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Altar set up at Presidio Museum in memory of late Pima County Supervisor

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TUCSON (KVOA) -  Long-time Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías passed away on March 28. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, a public memorial was not held to honor the man that dedicated his life to serving Tucson and the betterment of Southern Arizona.

However, four months later, people can now pay tribute to the Pima County Supervisor at the Presidio San Agustin del Tucson Museum downtown.

A temporary altar has been constructed to honor Elías. It is now open to the public.

Gayle Hartmann, a long-time board member for the Presidio Museum, recently brought an offering to Elías' memorial to his memorial.

"This is very much like a Dia De Los Muertos altar," he said. "What  people generally do in that case, is bring things that the person that you're honoring liked or cared about."

In lieu of a memorial event, members of the community approached Elías' appointed replacement, Betty Villegas, with the idea of creating an altar that could provide his many friends and supporters a chance to mourn while practicing safe social distancing procedures.

She agreed to the idea and approached Elías' family, who also agreed in setting up the tribute.

Originally intended to be placed in a public space near the Pima County Administration building, plans were revisited after the recent downtown protests. In response, the Presidio Museum offered to provide a secure space for the altar.

People who knew the supervisor said it makes perfect sense that an altar dedicated to Elías was set up at the Presidio San Augustin del Tucson Museum. When he was alive, Elías said he was proud of the fact that he could trace multi-generations of his family in this region. 

The Presidio was established in 1775 on Tohono O'odham land located in what is currently known as Tucson - just east of the Santa Cruz River.

Raul Ramirez, a friend of Elías and member of Los Descendientes del Presidio de Tucson also shared his thoughts about the altar and the supervisor's heritage.

"(Elias) also comes from a pioneer family. He was proud of that," Ramirez said. "But, the first people he'd acknowledge were the native people that were here - the Tohono O'odham, the Yoeme and to some extent the Apache." 

Hartmann added, "He was smart. He was knowledgable. He was compassionate and he compared about people. He also understood Tucson. He understood Tucson's history."

The museum released the following statement about the memorial made in tribute to Elías.

Supervisor Elías was a fifth-generation Tucsonan, a direct descendant of Tucson Presidio settlers and a member of a family that included many local leaders and luminaries. The Presidio Museum just recently re-opened for limited evening hours from 4:30 pm - 8:30 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Due to Covid-19 the Board of Trustees of the Presidio Museum decided to waive admission fees through August 29th.  After that date people are still welcome to come in for free to visit the altar.

"We are honored to be able to house an altar for Richard and we encourage his supporters, friends and family to bring ofrendas and add to the altar," said Hartmann-Gordon.  "Richard was an advocate of the homeless, refugees, the environment, social justice and those of limited means.  We hope all of his friends will bring something to the altar to say their good-bye."

The altar will stay up through Dia de los Muertos and will be taken down shortly afterward on Nov. 8.

His friends and colleagues hope for the possibility of a permanent memorial to be built somewhere near the Pima County Administration building in the future.

The Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum is located on the northeast corner of the original Presidio at 196 N. Court Ave.

For more information, visit tucsonpresidio.com.

Paul Cicala

Paul Cicala is a 2-time winner of the prestigious”Edward R. Murrow Award” for his reporting/anchoring in news & sports. Paul Cicala has also been nominated for multiple EMMY’s. Cicala has won the “Best Sportscaster” category in Tucson the last 3 years (voted on by readers of “Tucson Weekly”). Cicala is a native Tucsonan who specialized in border stories during his earlier career as a news reporter in this market, and now concentrates mainly on sports stories (with an occasional special report and/or feature story on life in Tucson & the Sonoran Desert).

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