October 5, 1997
WAVING A RED (WHITE, BLUE) FLAG
The folks running the north Scottsdale housing development where Adolph "Doc" Wussow lives are determined to remove the tall skinny flagpole from his back yard. I'd advise them not to try it before Oct. 8. "Not unless they bring tanks," Doc tells me. Next Wednesday, Oct. 8, is the 54th anniversary of an Allied bombing raid over Bremen, Germany, in which Wussow's brother, Robert, was shot down and killed. Doc served in the Pacific during the war. He vowed that if he made it back alive, he would find a way to honor his brother each year.
Doc's 73 now, and hasn't broken his promise.
"I'll raise the flag in my yard like I always do," he says. "Then I'll lower it to half-mast. I do that every anniversary, and will until the day I die. This mess I'm going through won't stop me." Doc and Joy Wussow live in one of Del Webb's "planned communities." It's called Terravita. A few years back, when the Wussows decided to build a house here, flagpoles were permitted. Before they moved in, however, the housing association changed the rules.
Change was surprise
Doc says he didn't know about the change, and wouldn't have moved in if he had. The lawyer for the association, Curtis Ekmark, says everyone in the development got a packet of information announcing the new rules. "If this goes to court," Ekmark says, "we will win. We have an excellent case."
And a lousy attitude. Which is what it takes to force a 73-year-old veteran to tear down a flagpole. Welcome to the '90s. Welcome to Terravita.
The development is about 1,300 houses on a patch of the rolling desert. If you didn't know Doc's address, you'd never even see his flagpole. You could park in front of his house and still not see it. It's thick as a man's wrist and as tall as the saguaros standing guard in the neighborhood. He calls his battle with the association a replay of David and Goliath. Although, this time, the giant could win.
A simple solution - which involves no lawyers and no harassment - would be to let the flagpole stand. Ekmark, the association's lawyer, doesn't think that will happen. He says, "What if they (the association) give up and the rest of the community came to them and said, 'Hey, you spineless bunch of weasels, I can't believe you gave up on a clear rule violation.'" What if they did? First, the violation's not that clear. Second, allowing Doc to keep his flagpole doesn't hurt a thing. The rules would still be the rules. No one expects a sudden sprouting of giant metallic posts. Nothing about the community would change.
A pole is a pole
The association did offer to attach a flagpole to Doc's house. But, the Wussows didn't like the model they saw. Besides, they figure if a pole is OK when mounted to a wall at an angle, why not one that's straight up and down? The association says Doc's pole must be removed "to preserve the quality of the Terravita community." Ekmark often refers to the natural beauty of the desert.
If that were a real concern, of course, they might try doing something about the massive estates cut into nearby hillsides. You can't miss them from Doc's backyard and, to most of us, disturb the natural beauty a tad more than a Doc's oversized toothpick.
The expense of the legal battle has actually caused the Wussows to set up a defense fund at the Bank of America. "I know that some people think I'm enjoying this," Doc says, "but I'm not. This scares me to death. They've told me I could end up with a lien on my house for legal fees. It's crazy, if you ask me."
It's crazy, if you ask anyone.
Next Wednesday, while Doc is lowering his flag to half-staff, the housing association might lower its sense of indignation. They might even unfurl a little common sense and run that up a flagpole. See if anybody salutes it.