It’s Grow Time!

Starting out as teen entrepreneurs in Sahuarita, these landscape pros have built a thriving business.

Elena Acoba

Chalk one up for a hard-work ethic, the driving force behind three former Sahuarita teens who grew up to be leaders in Arizona landscaping.

The Arizona Landscape Contractors Association (ALCA) gave its 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award to Santa Rita Landscaping owners Brian and Garrett Ham and Richard Spross. The annual award recognizes their professionalism in the industry.

Brian was pursuing a University of Arizona bachelor’s degree in watershed hydrology when youngest sibling Garrett — a high school senior — decided to open the landscape business in 1985.

“Sahuarita being next to the retirement community of Green Valley allowed lots of opportunity for small side jobs doing landscaping,” Garrett recalls. “I briefly thought about exploring a career in law enforcement, but quickly realized I like the landscaping industry.”

He got his Arizona contractor’s license at age 18, and used money from his landscaping gigs and selling livestock in 4-H to buy a truck and some tools.

Brian soon joined the company, which initially offered residential landscape maintenance. Its headquarters were in the family’s barn, and their mom answered the business phone.

By 1988 they had a construction yard, plant nursery and office space in Green Valley. Larger jobs, more work from Tucson residents and the addition of commercial clients eventually led to a central Tucson location. Today the company has five divisions, 215 employees and more than five acres for their headquarters and operations.

Beside custom landscapes for residents, Santa Rita’s work can be seen in new neighborhoods by 15 developers, including homes by Lennar, Pepper-Viner, Sombra, Pulte and Robson Communities.

The Hams didn’t grow up surrounded by knowledge of landscaping or gardening, but learned a lot about hard work.

“When I needed to make some spending money, it was easy to get small jobs trimming plants and watering,” says Garrett.

That work ethic also influenced Richard Spross, who knew Brian when they were teens. “When I was in high school, I seriously wanted to just work hard and make money to save and buy a house,” Spross says.

Armed with an architecture drafting degree from Pima Community College, the Tucson native landed a position with a landscape architect. “I was exposed to the industry and saw a need for commercial landscape contractors in Tucson,” says Spross.

After learning the ropes with other contractors, he opened his own company, Southwest Enviroscapes Inc., in 1992. “The general contractors were really encouraging me to go out on my own,” he says.

Spross’ expertise in the commercial realm and the Hams’ thriving residential business turned out to be complementary when they were weathering the Great Recession. “In the recession we were looking for ways to expand and survive,” says Garrett. “We were very strong in the custom residential and homebuilder market, but needed some help and expansion in the commercial construction arena. Richard and Southwest Enviroscapes brought that to us.”

“It was easier to merge these two companies than try to enter each other’s markets,” Spross says.

Their companies combined in 2012 under the Santa Rita Landscaping name. The owners wanted to make sure all employees embraced professionalism, integrity and constant improvements so they developed a continuous training program.

That business strategy has paid off with work that has been recognized within the industry. Santa Rita Landscaping has earned more than 30 ALCA landscaping awards over the years, including top Award of Excellence wins.

All of the Hams’ children have worked in the business, as have Spross’ three sons. Tanner Spross is chief executive officer, and Garrett’s older son works part time as an estimator.

Garrett admits the company’s success was a surprise for both brothers. “I never imagined it this big,” Garrett says of the company’s growth. And it’s about to get bigger.

Westhook Capital, a Los Angeles investment firm, bought the company together with Tanner Spross and Kathi Roche earlier this year and is expected to expand.

Under the investment, Tanner continues as CEO and long-time employee Kathi remains chief financial officer. The Hams and Richard Spross are minority owners serving as consultants.

Garrett knows the new owners are committed to the hard work and professionalism that the ALCA Lifetime Achievement Award winners established. “It makes us all pretty happy now that Tanner and Kathi are coowners,” he says. “They did well before and they’re going to be phenomenal.”

Residential landscaping requests have changed a bit since the Hams and Spross got into the landscaping business.

Then: large grass lawns.

Now: small swaths of artificial turf.

Then: tropical plants in a California-style landscape.

Now: natives and desert-adapted plants.

Then: enclosed barbecues out in the backyard.

Now: grilling kitchens as part of the flow of indoor-outdoor living.

Then: brick pavers and flagstone.

Now: concrete pavers and travertine.

Then: gray gravel.

Now: gravel in a variety of colors.

Then: laying plastic for weed control.

Now: pre-emergents (early-use herbicides).

Then: incandescent bulbs for lighting outdoor spaces.

Now: Energy-saving LEDs.

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Growing Healthy

The Garden Kitchen offers seed-to-table gardening and cooking education, while empowering families to make nutritious meals on a budget.

Imagine a place where people in our community who are struggling with poor nutrition, obesity, and the challenges of staying healthy and well fed on a low income can learn about proper diet, and how to grow many food staples.

You are picturing The Garden Kitchen — part cooking school, part hands-on gardening workshop.

A partnership of The University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension, along with the city of South Tucson and Pima County, it started up in October 2012. Its venue is a former Mexican restaurant, which closed in 2009. Pima County purchased the site, and it was renovated and the garden was planted. The final portion of the project was the installation of the kitchen equipment in 2017.

Though the approach is multi-pronged, Program Director Jennifer Parlin says of The Garden Kitchen’s mission, “The primary aim is whole health. We base this on three education and policy pillars: gardening, both home and community; nutrition education and culinary skill building; and physical activity opportunities.”

The Garden Kitchen has about 30 community partner sites and also supports around the same number of community gardens that cater to low-income families.

Current programs that run through The Garden Kitchen include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Education; Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program; and a Diabetes Prevention Program.

The garden itself is located behind the kitchen, and was a collaboration between the staff and Pima County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners. The Master Gardeners hold talks and consult for us, while much of the planning and planting is done by our staff and volunteers,” explains Parlin.

“A lot of people come in and say, ‘I have a black thumb,’ so we usually start people off with herbs because they’re a little bit more forgiving. Also, they are an important part of many of our cooking classes.”

The on-site garden is mostly for demonstration, but it showcases many important culinary areas. “We have fruit trees — pomegranate, peach, lemon, lime, apple and fig — growing along the fence,” Parlin notes. “A large cistern catches rainfall and provides needed water. Gourds grow easily and can be trained to twine over a pergola to provide shade. We even have a coop for our chickens!”

This garden features several raised beds, usually spanning four feet by four feet, that illustrate what a small garden looks like. This design works well because it’s low cost and promotes active participation and education. That participation isn’t limited to just adults, either. Through gardening, children learn about plants, foods and, of course, patience, while using fine motor skills.

Two of the program’s goals are to assist with setting up gardens in the community, and to provide practical information and education to help residents make their lives better by teaching low-cost, healthy cooking with an emphasis on gardening.

With the final completion of the cooking stations in 2017, The Garden Kitchen is fully equipped to conduct hands-on cooking classes. Since the start of this program, more than 250,000 Pima County residents have received education at The Garden Kitchen.

And by the way, you can participate yourself at home, and benefit the work of this unique community resource, by purchasing The Garden Kitchen cookbook. Visit for details.


Read Cooking With Class on page 116 for an up-close look at The Garden Kitchen’s educational program.

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Remodeling was necessary to bring this 50-plus-year- old home into the 21st century.

Written by Romi Carrell Wittman | Photography by David Olson

Mid-century style — a term describing the clean, minimalist designs from about 1945 through the late 1970s — is having a moment. You see its influences in everything from new home design to home décor at both high-end and mass-appeal stores. Need proof? The once collector-only furniture brands Herman Miller, Knoll and Eames are almost commonplace today.

What most people don’t realize is that Tucson is home to some of the country’s best examples of classic mid-century design, and the Windsor Park subdivision is one of Tucson’s master-planned, mid-century gems. Located on the northeast side, this small community of about 125 homes was built in 1962 by developer J. Herbert Oxman. Marketing materials from the time advertised the homes as “almost living outdoors,” with the average three-bedroom home featuring some 575 square feet of glass. Double carports, angled roofs and large, one-quarter- to one-third-acre lots were among the community’s other selling points.

This iconic style is what drew Jim Eck and Roxanne Rossi to purchase a house in Windsor Park. The couple has long been a fan of mid-century modern style and architecture. “We spent vacations in Palm Springs and were really drawn to that style,” Eck says.

“We looked at various locations (in Tucson), but this area is an enclave of mid-century homes — not just one or two,” Eck elaborates. They estimate they looked at 30 houses before finding “The One.”

Rossi realized the moment she walked through the doorway that it was home. “When I saw the wall of glass, I just knew,” she says of the 1,700-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home.

But it required some TLC before they could move in. As with many older houses, it had been altered a bit through the years and it needed some updating to make it a comfortable, modern living space. The U-shaped kitchen, common to the era in which it was built, divided the living and dining rooms. The fireplace sat in a room that had no windows.

“The previous owner had a teenage son and they called it the ‘man cave,’” Eck says with a laugh.

The first order of business was to open up the kitchen and living room and transform them into a great room. There was one problem: the kitchen wall was load-bearing, meaning it couldn’t be removed without devising another means of supporting the roof.

The couple turned to architect Chris Evans for help. Evans is known for his work with the Tucson Historic Preservation Society, and has extensive experience renovating and updating mid-century homes.

“We didn’t want to go into historic preservation mode of pink tiles and a lot of that,” Eck says. “We went more contemporary with the goal of retaining the design aesthetic. We landed on ‘open and light,’ with the use of mixed local materials like adobe to maintain the character.”

“They wanted to combine all the living spaces — kitchen, dining, living,” Evans explains. “The big challenge was trying to figure out how to open it up.”

A large support beam was installed so the existing walls could be removed. New windows, a concrete flooring overlay, and the addition of a window to the fireplace room also were addressed during the remodel. The couple plans to renovate the bedrooms in the future.

Most recently, they constructed a 400-square-foot studio for Rossi, who is a mixed media artist. Her artwork — as well as that of the couple’s son, a potter — is featured prominently throughout the home. Rossi, a former art teacher, observes, “I’m a maker — I have to create things. I’m inspired by my environment, people, and the places we go.”

The couple loves the “new” home and its one big room for living, cooking and entertaining. “It’s a very comfortable house,” Rossi concludes.


Architect Chris Evans,

Artist Roxanne Rossi,

A Tucson snowbird’s winter garden is filled with colorful plantings, which proved to be a temptation for some hungry wildlife!

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Editor’s Picks

Previews of upcoming events

JAN 15-16


The St. Lawrence String Quartet, which has played for AFCM numerous times, returns for two nights of different concerts, each celebrating the music of Beethoven. Jan. 15 will include Beethoven’s String Quartets No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 18 No. 4, and No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135. The group also will play John Adams’ String Quartet No. 2, written specifically for them, and referencing two of Beethoven’s piano works — the Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major, Op. 110 and the Diabelli Variations. On Jan. 16, the program will be comprised of Beethoven’s String Quartets No. 10 in E-flat Major, Op. 74, “Harp” (so called because of the string plucking in the first movement), and No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131. The group also will perform Haydn’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20 No. 5, an intense and dramatic work that prefigures the middle and later quartets of Beethoven. Leo Rich Theater. 577-3769.; .

JAN 19


The Bay Area-based group Agave Baroque, which specializes in string chamber music from the 17th and 18th centuries, has a long association with renowned countertenor Reginald Mobley.

The group has recorded several CDs with Mobley, including 2015’s Queen of Heaven, which features the music of Isabella Leonarda. Leonarda was a 17th century Italian nun who dedicated her compositions to the Virgin Mary. In 2018, Agave Baroque worked with Mobley again on the album Peace in Our Time — Music of Love and Loss in the Shadow of the Thirty Years War. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) took place in Central Europe and involved numerous countries, including Denmark, Sweden, England, and nations from the Holy Roman Empire. The casualties from battle, disease and famine that resulted from the conflict topped eight million.

For the Tucson concert (which is part of the Tucson Desert Song Festival), Agave Baroque will perform a concert entitled American Originals, centering on composers born in the Americas, and including works by African American composers Florence Price (1887-1953) and Josiah Holland (1819-1881). 3 pm. Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

JAN 24, 26


Windows into Song

Part of the Tucson Desert Song Festival, this eclectic program will feature everything from 150-year-old choral works to Respighi’s instrumental interpretations that relate to passages in the Bible, to the world premiere of a work for chorus and orchestra by local composer Robert Lopez-Hanshaw.

One of the highlights of the concert will certainly be the opportunity to hear rising operatic star Federica Lombardi perform pieces by Gioachino Rossini. The Italianborn Lombardi says that her love of classical music began at an early age. “I have been studying opera since I was 16 years old as a result of the love I always had growing up for classical music. This journey took me to great experiences, such as master classes, competitions and then performing opera roles. It has been a beautiful process of continuous development and learning,” she enthuses.

The soprano studied at the Liceo Musicale Angelo Massini, as well as the Conseratorio Bruno Maderna. She was part of the Accademia di Perfezionamento per Cantanti Lirici of the Teatro alla Scala, and participated in the young singers program at the Salzburg Festival. Her recognitions have included being a two-time winner of the AsLiCo competition in Como, Italy.

Along with performing Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, she has performed the roles of the Countess Rosina in Le Nozze di Figaro, and Elettra in Idomeneo. Asked about some of her favorite parts to sing, she says, “Every time I sing a new role or a new piece I fall in love with every single part of it. Right now I’m fascinated by two of the characters I sing the most: Donna Elvira, and the Countess, both by Mozart; they are strong women who are in love and they fight in different ways for a love that has been betrayed, singing the most beautiful music. Aside from Mozart, I feel very confident with the role of Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello. I recently recorded this opera for a CD, and I can’t wait to bring this character to life on stage!”

For the TSO, she will perform selections from Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle, Messa di Gloria and Stabat Mater. “I’m extremely happy to perform something new in my repertoire,” she comments. “I believe this music creates a glorious atmosphere, and it’s able to move my soul in a very intimate way.”

Speaking of atmosphere, Lombardi observes that she has been to the Old Pueblo before and loves it here. “I have been in Tucson twice already, and I’m always impressed by the beautiful landscape. The first time, I visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The second time I spent more time in the lively downtown, which is developing so quickly, and offers great entertainment options. It has that unique feeling that makes Tucson a very special place to be.”

This year, Lombardi also is slated to perform as Desdemona for Deutsche Oper Berlin, and she also will return to La Scala for a new production of Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Rè. Fortunately, travel is one of the things she most enjoys doing. “Apart from using my free time to study and prepare for future engagements,” she says, “I like to visit and discover the places where I’m performing. I think it’s part of the good fortune of an opera singer!” Jan. 24, 7:30 pm; Jan. 26, 2 pm, TCC Music Hall. 882-8585.

JAN 24-26


America Sings!

When bass Morris Robinson returns to Tucson (he was previously here in 2013 to sing Verdi’s Requiem with the TSO)

Morris Robinson sings with True Concord, Jan.
24-26. Photo by Lawrence Brownlee

it will be to help bring to life music that is in our country’s DNA. The phenomenal singer, whose résumé includes roles such as Fasolt in Das Rheingold, Ferrando in Il Travatore, and concert performances of works such as Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, will take part in a program that’s part of the Tucson Desert Song Festival.

The mix will include spirituals, popular songs by Stephen Foster (the author of some 200 works, including “Beautiful Dreamer”), and Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs.

Written in two sets in 1950 and 1952, Old American Songs is a re-setting of a number of tunes from long ago, including the Shaker song “Simple Gifts” (also used in his Appalachian Spring Suite), the children’s song “I Bought Me a Cat,” and the hymn “At the River.” Jan. 24: 7 pm, St. Francis in the Valley Episcopal Church (Green Valley); Jan. 25: 7:30 pm, Catalina Foothills High School; Jan. 26: 3 pm, Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. 401-2651.

JAN 31- FEB 2


Made in America
Jenna Johnson, Vasily Boldin & Taylor Johnson
in “Unsquare”. Photo by Ed Flores Photography

Part of the Tucson Desert Song Festival, Ballet Tucson presents this showcase featuring a revered work by iconic chorographer George Balanchine, along with two premieres. The reprised work is Serenade, the first ballet created in the U.S. by the Russia-born Balanchine. Set to Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48 by Tchaikovsky, the work is especially haunting and beautiful. The new work Unsquare, by BT choreographer Chieko Imada, uses the music of jazz legend Dave Brubeck. The third piece, Recollections, was choreographed by Mark Schneider, and features popular turn-of-the-century American songs and period costumes. Jan. 31: 7:30 pm; Feb. 1: 2 pm and 7 pm; Feb. 2: 1 pm. PCC Center for the Arts. 903-1445.



La Bohème

Premiering in 1896 at the Teatro Regio (with a young Arturo Toscanini conducting), La Bohème was reportedly met with a lukewarm response, but the opera soon became a success throughout Italy. Today, it’s one of the most popular operas in the repertoire.

It’s easy to see — and hear — why. Puccini’s music is both romantic and heartbreaking, and the compelling story of the young lovers and their tragic fate has resonated throughout generations.

Though set in the 1840s, the opera is often updated to a different era. Director Baz Luhrmann transported it to 1950s Paris for one production, and the Broadway musical Rent transferred the storyline to New York’s East Village in the 1980s. The fluidity of the opera is just one of its many appeals. Observes soprano Ellie Dehn, who will be singing Mimi on Feb. 1, “I’ve done Bohème only in traditional productions, but I think of all operas, there’s a case for being able to update it, and doing it in all kinds of different periods and locales.”

Dehn has the advantage of knowing the work from several different angles, having sung the role of Musetta, as well. “I’ve done Mimi three times, but I’ve sung Musetta at all the major houses,” she relates. “Definitely Musetta is written in a more fun way, but Mimi has all the blood and guts — literally — written into the part. I think they’re both really fun to play, and it also keeps it fresh every time you do it when you can look at the opera through different perspectives.”

It may be difficult to picture the sunny and charming Dehn in a tragic work such as Massenet’s Manon, or Dvorak’s Rusalka, but Dehn reveals that what first draws her to an opera is the underlining qualities of the music. “For me it’s always the music first and foremost,” she says. “Using Rusalka as an example, you hear the score and immediately get goosebumps, and you feel this pain underneath the music. That’s what I need to get a sense of sometimes. And the storytelling is what completes the whole picture.”

Tucson audiences may recall that Dehn was in town to perform in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in 2018. Though that magnificent work doesn’t call upon the talents of vocal soloists until the end, Dehn says she doesn’t mind. “Usually we’re off stage until about halfway through the piece, so we can kind of do whatever we want — warm up, primp and get ready. In the case of Beethoven, I love sitting through the third movement, and then the finale is the finale. I love being on stage for the Ninth. Audiences just go wild. It’s written that way. It’s a really exciting piece.”

She says that the last time she was in town she was pregnant with her daughter Arabella (named for the Strauss opera). Being exposed to classical music both in the womb, and now in her toddler stage, has had an impact. “I sang Manon at five and a half months pregnant with her,” Dehn reveals. “When she was a newborn, she would calm down if I would play Manon for her, or Messiah, because I did a bunch of Messiah concerts in my sixth and seventh months. She recognizes opera and music from the womb. She sings constantly, so she definitely learned to have the music bug. She literally sings in perfect pitch. It’s incredible.”

Dehn’s parents, who will be wintering in Scottsdale, will join her in the Old Pueblo while she is here, and the soprano says that although her favorite downtime activities used to be yoga and reading, they are now often child-related. She hopes to get in some hiking while she in Arizona, however, though probably on a flat trail so that Arabella can enjoy it, too.

And soon after, Dehn will be jetting off to St. Louis for a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. “Now that I have a little one, concert work is good to find because it’s a shorter term,” she says. “Instead of a month to six weeks for an opera performance, you’re only gone four to seven days max. Doing a full opera is definitely my first passion, but I’m doing about half and half now.”

That variety of concert work and a wide range of operas definitely ices the cakes for Dehn. “Not only am I exploring different languages, but in different time periods,” she concludes. “I can do a score that’s very tonal, and then a newer work that’s completely atonal with different harmonies and orchestrations. Mozart is a completely different animal from some of the modern pieces, which always keeps it fresh. The same goes for languages and styles, too. It definitely never gets boring.” TCC Music Hall. 293-4336.;

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Painting the Town


Private Space II

A vignette from a barrio dwelling, this work was the beginning of my painting local scenes and adding colors that actually might not be there. That technique helps me to tell the story of how I feel about a place, rather than trying to exactly replicate it.



First Light

The Four Seasons in North Scottsdale commissioned this painting of Pinnacle Peak, and it has become one of my gallery’s most-popular images. In preparation for painting, my husband Miro and I spent the night at the hotel and began photographing at dawn to ensure we would capture the moment when the first light illuminated the top of the peak.




Greek Table

A painting trip to Greece in 1993 changed my life. It prompted me to sell my sports marketing company and become a full-time artist. I have never regretted that decision, and still get as excited about a blank canvas as I did all those years ago. Six years after that trip, Madaras Gallery opened.






Fly Me to the Moon

The Spirit Animal collection is my first extensive series, and creating these images has been joyous. I committed to painting 20 spirit animals to celebrate the gallery’s 20th anniversary, and have now completed 25. More are on the drawing board. Each one has five common elements including a tattoo. The original paintings are sold, so we now offer the entire collection in canvases, prints, coasters and ornaments.









Funky Cow Medina

This painting represented a breakthrough for me. For the first time, I gave myself permission to play and experiment, rather than trying to re-create a life-like scene. Having my own Gallery has afforded me the freedom to explore, whereas oftentimes, if an artist is successful with a certain look, the gallery will insist they continue to create in that style.



Afternoon Sun

One of 80 paintings selected as an award winner out of more than 1,000 entries in the Western Federation Show in 1998, held at the Tucson Museum of Art. This award helped give me the confidence to open my gallery.




Saguaro Matisse

This is the fourth painting I have done in the style of the masters, using subject matter I frequently paint. Preceding this were Saguaro Matisse, Saguaro Nieto, Saguaro Picasso, Saguaro Klee and most recently, Wildcat Picasso.

















A commissioned painting, this portrait incorporates the bird’s feathers and eggshells. The mixed media work later received national acclaim and was included in a book on the Best of Acrylic.




King of Sandibe

This was the first painting I finished after returning from a three-week African safari. I was sent there by Destination Southern Africa to shoot photo reference for a show to benefit charities in Africa and Tucson. This painting raised $10,000 for the charities, and it embodies the spirit of giving back that is a part of my gallery’s culture.


Meet Diana Madaras

Madaras earned a master’s degree from the University of Arizona in 1977. Before opening her art galleries, she operated a high-profile sports marketing company in Tucson, promoting major sporting events including LPGA and PGA golf tournaments. A month-long painting trip to Greece in 1993 changed her life, prompting her to sell her marketing company and devote her career to painting.

Her art has appeared on the covers of nine magazines, including Art Book of the West, The American Veterinary Hospital Journal, and Tucson Lifestyle. Her coffee table book Private Spaces includes 152 of her works, and her newest book, The Colors of Tucson, is a tour of “The Old Pueblo” through her imaginative paintings.

Madaras has completed commissions for all of the major resorts in Tucson, along with eight paintings for the estate of a former President of Mexico.

She is founder and president of the nonprofit Art for Animals Foundation, which has raised more than $200,000 to help abused, injured and orphaned animals. For the past several years, she has concentrated her fundraising efforts on the Tucson Wildlife Center and was the chair of their benefit in 2018. The event raised enough money to hire dedicated veterinarians for the first time in the Center’s 20-year history.

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About Us

Tucson Lifestyle

Tucson Lifestyle Magazine is Tucson's only glossy, monthly city magazine, targeting Southern Arizona’s affluent residents. With over 35 years of publishing experience, Tucson Lifestyle is committed to showcasing the people, places, local flavors, and attractions that make our city unique.

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