Marilyn Perkins makes her mark on Scottsdale as Old Town Ambassador

Marilyn Perkins, Old Town Scottsdale’s longest-serving ambassador, smiles as she sports her signature name tag and hat. (Photo by Camden Cook)

Resting under the shade of a Banyan tree, Thomas Schmechtig took refuge from the afternoon sun after traveling halfway across the world. Travel is accompanied by surprises; in this case, it was a warm welcome from Scottsdale’s longest-serving Old Town Ambassador.

Sporting her signature name tag and hat, Marilyn Perkins approached Mr. Schmechtig brimming with suggestions.

“It makes you feel welcome when you have people you can ask questions,” Mr. Schmechtig said. “They have insights you don’t find in tour books.”

Ms. Perkins is qualified to offer advice on what to do in Scottsdale; she’s been a resident for 26 years. As someone born and raised in England, she also has global perspective.

“Scottsdale is a beautiful town,” she said, “We’re very lucky to have everything we have here.”

Ms. Perkins encourages visitors to learn more about the Old Town community. She said a great way to do so is by approaching an ambassador.

Old Town Ambassadors staff information carts located at Main Street and Brown Avenue and at Fifth Avenue and Stetson Drive seven days a week from October through May. Starting Oct. 13, Ms. Perkins will spend her Saturday mornings greeting pedestrians and manning a cart stocked with local pamphlets.

“You don’t have to know everything, but you have to know where to find the information,” Ms. Perkins said.

Ms. Perkins, who staffs the Brown Avenue cart, said March is the peak of her season. It is also training month, a time when new volunteers mingle with program veterans and learn about the ins and outs of life as an ambassador.

Reflecting on the past season, Ms. Perkins said she volunteered as an ambassador for a total of 157 hours. But that’s not all, she put in an additional 257 hours at the airport over the same six-month period.

An iconic piece of Old Town Scottsdale. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“I think my passion is helping people. It seems to be the thing that brings me the most pleasure,” Ms. Perkins said.

Besides fulfilling her role as an Old Town Ambassador, Ms. Perkins volunteers for the Sky Harbor Navigator Program. The program is designed to alleviate the stress of frazzled travelers by providing them with directions and friendly assistance. She has volunteered at the airport for 18 years and was part of the Navigator Program’s original class.

October will mark Ms. Perkin’s 13th year as an ambassador. She started as a founding member of the city of Scottsdale Ambassador Program, which was established by Lois Fitch and Sonnie Kirtley in the early 2000s.

The program was discontinued after it lost city funding, but it was later replaced by the current Old Town Ambassador Program, which has been coordinated by Joy Racine since 2011. Ms. Racine says Ms. Perkins was integral in training her for the position.

Ms. Perkins said she prefers volunteer work because its flexibility allows her to pursue her other passion — travel. She doesn’t just point to flights, she boards them.

With a passport full of stamps and a network of friends across the globe, Ms. Perkins has earned the right to call herself well-traveled. She just returned from California, and she is looking forward to a two-week trip to Hawaii in November.

“I don’t have much money, but I have friends,” she said.

Beyond her network of foreign friends, Ms. Perkins said she loves to socialize by line dancing at the Granite Reef Senior Center on Friday mornings. She also runs a happy hour in Old Town for her fellow volunteers on the second Tuesday of every month.

Ms. Racine spoke candidly about Marilyn’s magnetic personality, describing her as dependable, loyal and fun-loving.

“I always tell people I want to be like Marilyn when I grow up,” Ms. Racine noted.

Editor’s Note: Camden Cook is a student journalist at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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