Donald Watts, a Manistee justice of the peace from Peoria and a veteran of the Arizona Air National Guard who spent time at the Luke Air Force Base, is among the 22 members set to be inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame in October.
Watts, after retiring from the military, served for over 20 years as a police officer before becoming a justice of the peace in 2014.
Outside of work, he is involved in such organizations as the American Legion, scouts and the Stand Down initiative, among others. His dedication and service were what earned him the nod for the 2019 class.
The nomination for the hall of fame, Watts said, was a surprise enough. To be selected was another shock entirely.
“My family has a long history of military service, so I was just doing what everybody else in my family did,” Watts said.
The hall of fame is sponsored and run by United Arizona Veterans, a coalition of over 50 veterans groups that meet monthly to represent the needs of vets to state and national legislators and provide communication between the different factions.
Each year, a select group of veterans is nominated for their service and work for their community after retiring from the military. A panel of 13 members thoroughly examines each nominee’s credentials in an extensive background check. Then, the Arizona governor must sign off on each inductee.
Past inductees, since the hall was founded in 2007, include important state figures such as John McCain, Barry Goldwater and Pat Tillman.
“There are over 600,000 veterans in Arizona, and there were just 22 selected this year. So, to be part of that group is pretty prestigious,” said Bob Dalpe, the group’s communications director.
Watts was nominated by Roberta Kimelton, the commander of American Legion Post 145 in Peoria. She has worked and communicated heavily with Watts overtime in his time with the legion and calls him a mentor in her life and career.
She called Watts one of the most dedicated and reliable members of the post and said his decades of service to local government and public safety were among her reasons for doing so.
“Looking at his accomplishments from his police, to being a judge, to what he’s done for veterans, he’s a very accomplished individual who gives a lot of time and effort, and I truly believe he deserves it,” Kimelton said.
Watts had too many positive memories from his time in the military to recount just one but, said he became a better person because of his time. It also, he said, was crucial in allowing him to be a successful police officer, and now judge.
“It (military service) sure provided me a better understanding of how the courts can affect individual families, and why it’s important that you understand how your decisions as a judge are going to affect people, and give them the information and tools that they need so they can be successful,” he said.
The induction ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday, October 18, at the Talking Stick Resort Conference Center, 9800 E. Talking Stick Way, Scottsdale. For more information, visit azuav.org.