Couple Gives Back To Payson For 55 Years

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From a university physics class in Madison, Wis., to 55 years in Payson, Phyllis and Don Manthe have traveled a lot of miles together.

On April 12, the couple celebrated their 60th anniversary.

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Phyllis and Don Manthe celebrate 60 years of marriage this month. Married in Norman, Okla., they have lived in Payson for 55 of those 60 years together.

They met in that physics class because the seating was arranged alphabetically and Don Manthe was seated next to Phyllis Mann.

The first time they were together out of class was because Don was having a problem with an assignment and asked Phyllis to help him with it.

"It didn't take long for me to con her into doing a lot of my homework," Don said.

Don graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1943 with a degree in pharmaceutical chemistry and went into the Navy, where he became a pilot and flew patrols along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, watching for German submarines.

One of his stations was in Norman, Okla., where Phyllis met him and they were married, in spite of the rules that prohibited it at the time.

She then returned to finish school in Madison, earning a degree in home economics education.

Once she graduated, she joined Don in Corpus Christi, Texas. From there, they moved to Atlanta, Ga., then went back to Texas. When Don was discharged at the end of the war, the couple returned to Madison and opened a drug store. There oldest daughter, Carol was born in 1946, two years later Linda arrived.

Linda had severe asthma and when she was about a year old, the Manthes were told they had to move to a dryer climate for her health. So, they sold their Madison drugstore, packed up and moved to Arizona, first settling in Tucson.

"I was working for a pharmacist in Tucson," Don said. "We saw a lot of salesmen coming through and one of them told me about this little town that was going to be wide open when they built the road through within the next year."

The town was Payson. The road was the Beeline Highway. And while it took another 10 years for the road to be built, the Manthes made the move to the mountains and have stayed put."We couldn't sell out, there were no buyers!" Phyllis said.

The Manthes built a drug store at 214 W. Main when they came to town in 1949 and they lived in a little cabin behind the store with their two daughters, Carol and Linda.

There was no doctor in town at the time, so if a medical emergency came up, Don helped two doctors from Cottonwood practice medicine over the phone.

To make ends meet, the pharmacist and pilot became a post hole digger -- working for the electric company, digging the holes for the posts on which the lines were being strung.

"It wasn't even APS then," Phyllis said. She minded the store while Don worked for the electric company.

While the community had electricity, there were not that many modern conveniences. The classrooms at the rock building school, now known as Julia Randall Elementary, were heated by potbelly stoves and there were no rest rooms, only outhouses. The school was only the rock building and it housed all the grades, in which 58 students were enrolled.

Don served on the school board that modernized the old building, he also participated in the committee that built a medical clinic for Payson and worked on bringing a doctor to town.

He and Phyllis were members of the Chamber and its Chambermates. Don helped get a Rotary Club started in Payson and also participated in bringing the Boy Scouts to town.

"That was something, all the boys were cowboys back then," Don said.

He also served on the board of the sanitary district and as the district's superintendent.

"When I started we were about $40,000 in the red, and when I finished it was $4,000 in the black," Don said. "Not many of the developers liked me because I said they weren't paying their fair share. I was told I didn't know what I was talking about, so I took a correspondence course through the University of California at Davis (in sanitary engineering), and proved I wasn't wrong."

Once the Beeline Highway was in place, the Manthes bought another piece of property to build a new drug store. It was a hands-on project for Don.

"I quarried the stone for it up above Pine," he said. "An old stone mason, Omar Gould, helped me cut and lay the rock."

Phyllis and Don ran the Beeline store until 1971, when they sold it to Ellen and James Sutton.

Around that time, Phyllis was finally able to start using her degree in teaching. She was a frequent substitute and was hired as a science teacher at the junior high school in the mid-1980s.

It was also about 1971 when Don's interest turned to vineyards.

"My dad grew grapes back in Wisconsin and made terrible wine," he said. "Since we had a big yard and garden, it seemed like a good place to give grapes a try and try to make better wine than my father did.

"I started with about 30 different varieties of grapes, not many did very well in this climate."

Once he found the right grapes to grow, and experienced some success with his efforts, more of the property at the end of Phoenix Street was planted. A large part of the property is devoted to Manthe's vineyard and they have their own wine as a result.

Don said he does not see much of a future for vineyards in Payson. He said the climate really isn't right, and the cost of the water is prohibitive.

The couple has lived in the house at the end of East Phoenix Street for more than 40 years. Phyllis designed it and when it was built in 1963, there was nothing between it and the Beeline Highway.

While most of the property has been devoted to Don's vineyard, there are plenty of fruit trees and garden spots. Both are avid gardeners and belong to the Rim Country Gardeners and have opened their property to visitors on several of the club's tours.

By the time the house was built, the Manthe family had grown to include a son, Don, who is 14 years younger than their youngest daughter.

In addition to gardening, Phyllis and Don love to travel. They had a home in Mexico for about 20 years, but have since sold it. Phyllis' favorite place to visit now is Portugal.

"It's a beautiful country," she said. "They grow good grapes and the people are charming."

Don's favorite is the German wine country where they stay with fellow vintners.

"When we sold the store, people asked where we were going to move to," Phyllis said. "There is no better place to live than Payson. We enjoyed having our children grow up in this type of town, it gave them all a great background."

"It was rough at first," Don admits. "But we gave back to the community as much as we could."

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