Marion Waudby: She loved square dancing and had everything down to details

Marion Waudby: She loved square dancing and had everything down to details

Marion Waudby was meticulous in all aspects of her life.

She kept a record of every purchase she and her husband, George, made during their 55-year marriage.

Each of the thousands of dust-free figurines she collected has its place on shelves and in curio cabinets in her modest midtown home.

When she wanted a small house built for her parents behind hers, Waudby ordered a prefabricated model from Sears — a kit in which all the pieces of wood were precut to fit together.

Waudby applied the same exacting standards to her hobby — square dancing.

Neatly formed squares made up of four couples each moved in unison as caller George Waudby prompted dancers to swing their partners round and round, roll away and half sashay.

"Marion and George basically started square dancing in Tucson," neighbor Karleen Jones said.

After George died in 1993, his wife curtailed her dancing but still enjoyed attending Tucson's annual Square and Round Dance Festival, which she and her husband started in 1949. She missed only one festival in 60 years, the most recent, because of illness, though she remained active and independent until a day or two before her death on July 12. Marion Waudby was 95.

A square dance will be performed in her honor at Waudby's 11 a.m. memorial service today at Catalina United Methodist Church, 2700 E. Speedway, where she'd been a parishioner since 1947.

Decades of hosting square dances in her Tucson home, performing at hospitals and dude ranches, and giving lessons through the city's parks and recreation program constituted a huge cultural leap for a New Jersey girl who married a fella from Brooklyn, but the couple quickly acclimated to the foot-stomping, barn-dancing way of life when they arrived in 1944.

However, the Waudbys' introduction to square dance wasn't in a drafty farm structure. It was in the elegant ballroom of the Pioneer Hotel, where Friday night galas in the 1940s were quaintly called "barn dances."

On their first night, the Waudbys watched for a while before joining in the fun.

"I'll never forget the first time we tried square dancing," Marion Waudby said in a 1985 Tucson Citizen article. "It was in the beautiful ballroom of the Pioneer Hotel, and George and I stumbled all over the place. But the caller took pity on us later and gave us our first lesson after the regular session was over."

Both quick learners, the Waudbys soon joined a handful of local square-dance clubs and were do-si-do-ing until midnight six and seven nights a week. They also began teaching, and George, a postal worker, became an accredited caller.

Eventually, the couple added a 27-by-29-foot recreation room to their home that could accommodate two or three squares so the Waudbys could have dance parties whenever they wanted.

In their home's small living room, it wasn't unusual to find Marion and a passel of other women stitching their own outfits for dances.

"We sewed our fool heads off," Marion Waudby said in a 1991 Arizona Daily Star article.

In 1949, the couple collaborated on a 47-page manual, "Square Your Sets." The title referred to a caller's request that dancers return to their home positions. Marion also appreciated a good hug, which may be why the couple included this square dance call on the back cover of the book:

Ladies to the center stand back to back

Gents run around the outside track

Stop right there in front of your own

Bring her close like you would at home

Ladies wrap your arms around his neck

Gents place your arms around her waist, by heck

Now give her a squeeze and hug her tight

That's all the square dancing for tonight.

"At Marion's 90th birthday, we had a square dance. She was in our square and she perked right along. She was very graceful," said Wyona Shipp, a friend of more than 40 years.

During her early years in Tucson, when Marion Waudby wasn't dancing, she was working at the post office. She also volunteered countless hours in the community. She was a Red Cross Gray Lady, visiting hospital patients. Until just five years ago, she sewed stuffed animals for children in the pediatric unit as a member of the Tucson Medical Center Ladies Auxiliary.

Waudby was independent and determined to stay that way. Until a year ago, she was driving herself to appointments and lunches, said niece Diane Gile.

In the weeks preceding her death, Waudby wrote her own obituary and made detailed notes in her tiny, cursive handwriting about how she wanted her estate handled and what she wanted by way of a memorial.

Her requests were exacting, right down to what she wanted served at the party after her memorial, how much to spend and at which store to shop.

"She was very meticulous, and she didn't give up control, either," her niece said. "She was quite the lady."

On StarNet: Find a photo gallery of this Life Story at

the series

This feature chronicles the lives of recently deceased Tucsonans. Some were well-known across the community. Others had an impact on a smaller sphere of friends, family and acquaintances. Many of these people led interesting — and sometimes extraordinary — lives with little or no fanfare. Now you'll hear their stories.

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To suggest someone for Life Stories, contact reporter Kimberly Matas at or at 573-4191. Read more from this reporter at

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