Tucson Conquistadores Raise $36 Million in 60 Years
By Steve Rivera
Roy Drachman and Bill Lovejoy would be impressed with what’s become of the Tucson Conquistadores.
“They’d probably be amazed that it’s been able to endure,” said Fred Boice, one of the original members of the group that – with Drachman and Lovejoy – was started in 1962. “Secondly, they’d be extremely proud. It’s been so successful. And if you total the money that has been raised and been distributed, well, it’s a lot of money.”
Sixty years after coming up with the idea of a group of businessmen getting together to help the Tucson community, more than $36 million has been raised.
It’s been a group of good friends, good sports and lots of goodwill. Through sports – and everything that goes with it – Drachman and Lovejoy gathered the men to see if they could rally together to have an impact on the community.
“There was a sense among the group that regardless of the challenge, the deeper you dig, the richer the rewards,” Barney Confrey wrote in a commemorative piece for the 50th anniversary of the organization.
Since its beginning, the Conquistadores – more than 200 members strong and so many more through the years − have dug deep for their community.
“I’m exceedingly proud of all this,” Boice said. “We did have a difficult time getting going.”
But when they got going, it was the start of something very special.
“No stone was left unturned in the pursuit of selling tickets to raise funds for the kids,” Confrey wrote.
Whether it was a sports banquet, a tennis tournament or a professional golf tournament, the Conquistadores were there, on their own time and their own dime to make it a success.
Drachman was the spearhead of the group, given his love for sports and, well, Tucson.
“Our aim will eventually be to sponsor and support deserving local athletes,” Drachman was quoted after the first meeting back in 1962. “We’ll definitely be a working organization, not an honorary one. We’ll try to get young men that are going to work hard for the betterment of the community in support of local sporting events interested in this group.”
And so, they went to work in their staple blue blazers and gray slacks, their original attire that still stands today.
From its initial meeting leading to the famed and funny Joe Garagiola emceeing the Conquistadores’ Sports Award Banquet in 1964 to hosting the Tucson Open for the first time in 1966, the Conquistadores have flourished. No job was too big or small for any of them.
“The first year I was the tournament chairman and the next year I was parking cars,” Boice said. “A lot of that has contributed to the success of the Conquistadores because you have guys who run their own companies and have done well, and no one has any sway. We have a job to do and if it’s parking cars, you get it done.”
What was – and is – true is everyone has pulled in the right direction. The banquets were star-studded – actor and singer Gene Autry, NFL coach Hank Stram and baseball Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Lefty Gomez attended the first one.
“We didn’t raise a lot of money,” Tom Chandler, one of the first members, was quoted as saying, “but we knew we were on the right track.”
Later, the Conquistadores took over operation of the Tucson Open, the city’s long-standing PGA event, and had pledged to support the Ricky Rarick youth golf organization. By 1966, the Tucson Open was televised, believed to be the first Tucson sporting event to be on TV.
Even today, Conquistador officials point out how Tucson gets its money’s worth through television showing the blue skies and great landscapes that are the community’s signature. Tourism and business development have benefitted from the visibility.
As the event grew, the celebrities came. Lawrence Welk was here in 1968. Singer and actor Dean Martin became the host and was followed by Garagiola, a baseball legend. The stars continued to align, and the golfing greats showed up, too.
Hall of Famer Arnold Palmer was here, winning in 1967 to collect the event’s first five-figure check of $12,000.
“That put the Tucson Open on the map,” Boice said.
Palmer came back a year later – which was huge because it made Tucson a golf hot spot – for what was then a $100,000 prize. Conquistadores were asked to help make that number happen. Members were asked to sell $1,000 worth of tickets and if they didn’t, they were responsible for the difference.
It helped that not one Conquistador failed to do their job. The event only got bigger and, of course, better.
Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Johnny Miller and later stars like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson won the event that evolved over the years to include match play and more recently became a Champions Tour event.
“The final analysis was that the rank and file, the rich and the poor, loved the event,” Boice said. “They bought the tickets. If the tickets hadn’t been sold the tournament would have gone away.”
But it’s stronger than ever through dedication and plenty of elbow grease.
“You have to give credit to those who have solicited new members and have kept the standards very high,” Boice said.
Through the years, the names of the title sponsors have changed: NBC, Seiko, Chrysler, Northern Telecom, Accenture and Cologuard.
No matter the name, the band of business brothers continued to work to put together a great event. After all, it was all about the money being raised for the kids.
“That’s always in the back of my mind,” said Brandt Hazen, a past Conquistador president. “I think about the money we’re trying to raise for the kids. When I think about that I know we are making the right move.”
Few were closer to the group than Judy McDermott, who was the executive director for more than two decades.
“I am proud of the group’s meaningful relationships with sponsors, charities, volunteers and everyone who supports PGA Tour golf in Tucson,” she said. “The legacy of the Tucson Conquistadores is rooted in giving back to the youth in our community, and we should all give thanks for their mission of making a difference in the lives of so many.”