Payson Helping Payson Makes A Difference In Residents' Lives



Conrad Okerwall and his wife, Beverly, retired in Payson 15 years ago, leaving behind the harsh winters of the Midwest. Yet, Okerwall has used his spare time to help others with the organization he founded, Payson Helping Payson.

Okerwall is president of the organization that helps local families in crisis.

"In December of 1991, we saw a need for helping families in crisis that winter because the Community Action Program had run out of funds to help people with rents and utilities," Okerwall said. "Tom Behl and I started this up. We had some fund-raisers. It was so successful that we decided to keep it up. It's all volunteers and we are funded by different churches."

Churches such as the First Southern Baptist Church, Community Presbyterian Church, Mount Cross Lutheran Church and St. Paul's Episcopal Church contribute to Payson Helping Payson.

"There was a secondary reason for starting the organization," Okerwall said. "People were going around to all the churches, from one to another for help and abusing the system," Okerwall said. "This way we had some control over things."

Payson Helping Payson is a last resort for families in crisis and spends approximately $15,000 a year assisting people.

"We send them to the CAP program first and if they can't help them then they are referred to us," Okerwall said. "We also work with St. Vincent DePaul's and Salvation Army and split the cost among the three of us."

There are some requirements to qualify for assistance, mainly that a family is truly in crisis.

"Crisis --that word is very important," Okerwall said. "It has to be a crisis."

Okerwall said some documentation is also required.

"They need to have a residence and a shut-off notice on the utilities or an eviction notice," Okerwall said. "We try to get them to put in part of it and we only help them one time a year."

When Okerwall isn't busy with the organization, he is creating pieces of western art. In fact, many may be familiar with his work, it is a frequent feature at the Payson Art League's art shows.

"I've always been an artist," Okerwall said. "My wife and I owned our own advertising agency in Evanston, Ill. We serviced small industry. Artwork has always been a part of my life."

When Okerwall moved to Payson he was inspired by the western way of life and began creating his pieces of western art which include landscapes and portraits.

"I'm in the Payson Art League and was president for six terms," Okerwall said. "We have two art shows a year out at the reservation. That's where I show my artwork."

Okerwall will be participating in the art league's Art Walk at the end of September.

"People will buy a ticket for $5 and get a map and can drive around and visit the artists' studios," he said.

Okerwall feels an obligation to help others who are not as fortunate.

"I was retired and I needed to pay something back," Okerwall said. "There but for the grace of God go I. That could be me out there having a crisis."

A donation to Payson Helping Payson is tax deductible and can be mailed to P.O. Box 231, Payson, AZ 85547.


Name: Conrad Okerwall

Occupation: Retired advertising executive. Western artist.

Age: 74

Birthplace: Evanston, Ill.

Family: Wife, Beverly; married daughter, Sue Ann in San Antonio, grandson.

Personal motto: Be mindful of other's needs

Inspiration: Other people

Greatest feat: Owning my own advertising agency.

My favorite hobby or leisure activity is ... Painting and watching the Cubs.

The three words that describe me best are ... dependable, dependable, dependable

I don't want to brag, but ... I once lived across the street from Marlon Brando.

The person in history I'd most like to meet is ... Harry Truman

Luxury defined: Having my own jet with a pilot.

Dream vacation spot: Time share in the Alps.

Why Payson? Wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

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