BULLHEAD CITY — Mike Conner has plenty of stories to tell about Bullhead City as a result of living here since the 1970s. He told some of those stories to a group of people Monday night at the Colorado River Historical Society and Museum as part of its “Conversations About the Past” speaker series.
“He’s seen it all,” said Elsie Needles, the society’s president.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Conner has seen plenty.
Conner had been working as a deputy for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in the City of Industry and had repeatedly heard co-workers talk about making jaunts to “the river,” he said.
“What is this thing — ‘the river’ — you do?” Conner said he finally asked.
The question resulted in an invitation to join them. In 1972 he bought a vacation home and ultimately started living here full time in 1979.
“I have never regretted living here,” he said. “Ever.”
Conner, who had retired from the department, bought a roofing company. Escalating prices for the petroleum needed in every product used in roofing made keeping the business afloat too difficult and it went bankrupt in 1982.
After that, Conner ended up back in law enforcement as a Mohave County Sheriff’s deputy. One of the more disturbing on-duty events was when someone reported that a gunny sack had been found floating in the river at the entrance to Golden Shores. Not long before that, there had been a report of body parts inside a van found in Needles potentially linked to a homicide case in San Bernardino County.
And then the story turns gruesome.
“I found a gunny sack floating in the weeds,” he said. “I put the flashlight in and she was staring at me.”
A few gasps were heard. Conner was relieved to report, however, that the decades-old case was resolved a couple of years ago with a conviction that resulted in the suspect being sentenced to life in prison.
After a fall while pursuing a suspect, Conner needed two knee replacements. He was approached by Richard Kaffenberger, who had recently been hired as Bullhead City’s first city manager and, at that point, the city’s only employee.
“He asked me, ‘Why don’t you come to work for us?’”
By the time he started, he was city employee No. 003, and that was only because Beverly Thomas, the first city clerk, started work a short time before he did.
“It was my most fun experience,” he recalled. “It was a lot of fun to help build this community.”
The first city budget was simple: Each employee threw $25 into a bucket. The money was used to pay for office supplies.
It was the job that also provided Conner with the most day-to-day variety. He served in such capacities as assistant city manager, acting police chief, flood plain administrator, finance director, public relations contact and public works director.
In those days, there was only one city-owned traffic light, at the intersection of Lakeside Drive and Hancock Road.
“And I had to change the bulb,” he said. That’s because it came under the responsibility of public works director.
He went on to spend a decade in local health care, first as a hospital administrator, then as a medical insurance account manager before becoming executive director of the Bullhead City Area Chamber of Commerce in 2001. He described it as “a rebuilding opportunity” for the organization.
“We did a lot of things at the chamber,” Conner said.
A highlight of his nine years in the job was helping to advance the concept of a second bridge to connect Laughlin and Bullhead City. He also became a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Transportation Board.
“At the first meeting, I was the only one (from) west of Kansas,” he said. “I gained a lot of contacts.”
After that, he ended up as director of the River Fund, the position he currently holds. The nonprofit agency provides direct emergency and crisis services to residents of Bullhead City, Fort Mohave, Golden Shores, Golden Valley, Mohave Valley and Laughlin.
It was born out of necessity because “United Way went to Havasu and took $96,000 raised here with them,” Conner said.
It’s a highly gratifying thing to do.
Helping people pay electric bills and rent was the initial goal of the group, which began in 2010. It has since added programs to assist veterans, cancer sufferers and families dealing with domestic violence. It played an instrumental role helping people affected by the Willows Fire.
He talked about a young mother with a small child and baby. All three were abandoned outside the Aquarius Casino Resort by “a guy,” Conner said. Aquarius employees paid for a taxi to get them to the River Fund office.
“It was 44 degrees. Raining,” he said. “They were all soaked.”
The woman didn’t have the chance to grab her mobile phone and couldn’t remember how to contact her family.
The River Fund got them clothes, food, a temporary place to stay and “we were able to get her home.”
Another scary situation was discovered during a visit to a home where there was no stove, just a couple of hot plates sitting precariously on top of a small refrigerator.
That part of the dwelling was also “a 6-year-old’s playground,” he said.
Conner could picture the child accidentally running into the appliances and being severely burned by “water splashing.”
The River Fund was able to eliminate a dangerous situation by purchasing a stove for the family.
Conner was recently named Citizen of the Year at the Laughlin Community Achievement Awards. Though the River Fund’s main office is in Laughlin, most of the people who request assistance are Arizonans. It has a location on Hancock Road in Bullhead as well.