All In The Family
By Tara Kirkpatrick
Photography by Kris Hanning
For what they bring to Tucson, family businesses and families in the same line of work are the treasures that make this community a living legacy to both the past and present. From dentistry to design to navigating the law, here’s a look at three incredible families who share a passion for the same profession.
Askren & Sons, Inc.
Florists, interior designers, event planners, and retail businesses across the country depend upon the expertise of the Askren family. Since making Tucson their permanent home more than 30 years ago, Skip Sr. and Kathy Askren have created a versatile wholesale design company that includes their two sons and daughter-in-law.
“We are together as a family unit every day of the week,” says Kathy, smiling at her husband and sons. “It’s insane! It’s a good thing we all get along.” Adds Skip Sr., grinning, “It’s definitely not for the weak.”
Askren operates as two divisions. Kathy and daughter-in-law Jacque provide creative vision and resources for interior designers, floral designers and event planners. Skip and sons Skip Jr. and Toby focus specifically on the florist, catering and special event supplies, managing a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in the Butterfield Business District.
Askren & Sons, which currently has a staff of nine people, has experienced the highs and lows of Tucson’s economic climate. Skip believes the success and charm of this company centers on its ability to expand and contract with the times and trends.
A graduate of the University of Arizona, Skip Sr. utilized his training in sociology and public administration focused on his field with federal positions in Arizona, Colorado and California. A physical therapist, Kathy devoted 10 years to the field but experienced a passion for artistic projects and supplemented her time with classes in California.
When she and Skip moved to Tucson, she opened a retail store, Wicker Broker in Broadway Place. Skip preferred the wholesale business and established Askren, Ltd., first in Commerce Plaza and then in 1984, an expanded company in multiple buildings in the Golf Links/Aviation area.
Today, Skip Jr. and Toby help run the company, each ushering Askren & Sons into the social media age. “Our business is a lot of relationship selling,” says Skip Jr. “We want our clients to do well. If we do well, then they do well. You can take risks in a family business. We’ll all agree on something and then if it doesn’t work out, we just move on to the next thing.”
Toby, whom the family refers to as the “jack of all trades,” manages finances and acts as the family mediator. Skip Jr.’s wife Jacque is a gifted floral designer who first met him at none other than a wholesale trade show. “She’s easily one of the top designers in the country,” boasts Kathy. “She is one of the best I’ve ever worked with.”
Now, a new generation is emerging, including Skip and Jacque’s daughters, ages 14 and 11, and grandson Zach, age 6. “They have all grown up in our offices,” says Kathy. “I’ve had cribs next to my desk for so many years.”
More than anything, Askren & Sons, Inc. works because the family loves what they do. “It’s in our blood,” says Kathy. “It’s all we have ever known. You either love it or you don’t.”
The Dons of Dentistry
For the Don family, dentistry has become something of a mini-dynasty in Southern Arizona. Inspired to go into the field by their father Tony Don, brothers Michael, Norman and Damon and cousin Philip all have successful practices dedicated to the care and improvement of teeth.
Michael, the oldest brother whom family members jokingly call the “golden child,” is an orthodontist and practices with youngest brother Damon, a periodontist. Norman, the middle brother, operates his practice with Damon’s wife, dentist Kacy LaFleur. Philip, who grew up with the brothers, also runs a dental practice in Tucson.
Both Norman and Michael are married to dental hygienists — Tricia and Sandy, respectively. It’s truly dizzying, but it’s a job their father encouraged, telling them the dental profession would enable them to be successful and provide for their families.
“Dentistry is enjoyable because it involves being around people,” says Norman. “It’s being proactive in taking care of people’s health. There’s an incredible feeling, making teeth for a person who has never smiled and having that person smile for the very first time.”
“I wouldn’t say we are competitive with each other,” says Damon. “We strive to treat our patients very well.” Agrees Michael, “That’s the cornerstone of all of our practices. Our father always taught us that you treat everyone like family, like you would want to be treated.”
Michael, who flirted with being a pilot and weighed a potential move to Alaska, instead decided to differentiate and go into orthodontics at the counsel of close friend and orthodontist Mark Donovan. “I’m glad that Michael chose to come back to Tucson to be with his family and friends,” says Dr. Donovan.
Norman, along with mother Anna, brings everyone together for Sunday dinners, where they try not to talk about dentistry.
Instead, they frequently talk about hunting and fishing, their other passions, having grown up in the desert. They often go on excursions together in Africa, Mexico and Canada. Norman and Michael also volunteer for Flying Samaritans, traveling to Mexico to offer dental care.
“The Dons have been the premier dental family of Tucson for the last 50 years,” says Dr. Donovan. “This surely will continue with the next generation since a number of Don children are pursuing dental careers.” Indeed, Michael’s daughter Lindsay is attending orthodontic school; Damon and Kacy’s sons are currently in pre-dentistry at the University of Arizona and Norman’s son Colin is interviewing with dental schools. His daughter Abby is a first-year veterinary school student and Norman hopes she will consider veterinary dentistry.
“It’s great to have brothers in two specialties of dentistry,” he says. “That makes it easy to conference on mutual patients. And yes, I try to make them buy the lunch when we go out!”
Two generations of the Schorr family are among the astute legal minds in one of the most respected law firms in the Southwest — Lewis and Roca LLP.
Twin brothers Andrew and Lewis Schorr, who specialize in real estate law, work along with father Si Schorr, who specializes in land use and state and local government relations, along with brother-in-law and commercial litigator Doug Metcalf. All of them are partners in the firm, located downtown.
“It’s very unusual for a large law firm to have lawyers who are related, let alone twins,” says Lew. Having grown up in Tucson with parents who were lawyers, both Andy and Lew are 1981 graduates of the University of Arizona and decorated alumni of the James E. Rogers College of Law (1984). Doug, who is married to the twins’ sister Bobbie, graduated from the University of Iowa, Georgetown University Law Center and Drake University Law School.
“Law really played to our academic strengths,” says Lew. “We both enjoyed liberal arts more than science and math.” As high school students, the twins pursued law-related internships, from the U.S. Attorney’s Office to interviewing prison inmates to determine eligibility for release.
“I never encouraged them nor did I discourage them,” says Si, who has been involved in some of the state’s major land use cases. “They did what they wanted to do. It’s very enjoyable for me.”
Coordinated twists of fate brought them all together at Lewis and Roca. Si had his own practice in Tucson at one time while Andy and Lew worked in Phoenix for Winston & Strawn LLP. Andy moved back to Tucson to work in his dad’s firm while Lew stayed in Phoenix. Doug formerly worked at Brown & Bain. Through a few mergers, Lewis and Roca ended up absorbing all of them and altering its standing nepotism policy, as well.
Now, they all work in the same office every day in the myriad facets of the law. “Andy and I never see the inside of the courtroom,” says Lew. “Our excitement comes from seeing the deal completed. I like to see it through from start to finish. When it doesn’t close, I’m pretty disappointed.” Adds Andy, “Because we work on the same matters, we do have the great opportunity to work together frequently and bounce ideas off one another.”
On the courtroom side, says Doug, “In litigation, it’s being able to discover the facts of the story, the keys to what has happened.”
Si treasures the role he’s had in working with so many different industries over the years, including cable, chemical and fiber optic companies. “I have enjoyed being able to have a role in what was happening in our community.”
Like the Dons, the Schorrs get together every Sunday. “In the early days, we had more spirited discussions about law and business, until our wives were fed up with it,” recalls Andy. “Now we have other distractions. “ Adds Si, “We do make a point, though, of talking about public matters to let our grandchildren know that it’s important.”
Speaking of grandchildren, there are seven in all. The oldest is 23 and the youngest, 9 years old. The Schorrs agree that they want their children to determine their own career destinies. Lew, in good humor, even sent his oldest child a recent newspaper article that detailed how difficult it is for first-year law associates today.
“We want them to find what they love,” says Andy.