A Woman Of Substance

Stories behind the life of a community activist


by Kay Loftfield
Doris Harger has been a writer, editor of the Payson Roundup, manager of the Payson Chamber of Commerce, and one who persevered until the Tonto Apache Indians were finally given their own reservation after squatting on federal lands for many years.

She was also proclaimed Woman of the Year for Payson in 1971.

Lately Doris has been confined to Manzanita Manor, after falling and breaking a bone in her thigh. This last year I have gotten to know her two daughters, Joanne Van Cleve, now of Payson, and Dorene Kime of Tucson. I have been able to learn more about Doris' private life as a mother.

When I first met Doris in the early 1960s, I felt as though I had always known her.

One thing was the similarity of her married name (then Sturgis) with my maiden name, Sturges. Another thing that drew us together was the fact that she had lived in Tucson at one time, and one of her five children, Dorene, was born there the same year as my daughter, Anne.

In 1968 my brother John moved to Payson from California. I introduced him to Doris, and in November of that year they were married, and Doris became my sister-in-law. Six years later John became a victim of cancer and passed away in 1974.

Doris married Andy Harger in1978. Andy lives near Star Valley now, and visits Doris often at Manzanita Manor. Doris and I have remained close friends for over 30 years.

Doris May Deivert was born Oct. 23, 1911 in Montpelier, Ohio. After she graduated from high school, her family visited Jackson, Mich., just across the state line from Ohio. There she met John Kime (as Doris once told me, "a handsome lifeguard") at a beach where she often went to swim. They were later married and after their first child, Joanne, was born, they moved to Arizona, where John bought and sold ranches in the mountains surrounding Tucson.

Dorene, her brother, Allen, and another daughter, Susan, were later born in Tucson. Dorene remembers being told that her mother and father traveled from Michigan to Arizona in one of the first travel trailers -- a little wooden one. She often thinks of her mother sweeping black widows out of every dark corner of the ranch house in the Tucson Mountains with a fiery broom, washing on a tub outside, sewing with a hand-cranked machine and bringing wood in for the kitchen stove.

Joanne remembers that it rained very hard one summer and water came through their house -- in the back door and out the front -- and pooled in a sunken bedroom. She says, "Mom just bailed and mopped and cleaned until it was all back to normal."

One time Doris was pitched off a horse. She limped around for several days and then got back into her regular routine. There was no electricity so Doris kept food cool in a box draped in wet burlap sacks. Water was used from a cistern that collected rainwater. If it didn't rain, water was hauled into a large tank they had on the property.

Doris made jerky from beef and deer meat, canned fruit, vegetables and meat, and spent a lot of time sewing, to economize. Money was often scarce, but there was always a meal on the table three times a day, Joanne says.

After Doris and her first husband were divorced, she met and married Joe Sturgis. Doris often reminisced about their home in Naco in southeastern Arizona, where her husband was assigned as a border patrolman. The old house they lived in still had bullet holes in the walls from one of the Mexican revolutions.

When they heard the firing of a cannon near Naco, they thought another revolution had erupted, but they later found out the occasion was in celebration of Mexico's national holiday, Cinco de Mayo. They had one son, Brian.

Doris recalls that they went camping a lot, often to the Payson area, where she and Joe settled and built a home in 1962. Tragically, in 1963, Joe and Brian were killed in a traffic accident near Peoria., Ariz.

Joanne recalls a time when Doris came camping with her, her husband and children near the Sea of Cortez on the coast of Mexico. The group arrived late at night and picked out what they thought was a spot to pitch camp that would be above tide. Everyone was sound asleep in their sleeping bags when, in the middle of the night, Joanne heard waves slapping nearby. She warned everyone, but Doris couldn't unzip her sleeping bag.

While the others were moving camping gear to higher ground, Doris inched along like a big worm toward dry ground, where someone was able to get the sleeping bag unzipped.

Her mom was never a quitter -- she is a survivor, Joanne says. No matter what happens, she just digs in and does what she has to do. Once her mother said that she used to worry and work so hard to achieve, but came to the conclusion that all that was needless because the good would have happened anyway.

She always has faith in God and the future. She believes this in spite of the many setbacks: the divorce from her first husband, the sudden death of her second husband and their 8-year-old son, Brian, the death of her beloved third husband, and the estrangement of a daughter.

According to Joanne, her mother has always given of herself and her material possessions to try to make the lives of her children and grandchildren better, helping out with schooling, paying for operations,or whatever was needed. Dorene remembers her mother always sharing whatever she had with others, saying, "From railroad hoboes needing a meal, to the various relatives needing a hand, to the many organized charities, her generosity never ends. No family could enter her house without checking out her closets or the cedar chest for 'you-might-want' or taking a jar or two of jam or jelly she had canned."

In her spare time Doris used to braid or crochet rugs from scraps she cut into long strips. Dorene adds, "Like her rugs, she weaves different colors and textures into the fabric of our lives."

Joanne was recently reminiscing with her mother about old times, and her mother told her the happiest times had been when the children were small. Doris also recalled a time when she and Dorene went shopping and when they arrived home they couldn't help laughing because every item they had purchased was "on sale."

To me, one of Doris' most endearing traits is her sharp wit and sense of humor and, although we are both getting older and can't do all the things we used to do, she and I can still laugh and joke about it, and bring a smile to the faces of those around us.

Kay Loftfield is a long-time Payson resident and is a columnist for The Rim Review.

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