by Mary Kasulaitis
In recent weeks, a lot has been said about Marian Mikesell, (especially by her good friend Sheila). The sign on the Arivaca Farmers’ Market has been redone, in memory of Marian, who inspired its creation. But in this day (weeks, months) of Covid19, maybe there is no better person to remember, in terms of what she did for the Arivaca Community. An inspiration for us all. When you see something that needs to be done, do it! Most of this article comes from her obituary in the October 2010 issue of the Connection, shortly after her death at the age of 89.
Everyone must have their favorite memory of Marian Mikesell…there’s not room in this issue for all the stories we (old timers) have about her, so hold those thoughts as we just touch on a few things about her life. Then you can tell those tales around the campfire from now on!
Marian* was born in Grosse Point Park, Michigan on 11-21-1920, one of three girls born to Helen Bourne Joy Lee (the daughter of Henry B. Joy, once head of Packard Motor Company and granddaughter of James Joy, President of Michigan Central Railroad, and on mother’s side, the great granddaughter of Michigan Congressman John Newberry) and Howard Baker Lee, an amateur golfer. Always active in the Daughters of the American Revolution and other civic organizations, Helen had a strong personality. She divorced Howard over his golf game and she and the girls moved to New York, where Marian had her schooling, and then to Rhode Island. That was where Marian survived a hurricane that came up the Westerly River, about which she wrote a story. Then she married and moved to Tucson in 1947 where her husband was stationed at Davis Monthan. She raised her five children in Tucson: Helen, Linda, John, Henry and Jimmy, where she was involved in DAR and the Arizona Society of Mayflower Descendants. She had all kinds of documents on her ancestry. She loved being outside in the natural world, farming and gardening. She became seriously involved with raising pigeons, chickens and turkeys and worked in the Pima County Fair’s poultry division. (Later in Arivaca when she had a flock, she had a few people come over to help her kill 52 chickens! Once they were cleaned and plucked, an all-day job, she distributed them to whoever wanted them!)
With her powerful heritage, Marian was always an independent person, so in 1959 she got a divorce. In the late 60s she took the children and drove to Alaska, when there weren’t good roads; in the days when you had to take extra car parts with you and know how to use them. This trip was one of the highlights of her life. She always loved traveling–there was an early trip to Russia with her Grandma, but later she made trips to Greece and Australia with her daughters. On a trip to Zimbabwe, she, characteristically, took off on her own. She had a rebellious streak. Marian was one of those self-sufficient, pioneering types that needs to put down roots in her own land.
So, when the 40s came up for sale in the early 1970s, Marian bought a prime piece of Arivaca Creek bottom land for her farm, originally in partnership with John Arnold and David Simms. Soon she was going it alone. She raised Angus cattle, chickens, geese, and had a big flower garden. Ed Wallen built her house, but for the most part Marian did her own work, using a tractor and other equipment, and at the age of 89 had refurbished a walk-in cooler for meat. Her son Jimmy lived there too and grew bananas in his 3 greenhouses.
Right off the bat, she got involved in the Arivaca community. Back in 1981, she made the very generous donation that enabled the Arivaca Clinic to have its own building and probably enabled it to exist. She remained on the Board of AAHS for many years. She was involved with the Arivaca Homemakers (later AFCE) helping to maintain the Old School. She saw the need for a preschool and built a ramada for the young mothers to use as a play and teaching area.
Marian also gave money to whoever she thought needed it. Innumerable unmentioned people were helped by her. One time, however, it backfired. She donated trip money (not a small amount) to a young man who claimed to have a sick son in California. When he returned and was lounging at La Gitana, she asked him how his son was. What son? he asked, forgetting who she was. Marian went out to her truck and retrieved a pair of scissors. Soon his pride and joy of a long blond ponytail was lying on the floor! Don’t mess with Marian.
Wherever you looked, Marian was involved, especially if it had to do with landscaping, such as at the Clinic or Community Center. Throughout her long life, Marian kept busy, sewing, doing crafts, being supportive of her community, giving people jobs working on her place. She survived lung cancer and numerous bouts with pneumonia until it finally took her. We miss her STRONG quirky personality, her opinions about how things should be done (whacking bushes at the Community Center, ripping my favorite vines out of the Library courtyard!) what to do with morning glories (she hated them), her runaway cows that could low-crawl under any fence, her eggs, her guardian geese, her devotion to the DAR, her hats, her antiques, her pugs, the Sunday morning trips to the Coffee Shop to get the paper and her favorite latte. Toward the end of her life she commented, You know when you get old, you can go to parties and eat all the cake you want!
So, in this centennial year of her life, be like Marian, grow your own food, be a do-it-yourself-er, spend your money judiciously, travel (if you can), help people, notice what needs to be done, and cultivate a community spirit, but don’t lose your own!
* Marian’s name is spelled Marian.
Dear Mary, Once again, your article is brilliantly written
Dear Mary, Once again your article is brilliantly written. I do not live in Arivaca. I never met Marian. But, I would have enjoyed the privilege calling her my friend. Lou Lopilato
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Delightful and informative accounts. A gift to the community and to all of us interested in the story of Southern Arizona. Thanks!
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