The first clue that Irene Schwartzbauer is not your stereotypical librarian is that she places hockey legend Wayne Gretzky alongside Thomas Jefferson as a person in history she'd like to meet.
Schwartzbauer, who retired three years ago after 20 years in education the last 10 as the librarian at Rim Country Middle School, has recently become a rabid Phoenix Coyotes fan. Although she was raised in frigid South Dakota, Schwartzbauer had never seen a hockey game until a friend retired RCMS secretary and office manager Beth Leeds invited her to a Coyotes game.
"She had an 'Ice Pack' of tickets and she bought two so she'd have somebody to go with," Schwartzbauer said. "One day she asked me, and that's when she created a monster."
For the last two-plus seasons, Schwartzbauer and Leeds have purchased season tickets, trekking to the Valley 41 times each season whenever their beloved Coyotes are at home. While many of their retired counterparts are sitting at home knitting, this pair is tailgating on the roof of the Jefferson Street parking garage and screaming themselves hoarse.
"We holler a lot, and I can howl with the best of them," Schwartzbauer said.
She and Leeds even traveled to Los Angeles for the Coyotes' season opener.
"They were retiring Wayne Gretzky's number," she said. "He played for L.A. for a number of years. I really admire him. He has never let his fame go to his head."
But it's more than her admiration for Gretzky, now a co-owner of the Coyotes, that makes her such a diehard hockey fan.
"It's a fast game," she said, "and it's an honest game in a sense. The players stick up for each other. And then it's a skillful game when you think about it.
"These guys are skating around on a very thin blade at breakneck speed."
Schwartzbauer, who has lived on the edge of the forest in Mesa del Caballo ever since she moved to the Rim country 25 years ago, came here because the area reminded her of Silver City, New Mexico, where she lived for five years while getting her teaching degree at Western New Mexico University.
"My husband and I picked Payson off the map," she said. "We lived in Silver City for five years and we liked it there. Payson has the same kind of country, the tall pines, it's a mile high, it was similar in size, and it's fairly close to Phoenix without the heat."
In the quarter century she's lived in the Rim country much has changed, including her beloved Mesa del.
"I like it out here," she said. "It was a good place to raise kids when we first moved here. Of course once the water and sewer went in, it really mushroomed."
Schwartzbauer has also noticed some changes in young people today.
"Technologically today's kids are much more advanced, but a lot of them have trouble visualizing and they don't put much importance on being able to communicate effectively," she said.
Reading, she believes, remains a key part of the learning equation, and she believes the best thing parents can do is read to their children and keep an open mind about what their kids are reading on their own. While the first Harry Potter book was published during her final year as a librarian, she has been watching that controversy with interest.
"I think Harry Potter is good," she said. "As long as kids are reading, what difference does it make what they're reading. I read the first (Harry Potter) book, and I said, 'This would be fun to read if I were a kid.'"
It all comes down to the values parents instill in their children.
"If you've given them a good set of values they're going to pick and choose things you would approve of," she said.
While Schwartzbauer notes that Harry Potter is an absolute phenomenon, she says his books can't compare to the popularity of the Hank the Cow Dog series.
"There's over 40 of them and they are written by an ex-teacher in Texas named John Erickson," she said. "They're silly books written from a dog's perspective, but kids love them."
"I had this girl who wasn't much of a reader and I gave her a Hank the Cow Dog book. She brought it back and said, 'That dog is about a box of rocks.' I said, 'But it's funny isn't it?' She said, 'It's really funny.'"
Back on the subject, she uses a reading analogy to explain why the Coyotes are only 3-6 so far this year.
"They've got a couple new players and they're all playing on different pages," she said. "They just have to get on the same page. But they'll be just fine. They got off to a slow start last year too."
Name: Irene Schwartzbauer
Occupation: Retired librarian, media specialist
Employer: Payson Unified School District
Age: Old enough to know better.
Birthplace: Leola, S.D.
Family: 2 brothers, 1 sister, 5 children, 7 grandchildren
Personal motto: Can't never did anything, and don't let someone else decide how you're going to feel.
Inspiration: I draw my inspiration from a lot of things.
Greatest feat: Getting my college degree.
My favorite hobby or leisure activity: Chasing Coyotes, gardening, reading, watching wildlife.
Three words that best describe me: According to a friend, they are intelligent, pack rat and good sense of humor.
Person(s) in history I'd most like to meet: Thomas Jefferson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Colin Powell, Wayne Gretzky, John and Abigail Adams.
Luxury defined: a housekeeper
Dream vacation spot(s): Hawaii/Alaska
Why Payson? Altitude, mountains, proximity to Phoenix.