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Memories of Tucson’s Brandes School Preserved at Arizona Historical Society

Charles “Chuck” Goldberg, age 7 or 8, riding a paint (bottom left), leads the Brandes School contingent in a Tucson Days Parade, circa 1950. (Photo courtesy Arizona Historical Society)

Alumni of the Brandes School, their children, and their grandchildren will find a treasure trove of photos and other memorabilia at the Arizona Historical Society’s archive in Tucson.

Raphael “Ray” Brandes, an early leader of Tucson’s Jewish community, and his wife, Elsie, started the boarding school for children with asthma and other respiratory diseases in 1939. There were no asthma medications at the time, but Tucson’s hot, dry climate was beneficial for those with respiratory ailments. The school served children from first grade through high school.

Brandes traveled to Jewish community centers around the country to promote the school, says.

Joan Friedlander Reichard, a student there for four years, from 1950-54.

Originally from Mobile, Alabama, she remembers traveling from New Orleans to Tucson by train with her parents when she was eight years old. Film star Roy Rogers was also a passenger and signed her Roy Rogers comic book.

Students came to the Brandes School from all over the U.S. and Canada. Most recovered their health so well that they were able to move back home, says Reichard. There were also a few day students who lived with their families in Tucson.

The Brandes School became a nonprofit in 1949 and ownership was transferred to the National Foundation for Asthmatic Children in 1951. In 1954, Brandes and his wife left Tucson for California and the school was renamed the Sahuaro School, serving the elementary grades through the mid-’60s.

Reichard, who was a teacher in the Mesa Unified District for many years before retiring, now lives in Tempe. Her parents moved to Arizona, “the place Joanie loved,” when she was in college. Her Brandes keepsakes, donated in 2018, form the bulk of the AHS Brandes archive, which fills five boxes.

Attending Brandes was similar to going to camp, she says, except there were classes that provided an excellent education. In sixth grade, Reichard’s teacher entered her in the Pima County Spelling Bee; she came in third.

Joan Friedlander Reichard in cowgirl dress at age 9 or 10, in the early 1950s. (Photo courtesy Joan Reichard)

Reichard learned to ride a horse and swim and enjoyed weekend field trips to sites such as Colossal Cave, Nogales, and “up to Phoenix for the fair,” she says, her voice lifting with remembered excitement.

Students had enormous freedom at Brandes, she recalls, including weekly trips downtown when they could roam in groups of two or three as long as they made it back to the bus on time.

“That independence made me who I am today,” says Reichard.

Another student who took advantage of that freedom was the late Donald Diamond, says his daughter, Helaine Levy. Diamond attended the school when he was 12 and 13, from 1940-41.

Levy remembers his tales of riding a burro to a market on Wilmot Road and Speedway Boulevard to buy a Coca-Cola. He and his pals also rode horses from a nearby stable.

Don Diamond at the Brandes School around 1950. (Photo courtesy Helaine Levy)

It was Diamond’s first experience of living in the desert and was one of the reasons the family moved to Tucson in 1965, she says. Diamond became a renowned Tucson real estate developer and philanthropist.

Reichard remembers that Brandes and his wife ate dinner with the students on Friday nights to celebrate Shabbat. Another Brandes alumnus, Charles “Chuck” Goldberg of Denver, recalls that students who wished to attend religious services went to Temple Emanu-El, where Rabbi Albert T. Bilgray was in the pulpit.

The school provided wonderful arts and crafts and music education, says Goldberg, who also earned his sharpshooter badge on the school’s rifle range, much to his parents’ chagrin.

It was wonderful to be able to swim and participate in other activities without having an asthma attack, he says, adding, “Those were very happy times.”

Few Brandes alumni remain, says Reichard, who helped arrange a reunion in Tucson in 2002. But she is still in touch with one of her best friends from the school, Allyn Duberstein Clayman, who was so devastated when her asthmatic older brother, David, was sent away from their home in Dayton, Ohio, that her parents sent her, too.

To view the Brandes School archive at the AHS Library and Archives, call 520-617-1157 or email ahsreference@azhs.gov to schedule an appointment.