Some people stand out some for their accomplishments, some for their passion, some for their talent and some for possessing sheer, good old-fashioned guts. During their lifetimes, they make a profound impact on the people around them. They help, they lead, they teach, they create. They are our living legends.
One brief meeting with Gloria Joe is enough to revive every memory of every terrific teacher you ever had.
Clearly, that's the effect this Rim Country Middle School science teacher had on the folks at the Disney Channel, who in 1990 named her Teacher of the Year on their annual televised education awards extravaganza. Ditto the members of the Arizona Science Teacher's Association, who dubbed Joe the Teacher of the Year in 1991.
Not to mention the head honchos of communications giant GTE, who were sufficiently impressed with her to hand over a $12,000 gift grant to RCMS in 1992.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Joe attended that city's Manual Arts High School. Four years after she and her family moved to Payson from San Diego in 1976, Joe joined the faculty of Rim Country Middle School. Exactly 10 years later, the Disney Channel called to say she'd won its annual Teacher of the Year contest.
The prize: A check for $2,500, a five-minute video profile shot by Disney at RCMS that was shown on the Disney Channel for a week, a trip to Disneyland, and an appearance on the nationally broadcast, star-studded awards program, where Joe's award was presented by Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight.
Alas, within weeks of the Disney awards show, Joe was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy, followed by six months of chemotherapy, during which she lost all of her hair.
Happily, Joe's cancer disappeared ten years ago. Unhappily, it recently returned and has mestacicized to her spine, pelvis and ribs. Once again, she is undergoing Tamoxifen therapy ... and once again, it is the prayer of all who've ever met Joe that it will be successful.
It is truly a mark of Joe's worthiness as a local living legend that she talks about her battle in nothing but upbeat, positive terms.
"The whole experience made me really appreciate life," she has said, flashing her trademarked life-appreciating smile. "What was really neat was that the teachers and kids here were really supportive. I've never had the experience of students praying for me ... The whole experience has made me want to tell people, 'Quit your whining! You're alive!'"
Lufkin Hunt and his wife of 57 years, Mary, still live in the Strawberry cabin where Lufkin was born in 1923. It was not a new house then, having been built in 1903. Hunt's grandparents had migrated from Utah to Snowflake in 1879 and settled in the Pine-Strawberry area a couple of years later. His father, Frank, moved from Globe to Strawberry and eventually undertook full-scale cattle and farm operations and young Lufkin, around the age of 9, became a full-fledged Arizona cowboy and farmhand.
"You didn't think about how old you were," he said in a 1998 interview. "You just did it."
The pioneering Hunt family grew potatoes, corn, beans, apples, and after harvest they took wagonloads of crops to market in Globe, Winslow or Camp Verde to trade for what they needed. Lufkin and his two brothers helped with the crops, milked cows and tended to the many chores that are part of rural life.
Hunt and his wife met in Mesa, where he graduated from high school. Soon after, both World War II and the U.S. Air Force entered his life. He flew off to South America, Africa, Arabia and India in a B-29 bomber; flew missions to Japan, Guam and the Marianas; and worked on the Enola Gay the most famous of the two planes that dropped atomic bombs on Japan.
After the war, and after producing seven children, Hunt and his wife moved from Mesa to Hunt's Strawberry birthplace.
Their church was always a central part of the Hunt family, and Hunt was the building chairman for the chapel that was built in 1980. He also served on the Pine-Strawberry School Board for many years, before and after his children were grown.
Hunt remains active in the church, his community and the state. For a number of years he headed up the Tonto Natural Resource Conservation District, a quasi-governmental land education, improvement and restoration organization, and he still works with state and federal agencies on programs to control the noxious weed invasion into Arizona.
Perhaps Payson's premiere living legend, Marguerite Noble, still active at the age of 91, was born in Tent City, Roosevelt Lake, Ariz. in 1910. She attended schools in Punkin Center and Florence, as well as Tempe Normal School, and received bachelor's and master's degrees from Arizona State University. She taught history and literature in Phoenix for some years.
Her articles on Arizona history have appeared in various local, state and national publications, including Arizona Highways and the New York Times. But it was her historical novel "Filaree" published by Random House in 1979, and reprinted in 1980 and 1985 that put her front and center on Payson's living legend map.
According to James W Byrkit, "Filaree" is "arguably the finest novel ever written about Arizona; it ranks, too, as one of the best works on any subject ever written by any native-born Arizonan." In an early review, fellow novelist Howard Fast said, "This book comes closer to the truth and the validity of the so-called winning of the West than anything I have ever read. It is terrifying, heartbreaking and remarkable ... (It) is also one of the most magnificent portraits of a woman that exists in our literature."
Lily Tomlin, who once considered creating a film script based on the novel, has said: "I loved this book. I didn't just read it. I crawled between the pages and lived it."
Noble has received numerous awards, including the "Spirit of Arizona" Award, the Sharlot Hall Award, the Purple Sage Award, and others. She also received a commemorative watch from acting Governor Rose Mofford.
In accepting the "Spirit of Arizona" award, Noble said, "You know, John Wayne did not win the West alone. Women were there, too."
Dr. Dave Gilbert
When Dr. Dave Gilbert came to Payson in 1957, he was the only doctor practicing within a hundred-mile radius of the original Payson Clinic Hospital.
At that time, he had one day nurse to help him. As he detailed his own job description in a 1996 interview, Dr. Gilbert was a combination night nurse, surgeon, janitor, ambulance driver (of what was actually an old Chevy station wagon with a stretcher in the back), X-ray and lab technician, psychiatrist, midwife, veterinarian, dentist, bill collector, and whatever else was necessary.
Gilbert's childhood dream was to be a pilot and he was, by the age of 18. But when he found he could never get a commercial license because of his 20/200 vision, he turned to music graduating from Ohio State University with a B.A. in that field. But after noting the general poverty level of most musicians, he switched careers again ... and within six years had his medical degree from Ohio State.
After a year of internship at Good Samaritan and Maricopa County hospitals, Dr. Gilbert leased the Payson Clinic building when he learned they needed a doctor, and jumped into solo practice.
If Gilbert heard from Sheriff's deputies about an automobile accident, he was there supervising the victims' medical care. He then returned with the victims to the hospital, often performing some procedures for the very first time in his career. Why? "Either I did it or the guy died," he once explained.
Gilbert retired from medicine in 1981, and moved to Scottsdale in 1995. But he is still very much a part of Payson; he travels up the Beeline every weekend to fulfill his obligations as the organist and music director for St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
Being Payson's first doctor, Gilbert says today, "was utterly fantastic, like a dream ... Back in those days, the practice of medicine was very personal. I knew everybody, they knew me ...
"Medicine has always been absolutely fascinating to me because of the challenge to find a diagnosis and then the challenge to treat it," Gilbert said. "That's what kept me going."
Wally Davis Sr.
Without Wally Davis Sr.'s extraordinarily hard work, determination and faith in God, the Tonto Apache Tribal Council and its reservation might not exist today.
But because he was born within the White River Apache Tribe 63 years ago, Davis has yet to be allowed membership in the Tonto Apache Tribe and therefore gets none of the membership benefits, such as Mazatzal Casino profits, which are parceled out to all members.
Davis was a teenager when he came to Payson where he found a new job at the Owen Brothers Sawmill, as well as a makeshift home a cardboard shack in the vicinity of RimView and McLane.
In 1962, with the help of local preacher Jesse "J.O." Martin, art gallery owner Nan Pyle and Valley attorney Joe Sparks, Davis and several Indian neighbors formed a tribe and a tribal council, of which 'Chief' Melton Campbell was chairman; Davis was vice chairman; his half-brother Justin Johnson was a council member; and Vinnie Campbell, Chief Campbell's sister, was secretary.
In an effort to gain land for their new tribe, the foursome twice traveled at their own expense to Washington, D.C. The result: the Tonto Apache Tribe was federally recognized in October 1972. President Richard Nixon signed into law an act of Congress giving the tribe 85 acres of forest land, which was finally selected in May 1974.
"Wally doesn't have to prove himself, because he already has," said Roger Martin, pastor of the reservation's Full Gospel Family Church, on Davis' failure to gain membership into the tribe he helped create. "Before Wally and the other founding fathers got together, there was no council, no reservation, no spokesman, no church building, no casino ... And Wally is the only one of them that is still alive, still here for everyone on the reservation to thank."