For longtime community volunteer Fran Katz, working at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona is “like coming home.”
“This is where I want to be. I’ve been so passionate about Federation for almost 30 years — since Jeff and I got here, we have been volunteering,” says Katz, who became the Federation’s senior vice president earlier this month. She and her husband, attorney Jeff Katz, earned their degrees at the University of Arizona (hers is a Bachelor of Science in marketing) and lived briefly in Phoenix, where she grew up, before moving to Tucson.
Katz got her start in the Jewish communal world as a “really active” member of Phoenix’s BBYO youth group.
“Really active” is an apt description for Katz, from the 26 marathons and two Ironman triathlons she’s completed to the long list of Jewish and general community organizations she’s served as a board member or chair — all while raising two children and maintaining a professional career that includes 29 years at Tucson Lifestyle magazine, where she was associate publisher before joining the UA Foundation as director of donor services in 2013.
“I wasn’t looking” for a new position, she says, but when Federation President and CEO Stuart Mellan approached her about taking the post being vacated by Brenda Landau, who is joining the Jewish Community Foundation as a legacy officer, she couldn’t resist the opportunity “to collaborate with Stu and the volunteers, and make a difference on the ground.”
“Federation is what I believe in,” says Katz, who is a past co-chair with her husband of the Federation annual campaign. She cites Federation’s work helping Jews in need through its local beneficiary agencies, its Partnership2Gether region in Israel and its overseas partners, the Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which helps people such as Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Israel.
Katz’ Jewish heritage has always been important to her, starting with close relationships with her grandparents, immigrants from Russia and Poland. She grew up in a Conservative Jewish home in Phoenix, where her family moved from New York when she was 9.
“My parents just taught me to give. But I’ve always felt that I get more out of it than I give into it.”
The broad reach of the Federation’s five local agencies — Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging, Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Tucson Hebrew Academy, the Tucson Jewish Community Center and the UA Hillel Foundation, plus the Jewish History Museum, a Federation community partner — means Federation helps everyone from babies to seniors, “the old cradle to grave philosophy,” she says. A majority of those agencies serve the general population as well as the Jewish community.
Along with providing leadership for Federation’s Campaign and Women’s Philanthropy efforts, Katz is eager to work in a professional capacity with the Jewish Community Relations Council, which she has served as chair. She also helped lead such JCRC initiatives as the Freedom Seder, the Jewish-Latino Teen Coalition and an interfaith mission to Israel.
She’s looking forward to working with Federation’s Young Leadership groups and is also excited to bring her publishing experience to bear working with the Arizona Jewish Post.
Known in the Jewish community and beyond for her love of marathon running, Katz nearly started her job at the Federation with her leg in a cast. On a recent run, she tripped and in an effort to keep from falling, “did a Cirque de Soleil” move, as one of her running partners put it, which ended up tearing her hamstring. Now eight weeks post-surgery, she hopes to be running again in a couple of months.
Running not only lets her experience the reward of setting and achieving personal goals, she says, it’s also been an avenue for making “amazing friends — people that I wouldn’t have the time to spend with on a regular basis without the running.” She usually goes out early in the morning with five other women and the conversation just flows.
She’s run in the Boston Marathon seven times, though not in 2013, the year of the bombing. She did run in the marathon last year, “in celebration of life,” and it was the first time that her husband and children, Aimee, 26, and Adam, 24, were in Boston with her. “It was an absolutely emotional experience just being there” and witnessing the support of the community, the other runners and the volunteers, she says.
Katz’s own roster of volunteer commitments remains impressive. Currently, she is immediate past chair and capital campaign marketing chair of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, serves on the boards of Beat Cancer Boot Camp, Ben’s Bells and the Tucson Airport Authority, and is a trustee of the Tucson Medical Center Foundation.
Organizations she’s served in the past range from the Junior League of Tucson to the National Bank of Arizona to United Jewish Communities (now Jewish Federations of North America), among others.
Along the way, Katz has won numerous volunteer and professional awards, including the Phyllis Ehlinger Women of Excellence Award from the Tucson Advertising Federation and the YWCA Women on the Move Award. In 2002, the Federation honored her as Woman of the Year, having named her its Young Woman of the Year in 1998.
“I am thrilled to have Fran join the Federation in a professional capacity. Having served as a former board chair of the TJCC and UA Hillel, and in numerous Federation roles including as Campaign co-chair with her husband, Jeff, she will bring a wealth of experience, a passion for our work, and a phenomenal energy to her role as senior vice president,” says Mellan.
For Katz, working with the Federation, whether as a volunteer or a professional, is an indelible part of her identity. “It just makes me feel whole to help the Jewish community. I feel it makes me a better person.”