The white pyramid that sits on a hill in Papago Park overlooking Phoenix and the Phoenix Zoo is the mausoleum where Arizona’s first governor and his family are entombed. Gov. George W.P. Hunt served seven terms as Arizona’s governor, not all consecutively, starting in 1912 when Arizona became a state.
When Gov. Hunt’s wife, Helen Duett Ellison Hunt, died in 1931, Hunt had Del E. Webb Construction Co. build the pyramid in her honor. Completed in 1932, the tomb was not far from the family’s home on East McDowell Road. Hunt chose the design because he had been impressed by the Egyptian pyramids during his travels with his wife.
In addition to the governor and his wife, family members entombed in the pyramid include their only child, Virginia, and her second husband, Wm. E. Frund; Mrs. Hunt’s parents, Jessie and Susan Ellison; and the Ellison’s other daughter, Lena Ellison.
In 2009, the Governor George W.P. Hunt Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution undertook a major renovation of the pyramid, under the leadership of Helen Bernhard of Phoenix.
When DAR members went to the tomb to dedicate a plaque to Hunt’s great-great-grandfather, who had been a Revolutionary War soldier, they noticed the pyramid was in bad shape. So they took it upon themselves to get permission and raise funds to restore it.
Gary Banker, owner of Banker Insulation in Phoenix, also adopted the project as his mission. He and Bernhard invited Messinger Mortuaries to be involved since licensed funeral directors had to present when the tomb was opened. Bill Gumbert and I were honored to participate.
The first thing our team had to do was explain the proposed project to Gov. Hunt’s successors and secure their permission. Gary generously flew the four of us to Escondido, California, to meet the governor’s grandson, Hunt Brannen, and his wife. They granted the needed authority for the work.
The cost of the project was $76,000. The DAR had two quilt and ornament sales, raising about $8,000 for benches and displays. The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department contributed $35,000 from the Parks and Preserves Initiative. Gary chipped in the rest, with his company doing the reconstruction work.
The exterior, which was chipped and cracked, was replaced. The top of the pyramid was gone, so that was replaced. The interior of the tomb was cleaned, casket shelves improved, and the exterior door and other elements repaired or replaced. The iron fencing was redone, along with new desert landscape.
Bill and I were present whenever the tomb was opened and work was done within the pyramid. Every step of the project was undertaken with great respect and care.
The public got its first access to the educational components of the renovated tomb in April 2009.
The Governor George W.P. Hunt Chapter of the DAR and Banker deserve tremendous credit for taking on this task and for the high degree of integrity they maintained throughout the effort.
Reared in Scottsdale, Paul Messinger founded Messinger Mortuaries in 1959. Reach him at 480-860-2300 or 480-945-9521.
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