The Sunday Evening Forum, the go-to speaker series for generations of Tucson families, returns March 30, adding to the mix of new buildings, new restaurants and the modern streetcar making downtown a destination again.
For more than a year, community organizers have worked to bring back the forum — this time at the Fox Theatre. Their laudable efforts deserve the community’s support.
At the March 30 event, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor will be interviewed on stage by retired Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Stanley Feldman. Organizers say they plan to have a second forum in the fall and to have quarterly programs in 2015. Although it won’t be the weekly routine it once was, it still will present the quality national and international guests as the original forum, organizers say.
Longtime Tucsonans will remember climbing in the Ford station wagon with the family and heading to hear men who were building their political careers years before they became president — John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
At its most popular, the forum attracted 55,000 attendees in a season. Over the years Tucsonans heard from Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bob Hope, Walter Cronkite, Jackie Robinson, Margaret Sanger and Yitzhak Rabin.
The original Sunday Evening Forum had a good run. Starting in 1942, founder and organizer Mary Jeffries Bruce built it from a group of 50 young adults meeting in a local church. Her success meant doing whatever it took to book speakers.
“She talked tough to an Israeli ambassador, manhandled a United States senator and shouted through the bathroom door to a future president who was taking a shower,” Star columnist Bonnie Henry wrote in a 1989 profile of Bruce and a history of the forum.
Bruce took advantage of Tucson’s allure in the winter months to secure speakers already planning a stay here. She also made frequent trips to Washington, D.C., and New York City, Henry wrote.
Bruce gave up the reins of the forum in 1976, and it evolved into a travelogue series before ending in 1984.
Plans to revive the Sunday Evening Forum began in early 2013. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild has lent his personal support to the founding board that includes Anne Hameroff, Donna Helms, Carolyn Kemmeries, Fletcher McCusker, Sandy Mellor, Roger Pfeuffer, Anne Segal and Wendy Erica Werden, and coordinator, Kathy Spreiser. Sinfonia Healthcare has offered a $10,000 matching funds challenge grant to help launch the effort; other local groups have stepped up as well.
They’ve done the hard work. The forum will be an interesting and informative way for Tucson families to connect with our community’s past and help to reinvigorate a local institution.