Founders Day

Tucson Chinese Cultural Center performs a traditional lion dance at last year’s Founders’ Day.. (Shelby Scheer/Submitted)

The Marana Founders’ Day Parade & Festivities started as a community parade, but it has blossomed into a highly recognized event. 

Last year, Founders’ Day won Best Cultural Awareness Program from the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association, and Shelby Scheer of Marana Parks and Recreation wasn’t surprised.

“Our culture in Marana is different from any other town, city or municipality in the state,” Scheer said. “Not a lot of events have Chinese Lion Dance at the same time as a country western band and a car show.”

The town is now the second most-populated in Southern Arizona, and Founders’ Day is a source of pride for that achievement. This year’s iteration, on Saturday, March 18, starts with the traditional parade at 10 a.m., followed by performances, activities and food at the Marana Municipal Complex.

While Founders’ Day has expanded into multiple events, the town considers the parade to be the main attraction. It’s community entry, meaning anyone can be a part of the parade, and sign-up is free for all participants. Whether riding vehicles, walking with animals or dancing across the street, the entire Marana community can participate.

“The parade has always been the crown jewel of the day,” Scheer said. “Over the years, on the backside, the festival has expanded into a resource showcase.”

The town council and Mayor Ed Honea will ride in a vintage fire truck, preceding costume-clad members from Old Tucson and Marana’s high school marching bands. Local businesses and associations will also participate, handing out candy and accessories.

As the special events supervisor of Marana Parks and Recreation, Scheer and the association played a vital role in organizing the event. The festival following the parade introduces many attractions that tell Marana’s story and its history prior to incorporation.

“It’s a pretty big day, parade and festival combined,” Scheer said. “We want people to go out and learn about the history of Marana. It’s all about honoring Marana’s founding–who we were and who we are.” 

While Founders’ Day includes a car show and live music, it will also feature a Chinese lion dance from the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center. The performance honors the descendants of immigrants who came to Marana with the railroad. Along with an additional show from Compañía de Danza Folklórica, the Marana Heritage Conservancy will have its history RV open for families to learn about their community.

Marana is as strong as its local businesses, and Founders’ Day supports many through their 20-plus food trucks, nonprofit stands and other company activities. Scheer encouraged families arriving early to take advantage of the Copper Cafe, open from 8 to 10 a.m. and located in the MHC Healthcare Building. 

“They can grab a cup of coffee and they can support not just a locally owned cafe, but a workforce reintroduction program,” Scheer noted.

Another major attraction is the Wreaths Across America truck, which only drives to the region every five years. According to Scheer, this is the first time it’ll visit Marana. The town is a Purple Heart Community and honors veterans year-round for their service. The organization will educate the public on the military and provide resources to veterans throughout the area.

Scheer claimed the event is a key way to get families involved in the community, especially kids. There will be lawn games, finger-painting and arts and crafts stations throughout Founders’ Day. FC Tucson will also provide interactive inflatables. The Marana Public Works Division will scatter macro machines across the grounds to promote its department and share the stage with the Obsessions Car Club show. 

All attractions, from exhibits to shows, are of little to no cost to participants.

“We really do pride ourselves in providing low-cost and free experiences at our events,” Scheer said. “It’s fun to transition to the festival side and have all the families running around all of our attractions and activities.”

This year’s Founders’ Day marks the 46th anniversary of Marana, and among the festivities is an honoring of the city’s culture. It’s something the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association recognized with the 2022 Best Cultural Awareness Program Award. Along with the Natural Resources Award, the acknowledgment shows Marana’s impact in Arizona.

Since the late 1970s, Marana has been a major contributor to commerce in Southern Arizona. State recognition is the icing on the cake.

“To be able to win on a level where there are many departments running so many programs across the state, and to be picked out as the best of something is just an amazing honor in itself,” Scheer said. “We celebrate our culture; that means that Marana is an awesome place to live, work and play.”

Along with Founders’ Day on March 18, Scheer encouraged residents to save the date for subsequent events. Up next is Marana’s Star-Spangled Spectacular on July 3, featuring a return of fireworks.

The Town of Marana Founders’ Day

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 18

WHERE: Marana Municipal Complex, 11555 W. Civic Center Drive, Marana

COST:  Free admission


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