Honored for a Lifetime of Giving: SASO Season Sponsor Dorothy Vanek Receives Legacy Award

Dorothy Vanek. Photo by J.D. Fitzgerald/Tucson Local Media

Dorothy Vanek. Photo by J.D. Fitzgerald/Tucson Local Media

For much of her life, Dorothy Vanek has been a giver. Whether supporting the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra, True Concord Voices and Orchestra or many other charitable causes, Vanek is always ready to give.

Through the years, those gifts have covered hundreds of thousands of dollars, helping the organizations thrive when times have been tough.

On Thursday, the Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce said thank you when Vanek was given the Legacy Award at the chamber’s annual meeting and awards breakfast.

As Vanek slowly walked to the stage, the people at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador rose as one, giving Vanek a standing ovation earned through a lifetime of giving.

“When you talk about someone as an individual reaching out and making a better community, Dorothy Vanek has done that,” chamber President and CEO Dave Perry said.

After receiving the Legacy Award, the biggest honor at the ceremony, Vanek said she was thrilled to have been chosen.

“It’s so nice to be with a lot of old friends,” she said, looking over the crowd. “I can’t thank the chamber enough. Not everybody gets awards at 89. It’s been a great thrill. It’s a wonderful climax in my later years.”

Vanek, who has seen the world as the wife of an airline pilot, said Tucson and now Oro Valley is where she wants to be. She said he has moved 28 times, but in Oro Valley, she is finally home.

“After 35 years in the Tucson area, it’s been a great climax because I’m in my final home,” Vanek said. “This has been quite a long road, but I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, helping agencies I could.”

Vanek said one more trip with the True Concord Voices and Orchestra is coming up next month. The orchestra will be traveling to New York City to sing on Sept. 11 on the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the city.

While Vanek said receiving the Legacy Award was the climax of her lifetime of giving, she said giving is a reward in itself and urged others to follow in her footsteps, even if they can’t give money.

“The more you volunteer, the more you participate in their activities, the more you feel like you’ve given your life to these organizations,” Vanek said. “It’s such an honor to receive this award.”

The Legacy Award was the final of six Pinnacle Awards handed out at the chamber meeting. The awards also honored to the top businesses, nonprofit agency and community leader.

Community Leader Award

Christine Conte, executive director of Tohono Chul Gardens, Galleries and Bistro, was given the Community Leader Award.

Mike Poletta, with Cadden Community Management, was also nominated.

Conte said receiving the award was a big honor.

“I am so grateful,” she said. “Thank you very much. We’ve only been part of Oro Valley going on three years. Tohono Chul is celebrating its 30th anniversary. We are absolutely thrilled.”

Conte said the success of Tohono Chul is proof that every person in Oro Valley has the opportunity to permanently better their town. She said the founders of Tohono Chul, Richard and Jean Wilson, were approached several times by developers who wanted to build on their land, but they turned down the riches that were offered to preserve the desert they loved.

In 1985, Tohono Chul Park was dedicated, and the park has remained pristine desert even as the area has grown around it.

“If you ever doubt that one person can make a difference, you know people like Dick and Jean Wilson,” Conte said. “There are people in this room, people with heart. It’s been a marvelous journey, one we look to continue.”

Nonprofit Award

The Children’s Museum of Oro Valley overcame a stiff challenge to win the Nonprofit Award, besting six other agencies that were nominated.

The Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona, Forgotten Children, Friends of the Oro Valley Public Library, Golden Goose Thrift Shop, Interfaith Community Services and Sunshine School in Oro Valley were also finalists.

Michael Luria, executive director of the museum, accepted the award, saying he has been thrilled to see the community support the museum has received.

“Thank you for this wonderful honor,” Luria said. “We are so honored and privileged to be here in Oro Valley. It’s something we have worked on for years. We’re so happy it’s been open three months.”

Luria echoed a theme said by many of the winners when he said it has been easy and refreshing to work with the Oro Valley town staff and elected officials.

Large Business

Two businesses that help seniors were nominated for the Large Business Award. Fairwinds Desert Point Retirement Community won the award over Catalina Springs Memory Care.

Scott Haile accepted the award, saying the seniors who make Fairwinds home deserve the honor.

“It’s just great to be honored,” Haile said. “We’re in the business to provide quality of life, not only for our amazing seniors but for the community.

“I’m proud to take this back to our facility.”

Mid-size Business

Three businesses were nominated for top mid-size business with National Bank of Arizona winning over AAA of Arizona and Copper Health Oro Valley.

Bank Manager El Ndoye accepted the award, saying he was happy to continue 30 years of service to Oro Valley.

“Thank you for what the chamber does,” Ndoye said. “This is truly amazing and shows the trust you have in our organization.

“National Bank has been around a long time, and we are a community bank. We can do everything the big boys can. We’ve been in Oro Valley 30 years, and we take care of businesses and individuals.”

Small Business

Four businesses — America’s Mattress, McBride’s Framing Gallery, Music and Dance Academy and Vistoso Automotive — were nominated for the Small Business Award with Vistoso Automotive winning.

Jeff Artzi, the founder of Vistoso, accepted the award and said he was honored to have his business chosen.

“We are very honored,” Artzi said. “We are happy to be a part of the community. It’s such a beautiful community.”

Artzi said the secret to his success is not about fixing cars.

“We really are all about caring for people,” he said. “We’re about taking care of human beings. We think about the people driving the cars, the families in the cars.”

While Vistoso won the award for small business, Artzi said the size of his business may be changing.

“We’re planning on opening more stores, all with the value of taking care of people.”

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SASO’s Story

Composer, pianist and conductor Warren Cohen served as music director for eight seasons, routinely commuting from his home in Phoenix, but one year all the way from Hawaii. His wife, coloratura Carolyn Whitacre, was a favorite soloist.
The most colorful performance was a Halloween concert in Nogales—a ghoulish event where the conductor was a clown and all the musicians were in costume.
The first concert was Oct. 28, 1979, conducted by former University of Arizona music professor Henry Johnson, featuring Jonathan Kramer in a Boccherini cello concerto.
Alan Schultz became music director in Year 2 and continued leading SASO for 15 seasons. He frequently conducted from the keyboard—organ or harpsichord. He also composed several works premiered by SASO.
Our most famous alumnus is Rico Saccani, associate conductor of SASO our inaugural year and piano soloist for the second concert. He later conducted opera companies and orchestras around the world and was music director of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 to 2005.
Brazilian-born Linus Lerner, in his first year as music director, challenged the orchestra to learn his native Latin rhythms by playing Villa-Lobos. This proved surprisingly hard to do. We finally got it, but not until the week of the concert.
The visionary founders of SASO were Barbara and Bill Chinworth, Scott Bracher and Janet Lombard. Barbara has played with SASO through its entire history, originally in the horn section, now on bass.
One spring SASO proved it has animal attraction. When it played at the Reid Park Zoo, some of the critters sang along with the music
SaddleBrooke is home to many of our loyal donors and the place where we’ve held our gala celebrations—first a black-tie dinner with music from "Phantom of the Opera" and later our annual StarStruck Gala evenings from 2008 through 2013.
Turkish maestro Orhan Salliel, after guest-conducting SASO in the fall of 2012, wrote to us, "The time in Tucson I shared with you in SASO for me was so special. I felt the real love of music from the bottom of everyone's hearts. It was something I do not feel often—never, ever in the professional world anymore. Please keep it, save it, try to build everything from this power of love for music."
The largest event SASO has produced was Berlioz Te Deum, presented at the Tucson Community Center Music Hall with the Tucson Civic Orchestra, Tucson Masterworks Chorale, Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Pima College Singers.
Adam Boyles was the music director for three seasons, bringing bountiful youthful energy and a passion to serve the music. Then the Tucson native moved East to brave the snow and conduct the orchestra at MIT in Boston.
Early audiences had to be loyal followers of this itinerant orchestra, which performed all over the city, frequently in churches. In the 1980s SASO rented the Temple of Music and Art for a concert. The City of Tucson condemned the building the morning of the dress rehearsal and the concert was canceled.
In December 1995 SASO was the first to present a concert at SaddleBrooke. This was the brainstorm of concertmaster Sam Kreiling. The concert sold out, as did a four-concert series the following year. SASO has performed there ever since.