Sandra Aley was once one of four girls who “ran up and down the alley laughing and walking to school and supporting each other through 12 years of Flowing Wells,” says her cousin, Debra Bergman.
Nov. 1, 2020

Aley died from pancreatic cancer in January. A few years before, she made a planned gift to establish the Sandra, Pamela, and Polly Aley Scholarship Endowment, valued at $4.6 million.Starting this fall, selected graduates of Flowing Wells High School can pursue educations at the University of Arizona with full-ride scholarships in honor of Aley and her sister and mother.

The Four Amigas

Aley and her sister Pamela, plus Bergman and her sister Kathy, were close in age and formed a tight group inside and outside the school system on Tucson’s northwest side. Aley’s passing made Bergman the last of the group.

Bergman’s mother was Tohono O’odham, and she thinks she and her sister were two of only three Native Americans in their school at the time. While other minorities were represented, the student population was predominantly white.

“Sandy was one of the first to say, ‘Hey, you don't talk to my cousin that way.’ Because of that, she had a much broader perception of racism and how people of color can struggle and what she wanted to support.”

The student body of Flowing Wells High School is now 70% Hispanic, and 75% of students live in poverty, according to Principal James Brunenkant.

A Life and Career

“Sandy's ambitions came from my mother, because she grew up watching my mother earn three degrees,” Bergman says.

Bergman’s mother, Alice Paul, was the first Tohono O’odham tribe member to earn a doctoral degree at UArizona. She encouraged Aley to attend Arizona and helped her find scholarships.

Aley completed a degree in pharmaceutical sciences and worked in the field for several years before becoming a flight attendant for American Airlines. She worked from New York City, leading a team flying international routes before returning to Tucson to care for her sick mother.

Aley inherited money from her sister and mother and was a saver herself.

“She felt the money that she, her sister and her mom accumulated needed to support the graduates who could not go to college if they did not have a scholarship,” said Bergman. 

Bergman grieves for Aley, as well as her sister Kathy and cousin Pamela. She plans to retire next year, and she and Aley were going to travel, with Aley taking her to some of the international destinations she visited as a flight attendant. Bergman finds comfort in knowing this scholarship will continue to honor the legacy of her two cousins and aunt indefinitely.

“As academic achievers, I know the students who receive this money will take full advantage of it and realize what a gift she has bestowed.”

 

Story by Katy Smith