NOGALES, Ariz. — There's no shortage of star power on the Arizona Centennial Legacy Project's list of Arizona's 48 "Most Intriguing Women," which was unveiled earlier this month.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Grammy-winning recording artist Linda Ronstadt made the cut, as did Jane Dee Hull, Arizona's first elected female governor, and professional basketball player Diana Taurasi, who has led the Phoenix Mercury to two WNBA Championships.
But local residents may be more impressed to see the name of a Santa Cruz County standout among the roster of distinguished women. Anna Maria Coppola of Nogales was selected for the honor as a result of her tireless work with disabled children and adults.
Coppola, now 87, co-founded the Nogales-based Santa Cruz Training Programs (SCTP) for disabled children and adults in 1968. The move came after one of her sons was diagnosed with a learning disability, and the closest state facility for special needs children was in Coolidge, 130 miles away.
"This prompted Coppola to work with other local women to develop a program so other families could keep their children close to home," the organizers of the 48 Women project said in a news release. "What began in 1968 as a summer program for these children grew into SCTP which continues to play an integral role in Nogales."
Reached at home this week following the announcement, Coppola was quick to deflect credit for the project to her collaborators and SCTP's. Asked how she felt to be named to the exclusive list, she said only: "I feel really, not proud, but moved that they have made this decision."
Members of the local community who knew her work were effusive in their praise.
"If there was ever a saint from Nogales, Anna Maria Coppola is the one," said James "Buck" Clark, former superintendent of schools in Nogales and SCTP board member.
Clark called Coppola "the epitome of patience," saying: "She faithfully got everything together to take care of kids with special needs, and I admire her tremendously. She is absolutely a saint."
The family of Superior Court James A. Soto directly benefited from the creation of SCTP. Soto's older brother Tom is developmentally disabled and spent an unhappy period at Coolidge before SCTP gave him the chance to receive valuable services close to home.
"It was great for us because it gave us the opportunity to spend more time with Tommy - he lived at home with my mother - and he was able to go to the training center for educational programs, work programs and things of that nature," Soto said. "It allowed us to have more frequent and meaningful contact with him than we had before."
Soto also credited Coppola for helping to establish local group homes for adults with disabilities, and called her an organizational "whiz" for her ability to gather financial resources, recruit volunteer staffer and develop programs.
"She was just unrelenting in her efforts," he said. "And she did it not only to help her son Leonard, but because she had a genuine desire to help all these kids."
One of Anna Maria Coppola's sons, Manuel C. Coppola, is publisher of the Nogales International.
The 48 Women project, in partnership with the Arizona Historical Society and the Arizona Community Foundation, "was created to honor women from diverse backgrounds whose leadership and commitment contribute in a positive way to the future of Arizona during its centennial year," according to its press release.
The number 48 was chosen to reflect Arizona's status as the 48th state.
"Individually, the 48 Women governing board knew there were many Arizona women who are working hard every day to enhance the lives of others and to make Arizona the best state it can be," Connie Robinson, chairperson of the 48 Women project, said in a statement. "The level of statewide involvement and the number and quality of the nominations confirmed that."
A luncheon to honor Arizona's 48 Most Intriguing Women is set for March 26 in Scottsdale. A coffee table book telling the women's stories in words and photos is forthcoming and will be available at bookstores and other locations in Arizona.
Information from: Nogales International, http://www.nogalesinternational.com/