In honor of Tucson’s Veterans and the early settlers of Pima County and their families, the Arizona Historical Society sponsored the first Tucson Mormon Heritage Festival on Saturday, November 9th. Part of the Festival at Fort Lowell Park this weekend was to celebrate the contributions of veterans who have served our country in all generations. But it was also to commemorate the contributions the early Mormon settlers made to the area. “It was great to see so many individuals, children and families come to enjoy the festivities, learn about some of the contributors to the history of Tucson, participate in fun hands-on activities, and to honor military veterans for their service to the cause of liberty to freedom-loving people throughout the world,” commented Randy Madsen, co-chair of the event.
Barbara Spelman, a volunteer from the community, worked with five of her friends, presenting spinning, basket making, weaving (tapestry & inkle loom), cotton preparation, felting wool into small balls, and knitting. Children of all ages gathered around the experts and were enthralled with the process of creating string, yarn, cloth and other material from cotton and wool. She said “It’s always interesting to me to listen to the stories people share with us of remembering family members, usually their grandparents, doing some of the same things we were doing, but as part of their daily life.” She said “It was especially nice to have families participating together and parents taking an active interest in learning with their kids.”
Chris Carbonneau from Marana took five of his children under the age of 8 to the festival on Saturday while his wife attended “Time Out For Women” in Phoenix with their brand new baby. He planned to go for a short time just to get the kids outside and to visit with a few others that they knew would be there. “When we got there, the kids began the treasure hunt, and we started to visit all of the booths in order. The kids were excited to get their treasure hunt checklists complete, and I was learning a lot about Mormon history in southern Arizona that I didn’t know. Before we knew it we had been there for four hours and were still going strong.”
Marana ranchers taught children how to use a rope to catch a cow and allowed them to practice their newly honed skills. 140 missionaries from the Arizona Tucson Mission volunteered their day leading games and helping at booths were quick to join in the fun relays and sack races. More than 300 children made pioneer dolls.
Hundreds more were able to learn the fine art of panning for “gold,” which were beautifully painted pebbles. One little two year old, excited to find his nuggets, certain they were worth something because his parents made a big deal over it, tried to exchange his find for a children’s sized blueberry shaved ice at the Chill Shack, one of the many food vendors. He was pleased when the manager accepted it and then traded it for some cash from his father, and the shaved ice.
Adding to the festivities were the musical groups that performed all day long. The Due West Trio played old time country music in the morning, followed by the Mormon Battalion Band at noon. Missionaries sang during the intermissions. The day finished up with a special event honoring the veterans with more than two hundred enjoying the music of The 4th Cavalry Regimental Band, a group of more than 20 musicians, also known as the Old Arizona Brass Band, that have performed at the park for Veteran’s Day weekend for more than thirty years.
At intermission in the afternoon music, the veterans were honored by Councilman Paul Cunningham, from Tucson’s Ward 2. During the final half hour of the Festival, Tedd Vogt, Director of the Arizona Department of Veteran’s Services spoke of the sacrifices made by the veterans, including three World War II vets who were in attendance. After Cub Scouts from Vail presented certificates of appreciation to all the Veterans, as the band played the Armed Forces Medley, the Davis Monthan Air Force Honor Guard helped the audience remember the symbolism of the American flag, and how it honors those who have served and fallen in defense of our country.
The curator at the Fort Lowell Museum, part of the Arizona Historical Society, Bette Richards, was pleased with the response. It was estimated that about 1,500 people attended the Festival. Richards said there were over 800 people that walked through the door of the museum. “This is the kind of event we hoped for. First, we had a great group of volunteers interested in honoring the early pioneers that came to Tucson. All of the families I saw seemed to really enjoy themselves. Then, I was able to bring my 96 year old father to watch the presentation for the veterans. He was a Navy Vet from World War II, and was so appreciative of being remembered. This is only the second time that he has been thanked for putting his life on the line for his country. This whole day was really special to me.”
The day was so memorable for everyone involved. Randy and Kathy Madsen, who helped organize the festival, stated that the highlights of the day included “meeting a survivor of the WWII Battle of the Bulge, talking to a Purple Heart recipient from a Mekong Delta River Navy patrol gunboat, seeing a young girl curled up asleep on the comfort of the bison robe in the Mormon Battalion tent, watching children enthusiastically grind wheat into meal with a hand mill, cheers sounding when the black powder musket successfully discharged amid a blast of white smoke, and the tearful emotion of veterans receiving a certificate of appreciation from a wide-eyed Cub Scout.”
As the last volunteers were leaving the park, Curator Richards said, “This is definitely worth doing again next year.”