Doyle Coffey, Lee Pretsch Picked As Payson's Top Citizens

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Long years of dedicated service to the community have earned Doyle Coffey and Lee Pretsch honors as the Payson Roundup's 1998 Man and Woman of the Year.

Coffey's more than 12 years of effort as a member of the Gila County Advisory Committee for Eastern Arizona College paid off in December when ground was broken on a classroom building in Payson for the college.

"While we know it took many dedicated individuals to get a community college campus built in Payson, Doyle has been called the 'lead engineer on the train' that brought the campus here," said Roundup publisher Richard Haddad.

Pretsch, whose community service includes the Payson Flag Committee and chairmanship of the Payson Disability Awareness Committee, added to her efforts on behalf of U.S. veterans by being the chief organizer of the Tribute To Glory Veterans Day program last fall at Payson High School.

"One veteran who attend Tribute To Glory told me that it was one of the most touching moments he had ever experienced since he came back from fighting in Vietnam," Haddad said. "This was just one of many contributions Lee has given to the people of this community over the years.

"I am especially proud and thankful for Lee's work with our community's special needs children."

The winners were announced Saturday night at the annual Outstanding Citizens Awards Banquet, sponsored by the Roundup and the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce. Also receiving awards in front of a crowd of close to 150 at Michael's at the Inn were Sarah Scott and Cameron Omoto as young woman and young man of the year (see related story).

The award for the top law enforcement officers of the year, selected by Payson Police Department, Gila County Sheriff's Department and local DPS officials, went to the Gila County Narcotics Task Force, a cooperative effort between the three law enforcement agencies.

Chamber of commerce chief executive officer Tom Kaleta presented awards of appreciation to 1998 chamber board members Jeri Johnson and Julie Ruttle and outgoing president Lynn Welnick, who has served eight years on the chamber board.

Man of the year Coffey, an 18-year resident of the Rim country, said getting campus construction started in Payson was "a long, hard road."

He was a key figure in an effort that resulted in the purchase of a 64-acre campus site on east Highway 260 and raised $2 million from the State Legislature for construction.

"I make a statement now and again, and I get laughed at -- that the community college will be the next best thing that's happened in Payson since the Beeline Highway," Coffey told the crowd Saturday night.

"We have about 200 full-time student equivalents. We have about 720 head count -- that's how many are going out there taking advantage of what is offered. I can tell you, they're going to really remember it, and I'll remember you and I'll remember this for a long, long time."

He acknowledged the help of EAC Gila County Dean Don Allen, local merchants and his wife, Margaret.

Pretsch, her voice cracking with emotion, talked about the Disability Awareness Committee's efforts to provide equipment for special needs students in Payson schools.

"I have walked a mile in their shoes, figuratively speaking," she said. "I know the challenges they face each day, and if there's anything that they need, or anything that can make life a little easier for them, I really do my best to get it for them."

Pretsch acknowledged husband Joe's help in support of veterans through their work on the Flag Committee, which places flags along the Beeline and Highway 260 on each holiday. She noted the 9,000 Christmas cards sent to U.S. service men and women from Payson during Desert Storm, and the words of encouragement included on a 30-foot "Payson, A Town That Cares" banner sent to the Middle East.

"I have a husband and two sons who have served in every war or confrontation since World War II up to Bosnia, and we must remember -- never forget -- our veterans and the hardships and sacrifices they have made," she said.

In a letter citing the contributions of the Gila County Narcotics Task Force, Payson Police Chief Gordon noted the group's officers had made 374 arrests in 1998.

"We have all heard stories of other communities where drug dealers seem to go about their business unmolested," Gartner said. "That is not the case in our community, thanks in a large part to the efforts of the Gila County Narcotics Task Force."

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