Don Dedera, longtime beloved Arizona Republic columnist, author and former editor of Arizona Highways magazine, died Tuesday, just two weeks shy of his 91st birthday.
In addition to his journalistic accomplishments, Dedera has been active in preserving some of the most iconic pieces of Arizona history, including Western author Zane Gray’s cabin near Payson, the Hubbell Trading Post on the Navajo Nation and the Phoenix Indian School.
Known for his self-deprecating sense of humor, Dedera once described dropping a column from a former cavalry camp into the Mazatzal wilderness via a carrier pigeon.
“The copy desk attributed the improved grammar to the bird,” he joked.
Dedera was remembered by a colleague as the heart and soul of the paper.
“In the annals of The Republic, he had a special chapter,” said Bill Shover, The Arizona Republic’s longtime community relations manager. “For years it has reflected the spirit of people in the community.”
According to a biography that accompanies his papers in the Arizona State University Library Archives, Dedera got his start in journalism while serving as a combat photographer in the US Marine Corps from 1946 to 1948. , straight out of high school.
After his release, he enrolled in the GI Bill at Arizona State College, the precursor to Arizona State University, and earned a journalism degree in just three years. In 1985 he was named a founding member of the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism Hall of Fame.
Dedera began working for The Republic as an obituary, night police reporter and general assignment reporter in 1951 and was named a news columnist two years later. His personal touch and sometimes folksy style were instantly popular and his work was widely acclaimed. He received the National Ernie Pyle Memorial Award, one of the highest honors for feature films, in 1958.
Two years later, he published a compilation of his chronicles in a book entitled “Un mille dans ses moccasins”.
That same year, 1960, Dedera wrote a series of columns that helped secure parole and eventual pardons for two men, Tom and John Power, who had been wrongfully imprisoned for 42 years in connection with a shooting. before the dawn that broke out after a group of sheriffs tried to raid their wilderness cabin in 1918.
During the 1960s, Dedera reported on the Cold War in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and served as Vietnam War correspondent for The Republic in 1966. He returned in 1969 to tour the country with the US Senator Barry Goldwater.
Dedera was named editor of Arizona Highways magazine in 1983, a position he held for two years until he returned to his first love, which was writing. In 1988 he published “A Little War of Our Own”, an authoritative story of the infamous decade-long Graham-Tewksbury feud in Arizona, a ranged war that left up to 50 dead and wiped out most male heirs of both families.
In all, Dedera has written over 20 books and thousands of articles over his 60-year career.
He received the National Society of Arts and Letters Literary Award in 1988 and the Lowell Thomas Award in 1990. In 2007, he was recognized as an “Arizona CultureKeeper” for his efforts to promote Arizona history.
According to a family biography, Dedera was born in Arlington, Virginia in 1929 and moved to Arizona as a teenager with his parents, who were seeking relief from his father’s arthritis during World War II.
The family moved into a small house – so small that Dedera slept on the porch – in Sacaton, in the Gila River Indian community, southeast of Phoenix, where Dedera’s father worked as a plant genetics technician in a cotton research station.
In 1946, Dedera enlisted in the Marines at the age of 17 and was assigned to the Marine Corps Film Production Unit at Camp Pendleton, where one of his assignments was to document Chuck Yeager crossing the sound barrier in 1947.
Dedera is survived by his wife, Nancy. According to his wishes, no memorial will take place. His ashes will be scattered in the wild area of Mazatzal.