Arizona Connections

A Span of 32 Years

Life for me changed September 1971 with my matriculation at the University of Arizona. The next five years (4 for a BS degree and 1 year dietetics internship) were busy with study and supporting myself leaving minimal time for travel. Then came 27 years of work and family until in my 49th year of life, with the graduation of my son, Sean, from college planned for January 2003, I anticipated having time and resources to see more of the world. The Arizona postings here flowed the outcomes of this decision that spanned the years 2003 through my Mother breaking her hip just before New Years Day 2009.

Click the links for previous Arizona postings related to the post text.

November 2003 saw our first Arizona tour. Sean was scheduled to be home from USS Observation Island. He served as an engineering officer working for Maersk contracted by the US Navy to operate the ship. We flew into Phoenix and headed north for a tour of the Mogollon Rim onto Winslow, the Painted Desert, Canyon del Chelly, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon South Rim, the western edge of the Painted Desert north of Flagstaff to finish up at University of Arizona Homecoming.

Homecoming 2003

My 2003 homecoming schedule including a meeting with the head of the Department of Nutrition Sciences, Dr. Houtkooper. We talked of ways to re-connect with the University, leading to an invitation to serve on the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Alumni Board of Directors beginning November 2005. From then until November 2008 I flew to Tucson two to three times a year for planning and educational meetings: planning fund raising activities, learning how CALS benefits and connects with the people of Arizona.

These baskets from our home are reminders of my original Arizona connection and of one story of re-connection. The larger, birds, design is from my student years from a first trip to Kitt Peak. It was a gift to my parents and for decades was in their china cabinet, I’d see it each holiday visit and recall driving desert with friends, the road up the mountain, seeing the newly constructed Mayall Telescope building loom over us, the smells and views of the Sonora desert.

Meeting Native American Artists

Working for the CAL Alumni Board the first time, November 2005, I had an idea to approach Native American artists for donations of their work for student scholarships. My first outing to meet artists was to an event at the Saguaro National Monument, west of Tucson, where I met Olvera and Simon Valenzuela. They were a happy couple devoted to continuing a tradition of basket weaving. Olvera was the youngest active weaver from generations of Tohono O’odham women. Her husband, Simon, a Pascua Yaqui, learned weaving from Olvera and her family. I purchased the turtle basket, upper left, and obtained contact information.

Click either photograph for a larger view.
From the bottom clockwise. Birds by Anmelia Juan of Geawuk (Kitt Peak 1972), Turtle by Olvera and Simon Valenquela (Sqguaro National Monument 2005) Stars by Simon Valenzuela for hsi daughter Pasquala Valenquela 16th Birthday (2018). Simon is of the Pascua Yaqui tribe who Learned basketmaking from his wife’s family.

I phoned them the last week of January, hoping to discuss a donation for that November. Simon answered, we talked and I learned he was in mourning for Olvera who passed away the previous week at 33 years of age, leaving her daughters Uneek and Pascuela. I did not bring up the donation and kept in touch. I felt sympathy for Simon’s situation because, twenty one years before, Sean’s mother deserted us and I raise him alone.

Olvera Valenzuela Memorial Scholarship

Over the course of months, communicating with Arizona contacts, I came to the conclusion donations by Native American artists was not a sustainable model for financing donations. The individuals were not prosperous enough and there were too few of them. Instead, during the travels documented here, I made contacts. In the Chiricahua National Monument I met Linda Kelly the owner of Triangle T Ranch who donated stays there. The Searcher had a side farrier (care of horses feet) and donated services.

With the permission of Simon and family we started the Olvera Valenzuela Memorial Scholarship. The application is an essay on the subject: “A Proposal for Native American Cultural Conservation.”  The qualified applicants are Native Americans enrolled at the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) in a course of study leading to a baccalaureate. The designation “Native American” is defined for the purposes of these criteria as being a documented member of a North American tribe. It was an annual award of $500 to the successful applicant. To start I contributed $1,000 to fund it for two years.

Over the next year, Simon and I contacted potential donors, but were unsuccessful in funding the scholarship beyond two years. In the meantime, when I visited Tucson for CALS board meetings Simon and I would do outings with his daughters. Here is one from the 2006 University of Arizona Homecoming football game. This is after the game, a win for the team, with the field covered in celebrating fans.

The third basket of the photograph, a stars design, was raffled to fun Pascuala’s sixteen birthday celebration in 2018 and I won!!!!

Cheers!!

Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills
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16 thoughts on “Arizona Connections

  1. Delightful post – thank you for your various Arizona posts – various Arizona memories bubbling up together, collectively nudging me GO AGAIN! I was in high school (summer 1963) on my first Arizona encounter – Prescott. It predictably rained every afternoon as a short interruption to cloudless skies and zero humidity. They had just opened Lake Powell to the public, and we went – a very full day on a boat that floated us through the most beautiful scenery imaginable, to a short hike up to Rainbow Bridge. Everything was less “rules” then, and we were allowed to jump off the boat and swim in that amazing blue water looking up at red cliffs. Nothing has ever compared! I returned to Lake Powell in 2007 – by then sensitized to a different beauty that had been destroyed creating the Lake, yet being there was again mystical. Then in May 2012 I spent a week in Canyon de Chelly with “Poetic Medicine” (John Fox) hosted by a Navajo family – a vision-quest experience totally unexpected (1st 3 days constant hurricane-force winds!) – I wanted to bail, but there was literally no way out of the canyon during those winds. The winds finally subsided, the sand settled, and we wrote strong poems about Mother Nature – her fury and her calm.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My, my, Michael; that was a jaunt down memory lane!
    It was interesting to click on the links and remember the posts as they were. In a small sense, this gave me an appreciation of what a joy it must be for you to wind down that past road – so many wonderful memories.

    Liked by 2 people

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