It was a combination of dry desert air and the Arizona Jewish Post that brought Marcie Sutland’s family to Tucson more than 60 years ago. “When we were deciding to come out West” in the late 1940s, “I wrote to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and somehow I got a copy of the Arizona Post,” Sutland, 89, told the AJP recently. At that time, the paper was owned by Meyer and Rebecca Rutz, who started it in 1946. The word “Jewish” was added to the paper’s name in 1990.
“I got quite a bit of information: there was a Jewish community and a nice shul, and there was a nice rabbi, Breger, and Cantor Falkow. In 1952, my sister Esther and I and my mom came to Tucson for mother’s health,” she says, explaining that a doctor back in New Jersey had suggested the warm, dry climate might help her mother, Evelyn Sutland, who suffered from asthma.
“Mother wanted to vote in the 1952 presidential election before we left Trenton. She was very patriotic. A few days later, we were on the train to Tucson and a new adventure,” she says. The three women arrived in Tucson on Nov. 12, 1952; Sutland’s father, Morris, who stayed behind to close up his business and sell their house, came on flying visits but didn’t join them permanently until 1955.
Though the Sutlands didn’t know anyone in town, they quickly settled into the city’s Jewish neighborhood.
“There was Feig’s kosher butcher shop and across the street was the bakery,” Sutland recalls. In 1955 they bought a house in the Sam Hughes neighborhood, “to be close to Anshei Israel [then on Sixth Street] and Young Israel and the University of Arizona,” says Sutland, who remembers her father walking to both shuls. Her mother died in 1963, her father in 1973 and her sister in 2014 at the age of 92.
Sutland’s first job in Tucson was in the bookkeeping department at “Murph” Handmaker’s Complete Home and Auto Supply on Stone Avenue, she says, making 95 cents an hour in 1954 — with a raise to $1.00 after about a year.
Tucson’s downtown was thriving in those days, she says, with shops like Levy’s, Cele Peterson’s, Steinfeld’s and Jacome’s as well as Sears and J.C. Penney, numerous hotels and two movie theaters — the Paramount and the Fox.
But it wasn’t all rosy. When she and her sister applied for jobs at Valley National Bank, she says, they were escorted to the door after replying “we are Jewish” to a query about their religion. “We took our money out of Valley National Bank and went to Southern Arizona Bank, where Esther worked 25 years.”
In 1964, Sutland came to work at the Arizona Post, which was then owned by Abe Chanin, who in 1965 sold it to the Tucson Jewish Community Council, known today as the Jewish Federation. Sutland was interviewed by Ben Brook, the council’s executive director, at the old Jewish Community Center building on Plumer Avenue, which also housed the Post. She did everything from secretarial work to drawing artwork for articles and ads, especially in the fashion section, to proofreading pages “as they were pulled from the press till 1 a.m. sometimes — but it was a labor of love.”
Eventually, her talent as an artist led Sutland to work for several of the downtown advertising agencies. In 1972 or 73 she began working at the YMCA. “I think I was the only Jewish girl there. I worked there 21 years — I had eight different executive directors and I was the secretary to each one of them. I retired in 1994,” she says.
In July 1996, as one of the winners of the Tucson Citizen’s “columnist for a day” contest, Sutland wrote about her memories of Tucson in the 1950s.
These days, “the body is almost 90 but my mind still thinks I’m 18,” she says.
She fills her days with reading, writing short stories — “only with happy endings” — and doing artwork, mostly pen and ink and watercolor. She’s currently working on sketches of the biblical five daughters of Zelophehad, who successfully petitioned Moses for the right to inherit their father’s land in the absence of a male heir. Sutland wants to show that while in biblical times, they had to marry, and within their father’s tribe, “that each girl had her own wonderful talent … and that down through the centuries, their descendants are talented women.”
So far, she hasn’t come up with a composition that satisfies her critical eye. But as a woman with her own wonderful talent, no doubt she will.