Reader’s Digest proclaimed the Route 66 town of Kingman as the Nicest Place in Arizona because of the way the townsfolk treated a homeless man — a nice bounceback after an ugly PR nightmare last year involving prankster Sacha Baron Cohen.
The editors at Reader’s Digest wrote this about Kingman:
Ask people what they like about Kingman and they’ll bring up the man known as Santa James. Santa James, aka James Zyla, is a former real-estate salesman turned wandering poet who has become the town’s “adopted grandfather,” according to the local police chief. He’s also homeless.
When residents discovered his thoughtful nature and musical gifts, they teamed up to make sure he has a place to stay, gigs to play, and a helping hand when he needs it. In return he shares hugs, songs, and his one-of-a-kind free spirit.
“There exists in Kingman a spirit of generosity,” Santa James told the Los Angeles Times last year. “It’s not just the young or the old. It permeates the generations.”
The town of about 25,000 people sits on the legendary Route 66, about 100 miles south of Las Vegas. Once home to a major military base and mining economy, later bypassed by the interstate and half-forgotten, Kingman got a black eye a few years ago when comic Sacha Baron Cohen’s television cameras captured a rowdy crowd of locals shouting down a proposed mosque. Kingman residents decried the intolerance — the city has had a mosque for thirty years, along with a well-established immigrant population — and locals stepped up their efforts to showcase the city’s best qualities.
“The community was very upset,” says our nominator, Coleen Haines, who has been at the heart of that effort as a city PR specialist. “Kingman is a welcoming place.”
Santa James has become the symbol of the town’s best spirit, Haines says. His story shows that Kingman is the kind of place that finds room for anybody who helps make it better, even if it’s just with a smile and a song.
“The mayor gave him a key to the city,” she says. “It showed how we really go out of the way to help people.”
Here’s the nomination by Haines, who included a link to the Los Angeles Times story about Santa James:
I’ve had many questions since moving here, and everyone seems to be very honest with where to find things, how to get things and great, local places to eat. People are kind, and willing to help fellow people out, even as a stranger I feel welcome.
The weather is amazing — and this year — Kingman got RECORD snowfall in a two-day span (over two feet). The city and its residents came together, gave people rides to work and dealt with massive overflow of Interstate 40 traffic flooding into our little city – it was such a great, team effort from the city!
Recently the City of Kingman Management Team, which includes all department heads and the City Manager, held a clean-up at a vacant property in our town. They cleaned up trash, pulled weeds and just cleaned up the area. Other people, inspired by the cleanup, joined in.
Kingman was a finalist for nicest place in America but lost out to Columbiana, Ohio.
After consulting the magazine’s nicest-places map of the United States, I found no other Route 66 town nominated. So I’m sure Kingman wouldn’t mind if it also is touted as the Nicest Place on Route 66.
Reader’s Digest magazine was formed in 1922 and remains one of the best-known publications. It boasts a circulation of 3 million in the United States and 10 million worldwide, with several dozen international editions.
(Image of Kingman’s water tanks along Route 66 by GothEric via Flickr)