One of Marana's founding families has laid the groundwork for a state veterans cemetery.

The Kai family, led by Marana Town Councilman Herb Kai and his brother, John Kai Jr., donated land for a cemetery to the Arizona Department of Veterans Services May 31.

The property, which is between 30 and 35 acres, has been in the Kai family since the mid-1940s. It's west of Interstate 10, bordered on the west by North Luckett Road and on the north by the Pinal County line. Luckett Road, which is currently unpaved leading into the area, will be paved.

Herb Kai said the deal developed simply: The Arizona Department of Veterans Services wanted the land for the cemetery, and the Kais wanted to do whatever they could to help build it.

"They asked for it, and we just thought having a cemetery there would be a benefit," Kai said.

Dave Hampton, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, said the gift was instrumental to the cemetery project.

"It was a great gift from the Kai family," he said. "They have done a wonderful thing for the veterans of south-central Arizona."

There are between 120,000 and 200,000 veterans in the Tucson metropolitan area and Pinal County, Hampton said.

"Folks down in the Tucson area have really been expressing, very, very strongly, the desire and need for a veterans' cemetery to serve their community," he said. "Marana is the perfect location to serve not only metro Tucson but all through the Pinal County and Pima County area. It's a great step forward."

Hampton said it's too early to estimate the cost of the unnamed facility because staffers are still researching the project.

The current goal is to start planning construction a year from now and open the cemetery in 2016.

There are two open veterans cemeteries in the state, Hampton said: A national facility, the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona, in Phoenix, and a state facility, the Southern Arizona Veterans' Memorial Cemetery, in Sierra Vista.

Any military veteran with better than a dishonorable discharge, and their spouse, may be buried at a military cemetery for free.

The facility will be built and operated by the state and federal governments. Marana is facilitating meetings for the Veterans Administration, Arizona Department of Transportation, the Governor's Office, Legislature, and families and private individuals with interest in the project.

Kai said his family sees the project as a way to give back to the community.

"Our whole family is committed to our veterans, who have given a lot to our country," Kai said. "This is something we can do for that sacrifice."


Chinese immigrant John Kai Sr., father of Marana Town Councilman Herb Kai and local businessman John Kai Jr., bought his first parcel of land in 1935, when the population consisted solely of farmers. He and his wife, Mamie, accumulated more than 4,000 acres in Marana, as well as real estate holdings around the country. The family is still one of the top landowners in the area. Kai Sr. died in 1984 and Mamie died in 2000.

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or