Remembering Irene Sarver

By Dan Sorenson –

Remembering Irene Sarver
She Followed the Path of Her Heart

As a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, business partner and tireless community leader, Irene Sarver saw the good in everyone.

“She lived a life of absolute integrity from beginning to end,” said her daughter, Betty Anne Sarver. “She was authentic in every way. She had the C gene – character.”

Sarver, who made an immediate and lasting impact on Tucson after moving here in 1960 from Flint, Mich., with her husband, the late Jack Sarver, died July 6. She was 95.

“She was a show-up person,” Betty Anne said. “You could count on my mother in every way.”

From supporting family businesses to raising money for charities, being politically active to rolling up her sleeves to share her talents with volunteer organizations, Irene Server had boundless energy for good causes.

“My mom had a way about her,” said son Robert Sarver, a Phoenix businessman who is the majority owner of the Phoenix Suns.

“She positively impacted everybody she came in contact with. She was a mentor to many women in the community who went on to do great things.

“My mom really loved Tucson and the community loved her back.”

Sarver had a sharp business mind and was instrumental in the successes of her husband, who was a businessman, banker and hotel developer.

After her husband died in 1980, when her son was a young man, he worried he had lost his business mentor.

“I had looked to my dad for business counseling and I thought of my mom as more a mother and caretaker – but the reality is my mom became my biggest business mentor in teaching me the basics of honesty, integrity, work ethic, how to conduct yourself and how to make the right decisions,” he said.

“She gave me confidence to take risks. She always believed in me.”

And she believed in the community.

She was involved in many organizations, including Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Southern Arizona, Hadassah, the National Council of Jewish Women, Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, Congregation Anshei Israel, Temple Emanu-El and Brewster Center Domestic Violence Services.

She was on the first board of the University of Arizona Cancer Center and was a founding member of The Desert Caucus, a single-issue political action committee focused on the U.S.-Israel relationship.

At the celebration of her life, Robert told of his mom’s devotion to the West, a volunteer-run retail store at River and Craycroft roads that benefits the Brewster Center and other nonprofits.

Irene Sarver was a dedicated volunteer, and on days that business was slow, she worried there would be little money to help those in need.

So she would start shopping, often being the best customer that day.

Sarver was born in Flint and would rise early to help her mother can fruits and vegetables before she went to school, Betty Anne said.

She attended the University of Michigan and Michigan State Normal School, where she earned a degree in early elementary education. She taught reading in the poorest neighborhoods in Flint, and would bring apples to her students who came to school hungry.

She met Jack Sarver in 1948 and after they married, they moved to Tucson in 1960. They were married 32 years before Jack’s death from heart disease.

Not long after moving to Tucson, the Sarvers met Donald and Joan Diamond, and their friendship would last the ages.

“The Sarvers were one of the best couples I have seen,” Donald Diamond said. “They worked together on everything, whether political or business or social. They came as a couple with commitment to people and the community. It was quite rare to see.”

Talk would often turn to politics.

“We had a lot of heated discussions,” Diamond said. “I was a Republican, they were Democrats – Irene was the one that helped us to come together in the middle.”

Through it all, Sarver kept her marvelous sense of humor, Diamond said.
“People like that make a difference.”

Stuart Mellan, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, said Sarver “represented a standard of commitment to her family and her community that was unyielding.”

“As a senior statesperson, she was able to turn the admiration that people felt for her back into good work for caring for people in the community,” Mellan said. “When people would look at her and see how she gave of herself to the community, they followed her lead.”

Sarver did not want loved ones to be too sad or grieve too long upon her death. The celebration of her life included two favorites – kosher hot dogs and a hot fudge sundae bar.

“She followed the path of her heart and her heart was enormous,” Betty Anne said.

Sarver is also survived by daughter Ellen Dolgen as well as her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and her brother, Jack Magidsohn.

The family requests that any contributions be made to the Jewish Family & Children’s Services Jack J. & Gary I. Sarver Counseling Center and the Sarver Heart Center.

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