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Marian Lupu: In retirement, lifelong advocate for the aged turns focus to at-risk youth

Marian Lupu
Marian Lupu

Marian Lupu, now 89, founded the Pima Council on Aging in 1965. She didn’t retire as executive director until 2006, when she was 82. “If you love what you’re doing, why not?” Lupu asked the AJP. A pioneer in her field, Lupu took one of the first courses ever taught on aging when she was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. “I soon decided,” she says, “that all the research in the world wasn’t going to help the aging population unless it provided services and advocacy.”

In her elder years, Lupu practices what she preached. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is to use the supports I have,” she says. “I take all the support I can get, use a walker or a cane, without having the resistance of many older people who drive and get into accidents or who fall down because they want to be independent.”

Lupu started her career as a student working at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and later supervised the first study on aging Spanish-American War veterans. Her 1948 marriage to Charles Lupu, Ph.D., eventually brought the couple to Tucson in 1965, when he landed a job at the Tucson Medical Center. She started the Tucson Council on Aging as a volunteer. The agency later became the Pima Council on Aging.

“I recognized there were no services for the aging population here, whether they were Jewish or not. I learned a great deal,” says Lupu, from Betty Brook, who was instrumental, with her husband, in helping to build Tucson’s Jewish community, including Jewish Family & Children’s Services and Dr. Ted Koff, the first director of Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging.

“Family counseling is very much a concern to the Jewish community,” says Lupu, who grew up in “a very Orthodox family, and in a very kosher environment in Elmwood Park, Ill, a suburb of Chicago. Our Shabbos goy was our next-door neighbor. It was a very Italian neighborhood. In order to have services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we brought in a rabbinical student and rented a storefront.”

Back in 1929, she recalls, “there was no telephone in the shul so a messenger would come get the Jewish doctor for an emergency. We had to wait till he returned for a minyan.”

Years later, says Lupu, as an adult living in Tucson with her husband and three children, “our family always went to Seders at Handmaker when Ted Koff was the director. We watched as more and more synagogues came to Tucson. I remember when the Jewish Community Center [came about] through the great skills of Ben Brook. When we first came here there was discrimination against Jews. There was only one country club and Jews weren’t allowed.”

That’s changed, notes Lupu. “Mayor Jonathan Rothschild is so involved with the Jewish community and is now our mayor. There’s much more acceptance now of a Jewish mayor than when George Miller was mayor” during the 1990s.

Still, “we discriminate against current immigrants,” she says. “My own mother came from England through Canada and when she married an American citizen, at that time she didn’t automatically become an American citizen,” which happened later. “How do we know how legal our ancestors were?

“It concerns me that [discrimination toward immigrants] could lead to discrimination against Jews. I also fear that discrimination could resurface in Tucson as it has in Europe over the conflict in Israel and the [negative] media coverage.”

Lupu, whose husband died in 2002, still lives in the same home where they raised their family. “I love Tucson,” says Lupu. In the city’s future, “I would like to see more concern for others through increased assistance at all human levels and less segregation of different populations.”

Since her 2006 retirement, Lupu has become president of the board of Dancing in the Streets, Arizona, which is a diverse performing arts organization, primarily for at-risk youth. The dance school, based in South Tucson, is run by Lupu’s daughter, Soleste Lupu, and her husband, Joseph Rodgers, both of whom are professional dancers.

Seventy-five percent of the dance school’s participants are on partial or full scholarships due to poverty in the region.  Lupu attributes the poverty to both “our prejudice and the lack of jobs.”

“I thought I saw poverty in the ’60s and ’70s when I was involved in bringing the needs of the elderly to the community,” she says. “But you very rarely heard of the homeless elderly. For kids today it’s different. I’ve never seen poverty among children the way you see it now.”

As a lifelong social activist, it seems natural for Lupu to be taking on the plight of children. “Staying involved with what excites me challenges me to give meaning to my life beyond my own existence,” she says. “That’s why I’m so happy to be working with children.”