Visions Of Payson

Local leaders share views of past, present and future


We asked seven members of the community to articulate their visions for the Rim country from their particular areas of expertise.

Individually they offer unique perspectives that touch on many of the elements that impact the well-being of the community, such as culture, education, health care, economic development and the town's history and heritage.

Together, their perspectives provide a broad-based overview of what the community could become.

Stan Brown

Payson Historian,

Rim Review columnist

A vision of the future cannot come into focus without accounting for the past. Our world undergoes a continuous process of change, and by understanding our past, we can have a better idea of where we want to go. History is to society what memory is to the individual.

We have inherited three fascinating cultures, and I see a future where they are better understood and built into the appearance of the town.

These include the culture of the ancient people, whose pueblo ruins and stone tools adorn almost every hilltop in the area. We have also inherited the more ephemeral but spiritually enhancing culture of the Apache and Yavapai people. Thirdly, we have inherited the culture of America's frontier settlements.

In addition, we're blessed with the beauty of a wilderness that embraces us on all sides. To allow this inheritance to shape our vision of the future will prevent our town from running pell-mell into the curse of urbanization.

It is important for us to make a statement to those who come after us about the heritage that is theirs. This needs to be made graphically in the development, attitude and policies we choose today. I envision us maintaining what we have inherited, as well as moving forward with those changes suited for our times.

Change is unstoppable. Using our intelligence and making the common welfare more important than momentary profits or pleasure can give direction to that change. I see us realizing that the past is an inseparable part of our present as we plan for the future. If we proceed without a plan that takes this into consideration, we will become like the ancient ones, "the people who went away."

We are off to a good start with visions for the future.

Our Green Valley Redevelopment Committee and Historic Preservation Committee are dramatic steps by the town fathers to hold onto our unique inheritance and allow it to shape our vision of the future.

Our town parks and recreation department has developed a far-reaching plan for urban hiking trails to interconnect with those in the surrounding forests.

We have a local newspaper that is sensitive to the importance of history and the need for planned growth. We have a small-town friendliness among our citizens, still willing to wave at one another and greet each other on the street. The feeling of community inherent to the Native American continues here, as does the rancher's traditional hospitality, so that we never meet a stranger.

We must hold this vision as normative for the future.

Michael J. Harper

Attorney and chairman of the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce

The Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce has always been a strong supporter of economic development. For many in the Payson area, this term has unfortunately become synonymous with "traffic congestion" or "overcrowding." I am hopeful that this perception can change.

Smart economic development need not destroy the small-town atmosphere that most of us moved to the Rim country to enjoy. Economic development, done correctly, can bring new businesses to the area, businesses that bring higher paying jobs and an increased tax base. Higher paying jobs mean increased prosperity for our residents.

An increased tax base provided that the taxes are used wisely can improve the quality of life for all Rim country residents. These things can enhance the quality of life of our communities without destroying the small-town feel that we all enjoy.

I also believe that the Rim country should work to make the most of its proximity to the metropolitan Phoenix area. In the summer months, the Rim country is an ideal gateway for those in Phoenix who want to get away from the heat.

This does not mean that we should schedule events every weekend to attract visitors from the Valley. To do so would damage the small-town atmosphere we enjoy. Again, wise planning is, in my view, the key to success. Several new and well-planned events would be beneficial.

As a community, I would also like to see us unite behind the events already in place that bring people to town.

When these events are planned whether they be the rodeos, the Copper State Jam, the Strawberry Festival or the Fiddlers' Contest they should be backed by all of us. We need to take pride in and support the events that we, as a community, put on annually.

"Economic Development" and "tourism" are not all-or-nothing propositions. With smart planning, they can substantially improve the quality of life for all Rim country residents.

Instead of dividing on these issues like our community usually does and accomplishing nothing, we should find a reasonable common ground that will allow us to simultaneously make the most of and preserve the features of life in the Rim country that we all came here to enjoy.

Russell Judd

Payson Regional Medical Center C.E.O.,

Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation president

In my role in the community as chief executive officer of Payson Regional Medical Center and president of the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation, I see a very bright and shining future for Payson and the Rim country. I see that the serenity and gloriousness of the Rim country will continue to expand. We reside in the best place to live and raise a family in all of Arizona. I see that more and more people will be finding our little bit of heaven.

As difficult as growth is, we will continue to have to deal with that challenge. The surrounding areas of the Rim country Star Valley, Round Valley, East Verde Estates and so forth will see an increase in growth as bureaucracy continues to make the development of Payson difficult. The fact remains that the Rim country is a wonderful place, and it is difficult to keep any "super secret" quiet.

The hospital and health care in the community have improved by leaps and bounds in the two and a half years I have been in the Rim country. The addition of 13 new physicians and specialists, as well as $2 million in new equipment at the hospital greatly expands my vision of the future.

The day will soon be here when technology has changed and our community is able to attract the needed specialists in health care, and all health care can be provided in the Payson area. I see a billboard in Rye that reads, "Leaving the Rim country for your health care ... Why?" Technology is growing by leaps and bounds in health care. As complex medical procedures become more and more routine through technology, those services will be provided here in Payson. Advances in drugs will limit the need for many hospital stays. Soon, simple surgeries will replace what now takes weeks to heal from.

Technology will continue to improve and will provide the tools to physicians and other health-care providers where hospital stays and deep and invasive surgical procedures will be a thing of the past.

With the advancement of medicine and health care, individuals will live much longer.

Carol Kane


Eighteen years ago when I arrived in Payson, this was cattle country, known as a cow town without much hope for culture or art. But I was escaping the frenetic life of New York and gladly made the exchange for the mountain beauty, the peace and the friendliness that only a small town can offer.

Payson has come a long way over those 18 years toward both the arts and culture. Through the selfless work of dedicated volunteers, we now have a college, a theater group, a choir and the fabulous Tonto Community Concert series. In addition, a new library is under construction, the six-screen Sawmill Theatres recently opened, several art galleries are thriving and the Payson Art League stages two outstanding shows each year.

The future vision of us artists is to have a place of our own to display and sell our creations locally. This dream is in the works at last. The Fine Art Guild is hard at work on plans for a museum/co-op on Main Street. We're hoping for their success and blessing their efforts. Who needs Sedona when you can find an exciting original work of art right here at home?

Ray Schum

Mayor of Payson

My vision is that Payson will continue to be a growing, vibrant community, firmly rooted in the experience of our past, acutely attuned to the world of today and focused on a future of economic stability and a quality of life acceptable to all our citizens.

Inherent in this vision is the idea of growth and progress. Progress is vital to the life blood of any community. Growth is the logical progression toward achieving maturity. Both are healthy and necessary and, with order and sound planning, we can and will achieve the goals we have already established for our community.

I see economic development as a necessary ingredient in the equation that represents "progress." The pursuit of logical economic development policies will result in the creation of jobs and the recirculation of payroll dollars throughout our town. This economic engine will translate into more and better goods and services for all of us who call Payson home and establish a sound economic base for those who follow.

Statistics indicate that every dollar earned in a community will roll over at least five times in the local market. I see more high-paying, manufacturing-type companies locating to Payson, creating new jobs for our residents while still maintaining that delicate ecological balance so necessary to our geographic area. Although I continue to support our conservative plans and policies as they relate to water management, I believe we must remain open to reasonable growth and development, as driven by the market, in order to maintain and stimulate our overall economy and all segments associated with it.

As part of a group of elected public officials, I can say that although we each have come to office with differing life experiences, we have been entrusted with the stewardship of Payson's destiny and, as such, are servants of the public will. Obviously, not all the action taken on all the issues will please all the citizens all the time.

Hopefully though, by our collective efforts, we will achieve the highest quality results for the greater good of all. I believe we are well on the way to achieve the vision we seek.

Hopefully we will discover alternative sources of water and with sound economic plans and policies in place, I firmly believe we will: create jobs where locally-earned capital will be spent locally; develop entrepreneurship and encourage small businesses to flourish; reduce the need to buy in the Valley, thereby increasing our own sales-tax base; and achieve an acceptable balance of growth and available natural resources.

In any event, if we are to have any vision of the future and that vision is to represent noble goals, it must be achieved by honesty, diligence, openness, unselfishness and respect for the different life experiences that shape each of us. It will take the positive and pro-active involvement and participation of all citizens, working with those in town government and other agencies, to achieve the best for all.

Sharesse Von Strauss

Director of the Rim Country Museum,

2nd Vice President of Museum Association of Arizona

One does not have vision without knowing where the foundation lies.

The Northern Gila County Historical Society, Inc. has, in and of itself, been a visionary for Payson since the 1970s, when the true individual visionaries realized Payson was in danger of losing its heritage and created the historical society. It was those individuals who actualized the Museum of the Forest, which changed its name to the Rim Country Museum in 1997 by a 206 to 7 vote of the general membership to more accurately reflect what the museum represents.

The museum and historical society have come a long way from meeting in private homes to producing one of the best books published in the Rim Country, "The Rim Country History," to realizing a position of being one of the finest heritage museums in the state of Arizona. Tomes could be written on our progress.

To date, we have purchased a property that is already contributing to an important change in our archeological record; acquired the title to the Arizona Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum; built a storage/accessions facility; constructed a ramada for Payson's first firetruck; developed an educational project that includes ancient culture, Native American and pioneer life in the Payson area; realized inter-museum programs; and have been motivational within the Green Valley Redevelopment Area and the Main Street program.

We positively interact with the Payson Art League and Fine Art Guild, and have held community-oriented exhibits which have included the Quilting Society, Lions and Lionesses, Julia Randall and Frontier elementary schools, local Heroes of Aviation and Rodeo, and the No-Name Art Group, to mention just a few over the past several years.

The goals not the vision are as follows:

Realize in Payson the Arizona Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum;

Provide substantial contribution through excavation and publication to our archeological record;

Replicate the Zane Grey cabin;

Assist in the development of other museums in progress on Main Street;

Maintain and actively engage in the progression of the Rim Country Western Heritage Festival;

Further our education programs in numerous areas;

Further develop our library of local history;

Realize longer-term and more intense temporary exhibits that relate to our area;

Maintain and better realize our existing community interaction for the betterment of our town.

The vision is to realize both the museum and historical society as an active, vital, interactive part of this community, to further support education, hold onto our foundation and move forward. We envision bringing in tourists who will support the infrastructure they utilize and leave with the feeling that they really understand our culture and heritage. We want to ensure that the people of this community can find solace and a sense of beauty by maintaining with integrity that which is our history. Finally, we seek to provide additional support to our business community to better support our town.

Herb Weissenfels

Superintendent, Payson Unified

School District

A public school system is a reflection of the community it serves. As such, the Payson schools will continue to reflect community growth patterns and economic challenges. Together with other community entities, these challenges will be addressed through close working relationships.

Our school district is one that expects high standards and student achievement. The teaching staff exhibits the highest quality and justly deserves the pride our community shows the staff. Yet, as with employees throughout the community, our people are very low paid in comparison to their peers in other areas. This becomes a recruiting problem.

The ability of the schools to maintain high standards impacts the future of Payson. Quality-of-life issues, opportunities for spousal employment, affordable housing, shopping, health care and other infrastructure issues also affect recruitment.

Our community has wonderful opportunities for a bright future. We either progress or die.

Progress entails sensible growth and proper management of our natural resources, including our youth. Growth and planning for the future have been key issues with the town, hospital, the chamber of commerce, the schools and all civic organizations.

How many other towns our size can boast of growth in Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimist and the other community service groups?

If we are to maintain our quality of life, this attitude must pervade all segments of the community.

An attitude of cooperation must continue to reign and steps must be taken to encourage moving forward.

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