La Doña del Pueblo…

..and my friend

Cele Peterson
Cele at 80 years young modeled for Sam Patania wearing all 3 generations of the Patania jewelry collection.
The photo was executed exquisitely by Steven Meckler, a renowned Tucson Photographer who is published worldwide.

Recently, Cele Peterson would have celebrated her105th birthday. She passed peacefully in 2010, just shortly after turning 101 years of age. Cele loved Cele with Braceletsbirthdays and she loved Tucson. So, it is no surprise that she helped Tucson create a citywide Birthday Celebration which lasts the entire month of August. This all-city party was just one of the many grand ideas Cele initiated into action.
How blessed I was to call such an extraordinary woman my friend. I was a mere 24 years old, when she took me under her wing.
As a young women, she served for the Consulate in Mexico City and years later became the advocate of the “Sister City” project, further connecting our two great Countries.
Cele’s fundraising efforts were always directed to better Tucson and helped launch The Tucson Ballet Company and Arizona Opera. She championed so many non-profits organizations, including Casa de los Niños, it’s hard to know where to the list begins.
What a wondrous women. What a super smart entrepreneur. What a mass “net-worker,” even before that word was coined. Cele Peterson was all of this and so much more. She wore no single hat, but if she had, it would have been the most stylish one ever designed. There isn’t a single label for Cele Peterson. The fabric she wove around Tucson was pure gold (copper and cotton too). She most definitely would have of used Arizona threads. Indeed, she actually designed a gown in pure copper.
A true fashion mogul for more than 60 years, Cele is attributed with the first fashion show that ever walked the catwalk in Tucson. Cele took her own fashion designs from a trail dust town named Tucson all the way to New York City’s Radio City Music Hall.
Always discovering gems in Tucson, one of her first finds was Frank Patania Sr. Cele adorned her fashions with his unique jewelry designs and wore his grand silver cuffs as her own person trademark.
Upon donating a Century’s worth of fashion to the Tucson Historic Society, Lupita Murrilo of Channel 4, KVOA, asked Cele to be a guest on her TV show. It was at this interview, Sam Patania, Frank Sr.’s grandson, was introduced to me. He brought from the safe 3 generations of their dazzling jewelry designs which the models wore on the commemorative occasion to celebrate Cele’s fashions. Cele had been collecting since a child in Bisbee and finalized the collection with fashions from her own Tucson stores.
As far away as Mexico City, women have always clamored to be “dressed” in the latest Cele Peterson fashions. She always made certain not one of her patrons ever wore the same gown to the same charity ball. Somehow she kept track of who was wearing what and to where.

My own personal Cele Peterson Tales
Cele invited me to several luncheons. Two really stand out. The first, was just she and I. Cele took me downtown to the Mountain Oyster Club. Originally for ‘Men Only’, Cele was the first woman to break that barrier. (I was a little slow on the up take, but eventually understood the name the Ranchers had dub their restaurant.)
Yet, another time, she invited me to a largely attended luncheon, hosted by the Mayor. At her table, I was seated next to Linda Ronstadt. Need I say how star struck I was that day?
One Mother’s Day, a few girlfriends and their mothers gathered to celebrate at Lowes Ventena Canyon. They served an exquisite High Tea just like Mother England. Without a mother of my own, Cele offered to stand in as mine. I was so honored. No words can express my gratitude nor the memory made that day with Cele, Lupita Murillo, and her lovely mother Velia.

About the Photo
That day I picked her up from her fashion store at El Con Mall and drove her to Steven Meckler’s Photography Studio. She was tried and took a cat nap in my passenger seat. I wondered if I was doing the right thing asking an Octogenarian to model.

Once we arrived, I knew my angst was for nothing. I simply announced “We’re here!” and Cele sprang to life. She reached into her purse and brought out a single tube of red lipstick. She put a delicate dab on her finger and livened her cheek bones, then spread a dab on her lips and off we went. You be the judge of that day’s photo shoot. A woman in her eighties or a timeless icon?

Whenever I miss her, which is often, I take out my own ‘Wonder Woman’ silver cuff bracelets, crafted with care and style by Sam Patania, and fashioned from the same pattern his grandfather used for Cele’s. Sam knew want they would mean to me. I reflect in their shining silver and remember all of her love, for her family which seemingly included all of Tucson. Affectionately written by CJ Heileman.

This October, Arizona Bilingual Newspaper
“Fashions for the Holidays”