Falkner’s legacy, philanthropy crosses U.S.-Mexico border

Highly Falkner’s life touched both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Falkner was a patriarch of Rancho Feliz, a community in Agua Prieta that helps residents of the beleaguered border town overcome extreme poverty. 

“Highly’s death has created a void in me and in Rancho Feliz that will never be filled,” Rancho Feliz founder Gil Gillenwater of Scottsdale said in an email. “Among his myriad contributions he built homes for the homeless, distributed food and clothing to the poor, supported children in our shelters and funded countless scholarships.”

Falkner and his family took in the son of Rancho Feliz resident Reyes Zagaste while the teen was attending Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix. Their Tempe residence became Reyes Zagaste Jr.’s home-away-from-home on weekends and holidays. They were instrumental in Reyes’ upcoming graduation from Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, with a degree in global economics and management.

“He opened the doors not only of his house but of his heart,” said Reyes Zagaste, a member of the Rancho Feliz Mexican Vecinos Dignos Cycling Team. “He treated my son like one of his children.”

Zagaste said when his son had an opportunity to study at Brophy, Falkner “raised his hand and said, ‘my family will help him’.”

“A part of Highly was passed on to my son,” Zagaste said.

Falkner, 60, an avid cyclist and mountain bike racer, was struck from behind by a vehicle Nov. 12 in Ahwatukee while he was attempting to cross a right-turn lane on Pecos Road approaching 17th Avenue to continue westbound on his road bike.

Gillenwater, who met Falkner at Arizona State University in 1975, said “he has been a brother to me for almost 40 years. Likewise, he and his wife Sally and their children Emily, John and Rachel have been major volunteers and donors with Rancho Feliz since its inception. Highly was a ‘Guardian Warrior’ in the truest sense of the title.”

Gillenwater added: “Words cannot convey his loss – to me and to Rancho Feliz. We are only consoled by his presence living in the hundreds of people whose lives he has touched and improved.”

In lieu of flowers, Falkner’s family asked that donations be made in his name to the Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation or Maggie’s Place.

Michael Murphy