While out at a restaurant having lunch with his family one recent afternoon, John P. Schaefer noticed a group of Tucson chamber representatives and reporters entering the dining hall.
Schaefer, a University of Arizona President Emeritus, heard the chamber representatives calling for "Schaefer" and he turned to his wife, Helen Schaefer, thinking they were seeking her out.
"They came in with a bouquet of flowers, so I presumed they were looking for my wife," he said.
Turns out the entourage had arrived for a surprise visit to inform him that the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce had elected to honor him with its Founders Award.
"I was totally amazed and really pleased," said Schaefer, who served as the UA president for an 11-year term beginning in 1972, and maintains a office at the University's Steward Observatory.
Schaefer will be formally recognized during the chamber's annual luncheon to be held Feb. 9 at the Westin La Paloma Resort. He will be recognized alongside the chamber's 2009 Man of the Year and Woman of the Year, Bruce Dusenberry and Cindy Parseghian.
The Founders Award goes to individuals who have a dedicated and long-term history of commitment to service to the community.
Schaefer, who chairs the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Corporation, is being recognized for being "an extraordinary leader who has made generous and life changing contributions to Arizona in science, education, photography and social services," the chamber noted in a statement released on its Web site.
The chamber noted that Schaefer has "made an incredible difference to the successes of so many in the Tucson community, from being the youngest president of the University of Arizona and assembling the astrophysics foundation, to his expertise in photography."
Among Schaefer's achievements the chamber is recognizing are his efforts to raise funds for the Multiple Mirror Telescope, his push to place the UA among the ranks of other Pacific-10 Conference institutions and his friendship with Ansel Adams, which ultimately led to the UA's Center for Creative Photography being founded.
"I think the formation of the Center for Creative Photography is very significant for the University," Schaefer said.
He also noted that being named a Pac-10 institution has been beneficial for the UA, both in the realm of athletics and academics.
"The University stands against UCLA and Washington – the kinds of universities I wanted the UA to be associated with," Schaefer said.
Currently, Schaefer serves on boards for the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and Tucson Symphony. He also is involved with several advisory committees at the Tucson Airport Authority, Tucson Museum of Art and the UA.
"I'm very pleased I have been recognized and hope I will have the opportunity to continue working for the University and the community," Schaefer said.
"The University has been a part of my life for the last 49 years," said Schaefer, who in 1960 moved to Tucson to join the UA faculty.
"I believe in the institution and its potential, and both me and my wife will do everything we can to make sure that it will continue to succeed."