Last week, Ora Mae Harn was called the "Matriarch of Marana," "The First Lady of Marana," and "a trailblazer, someone who embodies Marana."
Add one more descriptive to Ora Mae Harn. She's a "Hall of Famer."
The town is going to create a Marana Hall of Fame at its heritage park, and Ora Mae Harn is going to be its first inductee, Town Manager Gilbert Davidson told a crowd of several hundred who celebrated Ora Mae – nobody calls her Harn – last Thursday at the Marana Municipal Complex.
"We knew the first inductee would set high standards," said Davidson, and it's got to be Ora Mae Harn. "There is no one more deserving."
"I know you all probably had something better to do," the guest of honor said when she took the microphone.
"I'm so proud, proud to introduce the Marana Heritage Conservancy, something very, very special and important to me," she said.
Thursday's event was labeled a celebration of the conservancy, the organization aiming to preserve and promote Marana's rich history. Town government and the conservancy have entered into a memorandum of understanding, meaning they shall cooperate in "a community-wide effort to preserve our past," Davidson said.
This has come about because of "the critical role played by our guest of honor, Ora Mae Harn," Davidson said. "Today is your day, Ora, and I'm so happy we are all here for it."
"I don't have a guarantee for too many more years," Ora Mae told the group. The 77-year-old, first stricken with cancer 3-1/2 years ago, learned on April 5 that it's back.
"There's nothing more they could do that was traditional," her doctor told her. She could undergo some new, experimental trials, but those are an ordeal.
Not this time, she's decided. "We're not doing trials," she said. "We're just trusting God. I'll go back in a few months and let them look at me again, but that's all they're going to see of Ora Mae Harn."
She's giving her energy to the conservancy, and its preservation of Marana's history. "The conservancy is going to be an important thing for this community, an important organization," said Ora Mae, who is Marana's town historian. She asked people to bring their historical pictures and newspaper clippings. "You need to help us all to build a solid foundation, and bring your money, we need it, too," Ora Mae said.
The crowd was filled with the elected and appointed, legislators and council people and representatives of those high in government, along with Marana people less known publicly but no less appreciated by Ora Mae.
She called out former Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis, "a very good friend of Marana, a very good and faithful friend of mine." Then she scanned the crowd, and said "I could look at all of you and say the same thing."
In her 50 years in and around Marana, Ora Mae has driven a school bus, cooked and served in the school cafeteria, directed the Marana Health Center and the Marana Community Food Bank, provided the needed energy for the senior center, served on the council and as mayor a total of 16 years, and has now formalized Marana's preservation and promotion of its history. And that's not half of it.
"Ora has seen this community from many vantage points," Davidson said. "To many of us, she is Marana."
"I was one of those kids in line at the cafeteria in the early '60s, begging for a bigger helping," said Marana Mayor Ed Honea. "She has always been the same person, loyal, dedicated, persistent." Honea gave a scrapbook to Ora Mae, much of its contents assembled by rifling through papers in her office after hours.
John Officer, president of the conservancy, remembered that when he first came to town, Marana needed a Little League park. "I don't know if she was mayor, but she was in charge of the work," Officer said of Ora Mae, and everyone knew what he meant. She told volunteers to go ahead and build it. "She came back later, and said 'do it right, but let's get it done.'"
The conservancy needs money and volunteers, Officer told the audience. "Together, we can make this happen." The Cortaro Marana Irrigation District and the Cortaro Water Users presented a check in Ora Mae's honor to the conservancy, which plans to create a permanent endowment to support history projects and the development of Marana Heritage River Park.
Ora Mae rode to the town complex in a limousine paid for by local farmers. Wearing a purple blouse and sweater, and a colorful skirt, Ora Mae passed beneath a military sword cross from Juan Bautista de Anza re-enactors, and entered the building to long, warm applause. She said hello to everyone.
Cotton balls, integral to Marana's history, decorated the buffet, and there were cotton candy bites for treats. "Everything here's been donated," save for the corsage paid for by the town, said Deb Thalasitis, assistant town manager.
Tom Dunn of Sen. John McCain's office said Ora Mae "has influenced and impacted the lives of many."
Ron Barber of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' office said Giffords read a letter into the Congressional Record this week, describing Ora Mae as someone who "embodies the community spirit that defines Marana."
Julie Katsel of Sen. Jon Kyl's office simply passed along a personal note from Kyl to Ora Mae.
"If you want to work on ways to help Marana, Ora will find you," Davidson said.
She found, for example, Brad DeSpain, who "never stood a chance" when she asked him to help with the conservancy. "Saying 'no' was not an option," Davidson said. "She has been committed to a lifetime of action."
"There's absolutely no reason we shouldn't be the best little town in Arizona," Ora Mae said.
"Amen," one member of the congregation replied.
"I love you all," she said. "I think I'm the most fortunate, lucky lady in the entire world," with "the best family, the best friends, the best town in the world. I'm humbled by this honor, I really am."
After a proclamation for Ora Mae was read in English and Spanish by the de Anza re-enactors, Davidson asked people to join her in the lobby for personal greetings.
But Ora Mae Harn, ever feisty, said otherwise.
"I will not stand in the lobby," she said, her arm raised in admonition. "I will be in my office."
She walked into her town historian's office, beaming, and the line of well-wishers formed.