Favorite

Quarter-Century Perspectives 

Thoughts on Tucson from four residents celebrating their own 25-year milestones

The 25-year-old

Kasia Zygnerska, born April 26, 1984

Kasia Zygnerska was born and raised in Stargard, Poland, but came to Tucson as an au pair in 2003. She told her parents she'd return in a year; almost six years later, she remains in Tucson, lured by what she describes as a "magical desert" that allowed her to grow. She went to school at Pima Community College and Northern Arizona University, and got a degree in hotel and restaurant management. However, she ended up focusing on jewelry design. She currently uses Tucson as a home base while she travels around the world--although she says she's always happy to return to the desert. To learn more about Zygnerska's jewelry, visit simplykasia.com.

What decade do you identify with most, and why?

I remember the 1990s best, when I was growing up in Poland. I was a free spirit who enjoyed being out in nature. Outside our house, I'd run out in the fields, getting dirty and eating berries. Stargard is really close to the German border and the Baltic Sea, about two hours away from Berlin--so we were close to many things to do, but it was also out in the country. ... My town was relatively small and mostly surrounded by the countryside. My father would always play jazz and blues, and that was the music I was surrounded with and raised with.

What does it mean to you to call Tucson home?

Sometimes, it's really hard to call it home, because I've been traveling so much, but it is an inspiring place, especially for my jewelry. When the flowers and cactuses start blooming, I love to take walks. It's a place with a special vibe. Something has kept me here. When I go to bigger cities, I do think of Tucson. The people are so much nicer, too. In Poland, they don't ask you, "How are you?" The atmosphere that surrounds this city and the people, the desert--it is something special.

If you could change one thing about Tucson, what would it be?

From a 25-year-old's perspective, yes? Well, we have a lot of nightclubs and a lot of places young adults go to ... but I would try to make someplace more sophisticated, where you can go and talk and listen to jazz music--a place for a more mature crowd. At this point, 25-year-olds aren't necessarily interested in going out and getting drunk anymore.

What's the greatest thing to happen to the Old Pueblo?

The Gem Show--really, absolutely. From the moment I came here, I was introduced to the Gem Show. I'm sure this is purely from an individual perspective, but as a jewelry designer, the Gem Show is the greatest thing.

What do you think people in Tucson need to care more about?

From the city perspective: Why not make this more of a walking place, with better public transportation? You go to any other city, and the bus system is so much better. ... The distance is huge, since we are in such a large, open city, but we need to do something now. Stop hiding from the problem. We need to also market the bus system that we have now so everyone wants to ride it. Being born and raised in Europe, I'm used to being able to walk more, and I know it brings a community together, and you get to know the people.

When you describe Tucson, what do you say?

I always say it's a magical desert. The first thing I always mention are the mountains. You get to experience the best in nature, even the snakes and scorpions. I came here with a phobia of snakes, but what happened the first day when I opened the front door? I saw a snake and decided to fully accept it. (Laughs. )

What could we use more of?

I've always thought that we could use more locally owned stores, small shops and cafés, and less big-box stores and corporate stores--(with) more local money staying here rather than going to support the big guys.

What could we use less of?

We should use less water. I've got ... friends who are very involved in conserving water and recycling, and making sure we stay on top of it. I definitely see the differences when I go to other countries in how we look at resources. When I was a child, I was always told not to waste. The lights were turned off if you weren't using them, and we were reminded not to let the water run. This is an ongoing problem that, at one point, these people (in Arizona) forgot about.

Do you think we're on the right track?

I think it's getting there. ... There is still more to achieve ... especially with transportation. There is a strong attitude of driving cars everywhere; I think this is the main concern I always have for Tucson. I think, after all, it is a great city. It's a matter of putting it in the right direction.

Looking forward, what kind of Tucson will we have in the next 25 years?

If I left and came back again in 25 years, I'd like to think there won't be as many cars, and not as many Safeways and Walgreens at every corner. I think it's a great place to begin with, but ... I hope to see a desert that is not destroyed, a Tucson that doesn't keep building more and more houses, and people who always surround themselves with positive attitudes.


The 50-year-old

Paul Eckerstrom, born Feb. 18, 1959

Paul Eckerstrom came to Tucson at the age of 5, when his father, a Lutheran minister, brought his family from Minneapolis to take a job leading the Lutheran campus program at the UA. He went to the UA as an undergrad and for law school. He's always returned to Tucson after leaving the city for work--even though Eckerstrom remains a fan of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings. He's home now, working as a defense attorney with the Pima County Legal Defenders Office.

What decade do you identify with most, and why?

My younger years in the 1960s and early 1970s. Tucson was much smaller then. I remember the moon shots and growing up scared about the Cold War and hearing the sirens go off. ... My dad was a peace activist, and I remember going to all the marches. I remember in 1968 when Bobby Kennedy came here. It was not long after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. I also remember that (Bobby Kennedy) was here just two weeks before he was shot. I was 9 years old at the time and very much aware of what was going on. My dad was being followed by the FBI, and I remember our phone clicked when you picked it up, so it was definitely being tapped. Probably one of the most exciting nights for us was when Apollo 8 with Tucson High School graduate Frank Borman serving as commander of the whole mission (launched in December 1968). My brother (now-Tucson attorney) Peter Eckerstrom and I got a pair of used walkie-talkies from the Army surplus store. Just as Apollo was flying over Tucson, we could hear them talking to Houston. They couldn't hear us, but we could hear them. It was an interesting time to grow up in--so much change happening.

You're not a native, but pretty close. What does it mean to you to call Tucson home?

When we first moved to Tucson, we didn't have a football or baseball team, so that's why I'm still a Twins and Vikings fan. But I have strong ties to Arizona. I really love the culture and history here. Tucson still has a strong sense of self. ... It still has its roots in its Native American culture and Spanish heritage. Phoenix certainly doesn't have that, and that's what I love about Tucson. But I do love the whole region--the mountains, the forests, the people, the desert--I feel like a Westerner. I think living in the desert makes us feel more human, because we are more vulnerable. It's not easy living here.

If you could change one thing about Tucson, what would it be?

We need to better plan for our growth--growth we've already experienced. It was perfect here when we had about 250,000 people in the 1970s, but now we are at 1 million, and we aren't taking the steps we need to accommodate growth or protect our resources. We need to plan for better-paying jobs in this town and spend more on education. We have to invest in education as part of our infrastructure. If the state isn't going to do that, I still think we (as Tucsonans) need to do it. Phoenix is culturally devoid. In terms of education, we need to separate from the rest of the state and do the right thing by our children right here in Gadsden (Purchase), Arizona.

What's the greatest thing to happen to the Old Pueblo?

I think the greatest thing is the university. It's our cultural and economic center. For a city this size to be a college town, I think it's been a good thing for Tucson. I also think the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan is (a good thing), too. It's the first step in controlling how we want to grow. But we still need a vision of where we want to be. I also think one of the greatest things to happen to the Tucson valley is the film industry. I'd see Lee Marvin driving down the street when I was a kid. (I remember) Lilies of the Field and the old Westerns that were filmed here. It's part of our legacy, and it would be nice to see that come back.

What do you think people in Tucson need to care more about?

Growth and what kind of town we want to be. I think Rio Nuevo is a good example of how we pay consultants to tell us what we want, rather than us telling them or the city what we want. ... We meet, make plans and shelve them. If we had to go through a brutal winter, maybe we'd be forced to hunker down and put a plan in place. But our weather has a way of making us lose focus. (Laughs. ) During the winter, we don't worry as much as (people do) up north, and during the summer, we get out of town on vacation.

When you describe Tucson, what do you say?

That what I really like about this town is the people and the culture. When people tell me they think there's nothing to do, I tell them that's not true. But the best thing about being from Tucson is that there is still a feeling of community--which is something you don't feel when you're in a bigger city, like Phoenix or Los Angeles.

What could we use more of?

We need more money. We need taxes to invest in our infrastructure and our schools. We need light rail. We had a chance to take advantage of federal funding to build a light-rail system, and we didn't do it. Phoenix did, and they have light rail now. We're supposed to be the progressive town, not Phoenix. We are really good at saying no to almost everything. That's part of the reason why we don't have mass transit or a well-planned community.

What could we use less of?

I think we have to ask developers, which seem to be the business leaders of our community, to change the way they do business, (and to move to) a way of doing business that's far different than what they do right now. It may not allow them to make as much money as they do right now, but they could help make this a community where everyone wants to live, and in the long run, they make more money--a community with great schools, sidewalks, parks and open space.

Do you think we're on the right track?

I think the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan put us on the right track as a first step, but we still need a better vision of what kind of community we want. I think Marana really got that not that long ago. They decided they didn't like what track housing was doing to their community, and they changed their vision. I think what the Tucson City Council did recently in requiring all new housing to have water-harvesting hookups and solar-energy hookups--that's on the right track toward (Tucson) being a sustainable desert community. We need a lot more of that type of thinking.

Looking forward, what kind of Tucson will we have in the next 25 years?

If we don't invest in our region, if we don't put more money into education and support our university, we will become a Yuma or a Quartzite in 25 years, or a destination only for retired winter visitors. Or we can do what we need to make sure our children are better-educated and that we create a vision for our community--that we become a viable community for industries like biotech and solar. And water: If we don't deal with water, we could become the biggest ghost town this area has ever seen. We could become a slowly dying community if we don't plan and do these things. We need good-paying jobs so our kids can stay here.


The 75-year-old

Frank O. Rodriguez, born Aug. 23, 1934

Frank Rodriguez is a native Tucsonan raised in Barrio Membrillo (which means quince fruit in Spanish) who raised three children while working as a heat and air-conditioning electrician. Talking with Rodriguez is like taking a trip back to a different Tucson--a Tucson before urban renewal changed downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods forever, when neighborhoods south of downtown were home to Chinese and Mexican Americans who lived together, where everyone had lush vegetable and flower gardens, where no one locked their doors at night, and when people slept outside during the summer.

What decade do you identify with most, and why?

The 1950s. I graduated from Tucson High School in 1954. I still remember very clearly walking around my neighborhood, Barrio Membrillo. I can see everything the way it was back then. Everyone had a garden. During the war, victory gardens (grown to supplement the wartime food supply) were very popular, and people maintained their gardens even when I was in high school. ... Back then, I remember that gas was 14 cents a gallon, but no one in our neighborhood had a car--just couldn't afford one. Everyone walked. The Chinese stores were very important in our neighborhood. I always say that Mexicans would have starved if it wasn't for the Chinese stores in our neighborhoods. In those days, Mexicans and Chinese lived in the same neighborhood.

As a native Tucsonan, what does it mean to you to call Tucson home?

I have mixed feelings. It's an old town. The last time we tore up downtown in the name of urban renewal, they killed a whole lot of our history--and what for? Wider streets? That freeway that cut my family out? Sure, it's my hometown, but I can't think of anything spectacular. But I do have these wonderful memories of growing up here, like walking up "A" Mountain with my friends, without any shoes on, and walking on top of the caliche the whole way up.

If you could change one thing about Tucson, what would it be?

I wish they wouldn't build any more hotels. They seem to be the worst water-wasters, with people who come here that don't understand the region and the value of water. I also think people don't seem to care about recycling or where our water comes from.

What's the greatest thing to happen to the Old Pueblo?

I'm not sure if we've had the greatest thing happen to us yet.

What do you think people in Tucson need to care more about?

They need to care about where our water comes from, and if we should keep building and growing, not knowing if there is going to be water in the future to support that growth. I don't think there is.

When you describe Tucson, what do you say?

As a town, really we're just an old cattle town that happened to be lucky to get the Air Force base and become a college town. But in a way, we are still just an old cattle town.

What could we use more of?

We need a different way of doing things. We think we need ... to build more. That's what's running this town.

What could we use less of?

People. (Laughs. ) Look, we just have too many people.

Do you think we're on the right track?

No, we're not on the right track. We need to change. I think we need more business and more industry, but clean industry. We need those jobs.

Looking forward, what kind of Tucson will we have in the next 25 years?

Unfortunately, I think we are going to run out of water. I'd like to think that isn't going to happen.


The 100-year-old

Cele Peterson, born March 14, 1909

In March, Tucson's own fashion icon, Cele Peterson--who started her women's clothing business in 1931--will celebrate her 100th birthday. She jokes about what happens to the body with age--of course, with a wonderful sense of humor and a sparkle in her eye. She says she has a particular fondness for the Tucson Weekly and loves to talk about being one of the publication's first advertisers--she felt the Weekly had something unique to offer Tucson. She says she's proud of her friendship with the Weekly's founder and former owner, Doug Biggers.

What decade do you identify with most, and why?

I look at the 20th century as my decade. (Smiles wide.) What an exciting time to have lived. But I guess the 1950s is the decade I really identify with. The most interesting things occurred. In terms of fashion, that's when I did a lot of my own designs. The New York Times featured my own designs then.

What does it mean to you to call Tucson home?

Tucson is the most wonderful place. When I'd travel and say "Tucson," it was like saying, "Open sesame." I was given the red carpet. People love Tucson.

If you could change one thing about Tucson, what would it be?

That's a hard question. Tucson is a special place to me. I hope I've been able to return its blessings.

What's the greatest thing to happen to the Old Pueblo?

That Tucson attracts people from all over the world. I think every decade I've been here, something magnificent has happened, but I think one of the greatest things is that people still recognize that this is a beautiful place. They fall in love with Tucson.

What do you think people in Tucson need to care more about?

I think right now, people need to care about our university and our schools. Our schools represent our community. I mean, just look at our schools alone. Did you know that 15 different languages are spoken in our schools? Fifteen languages. That's amazing.

When you describe Tucson, what do you say?

Well, other than its beauty, I think I'd talk about what's going on with Tucson right now. I think it is going through a period of being torn between people who'd like to see it turn into the next Phoenix, and those of us who want to keep Tucson's uniqueness.

What could we use more of?

I think we can always use more imagination. I think thinking like this creates opportunities. I think about Tucson's birthday that we now celebrate in August. It's fun; it's cool; and it reminds us to celebrate Tucson.

What could we use less of?

Greedy people who want to take advantage of what Tucson has to offer.

Do you think we're on the right track?

Well, all of us have to keep pulling ourselves back on track, because that's life. (Getting off track) happens to Tucson, and that's when we have to get back on track. I always think about something I read one time, (about) that one golden moment in our day when we pause and think of how rich our life is by what we're given. That tiny minute can make a difference in your whole day.

Looking forward, what kind of Tucson will we have in the next 25 years?

The next 25 years? The lord knows what's going to happen to our world. Technology amazes me. Its influence on the world--the innovations--will continue. I never thought of growing old. All of sudden, here I am, and now I get the pleasure of looking in the mirror every once in a while, and ask myself, "Am I that old?" (Laughs.)

More by Mari Herreras

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Local Heroes 2016

    Our annual look at people who make Tucson such a great place to live.
    • Dec 15, 2016
  • Welcome to Summer

    Things to do to survive and keep cool
    • May 5, 2016

The Range

Betsy DeVos Exercises Her Freedom of $peech

Pecan Needs a Home

The Latest U.S. International Reading Scores Are Flat

More »

Latest in Feature

  • Local Heroes

    Our annual profile of a half-dozen people making Tucson a better place to live
    • Dec 14, 2017
  • Better To Give

    Your guide to finding unique gifts this holiday season
    • Nov 9, 2017
  • More »

Most Commented On

Facebook Activity

© 2017 Tucson Weekly | 7225 Mona Lisa Rd. Ste. 125, Tucson AZ 85741 | (520) 797-4384 | Powered by Foundation