I first met Richard Leightner when he asked me to photograph an event for Classic Air Medical, where a party took place for all regional first responders and their families.
It was a big hangar event with a live band, prizes, and food provided by Big John’s Texas BBQ. How could I refuse? I bumped into him at the Grand Circle Arts Alliance meetings (he’s a painter), other Classic Air events, council meetings, and at the Chronicle office when he was gathering signatures to run for the Page City Council. He was everywhere. But that’s how it is in small towns.
Leightner moved to Page with his family in September 1958. His father, an engineer for Cummins Inc., helped design and build engines. The company provided new earthmoving equipment to help build the Glen Canyon Dam.
Leightner said, “So, Cummins sent him out here to work with the mechanics and show them how to work on the equipment. And he found out that Teamster mechanics made a lot more money than Cummins engineers. The story goes, he called Mom and said, ‘Pack the kids up, put the house up for sale. You’re moving to a place called Page, Arizona.’”
He said, “I was 8 years old and turned nine shortly after we got here.”
When the dam was completed, his father got work in central Arizona working on power lines. Leightner went to high school in Jerome, then joined the U.S. Air Force. He said he “went to the University of Southeast Asia. That’s what we call our stint in Vietnam.”
Originally, Leightner was a loadmaster, delivering supplies around the world. He said, “I wanted quicker rank and more money, and they told me that I needed to join up with search-and-rescue and see some action. So, I did.”
After Vietnam, he returned to Page to work as a teamster on the Navajo Generating Station. He worked in the warehouse.
He said, “Bechtel wanted me to come on with (them) full-time, so I went with Bechtel from here to work on the Alaska pipeline for a year. Then down to Pale Verde, then back to here.”
Leightner worked at the power plant and at the Bureau of Reclamation for several years. He began working at Classic Air about 23 years ago.
When asked about plans to retire, he said. “I’m way past time for retirement, but the wife (Paula Leightner) and I talked. I enjoy what I’m doing; the company likes me; I like them. I love the people I work with. I’m their marketing liaison, so I do their PR (public relations) work. The agencies that we deal with are from Monument Valley, down to Window Rock, over to the Grand Canyon, and into southwestern Utah; clear up to Richfield and back around through Escalante; in Boulder, and all of the national parks up there. I’ve got a pretty wide area to cover and I enjoy it.”
Leightner ran and easily won his race for Page City Council. When asked what prompted him to run, he said, “I did not care for the patchwork zoning codes and map. It just didn’t make any sense. You could look at one map and the same piece of property be zoned for something totally different on the other map.
“And the fact that they were trying to take a park that was dedicated to our very first city clerk and change part of it into a high-density residential area. It really bugged me.
“I’m getting close to retirement age. I’m turning down to the big jobs in the wildlife management groups. And I’ve got time. This made me mad enough that I’m going to take time and make time to run for council.”
Because of his work with the scouts, youth committees, Page recreation, and the Arizona Deer Association – as president of the Buckskin Chapter – and working with wildlife and ranchers throughout the area, Leightner said, “I’ve always been a little bit too busy to get involved, even though I’ve seen things that I wanted to change.”
Leightner said, “Since then, Tim [Suan] and the city has worked diligently with an outside group to make those maps and have them make a whole lot more sense. I just sat down last week with Tim and we looked at those, and they’re (the city’s) in a real good spot. They’re recognizing the parks and open spaces. They’re not trying to redesignate them as anything, future development, residential, whatever.
“They’ve got some long-range planning on residential areas, whether it be single family, or medium or high-density. Tim and the staff are doing a real good job at recognizing places that we can take care of our housing problem, which is a big, big priority on my list. We need to be able to provide affordable medium-range housing.”
Leightner said once things calm down with COVID-19 and the money, apartment complexes will come to Page. The city always has offers from developers. The trick is to find locations that meet the city’s and the developers’ needs.
He said, “The biggest problem has been infrastructure in these locations. There’s never been enough housing, even when we were the largest trailer court in the world during the dam days. It just seems like we were still hurting for places for families and single individuals coming in town to work. We’ve got to get ahead of that.”
On working with the council, Leightner said, “I’m one of the seven spokes on the wheel, and the wheel is city management. We serve to help them get their ideology and get their work done in an appropriate fashion. It’s been a learning process and will continue to be.
“We were offered and took training for new council and mayor representatives offered through the state, and it was very enlightening.”
He said working with the council is a nice balancing act, “Sometimes it opens your eyes because you go, ‘Oh, I didn’t think of it that way.’ We’ve got a good bunch of people on staff there at the city and great council and mayor. We’re poised to do some good things here in the next four years.”
Leightner said he and his wife have talked about retiring in four years when his term is over on city council. They plan to travel.