Cele's Legacy

It's almost August—and August is the time to celebrate the birth of Tucson, with dozens of events for people to enjoy.

The fifth-annual month-long celebration of Tucson's Birthday, however, will be bittersweet—because while we're celebrating the birth of our city, we'll also be honoring the woman who started it all.

Cele Peterson, the birthday-month founder and longtime Tucson business icon, passed away in May at the age of 101. Peterson designed Tucson's birthday to encourage citizens to make connections, and although she chose the month of August for the celebration because the Presidio de Tucson was established on Aug. 20, 1775, she also wanted to celebrate in August because that's when Tucsonans usually have the city to themselves.

"She was an extraordinary woman with great vision on how the birth of Tucson can bring its people together to celebrate a wonderful event. Though Cele is not with us physically, her spirit will forever live on in our heart," said event organizer Linda Ray, who worked with Peterson for years (and who is also a longtime Tucson Weekly contributor). "This year's celebration might be the most special one out of them all, because we are honoring Cele on what she created."

Ray emphasized that the birthday month is meant to bring Tucsonans together.

"Cele's main focus when creating Tucson's Birthday was to bring different pools of cultures and people together to celebrate their own history, and to have businesses make connections for their best benefits. She started calling every business she knew in her Rolodex—promoting the birthday of Tucson, and promoting the businesses as well," Ray said. "It was a give-and-take scenario—and since no one ever said no to Cele, it always worked out fine on both sides. Cele was the best at twisting people's arms to get her way."

When asked which activities might be the best to attend, Ray hesitated.

"It is difficult for me to pick a favorite event, because they are like my babies ... but there are a few that we think Cele would have liked the most," Ray said. "The three that Cele would have enjoyed the most would have to be the Mission Gardens, the concert that will be held at the Fox Theatre, and the event that will be held at (Mission) San Xavier. Each event is so different from the others that it makes the celebration more enjoyable, because there is something for everyone."

The Mission Garden, on the corner of Mission Road and Mission Lane, will be the place where the birthday celebration begins, at 8:30 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 1. The event will include breakfast and the dedication of the gates to the Mission Garden. The gates were built and donated by Lloyd Construction, and the finished garden will honor the history of agriculture and life at the base of Sentinel Peak. Admission will be free, but donations to the Mission Garden Fund are encouraged.

The concert at the Fox Tucson Theatre, at 17 W. Congress St., at 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 14, will include a number of Tucson musicians gathering to offer a special tribute to Peterson. The Gospel Music Workshop of America Chorus, Sticks and Fingers, Gabriel Ayala, Mariachi Sonido de Mexico with Olga Flores, and Los Gallegos with Salvador Duran are all slated to perform. Admission is free.

"We are very excited for the concert, because we have a good lineup of talented musicians, and I believe that the attendees will enjoy the music that will be played that night," said Ray—who, as the oldest working female rock critic in America, knows a thing or two about music. "It is also going to be a good show because there will be a special tribute to Cele."

Finally, the San Xavier Mission celebration will include Native American arts and crafts, a variety of food booths and fun entertainment throughout the day. The event will start at 10 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 21, and admission is free.

Beyond these three events, the month of August will be chock-full of Tucson's Birthday happenings.

"Though these events might (have been) Cele's favorites, it does not mean that the other events are not enjoyable to attend. They are all a way for people to educate themselves about the history that is under their feet," Ray said.