Unsung Heroes

Quietly behind the scenes, ordinary people make an extraordinary difference


Every day, a handful of our neighbors work quietly in the background of our lives to make the Rim country a better place.

They are people who create, who build, who fight the good fight. They are people who volunteer their time and their talents with no expectation of reward or recognition. They labor for nothing more than the pleasure and satisfaction of making this particular Arizona town a finer place to live.

Below, we sing the praises of a few of Payson's uncelebrated heroes people who in some quiet, unassuming way enrich our lives and our community.

Joe Calderone

Although the year 2000 was Joe Calderone's last year as president of the Payson Food Bank, he still continues to help the town's needy just as he's done since 1994to the suprise of no one who's ever crossed Calderone's path.

This man doesn't just enjoy helping others. It's what he lives for.

After a life in the corporate world, working as a marketing director for such heavy-hitters as Olin Corporation and Permatex, Calderone retired to Payson in 1988. In no time at all, he became involved with St. Vincent de Paul, and was named president in 1994. The next year, under Calderone's direction, St. Vincent de Paul took over the Payson Food Bank, which was about to close because there was no one to operate it.

In 1995, the food bank served about 75 families a month maximum. Today that number exceeds 200.

Calderone left the presidency of St. Vincent de Paul only because his six-year term limit was up.

"It's been 10 of the very best years of my life," he told the Roundup in December 1999. "I've loved every minute of it, every day of it ... I get four or five calls a night from people who need help, need a room, have a flat tire. I'll tell ya, it's a full-time job ... But it's worth it. It's really, really worth it."

Dick Wolfe

Although Wolfe isn't extraordinarily unsung since he is, after all, Payson's vice mayor, there's a chapter of his life story that few people know about.

During his many years as the chief special agent for six of the state's attorneys general, Wolfe led the investigation of the infamous car-bomb murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles in the mid-1970s.

"That investigation was started by the county attorney, and I guess everybody felt he wasn't doing a very good job," Wolfe recalled last year. "So one night (then-Attorney General Bruce) Babbitt came down to my office and said, 'I want you to drop everything you're doing and focus on one case.' I said, 'What is it?' He said, 'It's the murder case of Don Bolles.'

"At the time, I had about 26 investigators working under me. And that's what we did for the next year and a half. It was a tough one, because I knew Don Bolles. We went to the same church together. It was painful to me ... It was horrendous."

The investigation eventually led to the arrest and conviction of John Harvey Adamson for planting the car bomb. But it was known that Adamson was just a paid killer; those who hired him escaped justice.

"It's interesting," Wolfe said. "There was a book written by a big-time private investigator who came to town from Hollywood. In this book, he claimed that I knew who the true killer was, and that I did nothing about it which was an absolute lie. He said I'd met with an informer which I did and that this informer told me who did the killing but he didn't. I was going to sue (the author), but before we could get it going, he died.

"But that hurt. That was painful. I was one of those who wanted to bring the true killers to justice."

Sue Owen

A resident of Payson since 1951 well before the town had a Wal-Mart or even a dime store Sue Owen has dedicated her life, work and deeds to making this part of the Rim country a great and friendly place to live.

A founding member of the Northern Gila County Genealogical Society, Owen, 77, is currently in her third term as the organization's president. Owen assists with the society's fund-raising events, in part by making quilts that are sold for donations. She spends countless hours copying and cataloging records from a huge variety of sources, including the county courthouse and various cemeteries. She responds to non-locals' requests for ancestral information by researching the society's records as well as outside sources. And she teaches people to use the organization's library to perform further family history research.

Additionally, Owen was instrumental in establishing Payson's Assembly of God Church in the '50s, and has been involved in all aspects of its ministry. She's been teaching Sunday school for more than 45 years, is past president of the Women's Ministries, and again donates her quilts to help fund-raising efforts for missions. She also teaches a twice-a-week religion class for residents of Payson Care Center.

Her greatest passion is one that has been in her heart for more than six decades, Owen told the Roundup last year.

"My Sunday school class! I have taught Sunday school since I was 16 years old, everywhere that I have lived and gone. I still teach every Sunday morning, and I still believe there is no child too young to learn."

Tom Behl

Tom Behl is a former Secret Service agent who stood guard over vice presidents Spiro Agnew and Hubert Humphrey, and briefly both John Fitzgerald Kennedys, among many others.

But that's not why he's one of the Rim country's unsung heroes.

No, that would be due to the relentless promotion, support and volunteer work the 68-year-old Payson retiree provides for Payson's Court Appointed Special Advocate program, which Behl joined the moment he discovered it in 1994.

"When children become wards of the court, the court can assign a CASA to that child or children," he explained. "Our duties and responsibilities are to be that child's representative in court, and to let the court know what's in the best interest of the child. Not what's in the best interest of anybody else. Just the child's."

Once a court order is issued, Behl spends time with the children and their parents, interviews their teachers and doctors, and prepares a written report to the judge recommending that the child either be returned to the parents or, at the other extreme, severance and adoption of the child.

"As you can imagine, making decisions like that is quite a responsibility," Behl said. "But it's nice for me, because basically it's an investigation and a court report. With my background, it's a natural as far as volunteer work goes."

But Behl's volunteer work doesn't end there. In 1991 he helped form Payson Helping Payson to help centralize assistance to the needy. After leaving that agency in 1997, he moved on to Habitat for Humanity, which provides housing for needy families with an income.

"Anybody who says they have nothing to do in Payson when they retire should come and see me," Behl said with a laugh. "I'll line them up with something."

Duke Arrington

On the morning of April 17, 2000, a small compact car loaded with six teenagers was speeding north on Usury Pass toward Payson when, at 80 miles an hour, it careened out of control and off the road.

The vehicle soared 75 feet in the air, hit the ground, rolled several times, and hurled the teenagers into the desert.

Three died horribly. But three survived, thanks to Mesa firefighter and Beaver Valley resident Duke Arrington, who was the first to happen upon the scene.

His most vivid memory is of finding a young woman who had been impaled on a cholla cactus, split in half but still alive. Briefly. But as a professional lifesaver, Arrington was able to swallow the horror and move on to those he could help.

Last August, as a result of his actions, Arrington was given the national title of Firefighter of the Year, bestowed by more than 2,000 Elks lodges across the country.

But that was not Arrington's most heroic feat of late.

Arrington has saved or helped save perhaps dozens of lives, but it was his own life that was put into jeopardy in 1987. As he attempted to help a dying motorcyclist, Arrington stabbed his own hand with a bloody IV needle and contracted chronic hepatitis C, an incurable, blood-transferable form of the liver disease, which ate away at Arrington's health and immune system for 13 years before it was diagnosed.

But the worst was yet to come. Three weeks after his own diagnosis, Arrington's wife of 20 years, Cindy with whom he regularly shared disposable razors and, therefore, minute drops of blood was also diagnosed with hepatitis C.

Both Arringtons are now undergoing a new brand of chemotherapy. Even if it works, they will always be carriers of hepatitis C, and both may someday require liver transplants. Their only real hope is that the disease won't always remain active.

Rick Croy

Since moving to Payson from Tucson in 1991, Croy started Payson Habitat for Humanity and served on its board for two years; served on a number of Department of Economic Security committees representing Gila County, worked with and for the Arizona Hunger Council; and ran for town council in 1992.

Today the 56-year-old Croy is the chairman of the Town of Payson Housing Advisory Committee; treasurer of the Payson Economic Development Corporation; a member of the Town of Payson's Americans with Disabilities Awareness Committee; and a board member of Payson Helping Payson, a group of local churches which help needy families who don't meet the eligibility requirements of the Gila County Community Action Program, of which Croy happens to be the local program coordinator.

Prior to his 1991 move from Tucson to Payson, there wasn't a trace of community involvement on Croy's resume. But within a year of local residency he was presented with the opportunity to head the Payson office of the Gila County Community Action Program, an assistance program for low-income families and families in crisis.

"One of the reasons I went to work for the county was to get more involved with the community," he told the Roundup. "I have an interest in the political climate and all the issues we're facing here as a town, and the things I've become involved in are tied into all of those issues affordable housing and economic development in particular.

"There's almost a million people in Tucson now, and you feel like a speck in the sand down there. But when you move to a smaller community like I did, you tend to get more involved because the issues tend to be more visible.

"I guess I had hidden desires I never pursued in the big metropolis. But when I came up here, those desires surfaced. I saw that I could make a difference."

Frances Rich

"To Miss Frances Rich, stone carver, whose soul is alive with the great gothic vibration."

That inscription was written in 1933 by Renimpel, a distinguished art dealer and collector of medieval and contemporary French art. And 78 years later, Frances Rich's soul is still alive with the great gothic vibration right here in Payson, where Rich, at 91, continues to sculpt while steadfastly refusing to slow down for anyone or anything.

The daughter of popular 1920s movie star Irene Rich, Frances tinkered with the idea of becoming a screen actress, too, and worked as an extra in a number of films by the legendary John Ford. While she eventually gave up acting, she never gave up Ford; they were close friends until his death in the mid-1960s.

After receiving her bachelor of arts degree from Smith College in 1931, Rich was discovered by the renowned sculptress Malvina Hoffman. That association led Rich to Mexican painter Angel Zarraga; then to her mentor and long-time friend, Carl Milles, known as the dean of modern sculpture; then to the famed Diego Rivera, who did a portrait fresco of Rich as she completed a sculpture portrait of him.

Rich's own sculptures went on to travel the world, with stops at Arlington National Cemetery, where her 10-foot Army-Navy Nurses Monument was placed in 1938; Purdue University, where six bas reliefs still grace the entrance to the Union Building; in the foyer of the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, Conn., where stood her 1961 portrait busts of Katharine Hepburn as Cleopatra; and the homes of Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Will Rogers, and film directors George Cukor and Cecil B. DeMille, to name only a few.

E.C. Conway

E.C. Conway's family has owned the Greenback Valley Ranch in the mountains above Tonto Basin since 1872. His father was born there in 1888.

E.C., though, was born in a shiny new hospital in Globe on Nov. 1, 1917. But since there were still no roads into his family's 20,000-acre spread, his mother took him home on horseback when he was 10 days old.

"I was born one day, and 10 days later I was a rancher," he likes to say.

E.C. worked the ranch through childhood and in 1939, he married Frances Brewton, with whom he had four children. He took over much of the ranch during World War II, when his brother Clarence was in the Army and his father, Ed, had to cut down on the heavier work.

He's been in this business long enough to have led horseback cattle drives to Globe and Phoenix, the latter of which took 10 to 12 days.

He's been trying to accommodate the U.S. Forest Service ever since the 1930s, and environmentalists who want to "oust the cows" off federal land for the past decade. But now he's tired of talking about it, and doesn't want to cause trouble. All he says is, "When the Forest Service first started, they just had one forest ranger and one secretary. Now they have a staff you wouldn't believe."

Now he's facing the prospect of not having a ranch to hand down to his children as his ranch has been handed down for 128 years.

"It won't be that long before that happens ... It doesn't make any sense to me, but we're gonna have to all get out of the business. Nobody around here is making it (in ranching)."

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