Even before they responded to the challenge of providing for 800 evacuees streaming into town from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire, Jane Bonn knew Payson people were special.
"I have a 26-year-old disabled son who has Down syndrome," Bonn said. "This community has been very accepting of him, so I've always thought it was a special community."
The outpouring of love and generosity while the evacuees were in town not only reinforced her feelings about Payson, but also served as an object lesson for the Sunday school class she teaches at Mountain Bible Evangelical Free Church.
"I teach a class for my son and other adults with mental challenges," Bonn said. "We were studying a lesson for which the application was the need to not just say you love other people, but to show them you love them by going out and doing things for them. I challenged my students to think about something they might do the next week to go out and help others. With the evacuation center so close to where we live, they ended up going over there and to the dog park and helping out. It gave them a very concrete way to apply what we talked about."
Bonn, who believes in practicing what she preaches, also spent several days helping at the evacuation center. It was an experience she said she's not likely to forget anytime soon.
"It amazed me that not just individuals, but businesses made so many sacrifices," she said. "It was such a generous outpouring of concrete things food as well as clothing and so many other things. And dozens and dozens and dozens of people volunteering their homes as shelters. It just gives you a renewed hope in the human spirit."
Bonn was especially impressed with the number of people offering to open their homes to evacuees, many of whom would otherwise have ended up sleeping on a cot in the old gym at Payson High School.
"Those offering their homes were taking a risk, but they were willing to do it because people were in need," she said.
It wasn't easy for the evacuees either.
"It's difficult to ask for help when you've never had to do that when you've always been self-sufficient," she said.
One incident at the shelter was especially meaningful to Bonn.
"This person came through the food serving line and refused pancakes and French toast because he was allergic to wheat," she said. I just happen to have a son who is gluten intolerant or celiac. It's not just wheat, but oats, rye or barley. So I came right out and said to him, 'Are you a celiac?' He was dumbfounded that I would know what a celiac is because it's a very rare condition. I offered to bake bread for him, because you have to make your own bread out of other flours. It was like the Lord had put me there for a reason."
When her class met again, she could tell they had gained a lot from their experience helping the fire victims.
"They love to talk about what they hear on the news, and this was very close to them," she said. "We spent a lot of time talking about it and didn't even get to the planned lesson."
Bonn and her family moved to Payson from Ventura, Calif., eight years ago.
"We vacationed quite frequently in the Flagstaff area and I have a brother in the Globe-Miami area," she said. "We like trees, my husband loves to fish, but we also wanted a mid-elevation place."
Her son also was a factor.
"We wanted a small community where our son could function as independently as possible, so we kind of zeroed in on this area. Even though he has his challenges, he thinks he's as capable as anybody else."
While many small towns don't have the resources or tolerance, Payson proved to be different.
"We were concerned that a small community wouldn't have enough to offer, but after seeing how this town supported Special Olympics, I could tell that Payson had a lot to offer."
Name: Jane Bonn
Occupation: Retired, formerly an elementary school teacher.
Birthplace: Evansville, Ind.
Family: Husband, Ken; three sons, Alan, Dale and Gary.
Personal motto: Trust in the Lord.
Inspiration: Jesus Christ.
Greatest feat: Being happily married for almost 39 years to my childhood sweetheart who was the boy next door.
Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Volunteering for Special Olympics and teaching a friendship class (Sunday school) for adults with mental challenges.
Three words that describe me best: Caring, dedicated, industrious
Person in history I'd most like to meet: Jesus Christ
Luxury defined: Quietly sipping a fresh cup of coffee on our back deck while the first rays of sunlight stream through the tall pines.
Dream vacation spot: Alaska
Why Payson? Trees, friendly people, small-town atmosphere, community spirit.