For David Mehl, president of Cottonwood Properties and the Marana Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year, any philosophy of giving has to be based on a philosophy of life.
"You contribute to where your heart is, you want to give to things that you think matter, that you feel will make a difference," Mehl said in a recent interview.
The difference Mehl has made in the Marana area is immeasurable from his leadership in the establishment of the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy to his contributions to the Marana Health Center, Little League and numerous other organizations.
It's a history of giving that began in the mid-1980s when the company first acquired the land in the area that would become the 5,600-acre development known as Dove Mountain where home lots are now selling for more than $600,000 an acre.
"I would have to admit that one of the things that gives me the most satisfaction is the creativity of the community we have built at Dove Mountain," Mehl said. "I love my business and I love the part of creating a place that people will enjoy living in. I get excited when I go through Dove Mountain and I see the people enjoying living in Dove Mountain, enjoying the golf club at the Gallery or walking along the trails. It excites me to know I am creating a place people want to be and enjoy.
"As we've developed Dove Mountain, we've tried to preserve the natural environment and create a community where people would live within the land comfortably and where the whole mountain setting, the whole Sonoran Desert setting, is enhanced in an area where people are allowed to live.
"I will also acknowledge that outside pressures have caused us to do even more than we would have originally done on our own," he said. "Things like leasing the land for the Tortolita Preserve, a 2,400-acre preserve adjoining Dove Mountain, were created by the environmental pressures in the area. And our desire was that if we were going to need to spend major resources to preserve other land, we definitely wanted that to be land adjoining the Dove Mountain community so that it could be a preserve area that would enhance Dove Mountain and life for the people who live there by having a preserve immediately adjoining them.
"Dove Mountain is a business enterprise and thankfully it is a very successful enterprise,” he said. "But I view the stewardship we're trying to express through our development in the same way I view my stewardship in regard to giving to charitable causes. I think the way we conduct ourselves in business and the quality of what we produce in business is very much a stewardship issue in terms of how do we live our lives.
"Bonnie (his wife of 30 years) and I have been so blessed in our lives we think it is important to contribute in a number of different ways to a number of causes. We have made the Tucson area our home for our entire adult lives. We have children (sons Wesley, 24 and Carson, 21) that we hope will end up living here and ultimately grandchildren and we want the community to be a better place to live in. And that, really, is what ultimately drives any significant giving."
Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Principal Eric Abrams describes Mehl as "a quiet guy, humble, talented, a man with a vision who sticks to it and is not easily discouraged, a down to earth, no nonsense guy."
Contributions from Mehl to the four-year-old academy, under the direction of the Catalina Foothills Church board on 48 acres formerly occupied by the Palo Verde Christian School, have enabled the academy to plan for an expansion from its current enrollment of about 385 students to 1,200 middle and high school students.
"It's a place for Christian families to send their children to be educated in a Christian world view," Mehl said. "In this day and age there are sharper and sharper distinctions between what is being taught in the public schools and what we are able to teach at a Christian school and we're trying to arm our students to go out and have a positive impact on the world."
Mehl's commitment to the academy followed a conversion to Christianity several years after a 1991 fatal airplane crash in which Mehl's brother, George, George's wife, Debbie and their three children ages 3, 8 and 12 were killed.
"I always felt it was important as a businessman to contribute to the community, especially a community that has been so good to me," Mehl said. "But clearly, after my conversion the time I have personally spent and the resources I have diverted have increased rather significantly in terms of philanthropic activity and in particular have concentrated on supporting the Pusch Ridge Academy, a wonderful school." Mehl is president of the academy's school board.
A 1972 graduate of the University of Arizona, Mehl received his master's degree from the University of Arizona in 1975. He is past president of Pima County Real Estate Research Council board of directors and serves on its current board, serves on the Community Development Council of the Urban Land Institute, as vice president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and is a board member of Good News Communications, a nonprofit that owns two Christian radio stations and a magazine.
Mehl also started the first cable television company in Marana in the early 1980s, which was eventually sold to Jones Cable and then to Comcast.
Since 1975, Mehl's Cottonwood Properties has developed more than $350 million worth of real estate projects in Arizona, including the 800-acre La Paloma community, the 487-room Westin La Paloma resort hotel and a 27-hole golf course and numerous other apartment, retail, office and housing developments.