2004-2005: Building and Dedicating the Plaza

By December 2004, all the pieces were in place for the groundbreaking. For the many university staff and community volunteers who had been involved in the project for more than five years, this was an emotional moment: this ambitious project, led by the dreams of women, was going to become a reality. Working with Sletten Construction, Colleen Morgan fanned enthusiasm by providing hard hats and spades for all members of the Executive Committee, as well as seats and a reception for the almost 100 people who attended the ceremony. A reporter in attendance was heard saying, “This must be something important, because I have never seen so many people at a university groundbreaking.” President Likins, Dean Donnerstein and members of the Executive Committee addressed the crowd, thanking all of those who had made the project possible and reflecting on what the Women’s Plaza of Honor augured for the future. Four of the five past heads of Women’s Studies dug their shovels into the earth. When Yolanda Broyles Gonzalez, the new head of Women’s Studies and the newest member of the Executive Committee, spoke, she graciously assumed the responsibility of moving the project forward, building on what had been done and adding new dreams. 

In the capable hands of Sletton Construction, and under the management of Morgan and the oversight of Aviles, construction on the Plaza—from the groundbreaking to the dedication—moved along incredibly smoothly. Many details needed to be finalized; Aviles was in touch with the executive committee weekly, and sometimes daily, to report progress, raise questions, and guide decisions. Slowly the columns went up, the gardens were planted, the tiles were set, and the benches installed. A few minor issues arose, such as the misspelling of a famous honoree’s name; but overall construction progressed as planned, due to the quality of the preparatory work. In the meantime, the Executive committee and all the Sub-committees continued the work they had been doing for the last five years. By this time it came “naturally.” 

On May 6, 2005, Taylor sent a message to Aviles, copied to the executive committee, thanking her for her wonderful work. The message captured what many on the executive committee were thinking: “We are living an awesome experience and have created a bond between the ‘Plaza Sisters/Leadership Team’ in the sense of connection to our collective efforts. What great memories of caring about an idea that became reality with the hardscape and collection of stories to honor the importance of women from all walks of life. I know that I will treasure the experience of being a member of this team and knowing that collectively we accomplished more than we thought possible.” 

Meanwhile the fundraising committee continued to contact and follow-up with donors. Drachman Salvatore brought in a substantial donation just before the dedication and modeled the importance of persistence. She insisted that that when a potential donor says, “no,” it is important to clarify with the person that it is no for the moment, leaving the pathway open to return. In this case the donor, who had declined to give in the past, became more familiar with the Plaza through the publicity and through general university support; she now felt comfortable supporting the Plaza. Her donation symbolized all the project had accomplished over five years and was a perfect prelude to the dedication. 

The shape of the dedication ceremony was hammered out in the executive committee. The presence that Betsy Bolding and Margy McGonagill had in the southern Arizona political communities made it possible for the Plaza leadership to ask Governor Janet Napolitano to be the featured speaker at the dedication ceremony. The governor’s calendar played a role in determining the September 30 date for the dedication. Unfortunately, UA President Likins could not attend, but he was represented at the ceremony by the Vice President for Campus Life, Saunie Taylor, and his wife, Pat Likins, was in the audience as well. 

The most significant challenge for the dedication was to recognize everyone who had helped create the Plaza without making the program too long. The leadership team wanted the dedication to be as inspiring as the Plaza itself. Towards this end the program contained only what was necessary and aimed for the speakers to take no more than thirty minutes total. The actual ceremony came very close to achieving this. 

As with other public Plaza events, the detailed planning of the dedication was given to the Publicity Sub-committee. Because the dedication was an on-campus event, the committee worked closely with Women’s Studies staff, as well as Broyles-Gonzalez and Kennedy. By this time Hnilo had retired and the new program coordinator for development was Alison Greene. Greene and Holleran developed and executed the plan to have more than 300 people comfortably enjoy the dedication ceremony at the Plaza. They were helped by staff in the Women’s Studies office and the SBS Development Office, and by a number of student volunteers who ushered people to their seats and gave honorees flowers and certificates. (Click here to see the list of those who worked at the dedication.) Holleran also designed the program and the certificates. With this support, the Publicity Sub-committee once again orchestrated a beautiful and memorable event. (Click here to see the list of sponsors for the Dedication.) The Publicity Sub-committee’s accomplishment was particularly amazing given that its members were simultaneously organizing the fifth Extraordinary Woman Luncheon in Phoenix, which was held only two weeks before the dedication. 

The dedication was declared an unequivocal success by all who attended. Bolding served as the emcee, welcoming the overflow crowd. Regina and Megan Siquieros opened the program with traditional Tohono O’odham songs. Broyles-Gonzalez brought greetings from Women’s Studies, familiarizing the audience with the goals of Women’s Studies and of WOSAC and reflecting on the Plaza’s promise for the future. Governor Napolitano spoke of women’s notable contributions to Arizona state history and encouraged all attendees to excel in their chosen vocations. She also initiated a fund to reserve a place in the Plaza to honor Shawntinice Polk, the young UA basketball player who died the week of the dedication. Saunie Taylor commented on the Plaza’s contribution to university life. Pat Taylor and Anna Jolivet represented the executive committee and told stories of the women they had honored in their families, making women’s humor, strength and accomplishments central to the day. Dean Donnerstein offered closing thoughts, followed by Ofelia Zepeda reading her poem, “Hot Tortillas.” The celebration was energized by the music of the Tucson High Rayos Del Sol Mariachi. (Click here to see the video on the dedication.) 

The Women’s Plaza of Honor was now an integral part of the UA campus. The Executive committee discussed how the space should be used and decided that its scheduling would be handled by the UA Mall Scheduling Committee following the rules the Executive committee designed. Women’s Studies would have first access to the Plaza provided requests were submitted three months in advance. Centennial Hall would have access to the Plaza for all performances; for non-performance related activities, Centennial Hall, as well as Anthropology would have secondary rights. Aside from those considerations, the space was open to the entire UA community.