East Valley Tribune Article

Flamboyant activist dies at 91

By John Leptich, Tribune

August 19, 2005

Though she wasn't a Scottsdale native, Zina Kuhn was as much a part of the city's fabric as any politician or personality in its history.

Kuhn, who moved to Scottsdale when her late second husband, Coleman, retired in 1975, died Monday at her McCormick Ranch home of complications from Alzheimer's disease. She was 91.

Kuhn leaves behind an impressive list of friends, a zest for life and a legacy of love for her adopted country that likely won't be forgotten.

"In a lot of ways, she was kind of like a symbol of the conscience of our community," said Mayor Mary Manross, who knew Kuhn for 23 years.

Words such as: "activist," "patriot," "volunteer," "caring" and "flamboyant" are used by those who knew Kuhn to discuss her life. When Kuhn was on the scene, everyone knew it.

"You might (have been) appalled when you first met her and laugh at her bright red hair and lipstick," said former Mayor Sam Campana. "She had an oversized personality and you couldn't resist her."

Campana vividly recalls meeting Kuhn for the first time when the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts opened in 1975. Campana said a renowned concert pianist played and later interacted with the audience. Up jumped Kuhn to "sing her heart out," and dance, according to Campana.

"I don't remember the name of the renowned pianist," Campana said. "But I'll never forget Zina, as I expect anyone who was in that audience won't."

Born in 1914 in St. Petersburg, Russia, Kuhn later fled her homeland at the onset of the Soviet occupation. She worked as an entertainer for British and Polish troops during World War II before heading in 1951 to New York City.

She helped restore the 1947 Gratitude Train Boxcar, a gift from France to Arizona after World War II, and found a home for it at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale. She also established the city's annual Veterans Day ceremony in 1989. She was inducted into the Scottsdale History Hall of Fame in 2004.

Kuhn was named a Scottsdale "ambassador of goodwill" by the late Mayor Herb Drinkwater. Kuhn spoke fluent Russian, French, Polish, German, Italian and some Arabic.

In July 2004, Kuhn and two couples went to her birthplace. They also visited Lithuania and France. Kuhn and her traveling partners went to Crepy, a small French town where Kuhn helped raise funds decades ago for a statue honoring President John F. Kennedy. It was the first time she saw it.

"Somebody suggested I should probably have taken the trip a long time ago. But it's never too late," Kuhn told the Tribune last August. "In life, everything is timing. This was the right time."

Visitation will be 1 to 2 p.m. Aug. 30, at Messinger Mortuary, 7601 E. Indian School Road, Scottsdale, followed by a memorial service at 2 p.m. Burial will be at Paradise Memorial Gardens, 9300 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale.

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