A Grand Day For Payson College

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Doyle Coffey looked around at the standing-room-only crowd at Eastern Arizona College's open house in Payson Friday and saw the culmination of 14 years of hard work.


"I thought maybe we wouldn't get this many interested people," he said, "but I've been wrong before."


Coffey, who has worked diligently to help build a permanent college building in Payson, told the crowd how the 21,000-square-foot school that opened last month near Mud Springs Road and Highway 260 came to be.


"There really was no beginning to this," he said. "It was just a realization that we had a real void here. The high school kids didn't want to go to a store front down there."


Coffey was referring to the former campus building, a few rooms off a long hallway in a building tucked away among shops on the east side of the Beeline Highway.


"We came to the conclusion that, hey, we're going to do something about it," he said.


Coffey and others got together and formed an advisory committee. They got encouragement from EAC President Gherald L. Hoopes, Jr. and went to work.


He went on to tell the crowd how the group worked "like dogs", standing on street corners and passing out information.


Coffey said he went from place to place trying to generate support for the building project, but early on, not many people were interested.


Gila County Colleges Dean Donald B. Allen, who died in December, and Coffey even lobbied the legislature.


"Nobody gave us a chance," Coffey said. But Coffey and Allen and the others didn't listen to the pundits. They were denied time after time and just kept coming back.


Finally, Coffey got a call that changed everything. The state's Senate Appropriations Committee would consider funding the building.


Coffey said he had a long speech prepared to read in front of the committee. Nearly 300 students from Payson schools went down to Phoenix to support the effort and marched outside the state capitol.


Coffey said he was in the middle of his speech when one of the committee members said, "Mr. Coffey, would you like to have your time or your money?"


The committee passed a bill that appropriated $2 million for the project, but Coffey said that wasn't the end of the story. The Legislature only gave EAC $1 million. EAC representatives went back to the Legislature the following year.


"We got Senator Brown, and Representatives Brimhall and Flake behind this thing and got $1 million out of the governor's bill," Coffee said.


"Thank goodness we worked it out."

Coffey told the group Friday that he and Allen became good friends while working on the project.

As Coffey struggled with the words, he looked at Allen's widow, Jane, who was sitting next to Rep. Debra Brimhall and other dignitaries in front of the room.


"Without him, it never would have come to pass," he said. "One of his big ambitions before he died this December was to come up and see the finished product. He didn't make it -- and I miss him."


Brent McEuen, vice president of EAC, followed Coffey in the line of speakers at the podium.


"You can't accomplish anything great without passion," he said. "I think, when you look at this college today, you'll feel that passion."


Bashas' store owner Eddie Basha, who donated a plaque to the college, told the crowd, "You people in Payson have vision."


Hoopes was there, like he was at the beginning, offering words of encouragement and congratulations.


"Today is tomorrow," he said. "Congratulations and godspeed in this great accomplishment."

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