The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Department of Transportation held a surprise luncheon for Gilland Fulwilder on Thursday, March 26. Fulwilder has served his Community for over 40 years, working as a mechanic in the department, and he retired effective April 1. Repairing and maintaining vehicles is a profession that he took up very early in his life and has continued today.
Fulwilder resides in the community of Lehi. His mother is from the Salt River area, and his father is from the Lehi area. He shared, “My grandmother was from there, Gila River. We are closely related to the Howard family from the Santan area.”
During the luncheon, SRPMIC President Delbert Ray, Sr. and Council Representatives Archie Kashoya and Michael Dallas came over on their break to meet Fulwilder and express their thanks on behalf of the Tribal Council. They noted that there was a special work session going on, so therefore all the Council representatives could not come to over to the yard. Fulwilder said, “[President Delbert Ray, Sr.] was a classmate of mine in third grade” when they were young and attended Salt River Day School.
To put Fulwilder’s time of service in perspective, when he began working for the Community in 1974, Richard Nixon was president of the United States. Fulwilder has been working for the tribal government while seven past U.S. presidents and our current president have led the nation, and he witnessed not only how their policies impacted the tribal government, but he also saw first hand how the government impacted the Community. Fulwilder stated, “When I first started, the tribe only had six vehicles. I believe back then Roy Schurz was one of the leaders of the Community at the time when I started working.”
As Fulwilder remembered his time at SRPMIC, he shared, “The fleet vehicle department, way back then … there was a couple of us; now we are over 15 people working in our area. We [SRPMIC] used to get surplus vehicles from the U.S. military; we would get about three to five of them, then we would use the parts from all the vehicles in order to fix [and maintain] one vehicle so it would run! [He chuckled for long time]. We had a lot of Army surplus jeeps around at the time.”
Fulwilder’s supervisor, Pete Chavez, said, “[Gilland] told me the police used to use a Suburban as a paddy-wagon.” One thing is for sure, Fulwilder has seen and experienced a lot in the years he has worked for the Community.
He expressed, “I was always a mechanic. I went to school at Maricopa Skill Center [in Phoenix]. I started out [working as a mechanic] at Darner Motors on Main Street in Mesa. Then, I heard about this place [the Community’s transportation department], so I came over here … I have been here ever since. I started as a temporary person in 1972, then I got hired permanently in 1974.”
Fulwilder was asked what he planned to do now that he has retired—will he take up gardening or farming? To which he just shook his head. When asked if he would possibly raise cattle, he laughed and said, “'Shoik', I’m too poor for that!” He did add, “I was telling [his co-workers] that I am going to go to Tucson and visit Tombstone, as soon as I get tired of sleeping late!” [He lets out a hearty laugh]. This was funny to him and others, because he is known for starting each workday promptly at 5 a.m.
His supervisor shared, “He started off as a mechanic, and then he moved into a position of inspecting vehicles that were used to travel off the reservation and on out-of-town trips. The department only went back 20 years, and in these 20 years we estimated he inspected and put at least 26,000 vehicles on the road—that’s a lot of vehicles. He starts at 5 a.m. every morning—you can set your clock by Gilland, he is always here on time.”
The Community and the Transportation Department presented a few parting gifts. Assistant Community Manager Kent Andrews presented Fulwilder a mantel clock that included a heartfelt inscription. Andrews stated, “It is hard to put into words all the things you have seen and done in your 40 years. I [and the Community] really appreciate it, all the things you have done here … Enjoy yourself, you have earned it. Good luck to you and your family!”
On behalf of the department, Chavez presented Fulwilder a few other gifts. Fulwilder’s co-workers know that he likes to read a lot, so they presented him with two well-known O’odham books. Chavez added, “Here is a lawn-chair recliner for you to relax on when you read your books, and put on this retirement hat [a hat inscribed with ‘Official Retirement Survival Hat’]. Enjoy it.” Chavez stated, “Gilland told me he has never been to Bisbee, …. So, here is a card, with some cash from all the guys to help you with fuel!”
Fulwilder was very touched by the generosity and expressions of appreciation by his department. He ended the event with a very touching, “Thank you” and said, “This is emotional [for me].”