For eight-and-a-half years, Tom Behl has dedicated his days to Gila County's children.
And now that he's retiring from that service, the Gila County Board of Supervisors has dedicated a day Oct. 24 to Tom Behl.
In declaring Tom Behl Day in Gila County, the supervisors called upon "all citizens, community agencies, religious organizations, medical facilities, and businesses to recognize outstanding and consistent advocation for the best interest of children, thereby strengthening the communities in which we live."
In other words, appreciate residents like Behl, who's been working as a volunteer within Gila County's Court Appointed Special Advocate program, better known as CASA, since he first discovered it in 1994.
Since that time, Behl has served on 23 cases and advocated for 44 children.
"In each instance, Mr. Behl has made a difference that will be with (the children) always," said Ceceille Masters-Webb, coordinator of Arizona CASA. "One gets the impression that it has been a mutually rewarding relationship for Mr. Behl and the children."
This isn't the first time in his life that Behl has made a difference.
A former Secret Service agent, he once stood guard over vice presidents Spiro Agnew and Hubert Humphrey, andbriefly both John Fitzgerald Kennedys, among many others.
"Mr. Behl's experience was an excellent basis for investigating the best interest of the children he served and writing court reports," Masters-Webb said, noting that Behl has also worked as a volunteer in the Payson Area Habitat for Humanity program, and is a member of the board of directors for Payson's Community Action program.
But it's Behl's relentless promotion, support and volunteer work for CASA that's earned this 13-year Payson resident his own day.
"When children become wards of the court, the court can assign a CASA to that child or children," he explained in a January 2000, interview. "Our duties and responsibilities are to be that child's representative in court, and to let the court know what's in the best interest of the child. Not what's in the best interest of anybody else. Just the child's."
Once a court order was issued, Behl spent time with the children and their parents, interviewed their teachers and doctors, and prepared written reports to the judge recommending that the child either be returned to the parents or, at the other extreme, severance and adoption of the child.
"As you can imagine, making decisions like that is quite a responsibility," Behl said almost three years ago. "But ... with my background, it's a natural as far as volunteer work goes."
"It's pretty nice, pretty nice (to have his own day)," Behl said Monday afternoon. "I think I kind of surprised everyone when I announced I was retiring, and now I'm surprised by everything that's happening."
And what will Tom Behl be doing on Tom Behl Day?
"Well, I guess I'll be at Mario's Restaurant at 11:30 a.m. for a little luncheon and a little recognition," he said, laughing.
The luncheon may be little. But the recognition will be huge.