Calling it "the highlight of her life," Anna Mae Deming cut the ribbon, officially opening Deming Pioneer Park Saturday morning.
The 5,434-square-foot park, at the northwest corner of Main Street and McLane, was named in honor of Deming and her late husband, James Deming. Referring to him as Jimmy, Deming focused her remarks on his accomplishments.
"Jimmy loved the Rim country," she said. "He moved here a sickly man, but the fresh air and sunshine apparently healed him and he lived 68 years within the Payson area. He volunteered for every worthwhile activity, always saying that Payson had been so good to him and he wanted to give back what he could."
Deming recounted the method she and her husband used to safeguard the rodeo prize money that was entrusted to them.
"We placed the sack of money under our pillows and slept with it so it was safe," she said. "There was no bank here at all."
Deming's son, James Deming II, recalled some of his childhood memories growing up in Payson.
"I feel so fortunate to have been born in Payson right down the street about three houses," he said.
"I remember whenever there was a fire in someone's home, there was not a loud siren that was activated for someone to hear. The warning was three shotgun blasts by designated people in certain parts of the town. My dad was one of the designated persons to fire off these three shots."
He said the only fire equipment at the time was a pumper on two large, spoked wheels, stationed at Grady Harrison's garage.
"The only other weapons were fire brigades and water hoses that the volunteers brought with them," he said. "The sad part was, there wasn't enough water, there wasn't enough manpower, so buildings usually burned to the ground."
The new park is located on the same site as J.W. Boardman's Mercantile Store. Built in 1898, Boardman's was the first non-wood building in Payson and it also was the town's first bank and post office and was home to the town's official clock.
The park is framed by a facade re-creation of Boardman's store, which was part stone and part wood.
"It just makes me feel so good to see that sign (over the store facade) again," he said.
The Demings' daughter, Mary, also spoke briefly, focusing her remarks on the generosity of the town's residents.
"I remember Payson as a very small community with a big heart," she said. "Because it was small, the people who lived here were like a big family. Everyone worked and played together."
Payson Town Councilor Dick Wolfe, a major force behind both the park and Main Street, spoke last. With the park officially open, guests enjoyed a special cake that featured a horse-drawn pioneer wagon.
Twenty-three display cases mounted on the Boardman's facade will eventually re-tell the stories the Demings told this brisk and rainy day, as well as other stories that are an important part of our community's heritage.