Honoring Frank Barrios’ Legacy and Impact

Thursday, September 14, 2023
Frank Barrios headshot
1962 photo of Frank Barrios from PC Yearbook, Sandprints
Frank Barrios receiving his Alumni Hall of Fame Honor

Left to Right: Former Phoenix College development director Francisco Luna, honoree Frank Barrios, retired Phoenix College president Dr. Anna Solley, and fellow PC alumna Adrianna Coronel, at the 2010 PC Alumni Association Hall of Fame.

Frank Barrios with Mayor Kate Gallego and Council Member Laura Pastor

Frank Barrios with City of Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and City Council Member Laura Pastor as they present him with the Frank Barrios Day Declaration.

Frank Barrios, Arizona historian, engineer, community activist, author, retired St. Vincent de Paul President, and Phoenix College (PC) alumnus - has passed away. 

Frank attended St. Mary’s Elementary School and then Brophy College Prep. After high school, Frank attended Phoenix College (PC), completing an associate of arts degree, and then he transferred to Arizona State University, where he completed a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

Frank worked in hydrology most of his life, both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Arizona Department of Water Resources. He was appointed to the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) Board of Directors in 2003, and served until December, 2006. Frank Barrios’ career was always closely linked to the Central Arizona Project (CAP) and Arizona water issues.

It started in 1966, when the young engineer was looking for work and found an opening with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). “I grew up with the Central Arizona Project,” said Frank. After graduation, and a brief road trip, Frank started work at BOR, focused on planning for the central Arizona water project.

He was part of a training program that exposed him to a little bit of everything, and upon completion of the program, he chose hydrology, which ended up being his life’s work. In fact, he was still with BOR when the Colorado River Basin Project Act was signed in 1968. He left BOR in 1975 and moved across the street…literally…to the newly created state office called the Arizona Water Commission (later renamed the Arizona Department of Water Resources), where he worked for Wes Steiner on a project to help taxpayers save money.

He spent time as a director for both the Pinal and Phoenix Active Management areas, focused on groundwater management. Then he worked in Colorado River Planning where he stayed until he retired in 1998. But his career linked to CAP wasn’t over. In 2003, Governor Janet Napolitano appointed him to the CAWCD Board of Directors, where he served for three years. When he reflects back, the importance of much of his work is clear: Plan 6, Arizona Water Settlements Act, groundwater management.

What surprised this third-generation Arizonan? The exceptional growth that has occurred. “If you’d have told me Phoenix would have been the fifth largest city in the United States, no way I would ever have believed that,” said Barrios. The state’s sustainable growth has only been possible because of the tireless work of Frank and others in the water community.

Since his retirement, Frank dedicated a substantial amount of his time to community service. He served on many local boards, including the CAWCD (appointed by Governor Janet Napolitano), Community Advisory Board for the Interagency Case Management, Central Arizona Chapter of the Arizona Historical Society, Central City Collaborative Committee (Chair), Phoenix Memorial Hospital Advisory Board, First Families of Arizona (President), Arizona Historical Society Board, Phoenix Museum of History, and the Phoenix Centennial Committee, to name a few.

Frank gained respect and admiration from the community for his study and expertise of Arizona history. He published numerous articles and papers on Phoenix and Arizona and lectured on the topic across the nation. His most recent book “Mexicans in Phoenix" was published in 2008 by Arcadia Publishing.  He also authored “A History of the Phoenix Society of St. Vincent de Paul,” and co-authored “Reflections from a Community: The History of Chicanos por La Causa, 1960-2009.”

ln 2002, Frank received the prestigious Hon-Kachina Award for volunteer service and in 2008 he was presented with the League of United Latin American Citizens "Man of the Year" Award. In 2010, Frank was inducted into the Phoenix College Alumni Association Hall of Fame.

Frank was instrumental in the research leading to publication of the History of Phoenix College book, authored by fellow PC alumni and long-time friend, Stella Pope Duarte.

“It was Frank Barrios who gave me the encouragement I needed to write the 100 year history of Phoenix College, Our Past, Your Future, book. This huge task could not have been done without Frank’s unswerving support, and I am grateful,” says Stella.

In addition to his life-long passion for Arizona history, Frank was also a passionate advocate of education. He wrote op-ed articles and encouraged first-generation families and students to take advantage of the high-quality affordable education at Phoenix College and the other Maricopa Community Colleges.

In May of this year, City of Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and City Council Member Laura Pastor presented him with the Frank Barrios Day Declaration.

“I knew Frank Barrios my entire life. He inspired me to live a life of service and become a community leader. Frank served Arizona for over 50 years and applied himself to Arizona's water problems. He leaves behind a great legacy to the City of Phoenix for his lifetime of environmental and humanitarian work." - City Council Member Laura Pastor

In the declaration, Mayor Gallego asks residents to “Join in celebrating this accomplished and passionate Phoenician, who has forever changed the water landscape of our city and state, and inspired generations of Chicano changemakers.”

Frank’s legacy lives on in the incredible work he did with CAP, First Families of Arizona, St. Vincent de Paul, the PC Alumni Association, and other local organizations. His words continue to inspire us in the many books and articles he authored. His voice reminds us of the immeasurable contributions of Phoenix-area Hispanic pioneers, and how the city has changed and grown, in this Hispanic Heritage video

The Arizona Republic obituary contains celebration of life details.