People Of Influence

For better or worse, Payson's movers and shakers left their marks on 2000


Just as Time magazine once selected Saddam Hussein as its most influential man of the year, the Roundup has chosen self-described entrepreneur Mikiyo Yonemura as one of the Rim country's most influential people of the year 2000. For a brief but memorable period, anyway.

In early May, Yonemura stunned school officials by announcing that he planned to buy Mario's restaurant and bring 130 families with 250 children to Payson within the year.

To accommodate that rapid influx of students, Yonemura said he would plunk down $6.7 million over the next few years to build more classrooms and hire more teachers.

The trouble was, none of his figures from the number of employees he said he planned to hire, to the huge profits he claimed he could make at Mario's, to the amount of cash he promised to throw around added up. And very little money, if any, ever materialized.

The Roundup performed an extensive background check on Yonemura, and came up with some fascinating information. We found that the employment and military entries on his resume were largely if not completely fictional; that he had a history of criminal activity; and that he was a black man named Gerald Pearsall Spears, not an Asian named Mikiyo Yonemura.

The year 2000 boasted no local personality who generated more entertaining gossip, chatter and speculation.

Judy Buettner

When Payson's brand-spanking new public library finally opens in Rumsey Park, there will be many people to thank.

But first in line will be Judy Buettner, president of the Library Friends of Payson, the library's nonprofit support organization.

Under Buettner's leadership, the Library Friends recently reached its donation goal of $100,000 which, combined with a matching-funds offer by an anonymous local philanthropist, puts the current grand total over and above $200,000.

But that's hardly the only goal Buettner & Co. have met. In January, they finally got to host the actual groundbreaking at the library's construction site right off McLane Road.

The new 15,765-square-foot, $1,720,822 library will be located in Rumsey Park. The current library, which occupies about 8,000 square feet, has been located in the Womans Club building on Main Street since 1951. The new building will be ready for occupancy by September, Buettner said.

Thanks to Library Friends, 2000 also will be remembered as the year when the idea was hatched to give Payson area shut-ins their complete literary freedom.

Starting in early January, Library Friends began offering a shut-in service to patrons of any age who are unable to visit the library due to illness, disability, or who must depend on someone for transportation.

Through the free service, volunteers provide patrons with large- or regular-print books, books on cassette and videos from the library's collection. Patrons can be long- or short-term shut-ins, such as those who are recovering from surgery or those who need bed rest due to a complicated pregnancy.

Let us be first in the handshaking line: Thank you, Judy.

Sharesse Von Strauss

It was a busy, accomplished and event-filled year for Sharesse Von Strauss who, on Dec. 1, 2000, was promoted from part-time to full-time director of the Rim Country Museum.

On the downside, the change in title and workaday hours meant Von Strauss had to put an end to her long and successful run as the Main Street Redevelopment Committee's project coordinator.

Von Strauss will continue her extracurricular duties, however, as chairperson of Payson's Historic Preservation Conservation Commission, which has a similar goal: to maintain Payson's heritage and integrity while imbuing its residents with a genuine sense of their hometown community.

Von Strauss makes no bones about the fact that her true passion is the Rim Country Museum. For proof, just look at her accomplishments over the past year, during which time the museum purchased Risser Ranch Ruins for $86,000, bought three-quarters of an acre in Alpine Heights with "almost unlimited archeological value"; developed the potential to rebuild a replica of the Zane Grey cabin in the town-owned Green Valley Park; and purchased the title to the Arizona Cowboy Hall of Fame, which Von Strauss would like to develop on Main Street.

She performed similar miracles as the Main Street Redevelopment coordinator such as successfully applying to the Arizona Main Street Program of the Arizona Department of Commerce to have Payson designated as an Arizona Main Street Community. That distinction allows the town to share $130,000 a year with 19 other Arizona communities, and opens up new opportunities for grants and matching-fund programs.

Von Strauss was, in short, Payson's cultural mover and shaker of the year.

Gordon Whiting

In terms of silver screen entertainment, 2000 was the year that saw Payson move from abject poverty to a near embarrassment of riches.

And it was Gordon Whiting, vice president of Kaibab Industries, Inc. and the force behind the new Sawmill Theatres cineplex, who made it happen.

Since March of 1998, when the old, makeshift Payson Picture Show stopped showing second- and third-run films a month or two after their Valley premieres, the town had been without a single shrine to the gods of Hollywood and artificially-buttered popcorn.

But the day before Thanksgiving 2000, the 16,500-square-foot, six-screen Sawmill Theaters opened to crowds that were one-and-a-half times bigger than even Kaibab's most optimistic prognosticators had expected.

The cineplex opened in the wake of several failed theater attempts. In 1998, a four-screen cineplex in what was to be called the Payson Entertainment Center on North Beeline was born and died.

In December 1999, developer George Harrison announced plans for another four-plex, this one to be located inside the old Wal-Mart building. That plan died, too, when Harrison realized that Gordon Whiting wasn't fooling around with the Sawmill Theatres project.

The theater, however, isn't the only influence that Whiting exerted last year. The Sawmill Crossing entertainment-shopping-dining complex for which the theaters are the anchor business is a key component of the town's long-time plan to redevelop the Main Street area.

Positioned on 14 acres south of Main and west of the Beeline, Sawmill Crossing's first and current phase includes three buildings on 7.5 acres of the northern portion of the parcel. It will include nearly 30,000 square feet of retail and office space.

Additionally, there are three pad sites along the Beeline, and one along Main Street, which has been claimed by area newcomer Stockmen's Bank. The bank will take up temporary residence in the main building until the completion of its permanent building.

At last count, two-thirds of Sawmill Crossing's retail space was contractually occupied. So far, the tenants will include local toy store Rim Country Kids, Mountain Respiratory Care, State Farm Insurance with agent Daryl Brende, and a Marble Slab Creamery.

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