Nope, the Arizona Ghostbusters aren’t just a bunch of super-fans of the classic movies — the group with 20 members, with its very own Ecto-1 recreated car, dresses up in costumes from the movies and donates time and money at local events throughout the year — so far, they’ve donated more than 800 hours of their time. Catch the group at the 2013 Phoenix Heart Walk this Saturday, March 23. Captain and Phoenix resident Jeff Lewis, 29, who works in real estate documentation at Wells Fargo, talked to Phoenix People about why he loves his time as an Arizona Ghostbuster and gave five reasons why he loves living in the Valley, too.
What brought you to Arizona?
I had some family here, and I’m from Mooresville, Indiana, whose only claim to fame is that it’s the hometown of John Dillinger. The economy was starting to turn back home, where you basically work in a farm or factory, because there’s not much else. I saw a lot more opportunity here and came out here a few times and fell in love with it. I moved out here in December 2003.
When did you first come into contact with the Arizona Ghostbusters, and what made you want to join?
I started costuming as a Ghostbuster back in 2000, when costuming had sort of resurged, and I started doing costume contests. At the ’07 Phoenix Comic Con in January, I ran into the founder, Matt Haynes. He hadn’t started doing charity work but told me that’s what he wanted to do with it, and he taught me there’s more you can do with these costumes than costume contests. Our first charity event was in April 2007.
What’s your first memory of the Ghostbusters franchise in general?
I got my toy Proton pack back in ’86 as a birthday present. That was when the cartoon was on, and I’d watch it every Saturday morning. After I saw the first movie, I started watching it a couple times a week, and the second movie was the first one I saw in the theater more than once, in ’89. When they came out on tape, I’d watch both of them every week, non-stop.
What did you like so much about the movies?
As a kid, it was just cool to see ghosts, special effects, the packs, and all that. As I got older, I saw how many people loved it and really fell in love with the very believable story of three friends who get laid off and start their own business — a lot of people can relate to that. The characters are really believable, and the guys were all friends in real-life, and that blends into their performances. That’s what makes our group so strong is that we’re all friends, and you can see that at events — maybe that reminds people of the movie.
How has your costume evolved since you first started up until now?
The costume, and especially the Proton pack, is like a hot rod — it’s never done, and you’re always adding to it. I just added more lights to it, and we’re only finding out more about the equipment as the years go by because more references come out. People are taking higher-resolution pictures of the props from the movie, and more props are being bought at auctions, so we’re able to get our hands on more materials to model ours after.
How much would you say you’ve invested into your costume?
Thousands of dollars, I’m sure, and there are still more aluminum parts I could buy. I could put a sound system into it.
What’s the typical Ghostbusters year like?
Throughout the year, we do at least two events a month, and from September through December, there’s usually one a weekend. We started out doing charity walks in our costumes, then we started doing toy and food drives, hospital visits and movie screenings. The two biggest events we do every year is the Fiesta Bowl Parade and the Downtown Phoenix Zombie Walk.
How can someone become an Arizona Ghostbuster?
All you’ve got to say is, “I want to be a Ghostbuster.” We don’t have any limits to how many members we have, and the only major requirement is that you be at least 18 years old. Normally, we’ll have you get a jumpsuit first, and we can lend out a pack to have you try out. Some fall in love with it, and we start helping them make a Proton pack. We ask members to do at least four events a year.
What makes someone a good fit for the Arizona Ghostbusters?
Their determination for charity work. We are Ghostbusters second and volunteers first, so if you don’t love volunteering, this isn’t for you. You have to love making a difference for people.
What’s been your most memorable volunteer experience with the Arizona Ghostbusters?
It’s hard to pin down just one, but the main thing is that you’re making a difference, and people let you know you’re making a difference. A lot of diseases, like multiple sclerosis, I hadn’t even heard of, and people will come up and tell me they have it and thank us for fundraising and helping to make a difference. That’s what affects me the most and know this means something beyond being in a costume and quoting movie lines.
Besides donating time, how much money has the Arizona Ghostbusters raised?
At every event, we’ll take donations or do raffles and distribute that directly to the charity website or deliver it in hand. We raise several thousand dollars a year.
What makes being an Arizona Ghostbuster so meaningful to you?
When I was a kid, I always wanted to grow up to be a Ghostbuster. In a very strange, non-intentionally way, I technically have. I work on our events every day. We run into a lot of kids who follow us now and have made their own costumes, and I’m very envious of them, because I wish there had been Ghostbusters when I was a kid. It’s really strange to be a role model and a hero to somebody. One of them told me he wants to grow up and become the captain of the Arizona Ghostbusters, so I hope I can keep going long enough to make that happen. Even if Ghostbusters III doesn’t come out, parents continue to show the movies to their kids, and they’re on TV all the time. The movies and story are timeless. As long as people keep watching it, I think we can keep doing this.
What goes into maintaining the Ecto-1?
A lot of oil, and a lot of gas. Matt owns it, and it took about 3 years to get it up and running. It was found in a field in Colorado with no engine in it, just a husk of an old ambulance. We’ll continue to add to it and repair it.
Your group has met Dan Akroyd a couple of times. What was that like?
Both were at his vodka signings. We didn’t go to the first one in costume, out of respect for the event, but the second time, the Bevmo! invited us to come and set up the Ecto at our event and fundraise for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and we did a raffle at that event. He pulled up and got out of his Headmobile with Crystal Head Vodka painted on the side, and he got out and greeted us saying, “I remember meeting you 3 years ago. I still have your business card and the hat you gave me.” He came over and signed every single thing we were raffling off, and we raised almost $1,000 just because of that. That was in 2011, and he’s shown a lot of support for all the Ghostbusters groups around the country. It’s great to know that one of the stars appreciates what we do for us. (Stars) Ernie Hudson and William Atherton have been the same way. It’s great to know the stars know what we’re doing and that something they did almost 30 years ago is still appreciated and enjoyed.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Nope, never seen one.
How would you compare Arizona Ghostbusters to other Ghostbusters groups across the country?
There are tons of groups, which is awesome, and each group has their own identity. Some groups do charity work, like us, and some groups do movie conventions and fan films. Pretty much every state has one, and there are also ones in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Canada, England, France, Germany, Russia, and Australia.
Why should people watch Ghostbusters?
Something that someone told me is that whenever he feels down in the dumps or depressed, he watches the movie because it makes him feel good. It’s a great light-hearted comedy where the good guys win.