The story of Scottsdale resident Gerda Weissmann Klein proves that America is, indeed, the land of second acts — F. Scott Fitzgerald be damned. Born in Poland in 1924, Klein survived labor camps, concentration camps, and death marches to marry one of the American G.I.'s who liberated her — Kurt Klein, a German-born Jew whose own parents had been murdered at Auschwitz.

The tragedy of her first act is matched by the triumph of her second: Her multiple awards include an Oscar, for the documentary One Survivor Remembers (based on her memoir All But My Life) and a lifetime achievement award from the American Immigration Law Foundation. In 1998, the Kleins established The Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation, to provide educational tools that promote tolerance and community service, in partnership with organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In 1999, Gerda traveled to Colorado to help the students at Columbine High School heal after the murder of their classmates. And this March, Klein celebrated the completion of the pilot program of Citizenship Counts, a non-profit she founded to educate middle school students about citizenship and civic responsibility. The program involved 100 seventh- and eighth-graders from Phoenix and Scottsdale who helped plan a naturalization ceremony for 50 new U.S. citizens from around the world; Klein spoke at the ceremony, as did retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Not bad for someone who had everything, short of her life, taken away and had to start over from scratch in a new language and a new land. What a country. What a woman!

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Phoenix would be a very different place if architect Will Bruder had followed his original plans and become a sculptor. Bruder, whose designs include the annex of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and downtown's Burton Barr Central Library, received a degree in sculpture from the University of Wisconsin, and studied art and engineering before apprenticing with Paolo Soleri in the late '60s. His application of this varied knowledge helped put Phoenix on the map as an architecturally significant city with a singular, Modernist approach to designing homes and commercial buildings that celebrate the desert's dramatic lighting and stark color palette.

Soon after opening his award-winning practice in 1974, Bruder made it clear he was about celebrating desert views. Ignoring popular trends in homebuilding, Bruder's designs literally turned their backs on the city, featuring sweeping desert vistas with houses retrofitted into our arid topography. He even helped popularize the notion that a home design can consider climate for energy efficiency.

Bruder's piece de resistance is the Burton Barr Central Library, a five-story, 280,000-square-foot landmark that features an open, one-acre media room, and a five-floor, glass-and-steel elevator and stairwell. The motorized louvers on the building's south façade deflect the sun, and the fifth-floor reading room houses every one of the library's nonfiction titles. The library is a testament to Bruder's goal to create buildings that are both beautiful and functional, simple and complex. He's created this sort of forward-thinking design both far and wide, and we're proud of him. Mostly, we're glad he continues to design and build his magnificent structures here in our town.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Legacy-wise, it's been an off year for Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. (How could he accomplish any sort of agenda when there's not a penny in the till?) Personally, too, it's been rough out there. (Gordon didn't just get divorced — a political rival actually spread allegations so odious that the FBI had to get involved.)

But Phil's still our guy. ¿Por que? The highly caffeinated politician is this crazy desert town's best booster. He's refused to let naysayers paint Phoenix as unsafe, correcting their blather with the facts whenever he can. He's here, there, and everywhere, Hoovering up stimulus cash for the city like a vacuum cleaner on speed. And, more than anything, we love that Gordon actually hatched a harebrained scheme to change the city charter and let him have another two years as mayor. Yeah, the plan is dead, but we've got to give props to a guy who loves being the mayor of Phoenix enough to even contemplate it.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Nate Anderson radiates the kind of innate charm and cool confidence that only a natural-born salesman could posses.

It's to be expected, considering that the 27-year-old Ohio native grew up in a family filled with charismatic entrepreneurs. The lanky redhead is also a genuinely easygoing cat, whose social rapport and smooth-talking swagger probably proved invaluable after he moved to Phoenix in 2005 and became a successful real estate broker who pulls in six figures. (Shelley Levene from Glengarry Glen Ross, he is not.) But after this career path proved to be emotionally unrewarding, however, Anderson dropped out of the property-pimping trade.

He's never looked back, however, especially after figuring out his true calling in life: getting musical instruments into the hands of students. In 2008, he created the non-profit Ear Candy to help subsidize and establish music education for local K-12 schools in need. (There's more than a few of those, as Arizona ranks near the bottom in the nation in arts funding).

As a lifelong gourmandizer of music, Anderson (who received eight years of childhood piano training and visits dozens of big-name concert festivals every year) combined this passion with his penchant for social entrepreneurism and began orchestrating fundraising shows and massive instrument drives across Phoenix. It's resulted in two straight years of frantic 16-hour work days, filled with soliciting donations and networking with record label executives, local politicians, venue owners, and chart-topping musicians.

Anderson's also recruited a variety of local bands, including Kinch and Black Carl, for Ear Candy events, both as a means of providing exposure, as well as an attempt to unify Phoenix's segmented (read: cliquish) music scene for a single cause. Best of all, the money and instruments collected go to the institutions in need throughout the Valley.

His hard work, silver tongue, and boundless connections have resulted in some sweet victories so far: He's collected and distributed more than 300 instruments in the past year alone (ranging from bass guitars to accordions), partnered with the likes of Eric Clapton and Jerry Riopelle, and booked popular indie act Harlem Shakes at an Ear Candy gig at Tempe's Sail Inn over the summer.

Anderson is confident Ear Candy's efforts will prove so successful that he'll eventually launch spin-offs in cities from Brooklyn to Boise, and maybe even around the world. Sounds pretty sweet, Nate.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Many years ago, we were driving home at night through the mildly mean streets of Phoenix when we noticed something you never saw back then in these parts. On a non-descript building on then-non-descript Roosevelt Street, we saw tiny, white holiday lights. And it wasnt even Christmas. We asked around, and learned that someone had opened a music space: Modified Arts. Then some crazy kids bought a building and called it eye lounge, setting the stage for the visual arts. Today, Modified and eye lounge have good company an entire neighborhood devoted to the arts: more music spaces, galleries, a record store, a bakery. As we type it, we are still shaking our heads in disbelief, but, yes, we have a bona fide arts district and it even has a funky name: Roosevelt Row. True, it doesnt quite stretch from 16th Street to Grand Avenue, as some claim, but from Seventh Street to Central Avenue, youve got a fabulous core of vibrant activity that spills over into neighboring streets and is starting to take off on days other than the first Friday of the month. Sometimes, dreams do come true and our hearts go out in gratitude to those who dared.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

If we were tacky, we'd give an award for "Best Place to Hold a Memorial Service," and the winner would be the Orpheum Theater. Restored to its glory, trimmed with gold and capped with a breathtaking deep blue, star-strewn ceiling, it's a great place to see a show and an even better place to remember a dreamer.

Fancy-pants elected officials and business types rose one Saturday this summer to honor Jack Pfister, who passed away after a lifetime of public service. They did a nice job. But we could have sat longer that Saturday afternoon; we would have liked to hear from those who saw another side — some would say pointless, others idealistic — of the former utility executive and regent.

Like Loretta Avent, who knew Pfister from their days together on the Harmony Alliance, a multicultural meeting of the minds that began in the early 1990s and drew folks to a different house of worship each week.

"He believed that every cause could be helped — and he helped everyone who came to him," says Avent. She should know; over the years she asked her friend for help with some sticky ones.

And no one mentioned our personal favorite memory of Pfister — the time he stood up to then-Governor J. Fife Symington and his staff during the Project SLIM (State Long-Term Improved Management) scandal. He surely lost friends over that one. No matter. Jack Pfister's real friends packed the Orpheum this summer to remember a man who dared to dream and in so doing, touched many people — and a city.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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