By Alison Bailin Batz / Photos by Mark Morgan
To think, we have “that girl on the skates” to thank for much of Downtown and Central Phoenix as we know it today.
But, that is getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning.
Jacqui Sabo is a Valley native, born in the late 1950s to Native American and Irish Catholic parents. She was one of five children living in the home, but also had four older half siblings, which made for a packed house, car and holidays.
“I grew up in organized chaos,” explains Sabo, noting her whimsical mother made sure the children had instruments and music in the home, while her father instilled the more “blue-collar” work ethic.
As a child, Sabo spent her spare time playing the trumpet, sailing across town on her roller skates and helping her father in his business.
“My father worked with boat manufacturers to sell their products nationwide,” says Sabo, whose father’s work would move the family to Indiana when she was 9 years old. “Thankfully, Indiana had The Roller Dome, a massive indoor skating park.”
Within a few months, Sabo was pair skating and fox trotting on her eight wheels. She even earned Girl Scout badges for her skating prowess. By the time she was in her late teens, Sabo was recruited to perform professionally, where she was given light-up “fire wheels.”
The fire wheels would serve her well, first in college at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, where she worked part time skating up and down a long hall helping to clean a massive (think 1970s massive) school computer system.
“The Valley would come to know my fire wheels, too,” Sabo says. “I moved back [to the Valley] in 1982 to be with extended family and took a job at United Bank on Central and Osborn.”
Without a car, Sabo skated from her bright pink studio apartment behind Durant’s to work and back daily – often stopping by the back door of the landmark restaurant to sneak leftovers from the staff.
“Without fail, I would hear people asking ‘did you see that girl on the skates?’ Incredulous I was tooling along Central in light-up skates dressed professionally with purse in hand,” Sabo says. “Everyone from the chefs to frequent diners Barry Goldwater to Bruce Babbitt would laugh ‘oh, that just Jacqui.’”
She would also find her wheels came in handy at her next gig – commercial leasing.
“While my primary role was to sell space in the iconic First American Title building – then the Arizona Title Building – on Monroe Street and 1st Avenue, I needed to know the entire area to be effective in the then-boy’s club industry,” Sabo explains. So, she spent her nights skating from 7th Street to 7th Avenue, and from the railroad tracks south of Jackson Street to Roosevelt Street. “I knew those 40 blocks better than I knew myself – and much better than all of those non-skating men.”
She would spend a dozen years helping to lease the space along those 40 blocks, eventually running into a woman who shared her vision of growing the area in a special way.
“That woman was Bette DeGraw, dean of the College of Extended Education at Arizona State University,” Sabo says. “My knowledge of those 40 blocks led Dr. DeGraw to bring me on in 1986 to help develop the first extended college campus downtown, which we opened at the Mercado in 1989,” she says. Sabo was intrigued by more than just the development of the campus, but of how the materials inside the building – from furniture to desks to shelving – had to work together to make the university successful.
Inspired, she left commercial real estate in 1993 and went into the development of collaborative and sustainable workspaces, where she has helped shaped the interiors of both local and regional businesses headquartered across the Valley as well as public and private enterprises. Today, Sabo serves on the executive leadership team at Faciliteq, one of the most successful providers of innovative workspace solutions in the country whose clients include American Airlines, Best Western and Avnet.
She’s also added activities beyond skating and trumpet playing to her repertoire, including volunteering with Better than Ever, a cancer prevention movement program through University of Arizona Cancer Center, and serving as a docent at the Musical Instrument Museum.
“And yes, I still have the skates with fire wheels – you can still see me riding around Central Phoenix, where I still live all these years later,” Sabo says.