When Payson Police Officer Mike Varga peeked through the window of Alma Hardee's kitchen window Dec. 14, his heart sank as he saw a motionless body on the floor.
Varga had been sent to Hardee's home after she did not respond to telephone calls from the police department. He had first knocked on her front door, when no one answered, he tried to open it, but it was locked. He then began looking through windows, hoping for the best, fearing the worst.
In a community abundant with elderly, Payson Police officers often respond to a residence where no one has seen or heard from the occupant for several days.
Sometimes they find the resident left on vacation with family members. However, there are times when they find a lifeless body.
Hardee, 92, registered with the department's PATH (Police Access to Homebound) program in September. Since then, she's received a phone call from someone at the department five days a week between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m. The caller would ask her how she was feeling. Hardee had never requested help for anything.
On Dec. 14 she did not answer her phone the first, second or third time the officer called. The next step, according to procedure, was to call her family contact. For Hardee, the call was made to her niece, Linda Gist.
Gist told the officer that her aunt should be home, and requested an officer check on her. Police dispatchers sent Varga to check on the elderly woman.
"The front door was locked, I went around the house and looked in a window," Varga said. "I could see her motionless on the kitchen floor sitting up, but leaning against a kitchen counter."
Varga said he started yelling and knocking on the window.
"I was praying for any sign of life, but there was nothing," Varga said.
The officer reached the back door, and was prepared to force it open, if necessary.
"... I knocked and identified myself," Varga said. "I heard this little voice say, 'come in'. So I pushed on the door, but she was blocking part of it."
Gist arrived and was right behind Varga when he entered the house to find Hardee.
"We went inside. She was awake, but not really alert and could not tell us what had happened," Varga said. "The kitchen phone had been pulled out of the wall, she may have been trying to get help."
The fire department paramedics arrived within minutes, treated Hardee and took her to the hospital.
She has since been released from the hospital and is recovering from pneumonia under supervised care.
Once Hardee received medical care, she was able to communicate that she had been on the cold kitchen floor for what calculated to be more than 13 hours. The house was cold, because at the time she fell, she did not have the heater on and a window was open for ventilation.
Gist, who was instrumental in signing her aunt up for PATH, credits the program for saving her aunt's life.
"I don't go there every day," Gist said. "It's possible she would have sat there for a couple of days. I would recommend the program to anyone who has someone who lives alone and is not in the best of health."
Hardee is a descendant of the Belluzzi family who were pioneers of the Rim country. And, she has proven her stamina by outliving her seven brothers and sisters.
Hardee has lived in Payson her entire life. She is known by the old-timers as one of the best cooks in Payson. She owned and operated Alma's Diner (later called Jack's Diner) and then cooked at the Beeline Cafe for more years than owner Mildred Sexton can remember.
For information on the PATH program, contact the Payson Police Department at 474-5177.