Scottsdale’s Historic Ties to Russia, Olympics

Scottsdale’s Historic Ties to Russia, Olympics

With the eyes of the world on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, this month, it’s interesting to note that despite the 6,815 miles that separate the host from Scottsdale, we have many links to the game and country.

Consider these ties to Russia, the Russian Federation and the former USSR:

In the 1950s, Alexis Romanoff and his wife moved to Scottsdale, where they became very active in polo, and operated an antique business specializing in Russian items. They lived in the Cattle Track area, between Lincoln and McDonald drives. Some believed that he was a descendant of the Romanov royal family of Russia.

In April 1970, Svetlana Stalin, daughter of the late Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin, married architect Wesley Peters at Taliesin West in Scottsdale. Svetlana had defected to the United States in 1967, and when she married Peters, it was deemed the local wedding of the year. Although it was written that she didn’t like the “commune-like” lifestyle of Taliesin (in Wisconsin) and Taliesin West, she was active in the social activities of the architectural school and Scottsdale. She and Peters divorced in 1972 after having a daughter. An author, she lived in London, then returned to Wisconsin, where she died in November 2011 at the age of 85.

Sculptress Louise Nevelson was born in Kiev, Russia, in 1899, later coming to this country and producing many famous sculptures, including “Windows to the West,” installed in November 1973 between Scottsdale City Hall and the Civic Center Library. During the premiere weekend of Scottsdale’s first signature public art installation, Nevelson stayed with the Ellis family at Cattle Track.

Zina Zovalov Stolov Stolinska Kuhn, born in czarist St. Petersburg on the eve of the Russian Revolution, was displaced several times throughout Europe, the Soviet Union and the Middle East during and after World War II until immigrating to the United States in 1951. After marrying a U.S. Air Force pilot, she came to Scottsdale in the 1960s when her husband Cole attended Arizona State University. They retired to Scottsdale in the 1970s, and she spent the rest of her life (until 2005) doing good things for Scottsdale and her adopted country. She led the effort to restore the Gratitude Boxcar at the McCormick Stillman Railroad Park, started Scottsdale’s annual Veterans Day tribute at the railroad park in 1989, was a docent at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, was appointed by former Mayor Herb Drinkwater as Scottsdale’s Cultural Ambassador, and frequently spoke to elementary and high school classes about her first-hand experiences of global historic events and her love of America and its freedoms.

Renowned violinist Isaac Stern, born in Russia before immigrating to United States as a young boy, was a friend of Zina Kuhn’s from her time in New York City in the 1950s. He came to Scottsdale several times to visit the Kuhns and his sister, who was also living here, and to perform in Scottsdale and Phoenix concerts. In March 1988 then-Mayor Herb Drinkwater made Stern an honorary citizen of Scottsdale.

After selling the Scottsdale Progress in 1987, Jonathan and Maxine Marshall established the Marshall Fund, which supported a variety of community projects. In 1988-1989, they provided funds for a U.S./USSR student exchange. Forty-six local students traveled to the Soviet Union, then 26 Soviet students came to Scottsdale for a three-week visit. Local families vied to host the Russian children in their homes. The exchanges took place just prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, fall of Communism and rise of the Russian Federation.

In 1994, an exhibit of Russia and Soviet art took place at the Fleischer Museum, formerly housed in the FFCA Building in the Perimeter Center, just north of the Scottsdale Airpark. The exhibit, arranged by Donna and Mort Fleischer, was promoted as the largest collection of museum-quality Soviet and Russian art from the Cold War era, with more than 80 pieces created between 1930 and the 1970s. The art was virtually unknown and hidden until the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the exhibit drew record crowds to the Fleischer Museum.

1966 Scottsdale High School graduate John Phillips began his career as a U.S. Navy pilot, then was selected for the NASA astronaut program. Phillips flew a space shuttle mission in 2001. In October 2005, he, along with other crewmembers, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard Soyuz TMA-6. During the six-month space mission, he served as the NASA Science Officer and Flight Engineer aboard the International Space Station, performed space walks in Russian spacesuits, conducted experiments, then returned to Earth with a landing in Kazakhstan.

These are just a few of Scottsdale’s many ties to Olympic athletes and the Olympics:

Jim Paul, developer and founder of Rawhide 1880s Western Town in 1971, was a finalist for a spot on the U.S. Olympic boxing team in the 1930s.

In February 1961, members of the U.S. Olympic fencing team put on an exhibition at the Judson School, the former private school in Paradise Valley.

According to the Sept. 16, 1964, Scottsdale Daily Progress, 25 Scottsdale Jaycees and several city officials carried the Olympic Torch through Scottsdale during a cross-country Olympics fundraising drive that kicked off Sept. 1 in New York City with former Olympian Jesse Owens running the first leg.

In winter 1966-1967, the city of Scottsdale Parks and Recreation Department offered dry land ski classes at Saguaro High School, taught by Dick Solem, former member of the U.S. Olympic ski team.

1964 Olympic gymnast Marie Walter Bilski was hired by the Scottsdale Girls Club in 1970 as a gymnastics teacher.

Jesse Owens, a track star at Ohio State University and member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic team at the Berlin Summer Games, moved to the Scottsdale area in 1972. At the Berlin Olympics, Owens won four gold medals (100 meter, 10.3 seconds; 200 meter, 23.7 seconds; broad jump, 26 feet and 31/64 inches; and as a member of the 400-meter relay team) and set a world record for the broad jump. Until his death in 1980, he was a sought-after speaker at school and civic events in Scottsdale and the Valley.

Olympic medalist swimmer Buster Crabbe (1928 and 1932 Olympics), who later became a movie (Tarzan, Flash Gordon) and television (Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion) actor, retired in Scottsdale, where he lived until his death in April 1983 at age 75.

Mohammad Ali, competing under his birth name of Cassius Clay, earned the Light Heavyweight Gold Medal as a member of the U.S. boxing team at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Ali has lived in the greater Scottsdale area for many years, and has become an advocate and fundraiser for Parkinson’s disease.

Former Phoenix Suns star and Scottsdale resident Charles Barkley was a member of the U.S. basketball team that competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, earning a gold medal at each event.

Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill earned a gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. In the early 1990s, as owner of the Ice Capades, she moved the troupe’s headquarters, costume shop and practice facility to the Scottsdale Airpark. The street adjacent to the facility was renamed Hamill in her honor until the company moved away a few years later.

Gary Hall Jr. became a rare second-generation Olympic swimmer gold medalist, following in his father Gary Sr.’s footsteps (1968, 1972 and 1976 Olympics). Gary Jr., who attended Brophy Prep, garnered a total of 10 medals (five gold) at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and the 2004 Athens Olympics. During the early 2000s, he was co-owner of the Peterson-Hall Gallery in the Scottsdale Airpark.

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky played for Canada at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. With many ties to Arizona and the Coyotes, his official Gretzky merchandise website lists a Scottsdale address.

Other Olympic athletes that have ties to Scottsdale include gymnast Olga Korbut and figure skater Max Aaron.

Enjoy these tidbits of Russia-Olympics-Scottsdale history as you stay glued to the tube, watching your favorite athletes compete.

Joan Fudala is a Scottsdale-based community historian and author. Contact: