Ed Stolmaker grew up in Hawthorne, N.J., but almost 16 years ago, he made an impetuous move to unincorporated Pima County. The current president and CEO of the Marana Chamber of Commerce was visiting Tucson with his wife, Marianne, on New Year’s Eve 1998. “We weren’t planning on moving but saw a house for sale by the owner. We bought it,” Stolmaker, who is Jewish, told the AJP. “We went back to New Jersey, sold our janitorial business, moved here nine months later, and lived happily ever after.”
Stolmaker predicts a similar bright future for Marana. “For me, personally, having had a business back in New Jersey for 20 years helped” with his work here. Assuming the helm of the chamber in 2003 “gave me the opportunity to make a difference,” he says. “It gives me a lot of responsibility. I’m friends with very good people in the chamber industry. We support each other.”
Alex Chavez, special projects coordinator, notes that “connecting the business community with Marana’s neighborhoods and its rich history, Heritage Park and the new outlet malls” contributes to the chamber’s “Shop ’n Marana” campaign. Marana’s strategic plan also helps. “Everyone knows what their job is, including the mayor, the town council and staff,” says Stolmaker, adding that Marana is a diverse community. “We’ve got old Marana, former cotton fields and stockyards, farmers and cowboys, the working class and the more affluent. People feel safe in Marana.”
In March 1977, the town incorporated about 10 square miles and in August of that year, the 1,500 townspeople elected their first town council. Marana is now more than 120 square miles, with a population approaching 40,000.
“Marana is a very pro-business community. The chamber is here to support businesses so they can succeed,” says Stolmaker. “We also want to incorporate areas where community members can get together,” as well as taking care of parks for families, roads for bicycling and hiking trails.
As a suburb of Tucson, more growth is inevitable — including a new premium outlet mall opening in September or October. “Eventually the mall will have 80 to 90 stores, taking up 40 acres, with 120 more acres for development,” he says.
Stolmaker is also president of the board of Sanctuary Cove, an 85-acre nonprofit site near Marana with a non-denominational chapel, trails and a labyrinth. And he has four grown children and four grandchildren. Sanctuary Cove is a peaceful place, he says, “to get away from my busy and productive life.”
Being immersed in the Marana community has served him well. “I was born in Roxbury, Mass., where my parents were both brought up in Orthodox families,” says Stolmaker. “When my father was transferred from his job at Sears to Hawthorne in 1951, we were the only Jewish family in the community.”
There was a Jewish community in nearby Paterson. But in grammar school, he says, “I got into a lot of fights. There was a lot of anti-Semitism. I had friends who didn’t care that I was Jewish and others who were afraid of me.” Stolmaker’s parents wanted him to have a bar mitzvah. He recalls taking the bus every day to Paterson for lessons.
“Looking back,” he says, “it was very difficult being brought up in a gentile community back then. I missed out on that sense of [being in] a Jewish community.” Stolmaker played sports at his high school, which had fraternities. “I couldn’t join because I was a Jew,” he says. “Nobody said anything but I knew. Once in a while we got together with the [Paterson] Jewish community but mostly I didn’t fit in. I had many gentile friends and dated gentile girls.”
As for living in Marana, says Stolmaker, “Although our zip codes are still in Tucson, Marana very much has its own identity.”