Friends helping friends, says 32-year Tonto Basin businessman John Dryer, is not anything unusual in his community.
“My goodness, it’s something that the people here have always done,” he says. “When you’re down and getting kicked, they just come and pull you up.”
Mitch Vuksanovich, owner of the area’s prime watering hole, The Butcher Hook, agrees. That’s why he and a handful of others are organizing “Friends Helping Friends,” a fund-raising benefit for a man who he says has always been there to help other Tonto Basin citizens:
“Why does John deserve this benefit?” Vuksanovich asks rhetorically. “Have you got about an hour? Since I first met him in 1972, I have seen this man do everything for everybody. If anybody needed anything, they came to John. I’ve done it, everyone’s done it. And I’ve never seen him turn anyone down or take any money for his efforts.
“Here’s just one example, and it’s pretty funny,” Vuksanovich said. “Old Russell Haught used to live across the creek. One time, he was crossing a water pond and lost his wooden leg. The VA wouldn’t buy him a leg, Social Security wouldn’t buy him a leg. So someone said, ‘John, we gotta get Russell Haught a leg!’ And by God if John didn’t find one.
“There’s not a bad bone in old John’s body, so we’re going to throw a real wing-ding and raise some money for him. If he had charged 10 cents an hour for all the volunteer work he’s put into Tonto Basin, that community would owe him thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Vuksanovich, along with just about everyone else within 25 miles of Tonto Basin, knows every detail of Dryer’s recent felony court conviction, which stemmed from his administration of the Tonto Basin Cemetery Fund from June 1995 to October 1998.
During that time, the county attorney’s office alleged, Dryer used cemetery funds improperly. The tampering charge to which he pled guilty was the result of his admission that he purposely destroyed a number of the cemetery fund’s bank and accounting records. Dryer was sentenced to two years probation, 100 hours of community service, and payment of $2,500 in restitution to the fund, a $1,000 fine, and $1,560 in court costs and probation fees.
Although the crime of tampering with evidence is a Class 6 felony, it was in this case “open-ended,” meaning that if Dryer fulfills all the terms of his probation, the designation will be reduced to a misdemeanor.
“I have never had a case where so many people have had so many good things to say about a criminal defendant,” Judge Peter DeNinno said prior to Dryer’s Aug. 13 sentencing after hearing glowing praise for the defendant from the vast majority of those in the courtroom.
That level of praise is ongoing by locals who value Dryer as a friend, neighbor, decorated U.S. Marine and strictly volunteer community leader.
And more than at any other time in his life, Dryer is deeply appreciative of the support.
“This whole thing has been embarrassing, it’s been humiliating,” Dryer said.
“But I’m past all that because I need the hand. I really need the help. Attorney’s fees at $300 an hour is tough.”
It has also destroyed his business, Tonto Basin Realty.
“That doesn’t exist anymore, and I don’t know if it ever will again,” Dryer said. “Even though this felony can convert to a misdemeanor in 10 months, the state real estate commissioner, Jerry Holt, says that a felony is a felony. Murder is a felony, and so is destruction of documents. So they pulled my broker’s license.”
Today, he said, he keeps busy “not making ends meet. Things are just critical for me. But I’ve got a few irons in the fire. And I’ve got a whole lot of friends who all want to get together and help.”
Many of those friends have known Dryer since he first bought land in the community back in 1966. Others met him when he moved there full-time in 1970, or when he owned and operated the Punkin Center Store from 1972 to 1982.
It was Dryer and his ex-wife, Carolyn, who erected the giant pumpkin that hovers above the market.
“I have always loved Tonto Basin, and I’m going to do everything I can to stay here, to try to remain at my home,” Dryer said. “I’ve got my creditors on hold, and my friends understand it and they’re going to pitch in with me. Thank God, that’s what Tonto Basin is all about.”
John Dryer benefit
Friends Helping Friends: A benefit for John Dryer will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30 at The Butcher Hook patio. All-you-can-eat deep-pit barbecue will be served starting at 4 p.m. (adults $10, $5 for children under 12). An all-day lineup of music will feature performances by Doc Ivey, C.M. Petty, Karen Sneed Fulton, Johnny Collier and, at 7 p.m., the band Gone Country. There will also be a 50/50 raffle and, at 6 p.m., an auction of donated goods and merchandise.
Auction and raffle items are still needed. Drop-off points for donations are located at The Butcher Hook in Tonto Basin, Connie’s Market in Globe, and Dr. Mark Ivey’s Payson office at 1106 N. Beeline Highway, across the street from Rim Country Lanes.
For more information, call Billie June Cline at (928) 479-2357 or The Butcher Hook at (928) 479-2711.