Dessert Spends Golden Years Serving CG Kids, Community

by Donna McBride, Pinal County Juvenile Court Program Administrator II

They say “good things come in small packages.” In the case of community activist Ann Dessert, it couldn’t be truer. This petite woman has a presence of a queen walking into a room. Everyone notices her. And if you are lucky enough, you might get to know her.

Born in New Haven, Connecticut in March 1921, Ann graduated from high school in Massachusetts before attending the Leland Powers School of the Theater, where she studied to be a radio broadcaster.

Ann said that turned out to be futile, as women weren’t radio broadcasters back then, so she enrolled in the Gallagher Business School and later graduated from De Anza College with a degree in liberal arts.

Ann found work as a secretary in insurance, manufacturing, a school and even the United States Army Ordnance Corp during World War II. It was at the Corp’s San Francisco District where she worked for a man who would become her husband in October 1946. Together, they celebrated two children.

Ann proved her leadership status by offering her time and commitment to a variety of organizations.

Fast forward to Casa Grande. It was 2004 and Ann was trying to sell her car. A man stopped by the house and they struck up a conversation. He started telling her about a program called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and said he thought she’d make a good volunteer for the program. He was Judge Gilberto V. Figueroa from Pinal County Superior Court.

CASA Coordinator Pam Burke came to Ann’s house to interview her and do a background check. We don’t know if Ann convinced the judge to buy her car, but he sure sold her on the program because Ann started her career as a CASA advocate on December 10, 2004 at the age of 83.

For the past 16 years she has handled cases involving 13 children and their families, not to mention mentoring new advocates coming into the program, helping in the office and attending dozens of events on behalf of CASA.

For seven years she had the role of Mrs. Claus at the annual Christmas party for children in foster care hosted by the Pinal Council for CASA/Foster, Inc.

Ann’s specialty is bringing people together and getting things done, especially for children. She has helped the CASA council fundraise for its programs and events. She has also served as the official parliamentarian.

Burk said, “Ann brings a bell with her to the meetings and will ring it when people are talking over each other. Everyone stops talking when she rings the bell. It’s like you got caught talking in church!”

She does not demand respect, but everyone wants to have her respect. She is kind, thoughtful and when she commits, she is all in.

Ann is also the conservation chair of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She has raised money for the annual Science Olympiad and sponsored the Pinal Elementary Science Olympiad. It seems fundraising is in her blood.

Ann admits she didn’t set out to be a “community leader.” She’s always been willing to help any organization that she gets involved with. Once she starts helping, it becomes a habit.

Ann says, “There is an old saying that says, ‘In an organization 10% of the people do 90% of the work.’ I found this to be true. However, once you are comfortable being the 10% you realize that you have the satisfaction of things getting done and being able to see what you have accomplished.”

What advice does this classy lady of 99 years young have on leadership and community involvement?

“My advice is to get involved. If you see something that needs to be done, then get started and complete the task. As you go, bring others along to help. The sidelines may seem safe and stress-free, but they are not as interesting, exciting, satisfying and fun as getting to work and getting things done.”