The massive, 31-year-old South Tucson Christmas bash known as Miracle on 31st Street will be magically transformed this year into the 31st Miracle in Marana.
Ramon Gonzales, the genial South Tucson neighbor whose tiny, informal block party in 1970 blossomed into an event that brightened Christmas for more than 5,000 people last year, is relocating to Avra Valley and bringing his party with him.
"I was moving and had a choice of discontinuing the party or moving it with me. The people in Marana have been very helpful, and I decided to just keep the party going," Gonzales said.
The event is scheduled for Dec. 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m in front of Marana High School, 12000 W. Emigh Road, and is expected to draw about 4,000 people and provide presents, food and entertainment for all the children who come, Gonzales said.
"I'm hoping to keep the party the same as it's always been, to just give children a nice Christmas regardless of their income, regardless of whether they're brown, black, white, yellow, red or blue," he said.
"That's the one thing Ramon has always emphasized," said Master Sgt. David Triana, a Davis Monthan Airman who had swung by Gonzales' home last week to drop off two shiny new bicycles to be given away at the party. "A kid is a kid, and rich or poor, they should all have a special time at Christmas."
Gonzales' journey from the nice old guy in the small house down the street to the godfather of local Christmas celebrations is a bit of a miracle in its own right.
"When it started, it was no big deal. I just wanted to do something for my nieces and nephews and the kids in the neighborhood, so I went down to the Pic and Save and spent about $125 on small toys and food and stuff," Gonzales said.
In that first year, Gonzales said the block party catered to "a handful" of children who lived near his home on West 31st Street and 10th Avenue. Word spread, and the second year drew about 100 kids in and about his yard.
By last year, the party had evolved to include a parade down South Sixth Avenue, the closure of Gonzales' street so the thousands of neighbors could mingle, and Santa Claus flown in on a Department of Public Safety helicopter.
"It was more than 5,000 people, and we made sure all the children got presents," Gonzales said.
His service to the children of South Tucson and Tucson earned him national recognition in 1999, when he was honored by the National Points of Light Foundation, which spotlights innovative volunteer projects and community service-minded people.
Several organizations are scrambling to help Gonzales keep the party alive in its new location, including the town of Marana, the Marana Unified School District, The Marana Chamber of Commerce and the Marana Police Officer's Association.
"It's really his party, but we're filling in where there's a need," said Sandy Groseclose, who handles special events for the town of Marana, and has helped Gonzales get permits and gain permission to close a portion of Emigh Road for the event.
Kim Holloway, MUSD's director of Student Affairs, said district employees, students and parents had collected about 2,000 presents so far for the event.
"Ramon is a wonderfully, unassuming man. He was a little concerned about moving his party after all these years, and we just told him 'the Marana community really works well together and we have a lot of hardworking people. We'll pull it off,'" Holloway said.
Gonzales, a South Tucson native and former sheet metal worker who is now disabled, said he and his wife had been making small payments for years to purchase a parcel of land near Anway Road and a mobile home to place on it.
"We've been making payments of $103 a month for years. It's been our idea of a dream home," he said.
Gonzales credits MUSD's Governing Board President Bonnie Demorotski for helping to keep the party going.
"We both were volunteering for Primavera (a Tucson organization that assists the homeless) and I told her last January that I was moving and might have to end the party. She suggested we just move it to the (Marana) high school," he said.
Demorotski put Gonzales in touch with several people in Marana, who he said were more than eager to help.
"One of the first people I talked to was Lt. Bruce Thomas of the Marana Police Department," Gonzales said. "He just listened to me and kind of smiled and didn't say much. The next thing I know, the whole ball was rolling and lots of people in Marana were calling to help."
The party will no doubt be missed back on 31st Street, but both the cities of Tucson and South Tucson have scheduled several other events for the communities' children. A Christmas party to be held at the El Casino Ballroom, just a few blocks away from where Gonzales' old party was held, is expected to draw more than a 1,000 people.
For those Southside neighbors who can't tear themselves away from the homespun Miracle on 31st Street, Gonzales is hoping someone can help him borrow a couple of buses.
"When it was in South Tucson, people would travel from as far away as Three Points to attend so I kind of expect some people will want to make the trip all the way out to Marana. It would really help if someone knew a way I could use some buses," he said. "I want every kid I can help to be there. I want to make sure they all have a good Christmas."