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Jake Bacon selected as Flagstaff's 2021 Male Citizen of the Year – Arizona Daily Sun

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Jake Bacon pets Rafiki while keeping a watch on his tiny libraries from inside his house.
Jake Bacon poses with a car bearing the Tiny Library Project logo. 
Jake Bacon with “Hawkula,” the first Red Tailed Hawk rescued and delivered to be rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. Five years of transporting injured wildlife to licensed rehabilitation centers across the state has given hundreds of injured animals and birds a second chance.
Bacon traveled to Haiti twice using unpaid leave from the newspaper to document the work being done by local medical professionals to help the Haitian people with orthopedic and general surgical needs.
With Lupine the orphaned grey fox kit who now is a wildlife ambassador at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center in Scottsdale.
Jake Bacon — chief photographer for the Arizona Daily Sun, creator of the Tiny Library project and savior of many an injured animal — has won the title of Flagstaff’s Citizen of the Year for 2021 as selected by former winners.
Jake Bacon is a bad journalist.
Journalists are taught to observe, to simply document their subjects without emotion.
But that’s not Bacon. The longtime Arizona Daily Sun photographer can’t help but get involved. His camera isn’t a barrier, but a conduit that connects him to the world around him and the community he loves so much.
Somehow, these projects always find him – they draw him in wholeheartedly and with everything he has. It was on the way to a shoot that he encountered an injured red-tailed hawk, catapulting him into a new role as a sort of triage caretaker for Flagstaff’s wildlife. He found a man passed out along the road on a way to another shoot, prompting a firsthand example of the value of Flagstaff’s alternative response system.
He’s a man who’s built his entire life on four tenets: family, community, humanity and kindness. From the Tiny Library Project to the Best Life Ever Foundation and community advocacy, Bacon refuses to simply be a bystander. He greets every person he encounters like an old friend and everyone seems to know him, even those he’s never met.
That’s just Bacon.
“He sees community problems as what they are,” said Ross Altenbaugh, executive director of Flagstaff Shelter Services. “Not just as his profession, but he has this lens of humanity. If he doesn’t know what to do to himself, he makes the phone calls to find out what to do and then uses his voice to share with others.”
Bacon was selected as the 2021 Arizona Daily Sun Male Citizen of the Year. He was chosen for the award by a vote of previous Citizen of the Year honorees, who received nominations from the community. The Daily Sun is not involved in the selection process.
The award and being recognized for his commitment to this community means more to him than any Pulitzer Prize ever could.
“This community means more to me than anything else, apart from my family,” Bacon said. “This community is a part of my family.”
Bacon first moved to Flagstaff at the age of 24 – following a woman, of course.
He was born in Singapore to parents both in the Royal Air Force. Bacon’s father died when he was just 7 weeks old and his newly widowed young mother returned from Australia to England to be with family. He spent seven years in an English boarding school where he learned how to be a citizen and to actively participate in a community.
He wanted to find somewhere to settle down — a place where he knew everyone and they knew him. While his mother would have preferred the next village over from her in northeast Scotland, Bacon found exactly what he was looking for more than 6,000 miles away in Flagstaff. He enrolled in Northern Arizona University and maneuvered his way into a part-time photographer position at the Daily Sun, then to a full-time staff position and eventually chief photographer and photo editor over nearly three decades.
Throughout those 30 years, Bacon found a home and a family. He had four children and unofficially adopted a few along the way. He documented the changing community, photographing in schools and neighborhoods of varying socioeconomic backgrounds. He saw glimpses of Flagstaff that so often go ignored and used his personal social media platforms, as 2015 Citizen of the Year Billy Weldon put it, “to hold a mirror up to our community to reflect on what brings us together rather than pulls us apart.”
Bacon decided to go back to school to get a master’s degree in elementary education after witnessing how much of an impact a lack of equity can have on children. He wanted to be a positive male role model for the students that might not have one in their lives, to be present when there was no one else.  He was a single dad balancing student teaching with school and his full-time job at the paper. He continued to tutor at Marshall Magnet Elementary School and teach photography classes to 3rd-, 4th- and 5th-grade students.
Bacon’s projects always seem to find him. He’s never looking for something, but somehow always seems to stumble straight into it, refusing to just standby.
One such example of this is his organization of the effort to support the Chabad’s Molly Blank Jewish Community Center after it was vandalized in 2019.
“That’s not Flagstaff,” he said. “That’s not the community that I see. That’s an example of what I try and do in the community. It’s like, ‘OK, how can I rally? How can I show the members of that community that they are supported by the greater Flagstaff community?’”
Jake Bacon outside the Molly Blank Jewish Community center with his son, Charlie Bacon, hanging tinfoil hearts from the community after a vandal drew swastikas on the walls of the construction site.
Bacon came up with the idea to write messages of support on hearts and attach them to the fence along the construction site. The simple paper heart was a physical symbol to counter the darkness. Anyone could do it at home or in school. Soon the entire construction site had hearts bearing messages from church groups, nursing homes, local agencies and residents.
“It was a snowball effect,” Bacon said. “It was really simple to stand on the mountain, make a snowball, roll it and watch what the community did with it. That’s why Flagstaff has such a space in my heart because it’s always been that way, you know — the community is fertile ground for growing that reaction. It’s fertile ground for saying to people, ‘Hey, let’s do this.’”
Bacon values bringing the light to others because he knows just how dark life can be. His father died when he was only an infant, his boarding school roommate died young too and his brother died in his 30s.
His own son, Sam, died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 19. Grieving privately wasn’t an option to him as he asked so many others to share the stories of their worst moments throughout his career.
“There is no good in losing a child and there’s no good and losing your firstborn son,” Bacon said. “But how do I find a way to honor him and honor that experience? By talking about that to the community and by sharing.”
Bacon’s always been a storyteller and he again turned to that to chronicle his loss. The openness of his raw grief became a resource for others dealing with similar tragedies.
It was the same during his time as a member of the Northern Arizona Volunteer Medical Corps organization, taking unpaid leave from his job to document the work of local medical professionals in Haiti.  
Bacon worked on a personal project in Haiti to document the work of local medical professionals from the Northern Arizona Volunteer Medical Corps as they continue to support the people of Haiti with surgical and medical needs.
He covered the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Flagstaff’s vulnerable unhoused population, going far beyond his day job to truly hear and understand what was going on within Flagstaff’s shelters and to tell that story, according to Altenbaugh. He was a listening ear when Altenbaugh needed someone to cry with after some of the worst days the community saw, but he also knew what to do.
“He responded in a way a hero would respond in those moments,” Altenbaugh said.
He did the same as a founding board member of Best Life Ever (BLE) Flagstaff, a nonprofit organization created to celebrate the life of Nate Avery by building community spirit through random acts of kindness. He served on the board for five years.
“Jake is authentic and as real a person gets,” said Tammy Nelson, who served on the board alongside Bacon. “Jake gives with all his heart and asks for nothing in return. He will be the first one in line to assist another human in need, even when he may be experiencing hardship or personal pain. He cares deeply.”
Jake Bacon with “Hawkula,” the first Red Tailed Hawk rescued and delivered to be rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. Five years of transporting injured wildlife to licensed rehabilitation centers across the state has given hundreds of injured animals and birds a second chance.
No one loves and cares about Flagstaff more than Bacon, Nelson added. He lives to document the good in others and shies away from the credit. There’s a certain humor in him finally receiving public accolades for what Nelson described as his “huge-ass heart.”
But that’s just who Bacon is. It’s never been about him.
“We all should be invested in kindness,” Bacon said. “If we all spent a bit more time worrying about how we brighten somebody else’s day, whether that’s a homeless person or someone who seems to be pretty aggressively having a bad day, if you can brighten someone’s day, that sends ripples out into the world.”
And those ripples are visible all over Bacon’s life. His home is a temporary shelter for injured wildlife rescued from across northern Arizona. He and his son, Charlie, help nurse everything from a litter of displaced skunks to a wounded raven back to a stable level before transporting them to a rehabilitation facility in Phoenix or releasing them back into the wild.
Or there’s the two bright red British telephone booths stationed outside his home, serving as tiny libraries for both adults and children. Bacon and Charlie traveled cross-country twice to bring the UK symbols back to Flagstaff. They then restored them and installed floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with books readily available for the community. The community watched the entire way, contributing to the project via a GoFundMe. Bacon plans to install more phone booth libraries across Flagstaff to encourage literacy.
Inside one of the telephone booth libraries.
Bacon was on a beach in Hawaii with his kids and grandson when he received the call telling him he won Citizen of the Year.
He stood there looking at the ocean and started to cry from the magnitude of it all. Then, he told his grandson and youngest child he won. They weren’t surprised.
“They both turned around and said, ‘Well, of course, you did,’” Bacon chuckled.
For Bacon, that was enough. It was enough to know he set a model of kindness and an expectation of community service for his own children.
“That’s everything to have my children see that and to hopefully inspire them to be good people,” he said. “I want them to love each other and be close and connected to each other. And I want them to love their community and be close and connected to their communities, to have a sense of place.”
Reporter Bree Burkitt can be reached at bburkitt@azdailysun.com or on Twitter at @breeburkitt
The Citizens and Organization of the Year is a Flagstaff tradition going back more than six decades. Past winners select new individuals and groups who have made the city a better place with their volunteerism.
Wednesday: Male Citizen of the Year: Jake Bacon
Thursday: Female Citizen of the Year
Friday: Organization of the Year

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Reporter – Cops, Court
Reporter Bree Burkitt can be reached at bburkitt@azdailysun.com or on Twitter at @breeburkitt.
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Jake Bacon pets Rafiki while keeping a watch on his tiny libraries from inside his house.
Jake Bacon poses with a car bearing the Tiny Library Project logo. 
Jake Bacon outside the Molly Blank Jewish Community center with his son, Charlie Bacon, hanging tinfoil hearts from the community after a vandal drew swastikas on the walls of the construction site.
Jake Bacon with “Hawkula,” the first Red Tailed Hawk rescued and delivered to be rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. Five years of transporting injured wildlife to licensed rehabilitation centers across the state has given hundreds of injured animals and birds a second chance.
Jake Bacon with “Hawkula,” the first Red Tailed Hawk rescued and delivered to be rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. Five years of transporting injured wildlife to licensed rehabilitation centers across the state has given hundreds of injured animals and birds a second chance.
Bacon traveled to Haiti twice using unpaid leave from the newspaper to document the work being done by local medical professionals to help the Haitian people with orthopedic and general surgical needs.
Bacon worked on a personal project in Haiti to document the work of local medical professionals from the Northern Arizona Volunteer Medical Corps as they continue to support the people of Haiti with surgical and medical needs.
With Lupine the orphaned grey fox kit who now is a wildlife ambassador at the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center in Scottsdale.
Inside one of the telephone booth libraries.
Jake Bacon — chief photographer for the Arizona Daily Sun, creator of the Tiny Library project and savior of many an injured animal — has won the title of Flagstaff’s Citizen of the Year for 2021 as selected by former winners.
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