A peek into Payson's school seventy-five years ago can be fun. The Risser family donated a 1927 school yearbook to the Rim Country Museum, in which Christian Risser IV is listed in the 3rd grade. Rim Country residents have to understand that Payson's first resident doctor, from 1912 to his death in 1933, was Christian Risser III. His son "Christy" carried the name and also became a medical doctor. The grandson of Payson's famous physician, Dr. Christian Risser V, has returned to the Rim Country, and is an ophthalmologist. But let's go back to 1927.
The yearbook acknowledges all the teachers and pupils from grade 1 through high school, and is titled "Sunshine." It was dedicated to the principal D. W. Davis, who also taught classes, coached basketball and conducted the orchestra. There were only two seniors graduating that year, Valda Beard and Ellen Skinner. They held all the offices of student government and helped edit both the yearbook and the school paper, "The P.H.S. Broadcaster."
The school consisted of two clapboard buildings on the corner of Oak and Main Street, where the Presbyterian Church parking lot is today. The high school was not accredited, and if students went on to college they had to take make-up courses. In the high school, the freshman class had 14 students, the sophomore class 12, the junior class 5 and when they started their senior year there were 3 in the class. However, we read that "shortly before Thanksgiving Catherine Beard, having found the field of matrimony more promising than school, abandoned her class leaving only two." The comment, written by Catherine's sister, Valda and friend Ellen seems to hold a tinge of anger. Or was it jealousy?
The two seniors penned a paragraph worthy of today's chamber of commerce. Adopting a slogan from Yavapai County, they called Payson "The Heart of Arizona."
"Located geographically near the center of Arizona," they wrote, "we are also in the heart of all the state's principal industries. With Payson taken as a center, Globe, Phoenix, Prescott, Flagstaff and Winslow are all equidistant. Here, one hundred miles from any large town and rail-point, is the last frontier. Nowhere in Arizona is the climate better than ours. Good roads now make this district accessible to all points of the state."
Talking about Valda and Catherine Beard, it is difficult not to get sidetracked with Rim country genealogy.
Together with their parents, grandparents, husbands and in-laws we are talking about the Beards, Taylors, Belluzzis and Pyles for starters among the pioneer families.
But that gets ahead of the story in this old yearbook. The girls must have come from a very loving family, because Catherine's dream for the future was to be a good wife. She listed her "favorite pastime" as "remembering Papa." Her papa was Fletcher Beard, the first ranger on the Tonto National Forest's Payson District, 1906. He had died on duty in 1913 at the age of 40, when Catherine and Valda were 3 or 4 years old.
The girl's mother was Nellie Pyle, and they lived on the ranch in Star Valley. But here we go getting sidetracked.
Valda Beard said her "besetting sin" was "to be in love," and her dream of the future was to live in a cottage. The class prophetess, Ellen, wrote of Valda, "The Spirit of prophecy conducted me to a large ranch surrounded by large grazing lands on which there were many cattle. In the doorway of the beautiful ranch-house stood Valda, the mistress of all these riches, watching with anxious eyes for her husband."
That husband would become Richard Taylor (of the Doll Baby Ranch) who was indeed a rancher and among whose children in today's Payson are Fern Spears and Lois Bissett.
The 1927 yearbook devotes space to Payson's favorite sport of the time, basketball. "Basketball has been our most popular sport this year The long distance between towns and difficultie (sic) of transportation made competitive games very few. We have had, however, several games with Pine. Though they have won most of them, we have tried to be real sportsmen and take our defeats in the right spirit."
The team consisted of Bert Belluzzi (8th grade), Whitman Skinner (a freshman), Raymond Belluzzi (a freshman), Ivan Wade (7th grade) and William Packard (a freshman). 8th grader Fred Taylor had been on the team, but we read that he "dropped out of school to help with work at home."
From the shrinking size of the classes (there were no juniors left in 1927) it is apparent the dropout rate was very great.
Basketball practice and home games were held in the community dance hall, located at the foot of the old Pine Road. Hoops were erected at either end and the sidelines came right up to the walls. One row of chairs ringed the floor for spectators, and when the ball hit one of them it was called out of bounds. It was also out of bounds when it hit the big wood stove. Not a few players got branded on cold winter days when the stove was roaring hot.
Visiting teams had considerable handicaps, not used to contending with stoves and close walls. The ceiling of the hall was below the top of the backboard at the hoops, adding another inconvenience. However, the Payson team learned to shoot without an arch and to work the ball in close. Another hazard was that the dance floor was slick from the Saturday night waxing.
A final look at the Payson School in 1927. In the January issue of the "P.H.S. Broadcaster" we have this little joke:
Ellen: I think he is so cheap, just like a Ford.
Valda: Yes, but his clutch is so different.