JFSA-NW rebrands program to honor Ruth and Irving Olson

Ruth and Irving Olson

In 2019 the Northwest Division will organize its activities as The Ruth and Irving Olson Center for Jewish Life in the Northwest,” says Alan Kendal, advisory council chair for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Northwest Division. Stuart Mellan, JFSA president and CEO, made the formal announcement during the division’s annual campaign kickoff event at The Buttes in Oro Valley on Nov. 27.

The name honors the Olson-Stelman family contribution to establishing and sustaining Jewish activities in Northwest Tucson through the JFSA. The Olsons provided a lead gift to launch the Federation’s satellite office in Oro Valley in 2012, and they sustained their funding annually. Their daughter, Carolyn Stelman of Oro Valley, continues to be a supporter.

The Olsons moved to Tucson from Akron, Ohio, nearly two decades ago. Irving, a successful entrepreneur, and philanthropist who later in life became a renowned photographer, died in 2016 at age 102. Ruth, herself an award-winning photographer, was multilingual and loved to travel. She died in 2011. The Olsons were active leaders with the Jewish communities in Akron and Tucson. They were members of Temple Emanu-El in Tucson.

“It was always such a pleasure to meet with Irving for lunch and to tell him of our dreams of connecting the Jewish residents of Tucson’s northwest,” recalls Anne Lowe, former Northwest Division director. “Because he lived in Oro Valley at Splendido, he knew firsthand that there were Jews looking to find others to socialize, to worship together, and to study together. He was always so gracious and attentive to our ideas and suggestions. I don’t believe he ever said ‘no’ to us!”

The division has grown to become a regional focus for Jewish life. Division Director Phyllis Gold describes it as a community center with daily, monthly and special activities, gatherings and events that is outgrowing the existing 1,500 square foot facility at 190 W. Magee Road.

“Due to Irving’s generosity, we were able to rent our current facility and grow our program over the past six years. It is very fitting that the name of the Jewish Federation NW should be changed to reflect his commitment to the Jewish population of the Northwest,” says Lowe. “It is hoped that somewhat larger facilities can be found,” adds Kendal. Gold says the team is now searching for a more centrally located site for a future expanded facility.

The expanded facility will allow for additional activities and programming. “The Tucson Jewish Community Center is looking forward to working collaboratively with JFSA and the dedicated group of volunteers and staff in the JFSA northwest office to create activity and connection,” says Todd Rockoff, president and CEO at the J. “We, at the J, realize that not all activity needs to take place at our facility. We can, as they say, take our show on the road. We are really so happy and honored by this new collaboration.”

Assisting Kendal and Gold in preparing a 16-page vision document to project future needs were Janet Belkin, Lowe, Sam Horowitz, and Rita Pollak. The division’s advisory committee fielded a facilities sub-committee to seek potential new locations. That committee includes Marsha Foreman, Sharon Geiger, Wendy Jacobson, and Lowe. The advisory committee accepted a motion to approve the name change during its Oct. 24 meeting.

“We hope to begin using the new name fairly early in 2019, regardless of physically moving to a better space,” says Kendal.