The Tohono O’odham Nation was saddened to learn of the passing of Jacob A. Escalante, who served as Chairman of the Nation from 1974-1975. His tenure as Chairman capped off a long career in government as he also served as Chairman of the Sells District and as a member of the Tohono O’odham Legislative Council. Jacob is survived by his brother David Escalante, sisters Esther Stanidifer and Carol Boykin, children Benjamin Escalante, Blanche Montoya, Florene (Sandy) Guitierrez, Connie Derma, Sheila Espino, Randall Carrillo, Serena Marin, 19 grandchildren and 25 great grandchildren.
Jacob served as Chairman at a challenging time in the Nation’s history. In 1974 many outlying villages on the Nation lacked reliable electrical power sources; some had no power at all. At the same time, the mining industry was growing on the Nation and also had significant electrical power needs. Responding to these challenges, Jacob and the Nation’s leadership provided key grant funding that helped the Papago Utility Authority establish its physical infrastructure. Now known as the Tohono O’odham Utility Authority, today it provides critical electrical power throughout the Nation.
It was also under Jacob’s tenure that the Nation started a program with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to invalidate unpatented mining claims on the Reservation if the claim holders could not prove a valid mineral discovery. There were more than 400 unpatented claims on the Reservation at the time; the number today has been reduced to eight.
Born near Yuma, Arizona and raised in Sells, at age 35 Jacob moved his family (nine children) to Phoenix, where he worked a day job while taking night classes at the All Tribes Bible School. After graduating, he went on to become an ordained mister, pastoring in the Winterhaven, California and Yuma, Arizona area before returning to the Nation to continue his ministering. He touched the lives of many people who continue their strong faith today, including some who went on to become ministers themselves.
Jacob also ran various construction companies and spent a great deal of time helping his neighbors and the community with various projects. A firm advocate of education, he was always eager to teach young people his craft and encourage them to study. Even in the last days of his life, he spent time teaching his grandchildren about life, faith, and experiences.
On behalf of the Nation, we offer our deepest condolences to Jacob’s family and friends during this difficult time, while commemorating his legacy of compassion, service and teaching.