Each year, the PRT honors members of our communities who have made a difference in our lives. The individuals featured here stood out for their commitment and their tireless efforts during these difficult times. But so many people have stepped up to help their neighbors this year, and it was really difficult to choose just a few honorees. To our health workers, volunteers at the Fairgrounds, at all our local churches, our first responders, and many more, please accept our gratitude for all you have done. You all help to make this an amazing place to live.
By Marion Vendituoli
Mary Moran first became aware of the need for a food pantry in the Sonoita Elgin area when she and her husband Steve were helping a senior citizen in the community move to a new home and she discovered that the woman was eating cat food to make ends meet.
“It broke my heart,” she said. “We realized that there was food insecurity in this community.”
Two years ago, Mary contacted County Supervisor Bruce Bracker to get permission to open a food pantry at the County building in Sonoita next to the library. She then obtained a grant from the Legacy Foundation for $500 to purchase a food locker and a grant for $1,000 to purchase food.
The motto of the food pantry is ‘Give what you can. Take what you need.’ Mary checks the food pantry twice a week, cleaning it if necessary, and restocks it once a week with nonperishable items such as canned vegetables, soups, and toiletries.
“The community completely supports it,” she said. “If there is a need, I’ll post it on Facebook. Within a day it’s filled up again.”
The pantry, which is open 24/7, has made a difference for many people in the area. One elderly woman told her, “That food pantry comes in very handy at the end of the month when things get tight.”
Mary became involved in distributing fresh produce during the pandemic after being approached by Bracker.
“He’s been wonderful,” she said. “He cares very much about this community.”
She and her team, including Gail Christman, the Keith family and Bob Garber, receive food boxes from the Nogales Food Bank filled with 20 pounds of fresh produce the 2nd and 4th Fridays of the month and hand them out in the Sonoita Post Office parking lot.
“These are available to anyone,” she stressed. They started with 40 boxes and are now up to 150 boxes, which are all gone within an hour. They also deliver boxes to people’s homes if they request it.
This past Thanksgiving, Mary contacted Bracker, who raised $1,000 to underwrite the cost of 100 turkeys, purchased from Villa’s Market in Nogales. Local Arizona Rangers picked up the turkeys and distributed them throughout the community. The Corner Scoop also gave out turkeys and food baskets for Thanksgiving.
In the last six months, she and her husband have also become involved with the Crossroads Mission in Nogales to help raise awareness and funds. They have designed and underwritten the cost of a new website for the organization.
“If we see a nonprofit who needs a website or a Facebook page, my husband and I donate it and keep paying for it,” she said.
They had previously created a website for the Huachuca City Animal Shelter, where Mary had been working with dogs to get them adopted. That shelter closed in 2018 and animals were then taken to shelters in Willcox and Douglas. Last year Mary contacted the Southern Arizona Humane Society, and Mary and her husband now drive dogs from the Douglas facility to the Tucson shelter to give the dogs a better chance at being adopted. The couple picks up a shuttle van in Bisbee, drive to Douglas, then to Tucson, drop off the animals, and return the van to Bisbee before going home to Elgin.
Recently they delivered nine dogs and a dozen cats. “There’s nine more dogs that haven’t been euthanized,” she said. When she sees a dog or cat that needs a home, she also posts them on local chat pages on Facebook. “Anytime we can help a dog or a cat, we try to place it. We even placed a pig once!”
Mary is quick to give credit to her fellow volunteers, the local churches, and to the community that supports her work.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” she said. “This community is like an extended family. People are so wonderful here.”
Pat and Dave McNamara
By Jo Dean
The McNamaras have contributed to this Mountain Empire community consistently since moving to Elgin from Wisconsin in May 2015. Wasting no time, they became involved with the Elgin Club and the Empire Ranch within one month of settling into their new home in Elgin.
Their lives in Wisconsin were active with their three grown children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, careers, owning a small farm, training Welsh ponies, riding instruction, music, and art. When they transitioned to Elgin, they brought all that energy and zest for life right along with them.
Dave has been on the board of the Elgin Club. They both regularly volunteer for the Elgin Club, providing lunches for rodeos, fairgrounds, and horse racing. Recently they helped provide a holiday meal for the Department of Correction workers at the Sonoita Fairgrounds. During this interview, Pat was cooking sweet potatoes for 100 people attending that evening’s Elgin Club Christmas party. Dave McNamara, as a board member for the Empire Ranch, has been busy with the Christmas activities and decorations at the Empire Ranch. Dave drives for the Patagonia Senior Center, providing weekly transportation to Tucson. He recently volunteered for three months at the Nogales COVID vaccine program.
Pat has been a writer for the PRT the past three years, volunteered at the Sonoita Fairgrounds and the Fund the Feed program. As an accomplished artist, she designed the logo for the Voices From the Border.
Their home is a showplace for McNamara’s art. She has a variety of mediums including mosaics, pastels, acrylic, stained glass, and wood carving.
Music is another talent she shares with the community, playing her flute at various programs in the community. She is an avid equestrian with boundless enthusiasm for burros and mules. The McNamaras volunteered for several years at Horse N Around Rescue in Hereford.
Their first impression of Elgin was how happy and friendly people are here. They maintain this happiness comes from living in a sunny place where people choose to live because they want to be here. They have jointly and individually contributed to this community. After 52 years of marriage their partnership is an example of mutual respect and support which they share with their community.
Patra and Chuck Kelly
By Marion Vendituoli
When Patra and Chuck Kelly started volunteering at the Patagonia Senior Center in 2016, they “wanted to get involved in the town.” Well, they certainly got their wish. Chuck estimates that he spends at least 30 hours per week working to keep the Center running. Patra oversees the program that provides van rides for seniors and disabled people in Sonoita, Elgin and Patagonia.
Soon after joining the Board at the Senior Center, Chuck took on the role of secretary-treasurer for the organization which provides meals for 65 people Monday through Friday, van rides to doctors’ appointments and for shopping, and a place for seniors to gather.
Socializing at the Center has been greatly impacted by the pandemic, but the Center did reopen its doors this fall to vaccinated seniors. Chef Roxann Valenzuela, her sister Marla, and Zoila Urias provide takeout meals each day, as well as serving in the dining room.
“More and more people are benefitting from the service,” Chuck reported. “For many seniors in the area, this is their main meal of the day.”
Chuck supervises the Senior Center; writes grants; deals with insurance issues; meets with ADOT, who contributed the vans, as well as half of the cost of operating expenses; coordinates with the South Eastern Arizona Governments Organization (SEAGO), a regional planning agency, which provides half the funding for the meals; does the payroll and banking; and corresponds with donors. He prepares the menus, with input from Chef Valenzuela and Patra, which are then reviewed by a nutritionist. He also picks up food donated by the Nogales Food Bank and from Wholesum Harvest in Nogales.
Chuck’s grant writing has resulted in two recent grants, one for $5,000 from Delta Dental to help with the dental costs for area seniors, and one for $10,000 from the Association of Arizona Food Banks to help pay for food. The Center also recently received a new freezer from SEAGO.
Chuck, who was a management consultant and an executive with Con Edison, also taught pre-school for 24 years.
“Being around preschoolers prepared me for seniors. There’s not much difference between them,” he said. “They both need love and comforting.”
Patra’s main responsibility at the Senior Center is overseeing the van program. She arranges volunteer drivers and van routes for three vans (soon to be four). There will be three vans in Patagonia and one that is stationed in Sonoita. ADOT pays for half the operating expenses for the vans. The Center’s half of the expenses is made up of the in-kind contributions of the volunteer drivers.
“There used to be a lot of drivers,” Patra said, “but now because of COVID, not so many.”
Seniors and disabled residents in Eastern Santa Cruz County can request a ride to medical or dental appointments or to go shopping in Sierra Vista, Tucson, Nogales, or Green Valley.
“It takes a lot of time” to coordinate the volunteer drivers and provide this service,” Patra observed. But she enjoys the work. “I like helping people who need to find information and resources.”
She also helps to clean and sanitize the Senior Center, makes phone calls to the County Health Dept., and helps to keep the center going. Patra has also been involved in the Patagonia Regional Times as a contributing writer and as a volunteer.
Both Chuck and Patra stressed the importance of the whole team at the Center. Jon Larsen volunteers five days a week, doing maintenance, mopping the floors, serving meals, and distributing food. Valenzuela is not only head chef, but she also shops for food and does the ordering.
Patra and Chuck both love their work. “The fact that we are feeding people is a real service to the community,” Chuck said. “We’ve been involved in community activism for a long time.”
Patra added, “I think what is valuable is to have a connection with others and to the community by doing something that is worthwhile.”
By Lynn Davison
Ron Robinson is a brave man. Though he had never worked for government and had only lived in Patagonia for one year, he signed on as Town Manager on July 1, 2019. Ron works for the Town Council and is responsible to them and to the residents of Patagonia for managing all the town’s services and staff. It’s a high visibility position that doesn’t pay much for the responsibility and hours of work it requires. Nonetheless, Ron really likes the job. “It’s a challenge and I like challenges” says Ron.
Ron and his wife, Debbie, moved to Patagonia in 2018 to be close to Debbie’s parents, Connie and Bud Alford. Like a good son-in-law, Ron first handled all the families’ remodeling priorities. Once that was done, he looked for something else to do that might benefit from his broad business and building experience. Why not Town Manager?
Ron began his work life as a draftsman designing restaurant kitchens, then joined his father as owner of a company that designed, installed, and eventually manufactured ventilation systems for commercial kitchens. Their business grew to employ 15 people and was eventually sold in 1993. Ron moved on to owning and managing seven Wendy’s franchises in the Midwest, then relocated to Texas and opened a restaurant.
After selling the restaurant in 2011, Ron built a house for his family and then began building houses for others, both custom and spec. And while he was helping raise his family and directly managing these businesses, Ron also was a Southern Baptist pastor for 30 years.
Ron says he “loves Patagonia for the beauty of the place and for the good people who live here.” He is particularly proud that with the leadership of the Mayor, Council, and Town Manager, respectful civil discourse is again a cornerstone of doing the Town’s business.
The pandemic and the associated economic impacts have been difficult. In response, Ron successfully secured over $100,000 in relief aid through the federal Cares Act that allowed the Town to keep most Town employees at work providing basic services. He also wrote a successful $600,000 grant that will significantly repair and upgrade the wastewater treatment plant. Ron has brought in private partners, like South32, to help financially support Town infrastructure priorities. He also solved a thorny problem of ongoing cost overruns in the Town Marshall’s Office by negotiating a contract with Santa Cruz County to provide consistent law enforcement services to the Town. And recently, he oversaw the complicated logistics of bringing a caboose (and future visitors center) to Doc Mock Park. Ron says that’s all part of doing his job. We are lucky that he thinks so. Thanks Ron.