Bobbi Hlavaceck

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The tale of how Bobbi Hlavacek's family ended up moving from Machias, Maine, all the way to Payson 18 years ago surely ranks as one of the shortest stories ever told.

Here it is, in its entirety, quoted verbatim, without embellishment:

"We just decided we wanted to go where it was warm. We all voted for Arizona, probably because of the song 'Arizona' by Paul Revere and the Raiders. So we drove out here."

That's pretty much how Hlavacek (the "H" is silent) describes every event in her life; short and to the point. This is not a woman of many words.

Instead, she's a woman of heart. And action.

Hlavacek, a long-time Payson child-care provider, became known to many area residents when she began organizing benefit events for one of her young charges: Justin Richardson, who has spent six of his nine years battling leukemia.

When Hlavacek began caring for Justin, his cancer was in remission. When it suddenly returned, she proceeded to organize fund-raising events to help the Richardson family pay their ever-growing mountain of medical expenses.

Today, Hlavacek gleefully reports, "Justin's doing pretty good, even though he recently had a bout with chicken pox which is one of the worst things you can get when you have leukemia. He was in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy, and the chicken pox made the chemo toxic. So they had to take him off chemo for a while, which was kind of scary. But he's doing much better now."

It was Justin who introduced Hlavacek to another young Payson cancer patient: 5-year-old Ashley Allen, who lost her struggle with brain tumors last month.

"Justin met Ashley down at the Phoenix Children's Hospital in Phoenix," Hlavacek says. "He had heard this little girl crying, and he was upset because they were hurting her. He thought it was unfair that he was getting help (from the benefit events Hlavacek was organizing) and she wasn't, and he wanted us to help her, too.

"I said, 'Well, that's not a problem. We'll take her on!'"

And so she did, putting together all manner of benefit auctions, bowling tournaments and donation drives.

Hlavacek was in Tennessee, visiting a dying aunt, when she received the news of Ashley's death.

"Basically, I sat down and cried," she remembers. "It was hard because I wasn't here to see Ashley, or to be with Tracy (Ashley's mother), or to attend the funeral. As a mother, I don't know how I would deal with it. The thought of it just ... well, I can't even imagine."

What is it in this woman's personality makeup that motivates her to help kids and their families through the hardest times?

Hlavacek doesn't really know ... but one hard-to-ignore clue comes from her family.

She's the second-youngest of eight children seven girls and one poor, poor boy in a brood that she describes as "very, very close, even to this day."

Born in Biddleford, Maine, but raised in the more northern coastal town of Machias, Hlavacek loved growing up in her home state. "Other than being cold, there wasn't a thing I didn't like about Maine. It's real pretty, you've got the ocean. We used to go to President (Franklin) Roosevelt's summer home in Campobello quite often."

Hlavacek was 17 when her family voted to relocate beneath the Arizona sun in 1983. The next year, she graduated from Payson High School, and proceeded to work in a series of "normal teenager jobs" while preparing for college.

But fate in the form of her husband, Joseph intervened. She never made it to college, but in 1987 she and Joseph got married and doubled their family size with the arrivals of son A.J., now 14, and daughter Wytnee, 12.

The joys of raising her own children were so great that Hlavacek didn't have to think too hard to come up with the perfect career and job title: child-care provider. She just recently expanded her business from part-time to full time, but now limits enrollment to 3- to 5-year-old preschoolers. (Registration is still open; for information, call 468-4638).

"Whatever I do always seems to involve kids in one way or another," she says. "Maybe it's because of my dad. He was the president of the Sportsman's Club back in Machias, and he used to put on fishing derbies and other games to benefit kids because he had eight of them. Anything to do with kids, my dad would get involved with."

Like father, like daughter.

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