Marana's 'visionary' has a lengthy legacy - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Marana's 'visionary' has a lengthy legacy

ORA MAE HARN, 1932-2010

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Posted: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:21 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

When Ora Mae Harn died Wednesday, July 28, Marana lost "one of its truly remarkable citizens," Mayor Ed Honea said.

He's known Ora nearly all her time in Marana, stretching back nearly 50 years, to when she lived at Silverbell, served food in the school cafeteria and drove a school bus.

"I can honestly say that she improved the lives of everyone who lives here," Honea said. "When the cause was right, you could always count on her to help and to call on others to pitch in."

The "Matriarch of Marana" leaves behind an unparalleled legacy, as a founder and leader of the Marana Health Center, as a founder of the Marana Community Food Bank and a clothing bank, as Marana's first and only woman mayor and longtime town council member, as an energetic force in Marana's founding in 1977, and as an essential thread in the binding together of a place and its people.

Ora will be the first inductee into the Marana Hall of Fame. There is a park named in her honor. Ora founded the Marana Heritage Conservancy, and she worked to preserve the town's history all the way until her latest battle with cancer forced her to stay home, less than two weeks before she died at the age of 77.

Throughout, she's been a dedicated servant, "very instrumental in getting the town some wheels, getting the town rolling," recalled Brad DeSpain, the retired town water authority who's known Ora for 40 years.

"She is certainly the lady of the community," DeSpain said. "She has done a lot for not only the town, but the whole community ."

Ora was "wonderful," longtime Marana Health Center colleague Christine Winters said. "It was her positive attitude, her feeling there's nothing we can't do, we just need to figure out how, there's always a way, we just don't know what it is yet. She was a real visionary."

While Ora was "a very, very civic-minded woman," she had "lots of passionate desire to really help people, to see them go places in their life where they wanted to go."

Winters remembered the time Ora asked her adjust the pay scale in the WIC department, giving everyone a little more money so one particular single mother would have enough income to qualify for improved housing. It so typified Ora that she'd "make an effort for that one person, to make things work for her, and she did that consistently for lots of people in many different situations," Winters said.

At one time, Ora was both the mayor of Marana and the director of the Marana Health Center.

"She took about the best power nap I've ever seen in my life," Winters said. She remembered a trip to Phoenix on business. In a shared hotel room, just before dinner, Ora said "give me just a few minutes. She took her shoes off. Fifteen or 20 minutes later, she woke up, bolted to her feet and said 'I'm ready, let's go.'"

When Winters and Ora were co-directors of the Marana Health Center, "she would often cause me a little heartburn when she'd say 'we're going to do this.'" As an example, Winters wasn't sure the center could put a sliding fee scale back in place after it had been removed.

"It's our responsibility to provide it," Ora said.

"But Ora, we're no longer receiving the federal funding," Winters replied.

"'Chris, don't worry about those things, I'll take care of those things.' And sure enough, it worked."

Ora was criticized and mocked during her two terms as mayor of Marana. There were efforts to recall her.

"She pushed you a little," DeSpain said. "She was pretty pushy when she needed something done, but she was polite with it. She had tenacity, she'd stay right after it. And she stood her ground with the bigger folks, PAG and some of those areas, and she'd fight the fight for Marana.

"Some of the nicknames some of the people in Eastern Pima County came up with was more jealous than anything else, because she was getting things done," DeSpain said.

As a boss, Ora "expected you to keep her informed," he continued. "She'd delegate to you, and would support you. There was not much of any scoldings, lots of encouragement, lots of challenges from time to time."

In the end, he believes, "she was really well-respected by all of her fellow council people. They would disagree with Ora from time to time, but when all was said and done, they all respected her.

"Where we're at today, we need people with that kind of honesty and integrity and character," DeSpain said.

Where would Marana be without Ora Mae Harn?

"We'd have probably still been struggling back there, trying to figure out how to get money enough to patch the roads," DeSpain said.

Ora was one of the first people Tom Ellis met when he joined the town nearly 10 years ago.

"One of the first projects I was involved with was the heritage park," and Ora was the town historian driving that project, the town's parks and recreation director recalls.

"I was blessed, and I mean blessed with a capital B, to work for Ora," Ellis said. According to the organizational chart, "Ora was supposed to work for me, but that was never the case. I worked for Ora. She taught me more about public service, and a life of service, than all my 30 years of government work. She's the best."

What did a veteran of public service learn from Ora?

She "was always full of hope," Ellis said. " She never let somebody, who might not have realized her goals yet, she never let that dissuade her. She always moved straight ahead to the goal she was after. I never saw her discouraged for more than a few seconds. She'd be back on it and moving ahead. She was amazing in that respect."

"I can never recall when she was discouraged," DeSpain said. "She may have been a little frustrated, but she always had that view from 30,000 feet, where we needed to be."

"No one could tell Ora 'no,'" Honea said of his longtime friend.

When Marv Athey was CEO and general manager of Trico Electric Cooperative, he wrote that Trico usually said 'yes' when Ora came calling.

"We're happy to do so," Athey said, "not only because Trico very much believes in supporting the community, but also because we're betting Ora Mae doesn't say 'no' to requests for help very often herself."

"You never told Ora 'no,' because you couldn't look her in the face," Ellis said. "She just had that sparkle, that 'can do'. Even in passing, the end of her life, she was the perfect model for that."

DeSpain never could say no to Ora, "because I knew her heart was in the right place, I knew she was pursuing it for the good of the Town of Marana and the community. It was nothing personal for Ora, it was strictly for the community and the town. She had no personal financial gain, or anything else."

"There was never any artifice about her," Town Clerk Jocelyn Bronson said. "What you saw was exactly what you got. There was no hidden agenda."

Ed Stolmaker, president and chief executive officer of the Marana Chamber of Commerce, met Ora through the Marana Rotary Club. She was a founder of that club, too.

"She took me under her wing, shared a lot about family, and we talked about giving back to the community," Stolmaker said. "She always wanted to give back to the community. She always was asking for help, either volunteering your time or financially, and it was easy to give to her, because of her passion … for whatever she was involved in."

From Ora, Stolmaker learned "never be afraid to ask people for anything. … Sometimes I hesitate, and I think of Ora. It helps me get through that. Her persistence and the way she ran her life and managed her life is an inspiration."

"When she told me about the second bout of cancer, I said, 'What can I possibly do?'" Bronson recalled.

"Just be my friend," Ora replied.

"That's her," Bronson said. "She didn't really want anything you couldn't give, or just aren't capable of giving.

Bronson visited Ora several days before she passed. "She may have recognized my voice, because I think she tried to say 'thank you,'" Bronson said.

"She was such a sweet soul," Bronson said, her voice breaking. "She gave so much, and I hope she felt at the end of her life that she got it back."

At Tuesday night's town council meeting, a proclamation honoring Ora was being read into the record.

"Ora's heart knew no boundaries when it came to Marana," the document reads. "She was truly a champion of difficult causes that always came to fruition through her tenacity, perseverance and belief in doing the right thing. …

"Ora Mae Harn will live on today and always in the projects carrying her name, the acts she performed as a citizen, as a council member, mayor, beloved friend, counselor, wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. … Ora, we will never forget your compassion, your joy, your enthusiasm and your smile."

Services for Ora Mae Harn

Several services have been arranged for Ora Mae Harn.

Ora's family and the Town of Marana are hosting visitations at the municipal complex, 11555 West Civic Center Drive, on Friday, Aug. 6, from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 7, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Services are being held at Faith Community Church, 2551 West Orange Grove Road, on Saturday, Aug. 7 at 2 p.m.

The public is invited to attend both tributes to Ora.

Notes from Ora's life

In April 2003, The Explorer produced a special book to honor Ora Mae Harn.

"Matriarch of Marana" shared details of Ora's many accomplishments, along with a wealth of photographs of Ora with governors, celebrities and colleagues, cutting ribbons, handling shovels, doing the work of a community.

Among its details …

Ora Mae King was born Nov. 8, 1932, in Monongahela, Pa. She graduated from Monongahela High School in 1950, and shortly after married Jerry Harn.

The Harn family, with children Paul, Deborah and Nancy, moved from Pennsylvania to Silverbell, Ariz., in 1961.

Ora was a cafeteria worker and bus driver for the Marana Unified School District beginning in 1964, when she lived at Silverbell. She also began volunteering at the Marana Health Center, and served on its board of directors. The family didn't officially move to Marana until 1973.

Ora was elected to the Marana Town Council in 1985, was chosen vice mayor in 1987, and was elected mayor in 1989. She served as mayor from 1989 through 1993, and again from 1997 through 1999. One of her major accomplishments was the initiative to put in Santa Cruz River bank protection after the devastating floods of 1983, which damaged Ora's home as well as that of her mother. That work toward streambank stabilization took more than a decade.

She ran for the Arizona Legislature in 1996, finishing third in a four-way race for two House seats.

Ora served 16 years on the town council, retiring in 2001.

Ora was hired by the Marana Health Center in 1979 to serve as its director of community services. She developed a number of community service organizations, including the Marana Community Food Bank, the Marana Clothing Bank, and case management services for the elderly and physically disabled. She was hired as its executive director in 1990, and worked at MHC until 2001.

In 2000, Ora was asked to be part of an American group that went to Kosovo on a humanitarian effort and to monitor that nation's first democratic elections after years of war.

"Little has happened in Marana that Ora hasn't touched in some way. Whether it's through her involvement in town politics, her activism in state and county government, or her dedication to local organizations, Ora has actively participated in making the town of Marana a better place to live."

— The memory book

"Woman of the Decade! Ora Harn is the woman of the century as far as I'm concerned."

— Rep. Jim Kolbe

As a community advocate, "her work is never done," the book concludes.

"Ora Mae truly wasthe 'Matriarch of Marana' and it is impossible to imagine what the town would have been like without her leadership. … If any one person can embody the community spirit that defines Marana, it is Ora Mae Harn. She was one of the most generous and caring individuals I have met."

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

"Ora Mae Harn was an incredible person — determined, persistent and independent. Her influence on our community cannot be overstated, and her legacy will continue to guide and shape the town of Marana for generations. … Her time with us was a gift to be celebrated."

Jonathan Paton

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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