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Ladd Mulleneaux Passes Away-Gila Valley Icon

THATCHER — To a person, those who knew Ladd Mullenaux said his life’s work will reverberate for generations to come. “When you think of Eastern Arizona College, you think of Ladd,” EAC Athletic Director Jim Bagnall said. “The number of students he’s had an effect on is unbelievable. He was a great leader and role model.” Mullenaux died Friday, at his Thatcher home. He was 81.

Ladd Mullenaux was born and raised in the Gila Valley and had a direct impact on almost every facet of local life. In 1964, he began his 30-year tenure at Eastern Arizona College. He was head track coach, head football coach, athletic director and dean of students. After his retirement, he was elected to the governing board at EAC.

“Ladd Mullenaux was an outstanding coach, administrator, board member, and chairman of the board; he was an outstanding man,” EAC President Mark Bryce said. “He was a peacemaker, but would stand his ground and not compromise his principles.”

As if his educational duties — and raising a family — weren’t enough, Mullenaux also served the town. He spent 27 years on the Thatcher Town Council, nine as mayor. “We’re very sad. He was a giver and he gave to the community all the time. He will surely be missed,” Thatcher Mayor Bob Rivera said. “He was someone you wanted to emulate. We are a better place because of Ladd.”

And, just to make sure he had no free time, Mullenaux worked 23 summers with the U.S. Forest Service fighting fires and clearing trails on Mount Graham. “He was a bear of a man,” said friend Paul Nelson. “I worked with him on the mountain, and no one could clear a trail like him. “He’s going to be a very difficult man in the community to replace; a salt of the earth man. We’ve lost a tremendous individual,” Nelson continued.

There are legions of people over the decades Mullenaux impacted on a personal level. “I liked to compare him to John Wayne,” Thatcher High School Vice Principal and Athletic Director Don Conrad said. “I can only imagine the lives he touched through school, church, as bishop and on the High Council for The Church (of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). When you were around him, he made you treat others better by his example.”

Most recently, Mullenaux served as a member of the Thatcher Unified School District governing board. “He was a pillar to the community,” said fellow TUSD board member Todd Haynie. “He lived a life of service literally until the day he died.”

Mullenaux was born in 1932 in Palmerville, which is now known as Palmer Lane. He played baseball, basketball and football at Thatcher High School and was an All-American while playing football for EAC. After marrying his wife, Jeanette McBride, Aug. 4, 1951, he tried his hand at farming. But a few years later, he decided to focus on academics. He returned to EAC, where he played a second season of football, then transferred to Arizona State University, where he played two years for legendary coach Frank Kush.

Athletics remained a big part of Mullenaux’s life as he returned to begin work at EAC. And even though he faced health issues over the past few years, he could still be found on the south end of the football and softball fields for EAC games. “I remember him pulling up in the cotton field, turning around and watching softball games,” EAC softball coach Kate McCluskey said. “Only one man can touch so many lives. He was a man who commanded respect by just being in the room. But most important, Ladd made every student one of his own because everyone was treated the same. I am a better person for knowing Ladd for the last 35 years.”

Story by Jay David Murphy

Sports Editor

Eastern Arizona Courier