It's one thing to be named the Friendliest Person in town during the Roundup's annual "Best of Payson" competition. It's something else to earn that honor when you've only lived here eight months.
Suzi Maiterth, a waitress at Mario's Restaurant, arrived in the Rim country last June under some difficult circumstances. She moved here to live with her mother after her father, Paul Holibaugh, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 71.
"He was a fireman with the Cleveland Fire Department," Maiterth said. "He and mom had traveled all through Arizona, and when he retired in 1985, they moved here to Payson and became the caretakers at the Little Green Valley Ranch out by Kohl's Ranch. In fact, he built that whole fence around there.
"He just loved it out here. He was in his glory. He had the whole cowboy outfit and everything.
"Eventually, they gave that up and moved into town. One day mom found him lying in the front yard. He had been raking leaves, and he just dropped over dead. What was so surprising was that he was in great shape. He hiked. He ate well. He had quit smoking 20 years ago."
It was an event that would change Maiterth's life.
"It made me realize that anything can happen to anybody at any time," Maiterth said. "My dad went so fast that I never had the chance to say goodbye, to say a lot of the things I wanted to say to him.
"I just had to move out here to be with my mother. My parents were the best of friends. They were two months short of their 50th anniversary when dad died, and they still held hands, even in public."
Never stingy with a smile
It wasn't that her father's death made her a nice person. That was something Maiterth's parents instilled in her from the beginning. But it did reinforce and add a sense of urgency to her basic philosophy of life.
"It showed me just how short life is. So if you can make just a teeny bit of difference in somebody's life by giving them a smile, that can mean so much. Maybe they've had a really crummy day, and your smile is what is going to make the difference.
"My parents taught me to treat people the way I want to be treated. I don't want to be barked at or yelled at. There will always be grumpy people in the world, but lowering yourself to their level is not what it's all about.
"There is so much heartache, sickness, despair, poverty, you name it, that it's just really important to be friendly and spread that around. You know a smile really is the one thing that is absolutely free. It doesn't cost a darn thing.
"To me, it's a luxury to go out to eat," she said. "You want to make sure everyone's dining experience is a pleasure, to make everything as right as possible. It makes them feel their money was well spent and they had an enjoyable time."
A faithful following of fans
Maiterth's attitude has not gone unnoticed by her customers.
"I have a lot of people who call and request me, which is very nice. And since my picture was in the paper, there are people who come in to Mario's and say, 'We want her.' It's all been very humbling and flattering and nice."
Before Maiterth joined the team at Mario's, she worked at the Ox Bow Steakhouse.
"On Friday nights," she said, "I had such a clientele built up that the other girls had to handle all the walk-ins. Eddie Basha used to come in quite often, and he always asked for me."
After growing up in Cleveland, Maiterth spent 17 years in Reno, Nev., working in advertising sales for a radio station there. Following a short stint in Minneapolis, she moved to Yosemite, Calif., where she worked as a sales representative for The Mariposa Tribune, a newspaper that served several small towns in the area.
It's a field she hopes to return to one day.
"I love the media and marketing. That's my forte," she said.
How does the Rim country compare to other places she has lived and worked?
"I was quite shocked at the amount of money you make in Arizona. Many people in this town live from paycheck to paycheck. It's very hard to make ends meet here."
That probably explains another phenomenon she's noticed about Payson diners: they aren't always the greatest tippers.
"Waitresses depend on their tips. Since this is a right to work state, we get paid very minimally, usually in the range of $2.10 to $2.50 an hour.
"When people do leave a good tip, I know I've done my job, but I don't believe that the size of the tip is always a reflection of my service. A lot of people up here just don't have it.
"I don't say the next time they come in, 'Oh, these are the people that left me $2.' You don't do that. A lot of people are retired; they're living on a fixed income. You just understand it.
"You give them the same service you give everybody else. If people feel I'm worth it and they can afford it, they'll leave something on the table."
So what really ticks off the friendliest person in the Rim country?
"Incompetence," Maiterth replied without hesitation. "I'm not saying I don't make mistakes, but I adopted this saying a long time ago, and I try to live by it: Always strive to be No. 1, because if you copy anybody else you're already No. 2."
Other than an occasional case of incompetence, Maiterth loves the Rim country.
Right at home in the Rim country
I'm a western girl, a small-town girl at heart," she said. "I like a small-town atmosphere and getting to know people. I've made a lot of friends in the short time I've been here."
What does the friendliest waitress in town enjoy when she's not on duty?
"I love dirt bikes, classic rock music, and going out to eat."
Isn't that like a busman's holiday?
"Gosh no. Every waitress feels the same way. It's like, 'Let's go out to eat tonight because I want somebody to wait on me.' You have a busy day and you run and run and run for somebody, and you're tired."
She also listens to people talk about their personal lives and problems so much that she really enjoys it when someone takes the time to listen to her.
"I will listen to people as long as they need me to listen," she confided. "But sometimes when I need somebody and nobody has the time, I say, 'What's wrong with this picture?'
"But," she added, flashing her award-winning smile, "that feeling doesn't usually last very long. I just think it's important to be there for people."