Though the city of Surprise’s 50th anniversary won’t be until Dec. 12, the party has already started.
On Wednesday, longtime residents, city officials and employees gathered in the atrium of City Hall to celebrate the release of "The City of Surprise: A History in Progress."
The 104-page book and DVD documentary chronicle the city from its roots as an agricultural community to the earliest Surprise residents to the diverse city it is today.
Lifelong Surprise resident and City Clerk Sherry Aguilar, along with historian Carol Palmer, who authored the book, conducted oral histories and interviews with residents to help piece together the city’s early days.
Many of those first families and lifelong residents were in attendance for the event.
One of the most contested points of Surprise’s history was where it got its name, which had been a topic of debate in the 1990s.
Originally thought to have been Homer Ludden, Aguilar announced at the event Wednesday that through document research it was determined the city was first founded by Flora Statler, who is credited with purchasing and dividing the original town site.
A deed dated May 17, 1938, lists her as the buyer of the land, which she called "Surprize."
Statler also founded El Mirage.
Statler’s daughter, Elizabeth Statler Stofft, was in attendance and told the story of when her mom first showed her the land.
"In the ’30s we drove out in an old jalopy, and my mom was saying we were going to the country … and (when we got to the railroad tracks) she said ‘Look over there,’ at the vacant land, and cactus," Stofft said. "‘This is a surprise for you.’
"I’ll be surprised if it ever, ever amounts to anything,’" Statler told her.
Aguilar said the city’s first resident was Gen. Forney Oden, who purchased plots from Statler and established a gas station at the corner of Dysart and Grand avenues.
"The family was overcome with joy to see it acknowledged that Gen. Forney Oden was indeed the first resident of Surprise," said Forney’s great-granddaughter, April Butler Allen, after the event. "And it was also great to have the story confirmed that we always were told on how the city got its name. It was a great moment — Sherry did a great job."
Piecing together the history to make the book is just the first step to establishing the city’s historical society and archiving thousands of photos, interviews and documents for future generations. A museum is planned as well.
Organizers expect as the news of the book and DVD reaches more people, there will be more early residents who will step forward to share their stories of Surprise, which will be archived as part of the city’s history.
"The City of Surprise: A History in Progress," is available for $40 at the City Store, on the first floor of City Hall, and online at http://www.surprisecitystore.com">www.surprisecitystore.com.