A Brief History of the Wesley Foundation's 90 Years in Tucson, AZ
Compiled by Bruce Billings using prior work by Lee Scott
The First Methodist-Episcopal Church of Tucson (now First UMC) was founded with its first building at Stone and Pennington in 1881. It had 300 students in attendance in 1928 when G. V. Gustafson was appointed as an associate minister and “Wesley Foundation Worker.”
In the fall of 1931, Stanley McKee was minister for youth activities and director of Wesley Foundation. In October, Bishop James Baker gave a sermon highlighting Wesley Foundation service to the community.
Noel LeRoque was the Wesley director from 1934-1937, during which time Wesley spearheaded investigations leading to the elimination of ‘slum lords’ operating in central Tucson. He was followed by George Norton, Victor Goff, and R. Weirbach.
Feb. 1943 Wesley students performed a play written by FUMC member Catherine Blanton, “There is no Death.”
Franklin Green was the Wesley Foundation director from 1945-1947, followed by Gillett Bechtel and Genevieve Dilts from 1948-1952. Bob Stewart was appointed from 1952-1958, during which time the old fraternity house at 715 N Park was purchased as a home for the Wesley Foundation. Bob Stewart was a full time campus minister, and was the campus minister in 1957 when I (Bruce) arrived at the UA.
Lee Scott served as full time Wesley Director from 1958-1969, funded by the Conference. Upon leaving Wesley, Lee became one of the founding faculty members of Pima Community College. Wesley Foundation recently established an endowment for the Lee Scott Scholarship Fund. Toward the end of Lee’s tenure, there was a fire in the old Wesley house, the University was buying out properties held by other campus ministries, and Wesley was unable to raise enough funds to build a new center, so the cooperative Campus Christian Center was established jointly by 5 denominations. The American Baptists later withdrew following a Lutheran (ELCA) sponsored gay dance, leaving 4 owner groups.
Following his tenure, several Wesley Directors held joint appointments with FUMC: Marshall Lindsay, 1969-1974, Doug Bobbitt, 1974-1980. In 1980, Buzz Stevens was appointed to both FUMC and Wesley, and from 1981-1983, Norm Steffenson was added as Wesley Foundation director on a part time basis. Gary Lee was appointed full time as WF director from 1983-1988. Kim Hauenstein-Malay served as full time paid by the Conference Wesley Director from 1988-1995, and developed a vibrant program. Followed by Lucy Jones-Voisey, 1995-1997 and Teresa Cowan-Jones 1997-1999 who resigned at the beginning of the fall semester. David Devereaux, appointed to FUMC 1995-1998.
Rev. Dan Hurlbert was sent to Wesley in the fall of 1999, and the position became half time at Wesley. Following Dan’s appointment to Desert Skies UMC, Rev. Sarai Riddlesworth Case was part time lay pastor of Wesley for a year.
Rev. Dee Dee Azhikakath (Lombardi) was appointed as full time director starting in July 2005. Wesley also had a paid part time intern during part of this period in an attempt to establish a presence at Pima Community College. In July 2013, Court Fisher was appointed to Wesley. Corry Young was hired in December 2014 and served through the spring semester of 2015. Rev. Felicia George was appointed to Wesley and served 2 years.
In 2017, Wesley was blessed with the appointment of Rev. Hannah Bonner.
Wesley Alumni have held reunions, in 1985, 1999, and 2009, attended by over a hundred alumni and spouses, mostly energized by alumni from the era when Bob Stewart and Lee Scott were directors.
Over many years Wesley has initiated and participated in numerous service projects including building renovations in Mexico, Habitat builds, retreats in La Jolla, Flagstaff, and other locations, service tutoring with TMM, and recently helping refugees.