Meet the Honeas: Five-generation family helped write the town of Marana into history - Tucson Local Media: Import

Meet the Honeas: Five-generation family helped write the town of Marana into history

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Posted: Monday, June 27, 2005 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:49 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

June 22, 2005 - It was through Bob Honea, whose teammates nicknamed him "The Mayor of Marana," that the small Northwest farm town may have seen its first claim to fame and possibly an ironic glimpse into the future of the Honea family.

As a star forward for the University of Arizona men's basketball team in the early 1950s, Honea never lost a home game while he led his team in scoring for two years and netted the conference championship all four years that he played. To many people, and as newspaper headlines would boldly declare, Honea unofficially became the town's first "mayor," though Marana wasn't even incorporated until 1977.

"They used to kid me that we only had one play: Get the ball and pass it to Honea and he'll shoot," joked Honea, 76, who now enjoys a quiet life raising cattle on his Marana ranch with his wife, Pat. "They accused me of learning to shoot by throwing cotton balls in the bucket."

Last month, with more than 50 years of history in-between, it was Bob's nephew, Ed Honea, who officially became the mayor of Marana, unanimously chosen by his peers on the town council to fill the vacated position for the next two years.

Looking back at the prominence of the Honea family in Marana's history, it seems fitting that Ed would step to the forefront of the town that his five-generation Marana family helped pioneer.

Through hard work, persistence and maybe even a little luck, the Honeas have written their names into Marana's history books over the past century, helping to incorporate the town in 1977, running its post office for several years, starting its first water company, teaching in its schools and even developing its first subdivision, Honea Heights, where about 200 families still live today. The old Honea Homestead near Sanders and Moore roads, where the first Honeas lived in Marana, even served as the town hall for a large part of Marana's early history.

"They are, in essence, one of the real founding families of our community," said former Mayor Ora Harn. "Their family has been throughout our community and they still are in our community. Bob Honea served as postmaster for many years. Ray Honea was the person who did the first water system in the area. These were all people that settled this community."

Vice Mayor Herb Kai comes from a prominent family that bought land and settled in Marana in the late 1930s and knew the Honeas well in the early years.

"Basically, when we formed our town, the Honeas were very instrumental in doing their part," he said. "They were one of the first to really push hard and try to help the town get on its feet."

While there may have been several well-known families in Marana's early history, many would argue that none are as prevalent today as the Honeas, who first arrived in the early 1900s.

"I'm very proud of my family," said Ed, 58, whose grandparents were the first Honeas in Marana. "We're a five-generation family in Marana. There's a lot of great history, but we were one of many families in Marana, including the Anyways, the Gladdens and the Clarks."

It was Wilburn and Cloie Honea, natives of Arkansas and Oklahoma, respectively, who purchased a section of state land along the Santa Cruz River in the 1930s and decided to call Marana home. Before that, the couple had lived in the Tucson area for a handful of years.

Cloie was born in 1902, in Gage, Okla., the oldest of six children in the Terrell family. In 1918, her family rented a railroad car and hauled off to Chandler. The next year, the family moved to Jaynes Station in the Flowing Wells area, where she met Wilburn at a neighborhood church.

Cloie and Wilburn married in 1920 and later moved to Marana, where they first lived in a tent house. After a failed attempt at growing cotton, they moved back to Jaynes Station, where Wilburn worked for the well-known Freeman Woods at the Fairview Dairy on De Moss Petrie Road, which is now Grant Road. There, Wilburn earned $3 a day milking cows on the midnight shift before turning around to go work in Marana's crop fields during the day.

By 1941, the couple built their first home in Marana, the Honea Homestead, and lived there with their eight children, four boys and four girls. In those days, there was no electricity and no running water, and having an indoor bathroom was mostly a pipe dream.

"I can still remember my mother doing the washing in an old wash tub," said Bob, one of the eight Honea children. "And then every Saturday evening, they'd throw all us kids in there and wash off at least the top layer of dirt so we'd be ready for church the next day."

Wilburn and his sons had to use a 500-gallon barrel and a team of horses to haul water back to their home from a Cortaro Water Users Association well about two miles down the road.

"We didn't realize it then, but as we look back now, it really was a tough life compared with what it is today," Bob said. "We used to ride our horses to school, tie 'em up all day, and ride 'em home."

During World War II, Cloie and Wilburn saw their three oldest sons go off to war. In 1941, the family grieved the loss of the youngest Honea daughter, Beverly, who drowned in the Cortaro irrigation ditch as an infant.

"We used to swim in the ditch more to take a bath than anything else," said Ronald Honea, one of the eight Honea children. "One day while we were down the field working, my mother was doing housework and the little bugger sneaked out there and jumped in. My mother found her was the worst part."

Ronald, 78, now lives in Catalina with his wife, Helen, and is one of six of his parents' children still alive today.

Ray Honea, Ed's father, lives in Marana with his wife, Wynema; Barbara (Honea) Cain lives in Catalina with her husband, Phil; Maudine (Honea) Klein lives in Oracle; Bernice (Honea) Hinton lives in Tucson with her husband, Duncan; Wendell Honea was a commercial fisherman in Alaska but moved to Idaho and died two years ago at the age of 81.

Many of the Honea children describe their mother, Cloie, as the backbone of the family in the early days. She lived until 1996 as a widow for 35 years after Wilburn died from a heart attack in 1961.

Cloie supplemented her income by giving piano lessens to children in the Marana area and enjoyed quilting. In the early days, she used to cook at the school cafeteria when the family needed extra money.

"My children took piano lessons from Grandma Honea, and she was a wonderful, elderly lady," Harn said. "We just loved her. She just reminds you of a grandmother, she was so beautiful."

Cloie and Wilburn were charter members of the First Church of Nazarene in Tucson in 1926, where the family was strong in its Christian faith. They often piled into an old car to make long trips to Tucson every Sunday morning for church, long before Interstate 10 tore through in the 1960s.

Bob eventually bought his parents' farm site and now owns about 4,000 acres along the Santa Cruz River on Sanders Road. There, he spends his retirement as a cattle rancher with several hundred black cows and calves roaming his property. After returning from the Korean War and a brief stint at the old cotton gin, he served as Marana's postmaster for 30 years from 1954 to 1984.

Shortly after Marana incorporated in 1977, Bob donated the Honea Homestead to the town and also sold the house behind it for $5,000, which served the town's police and court needs. The Honea Homestead served as Marana's town hall for about a decade before the town moved into the recently vacated building on Lon Adams Road. Town employees now work comfortably in a new multimillion-dollar Marana Municipal Complex on Civic Center Drive.

"I thought they were going to tear it down," Bob said of the Honea Homestead. "But they put a little paint on it and patched it up and used it for the town hall for years."

The Honea Homestead is officially Marana's second town hall. For about six months, the town operated out of an old storefront in a strip mall owned by Sam Chu. That property still stands in disrepair today, near Sanders and Marana roads, but the Honea Homestead was torn down about two years ago.

But at least one piece of Marana history with the Honea name still attached to it is the Honea Heights neighborhood. There, the family's name is proudly displayed on the Honea Drive street sign.

Most of the streets in the neighborhood are named after families the Honeas knew, including Swanson, Hester and White. There's also a Wynema Street, named after Ray's wife. Whitney Lane is named after Ed's son. And Hendricks Street is named after Ed Hendricks, who was a Pima County sheriff's lieutenant assigned to Marana and was "the law" back in those days.

Ed's father, Ray, developed Honea Heights as Marana's first subdivision in the 1950s, when he began subdividing the 100-acre property he owned along the Santa Cruz River. For several years, he sold 80-by-240-square-foot lots for about $300 apiece, and often on a handshake.

Ray, 80, bought the Honea Heights property for $25 an acre, a steal compared with some of the land in northern Marana going for $30,000 to $80,000 an acre today.

"Coming out here poor as snakes, I didn't have a dime and I managed to buy 100 acres for $25 an acre. Amazing," he said. "I got no complaints. I can't imagine a guy having a more interesting life than we've had."

Ray has lived in Marana since he was a teenager and built his first home in 1948 when Ed was 1. In order to sell his lots in Honea Heights, Ray needed water, so he started digging trenches for the Honea Water Co., which served the subdivision until he eventually sold the company to Marana. His wife, Wynema, helped by keeping a logbook for the company, tracking sales.

"I didn't have the advice I probably needed to start the thing," Ray admitted. "I'm not an engineer by any means. I never even finished high school. But it was done mostly with just putting your back to it and hard work."

Around the same time, Ray also worked for Pima County as a deputy sheriff for several years. He had been a fireman at the Marana air base and later worked for the Pima County highway department. He also spent 30 years on the TRICO Electric board of directors during a time when the company was running distribution lines throughout Avra Valley.

But the early tranquil days of Marana came to a halt when Tucson made an aggressive drive in the 1970s to buy up water rights in the Northwest. Tucson set its sights on the valuable groundwater resources Marana had underneath its cotton fields.

The Honeas were among the many families who joined forces to stave off Tucson's advances, which had reached Avra Valley Road by the time Marana incorporated on March 21, 1977. About 85 percent of the registered voters in the area signed petitions asking the Pima County Board of Supervisors to incorporate the town.

"What we were interested in, at the time, was protecting the water rights for the farm community and protecting local autonomy," Ed said.

Pat Garrett, who was then the manager of the Cortaro Water Users Association, is said to have initiated the drive to get Marana incorporated. The Honeas helped carry petitions and participated in regular meetings at Garrett's place.

"It was a tough time and it was a really good time because the community was so energized to be successful," said Ed, who remembers carrying petitions with his parents. "People kind of put their personal likes or dislikes aside and everybody just jumped in and worked together."

With more than 500 residents, Honea Heights served as a main population base for the incorporation, as Marana needed 1,500 residents to become a town. Only 10 square miles when it incorporated, Marana is now more than 120 square miles and is eclipsing 26,000 residents this year. Its population is projected to reach 100,000 by 2030.

"Policy when we started the town of Marana was 'We don't have anything, we'll take anything we can get,'" Ray said. "And we have. It's big now, boy."

Ed recalls the early days when Marana operated on a budget of only $40,000 and had just four employees. That's a far cry from the $90 million budget and 300 employees the town has today.

"The first budget was $40,000. That was everything - police, maintaining the building, paying the power bills," he said. "We had two police officers, we had a volunteer that did the inspections, we had a town clerk that was paid, and we had one road crew guy."

The town bought its first equipment from a state surplus sale and purchased old junked autos that had been scrapped by previous owners.

"We went and bought cars that were 10 or 12 years old for our police," Ed said. "We used CB radios because we couldn't afford police radios. It was kind of like 'Hello, good buddy, is there anything happening down there?'"

Ray was a member of the original town council appointed by the Board of Supervisors that also included Lorain Price, a rancher; Sam Chu, another land owner; Ted DeSpain, a cattle rancher and Marana High School teacher; Don Frew, a Marana public schools retiree; Harry Hansen, a post office employee; and Gary Nesbitt, a rancher and a contractor.

Ed wasn't a member of the original appointed council but later became a member of the first elected council in 1977. Ray also was elected back to the council that year and later served on the Planning and Zoning Commission, spending two years as chairman.

"Well, I'll tell you, I broke into politics right off the bat," said Ray, who recalled when an overconfident Garrett called a meeting to vote on the town's first mayor and suffered a disappointing loss.

"He was so sure he was going to be mayor and then Don Frew was the first mayor," he said. "That was my breaking into politics. It's kind of sad because, typical politics - guy was sure he had it and, boom, he sure didn't have it."

Former Mayor Billy Schisler, a longtime resident of Honea Heights, still lives down the road from Ray and his wife in the house he bought after retiring from the Navy in 1971.

"Ray and I have had a lot of good debates. I was on the council the same time he was, once, and he was planning commission chairman one time I was mayor," he said. "Sometimes we didn't see eye to eye, but we always ended up being OK."

Schisler remembers when the town council tried to get a moratorium placed on mobile homes. Ray, who had started a wildcat trailer park, got upset and ordered a recall election targeting Schisler.

"I didn't take it personally, but since I was mayor, he was going to shoot for the mayor and make sure the mobile homes didn't get stopped," he said. "The old families here were kind of in charge and not used to people telling them what to do. It really knocked the wind out of him when I beat him on that recall."

Council members wanted control of Marana's destiny in the early years but had no experience running a town. Marana remained in the red until the council approved a 2 percent sales tax in 1979 that excluded farm business.

"When we first started, we did all of our books by hand," Ed said. "We didn't have a computer, not one computer. We actually had a barbecue - I think somebody donated a hind quarter of beef or something - and we had a barbecue to raise enough money to buy our first computer."

Ed recalled when Continental Ranch was annexed into Marana in the 1980s and the town held its meetings with developer Charles Keating in the old Honea Homestead.

"The building was so small you couldn't have an executive session to talk about something with the other person in the building," he said. "So we sent Charles Keating and his lawyers out in front of the building and they sat out there for like an hour and a half while the town council discussed things about their development."

Harn, who was first sworn in as mayor in the Honea Homestead, once cast a vote from inside the home's bathroom. She still gets a laugh thinking about the old wooden posts that lawyers had to sit on outside during executive sessions.

"We had a rail that was kind of like in the old days, where they tied up the horses," she said. "I always used to laugh and say, 'We have to save those posts out there because those have been polished by some pretty prestigious butts over the years.'"

A 17-year veteran of the council, Ed previously served as mayor for a two-year period from 1995 to 1997, replacing Harn when she stepped down. He was on the council from 1977 to 1979 and 1981 to 1982 and has served continuously since 1991.

Ed could be at the forefront of Marana's council for the next several years if he seeks re-election in two years, which he said he plans to do. His two children, Whit and Tiffany, describe him as the everyday man, which not many people can argue with.

"He is the most honest, kind man that I've ever met," said Tiffany, 30, who teaches third grade at Desert Winds Elementary School in Marana and lives in Dove Mountain. "I completely look up to him and respect everything about him."

Even despite Ed's Republican ways, he's still an honest, caring man who any residents would want representing them, joked his son, Whit, who admitted that he may be the black sheep of the family for his own liberal tendencies.

"What's great is that my dad can get the Rush Limbaugh newsletter and I'm voting for Clinton and we can still celebrate Christmas together," he said. "He's definitely an everyday guy, and I think that's one of his greatest qualities."

Despite their successes, there's a relaxed, humble nature about the Honeas, none of whom are rich by any monetary measure but all of whom have every right to be proud of their last name.

Ed lives not far from town hall on Grier Road with his second wife, Jan Lawson Honea, whom he married in 1995 after she became director of the Marana Chamber of Commerce. Jan is now a member of the Marana Health Center board of directors and the Marana Arts Council.

Ed works as a contract mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, delivering mail on the same 130-mile route that he started when he took over for his uncle Ronald 28 years ago. His uncle Bob was still postmaster at that time.

Once comprising about 135 houses, Ed's delivery route has multiplied to about 1,500. He's since had to divide the job into three parts and buy a few trucks, and now he has three employees working for him.

Ed graduated from Marana High School and spent one year at the University of Arizona before joining the Navy Seabees in 1967. He served in Vietnam for two years as a heavy equipment operator before coming back and marrying his first wife, with whom he had his two children. He then spent several years working for Tucson Gas & Electric Co., which is now Tucson Electric Power.

Ed's brother, Wayne Honea, is a disabled Vietnam veteran who lives in a small home on his parents' property in Honea Heights. His sister, Pamela (Honea) Bramlett, is a court clerk in Oracle, and her daughter, Wynema Bramlett, also lives in Honea Heights.

Wynema Bramlett has a 7-year-old daughter named Sydney who attends Estes Elementary School and is active in youth rodeo. Sydney accounts for the fifth generation of the Honea lineage currently living in Marana.

While most of the Honeas have gone through the Marana school system, many also have gone on to work in the same schools.

Ed's cousin, Marty Honea, one of Ronald's three sons, is director of the physical education department at Marana High School. Bob's wife, Pat, 76, was secretary in supportive services in the Marana school district for 20 years before retiring. Their middle daughter, Darleen, taught high school in Marana for 19 years and is now living in Tucson. Their oldest daughter, Kathleen, is manager of the bookstore at Marana High School.

Ed, who has traced his family roots back to 1648 to an Abner Honea in North Carolina, said he's proud of the rich history and reputation the Honeas have built in Marana and said he never imagined most of the success that's transpired.

"It's really been a great trip," he said. "We had absolutely no clue in the early days when we incorporated that this would happen. It wasn't even a thought. It wasn't even something we were interested in."

Ray, who married Wynema in 1946 after getting out of the army, has enjoyed a life in Marana ever since and said he wouldn't have it any other way.

On his small property, he tends to his two horses, Taffy and Red Rose, has several roosters and chickens, and owns about 150 homing pigeons that he competitively races. Wynema, 76, has been a 4-H leader for more than 40 years and serves on Marana's Senior Advisory Committee.

Catering to seniors, revitalizing older neighborhoods and preserving the town's history are three of Ed's primary focuses as mayor, though he's also known for his rough-edged scrutiny of residential developments coming to Marana.

"I don't think there's anybody in this town who cares more about seeing Marana turn into the community that we all believe it can be," Harn said.

Residents in the Honea Heights neighborhood will soon reap the benefits of improvements spilling from new master-planned developments such as Gladden Farms, abutting Honea Heights to the east. Over the next three years, the town will be doing renovations in Honea Heights similar to those recently done on Grier Road - tearing up the pavement, building new sidewalks, laying a new sewer mainline and connecting residents for free. For some, it's a welcome addition to the community that's made do with septic tanks for the past 50 years.

Honea Heights is a low- to middle-income neighborhood of about 200 homes located near Moore and Sanders roads and wedged up against the Santa Cruz River. The town has committed funds in recent years to cleaning up the neighborhood, renovating several houses, and, in some cases, completely rebuilding old homes from the ground up.

Ray said he welcomes the improvements to the neighborhood he started and is optimistic about the future of Honea Heights.

"I'm happy with it. I don't think many people get to help put together a town and see it grow like this thing has," he said.

Nearly all of the farmland surrounding the Honea Heights area is being sold for mass residential development. Ray and Wynema say they're looking forward to the advent of closer commercial developments that will soon follow.

"It's certainly going to be a different way of life. It's not the desert rat style we're used to," Ray said. "But what's the use of having any complaints when you're not going to change it anyway?"

Bob said his future days as a rancher are going to be tougher with the continual encroaching development, but "this is progress, they tell me, so I don't fuss about it."

"I tell people I enjoy living in Marana and I don't bat an eye. I couldn't find any place that was better," he said. "I told everyone, when I retired from the post office after 30 years, I couldn't think of anyplace to go so I just put my old truck in reverse and stayed here, and I've enjoyed every minute of it."

Despite his property lying in the flood plain of the Santa Cruz River, Bob said he still receives frequent calls from people interested in buying his land for development.

"Every time you turn around, somebody wants to buy it," he said, adding that he isn't interested.

But his stance may be a rarity in northern Marana, where farmers like the Clarks and Gladdens are turning over their properties to new development for millions of dollars.

In a last attempt to preserve some of Marana's fading farming history, the town recently bought a 75-acre property at the foot of the Gladden Farms development along the Santa Cruz River, near Honea Heights.

The old Hinton farm site, which was originally developed by Ed's aunt and uncle, Bernice Honea and Duncan Hinton, is soon to be home to the Marana Arts Council, which will inhabit the Heritage House, a museum-like building that's being renovated onsite. The town's mounted patrol will move there, where several stables and room for a caretaker are available.

Years ago, Ed remembers visiting his cousins and spending summer nights in the old bunkhouse that still stands out back. Although he remains proud of his family's rural past, he's excited about the future of Marana as it continues to experience breakneck growth.

"All of this land where the park is and the town hall is was just cotton farms. That was it," he said. "We're just growing so rapidly. In the last two months, we've sold 430 permits at about three people per house, which would be about 1,300 people. Almost as many people have moved into Marana in the last two months that lived here in 1977 when we incorporated. It's really something."

Whit Honea, Ed's 34-year-old son, said he's seen a different Marana in recent years than the one he grew up in. He now lives about 30 minutes north of Los Angeles with his wife, Tricia, and his 2-year-old son, Atticus, but they visit Marana on occasion.

"I've kind of been watching from a distance," he said. "But it's nice to see my father carrying on what his father started, to a point where I almost feel a little guilty for not being a part of it."

Whit said much has changed since the days of his youth spent in cotton fields and mesquite groves, which are now the sites of houses and businesses. He remembers driving into town in the back of his parents' car when Ina was still a one-lane road and Thornydale was still dirt.

"Having a son now as I do, I look back to the things we were able to do as kids. There was a sense of innocence," he said. "It was just a different time. It was OK for us to go out and play after dark and go out in the fields and ride with the cotton pickers. It's almost Huck Finn-like as I look back on it now."

Whit and his wife are currently bartending to make ends meet, but he said he wants to put his creative writing degree from the University of Arizona to good use soon. So far, he's had a handful of poems and short stories published and was a finalist for a Pushcart Award a couple of years ago.

His son, Atticus, is named after the character in the book "To Kill a Mockingbird." Whit said he's been looking for a community similar to the Marana he once knew, so his son can enjoy the same kind of childhood he had.

"But I don't know that that exists anymore," he said.

Neighborhood crimes, including occasional break-ins, now occur in the Honea Heights neighborhood where Ed once raised his children. His parents, who still live in the neighborhood on White Avenue, attest to the fact that the area is changing.

"When we raised our family out here, we didn't have to worry about their safety like you do today," Wynema said. "Like my little granddaughter over there, we don't let her out of our sight anymore."

Ed said he'd like to see Whit return to Marana with his family, someday. But regardless of what happens, the mayor of Marana has no worries that the Honea name will survive in the town his family helped pioneer in what now seems like a past life.

"I always hope my son will move back, but there are many, many children in the Honea family," he said. "There were about 30 grandchildren to my original grandparents. There are Honeas in the next generation living here. The Honea name will carry on."

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