Horsewoman, retired pharmacist, volunteer keeps going strong at 87
The July/August 1972 issue of Old Pueblo Horse Happenings featured a magnificent palomino named Honey Girl bedecked in silver with a female rider similarly clad.
The woman sits ramrod straight as she guides the horse through intricate maneuvers.
Lil Peth, a physical education teacher at Mansfield Middle School, fashioned the silver work.
Today, only a belt buckle remains, as well as the rider, Mildred “Mid” Rietz. She and Honey Girl were part of Tucson’s Search and Rescue for two years.
Mid is an extraordinary woman with a history intertwined with Tucson’s own.
Trained as a pharmacist, Mid took her state boards in Phoenix and began her career at Swan Drugs at Speedway Boulevard and Swan Road.
The owner, Henry Simrin, had one of the few TVs in Tucson. Every Wednesday, Mid and her friend Joyce watched Liberace.
After Swan Drugs, Mid was a pharmacist at Craycroft Drug at 22nd Street and Craycroft Road.
Mid originally was from Sioux Falls, S.D. She attended Williams Bay High School in Wisconsin, where she met Elsie Ambrose.
When Elsie married George Nelson, the course of Mid’s life was set.
In 1950, Mid migrated to Tucson, where Elsie, George and their daughter, Judy, frequently visited her.
The Nelsons loved the Southwest and also moved here to open a business. Mid researched drugstores and chose Frontier Drugs. Thus was born a partnership with George in 1960.
With Mid as pharmacist and George as general manager, Elsie was bookkeeper while Judy worked the cash register, ran errands and made deliveries when she was not in school.
Frontier’s 23-stool soda fountain was run by Marie, the cook who managed hot lunches.
In 1970, the long-term lease expired. George and Mid could see the writing on the wall.
Walgreens was encroaching. Frontier Drugs was sold. Eventually the store became a Blockbuster video outlet.
Mid remembers customer Joe Bonanno bringing in his son, Bill, “a very polite child.”
She also recalls Peter Licavoli, of the Detroit Purple Gang, coming to the store Saturday nights with his bodyguards to use the pay phone by the lunch counter. Another Licavoli worked for Emich Olds, where Mid bought a car.
Other customers included Rutger Porter, whose home became the Tucson Botanical Gardens, and Molly Batten and her husband, Joseph, a calendar photographer.
For awhile, Mid did relief work at pharmacies in Tucson, including Miracle Mile Drugs, Walsh Drugs, and the old Southern Pacific Hospital pharmacy.
She became a permanent pharmacist at Tucson Medical Center until she “retired” in 1983.
Frontier Village was one of the first shopping centers in Tucson. It’s still there, but it’s changed. Back then, it consisted of a beauty parlor, liquor store, laundry, lamp shop, A.J. Bayless and Frontier Drugs.
A photograph shows flags flying at Frontier Drug on July 4, 1962, but Mid says flags flew every day. Just about everyone had a flagpole in those days, she says.
One of Mid’s dearest friends was the late artist Jean Burgess, whose paintings are in private collections in nine states.
In February, Mid was invited to the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies Exhibition at the Tubac Center for the Arts, for the presentation of the Jean A. Burgess Memorial Merit Award. It was an emotional event for Mid, who dearly misses her friend and companion.
Today Mid is an avid golfer, playing 18 holes three times a week, not too shabby for someone who will be 88 years young on June 20.
You may wish her a happy birthday by e-mailing me or posting your sentiments on my blog at tucsoncitizen.com.
I’m looking forward to a birthday luncheon with Mid and Judy at her favorite Italian restaurant, where, dollars to doughnuts, she’ll order lasagna!
Bless you, Mid! I’m so glad we met!
Valerie Golembiewski is a Tucson wife, mother, grandmother and New York transplant. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org