Bill Shover’s earliest Butler memory is competing in the grade school football championship in 1940 at age 12 in what was then known as the Butler Bowl. On Friday evening, 82 years later, Shover will be presented with the Butler Medal, the highest honor conferred by the Butler University Alumni Association, that recognizes individuals for a lifetime of distinguished service to either Butler or their local community while at the same time achieving a distinguished career in their chosen profession and attaining a regional or national reputation.
Shover has certainly met and exceeded all of the qualifications of the award, having spent most of his adult life in Phoenix working for the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette as a community relations executive and earning the nickname “Mr. Phoenix” due to his extensive involvement in countless efforts to help the city to grow and its citizens to thrive.
During his teenage years, Shover’s family lived in a house on 44th Street in the Butler Tarkington neighborhood and, though Butler University was nearby, as an Irish Catholic Shover had his heart set on attending Notre Dame along with many of his Cathedral High School classmates. After returning from military service, Shover set off for South Bend hoping that his GI Bill benefits would provide enough money to make ends meet at Notre Dame, but after a few months of being unable to find a job in South Bend, Shover returned to Indianapolis to regroup. There, a Butler faculty member and family neighbor urged Shover to attend Butler and helped him to register for classes. Shover soon found a job working at the Kappa Alpha Theta house, and Butler quickly became home.
“When I got to Butler, within a week I knew that’s where I belonged,” Shover recalled. “I was very happy at Butler, and Butler offered me everything I needed. I was in journalism and I loved the people in that program, and then I got into a fraternity and was blessed in the Delta Tau Delta house. Next door was Tony Hinkle, and I became very close to him and his family and that became another attachment to Butler, so it was the right place for me to be.”
Shover graduated from Butler in 1952 and began his journalism career in Indianapolis working for Eugene Pulliam at the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News. Shover and Pulliam developed a close working relationship, and when Pulliam asked Shover to consider a move to Phoenix to use the platform of journalism to help develop the city, Shover jumped at the chance.
“I could see the growth of Phoenix, and that’s where I wanted to be,” Shover said. “It was a new horizon for us. When I got there the paper welcomed me and Pulliam said, ‘Kid, just do some good, and don’t spend too much money.’ The old man let me fly, I guess you could say. He was so good to me, and Nina too. I wasn’t like an employee, I was like a counselor to him, and he was like a counselor to me, and we had a very good relationship. We were two different types but we became very close.”
With Pulliam’s mandate to “do some good” always in mind, Shover rolled up his sleeves and got to work, using his mantle of leadership at the newspaper to advance community causes benefitting citizens from all walks of life. He used his influence to help establish numerous community organizations such as the Phoenix 100 Club to aid families of police and first responders killed in the line of duty, and Central Arizona Shelter Services to coordinate services for those experiencing homelessness.
Through the years, Shover became known as a person who could be counted on for any important leadership role. In 1987, he was called upon to coordinate the visit of Pope John Paul II to Arizona. He also led the effort to establish Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday as a state holiday.
Shover was also influential in bringing major sporting events and professional sports teams to Phoenix, which elevated the city’s profile and aided its growth. He was instrumental in the creation of the Fiesta Bowl and served as chairman of Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, which marked the first Super Bowl hosted in Arizona. He also helped lead the successful campaign to launch the Phoenix Suns NBA franchise in 1968.
Among his many civic leadership accomplishments, though, Shover says the one of which he is most proud is chairing the Phoenix American Bicentennial Commission in 1976, which celebrated the 200th anniversary of America’s founding through many community-wide events. As part of those celebration efforts, Shover helped to bring the anchor of the World War II battleship USS Arizona from Pearl Harbor to a place of honor at the Arizona State Capitol.
“I’m a patriot, and it gave me a lot of pride doing that,” Shover said.
Along with his many civic and career accomplishments, to longtime friend Tom King, it is Shover’s character that makes him most worthy of the accolades he receives.
“I read a book a couple of years ago by David Brooks where he talks about your resume virtues and your eulogy virtues, and he says that we need to work on our eulogy virtues more than we do our resume virtues. I think if you want a role model for that, Bill would be it. How he did things, how he cared for people, how he included people, those things are every bit as important as any of the things he accomplished, which were extraordinary by anybody’s book. But the way he did them is the important part,” King said.
Shover says he is humbled by the awards he has received for simply following his boss’s directive to “do some good.” Still, he says he is honored to be among good company as the recipient of this year’s Butler Medal.
“When I saw the list of past recipients like Tony Hinkle and Dick Lugar and many other people I knew at Butler, I saw it was a very distinguished list,” Shover said. “It gives me great pride to think I’m on a list with people like that, men and women I greatly respect. This is one of the finest awards of my life, and I cherish it because I’m going to join the company of people I admire.”