuable to the learning process.
And that learning process lives on in the George Fridell Award winners each year.
“George’s passing saddened us all, and those of us who knew him still miss him terribly,” Chew said. “We are all better people for having known him. Anyone who is awarded teaching recognition in his name should know that there can be no higher honor coming from Central Arizona College.”