Top 10 People Of Influence

The Roundup selected 10 people 'in the know' -- Rim country residents who have shaped the lives of their fellow man


JUDY BAKER, Mogollon Health Alliance

No one can accuse Judy Baker of being lazy.

As executive director of the Mogollon Health Alliance, the nonprofit organization which owns the hospital, health education is Baker's devotion -- and she gets things done.

"I learned early in life that you have to ask for things and if people say no, don't take it personally," Baker said. "You have to ask and then follow through."

Baker is a 29-year resident of Payson and said she has always been active in fund-raising for nonprofit organizations, including a long tenure as president of the Mogollon Sporting Association and former board member of RTA Hospice.

The MHA used to run the hospital until financial problems nearly forced them to close up shop.

"Community Health Systems stepped up to the plate and leased the hospital for 18 years," Baker said. "They've done such a good job and it's grown so much."

Now the MHA puts all the money it raises back into the community.

MHA sponsors a multitude of projects, including the annual Women's Health Forum, Community Health Fair and the Safety First program in schools.

"Our main focus is health education in the community, so we focus on education programs for kids to adults," Baker said. "Our Community Health Fair is for those people who fall through cracks -- people without health insurance or those who can't afford basic health tests."

Those who go to the fair can get flu shots, blood tests and dental exams for the children.

Baker works with many local entities to encourage residents to stay healthy.

"We have the MHAXIII/ Health Plus program we run with the Payson Athletic Club for patients with cardiovascular problems, obesity, fibromyalgia and other health issues," she said. "We also do our year-round CPR classes in the community and we have classes through the community college. And we are desperately trying to get the nursing program started through the college. We should know by May whether we got the grant or not."

The MHA also gives out $25,000 worth of scholarships to people who want to pursue a career in a health-related field.

"Many people don't know this, but we can pay travel expenses for people who have to drive out of town for classes to get a degree or certification in a health-related field, such as EMT training," Baker said.

The MHA also received a grant for rural fire departments -- $18,000 to train their volunteers.

PETER CAHILL, Superior Court Judge

When Judge Edd Dawson left for Peru to do humanitarian work a year into his term, Peter Cahill was elected to finish his term as Gila County Superior Court Judge.

The soft-spoken and eloquent Cahill determines the consequences of everyone from incorrigible juveniles to murderers and handles each case with the same care and attention.

Cahill graduated from law school in Massachusetts, at a time when employment was scarce. "I wanted to be a VISTA volunteer, and I came to Arizona in 1974 and there was an opening at Legal Aid in Globe," Cahill said. "I was intrigued by rural Arizona."

Cahill worked for six years as a Legal Aid lawyer, traveling to Payson a few times a month to assist those who could not afford a lawyer. Almost 30 years later, Cahill travels up and down the hill as one of the county's highest legal authorities.

"A lot of criminal law is about second chances," Cahill said. "It's rare that someone gets dealt with harshly on their first offense. The real question is how we deal with recidivism -- those people who get in trouble over and over again."

Cahill said he makes a conscious effort not to become jaded by those who come before him repeatedly.

"It's hard and you have to guard against becoming cynical," Cahill said. "You have to keep an open mind and look at the facts that come before you in each individual case."

Three or four times a week, Cahill must make the decision to send someone to prison.

"Prisons are places for people who need to be away from us," Cahill said. "And sometimes, people just need to be punished for what they've done. I don't have any illusions that I am doing someone a favor by sending them to prison -- they will probably come out angrier."

Cahill's compassion and respect for those who come before him is evidenced by his demeanor, but leniency is earned in his courtroom -- he is capable of making the most hardened criminal weep without ever raising his voice.

Even in a jam-packed, chaotic courtroom, and a mammoth stack of cases before him, Cahill displays a Zen-like calm. Unperturbed and composed, Cahill remains a sturdy spoke in the wheel of justice.

LT. DON ENGLER, Payson Police Department

Don Engler is the unassuming second in command of the Payson Police Department. Engler is liaison to press and public, but also heads up a narcotics squad, the Special Response Team, and supervises every officer, detective and sergeant in the department.

Police Chief Gordon Gartner, who has worked with Engler for 20 years, credits him with many of the department's accomplishments and hopes he will take his place upon his retirement.

"Hopefully, he's the next guy to get the chief's job," Gartner said. "In 39 months I have to retire. It's time to start grooming somebody and he's it -- he'll do a great job."

According to his officers, Engler does the work of four men, yet always makes time for them.

"His officers have great respect for him," Gartner said. "You can tell because people go to him. They are always walking in and out of his office -- they call him, and that is a sign of someone people respect. They go to him because they value what he thinks."

As commander of the Special Response Team, the seven-member squad that handles high-risk operations, Engler has resolved some tense situations without incident.

"We have done many operations that have gone off without incident -- without any serious injuries or death," Gartner said. "I attribute that to him because he is fanatical about training and that's what makes a difference."

Gartner said Engler was not only instrumental in starting the SRT, but formed the town's own narcotics squad.

"When we brought our people back from the task force in 2001, we had to create our own program," Gartner said. "He led the charge on that and now we have made some really good progress in a short amount of time."

Engler and his officers have made countless drug arrests this year, helped put dealers behind bars, and pushed meth labs out of town.

Engler has promoted new sergeants, trained and delegated specific responsibilities to them.

"There is a big learning curve with new supervisors," Gartner said. "He has done a great job of training them and handing over certain responsibilities to them."

Engler also will be involved in the new CAD-RMS -- the high-tech system that residents voted to fund with a bond in September.

"In the near future, his role will be implementing our new computer-aided dispatch systems and record-keeping," Gartner said.

When Engler is not working, he spends time with his family, coaches sports and has even served on the school board.

"He's a great guy," Gartner said. "A good family man -- He is the ‘go-to guy.' He is the guy that can fill in when you leave. He can do it all, from managing a budget to personnel decisions to creating new programs. He's the kind of guy a community needs."

SCOTT FLAKE, Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation

When Scott Flake became the director of the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation in March 2001, he took on a big job -- bringing business and tourism to Rim country.

Since that time, Flake has been all over getting Payson and surrounding areas noticed.

"He is constantly working behind the scenes," town councilor Judy Buettner said. "People aren't aware of all that he is doing."

Buettner said that Flake has been recognized statewide as one of the best economic development directors.

"He doesn't blow his own horn and I admire him a lot," Buettner said. "He just keeps going and he has some real obstacles here with the water issue and the land issue. He is out trying to get people to come here and he is limited by money -- he can't put big ads out there like some communities."

Flake is described by many as a nice guy who is immensely dedicated to Payson.

"That's him in a nutshell," Buettner said.

His monthly reports which detail all the work he's been doing are a testament that he doesn't spend many days behind a desk.

In December, The Door Stop, Canyon Broadband, Schneider Rifle Barrels and White Mountain Manufacturing began their operations and Flake said some already have plans for expansion.

Flake is closed-mouth about what businesses he is courting, just as he is about listing his accomplishments.

He is currently working in conjunction with APS on Focus Future II, a year-long effort that will create a strategy for economic development. The project includes people from various aspects of the community who will contribute to the goal of improved quality of life.

"The idea is that we are all focusing on the same goals for economic development and quality of life," Flake said. "We want to complement each other and work synergistically rather than each of us going in a different direction. We can accomplish a lot more working together."

Flake also is dedicated to keeping Rim country a scenic get-away where out-of-towners come for a visit and spend their money.

BARBARA GANZ, Gila Community College

Barbara Ganz, president of the Gila Community College District, has been fighting to bring programs and funding to Payson's community college.

Energetic, unflappable and good-humored, Ganz has tirelessly devoted herself to the long-term objective of making Payson's community college into a first-rate institution, despite various impediments.

"I believe education can change society and our culture in a very positive way," Ganz said. "With each challenge that I've had, I have learned and been inspired. The more I accomplish, the more I choose to challenge myself and accomplish more."

Ganz not only has the normal administrative duties of presiding over three campuses -- Payson, Globe and San Carlos -- but has fought to penetrate the legislative labyrinth to get fair and adequate funding for the campus, despite a lack of support from the district's state legislators.

Ganz is keenly aware that a college is not only an educational institution, but also one of the most important catalysts for a community and its economic development. Ganz has been working with the Mogollon Health Alliance to bring a full nursing curriculum to the college. She also is working with the local law enforcement agencies to get a reserve police academy off the ground.

"The college has enormous potential in this community," she said.

Ganz has led the formation and growth of the Gila Foundation for Higher Education which raises funds for scholarships and resources for the campus. A funding drive is currently under way to get a concert-quality piano for the college to use in musical performances.

"I come from a family of people who typically do a lot of volunteer work and reach out to help," Ganz said. She grew up in Phoenix but has lived all over the country.

Ganz also will be working with Gila County Probation in helping juveniles in the system to get their GED.

Ganz helped turn Payson's college into an increasingly vibrant place. With her dedication and energy, the future looks bright for our institution of higher learning.

"The people here embrace that campus and love it," Ganz said. "They want to make it a greater part of their community."

DAISY FLORES, Gila County Attorney

Prosecuting murderers, drug dealers and an assorted array of criminals is the occupation of County Attorney Daisy Flores. Flores juggles hundreds of felony criminal cases, supervises 40 employees in two parts of the county, represents the U.S. in the sport of fencing and even has time to teach a course or two every semester at the community college.

Flores indicted 827 criminals in 2003, one-quarter of what Apache County does with a similar population. Cochise County indicted 824 people in 2003 and has twice the population.

Flores, a native of Gila County, was one of eight children raised in a working-class family in Globe. She graduated from Globe High School with the most honors ever received by a student, which earned her a scholarship to the University of Arizona.

After receiving a bachelors and a masters in near Eastern Studies, she earned a law degree.

"I was a small-town girl when I went to college," Flores said. "I had returned from being an exchange student on a U.S. Senate scholarship in Japan. I found the Middle East challenging in the learning of the language, the religions and the history of this troubled and historically significant land."

It was during law school that she clerked for former Gila County Attorney Jerry DeRose and discovered that she loved prosecuting criminals and assisting victims.

By 1997, she was a full-time prosecutor in his office.

Flores then spent a year in Texas, working for a private firm and getting some experience as a public defender.

"Texas law is much different than Arizona law," Flores said. "Their procedures in the criminal arena are mind-boggling and make being a prosecutor easy there -- but I was a defense attorney."

By 2001, Flores was back in her hometown and became chief deputy county attorney -- a short time later, she was elected to the position of county attorney.

"I loved the firm in Texas, but I really missed my family," Flores said.

Shortly before assuming the position of county attorney, Flores was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which impacted her outlook on life.

"You only live once," Flores said. "I was diagnosed with cancer and four months later, I won the North American Fencing Championship and became Gila County Attorney."

Flores' efforts have put local murderers Charles Johnson and Kevan Kuhlman behind bars for at least the next two decades.

Flores recently tried Wilbur Dazen, who attacked three women and assaulted three deputies while in custody.

"I convicted him in two separate trials and he will serve 22 years for attacking these women," Flores said. "He will go to trial next month for assaulting the deputies."

Flores said that trials aren't always in the best interest of justice.

"I don't think that trials always result in the fair result," Flores said. "Often the best guarantee for public safety and victim well-being is to resolve matters short of a trial. Going to trial, there is always a possibility that the defendant will walk free -- but sometimes you need to make a statement."

VELMA HODSON, Roosevelt Recovery Team

Velma Hodson, chairman of the Roosevelt Recovery Team, leapt into action for her neighbors following the flooding rains that destroyed homes in September. Since that time, Hodson worked relentlessly to get the attention of whomever she could to help those who had become homeless.

"It has been a team effort," Hodson said. "The other recovery team members and people in the community came to our aid."

When the flooded area did not meet the criteria for federal disaster relief funds, it looked as though no one could help those left homeless. Hodson refused to take no for an answer and kept the pressure on until a solution appeared.

"We found that the flood affected a much broader area than was realized and we began circulating damage surveys," Hodson said. "We've had more than 100 surveys come back and we are up to $1.3 million in damage."

This 28-year resident of the area describes herself humbly as an average person and an Aunt Bee look-alike, but there is nothing average about her. Her husband said she often spends all night exploring resources that might help her neighbors rebuild from the fury of Mother Nature.

Hodson and her team kept up the pressure at every level of government until some relief came their way. She even set up a Roosevelt Recovery website at

"There is some leftover money from the Rodeo/Chediski fire that can be used to buy people out," Hodson said.

After months of paperwork and phone calls, Gila County has put in the 25 percent required to get the $400,000 of federal funds. The money will be used to buy the properties of three families whose homes were not only destroyed, but now sit below Campaign Creek.

"The flood plain has changed dramatically," Hodson said. "There are still people at risk because debris completely filled the creekbed. Now we are just waiting on FEMA. They seem to be dragging their feet, but we've done our part -- now it's their turn."

Without the work of the Roosevelt Recovery Team with Hodson at the helm, many would not even know that such a devastating disaster occurred just an hour south of Payson.

"We all feel wonderful that some progress is being made," Hodson said. "There is still a long way to go and I'm sure we will still be dealing with this a couple of years from now."

CORY HOUGHTON, Payson Senior Circle and Payson Regional Medical Center

Most of Payson's seniors already know Cory Houghton through Senior Circle, and now that she has taken on a marketing position at Payson Regional Medical Center, the rest of the community is getting to know the energetic advocate for healthy living.

When Houghton took over as adviser for Payson Regional Senior Circle, a national program sponsored by Community Health Systems which runs PRMC, membership in the organization skyrocketed.

"The increase in our membership has allowed us to broaden our services to the community," Houghton said. "We try to fill those gaps in services to seniors."

Senior Circle offers Payson's mature population a variety of exercise classes, seminars on health-related topics, support groups and other membership benefits.

Houghton's respect for seniors is evidenced in the way she is inspired by those she helps on a daily basis, and she doesn't understand the stigma attached to growing old.

"I have a lot of good friends who are twice my age," she said. "We sit down and talk and the only difference between us is the life experiences they've had and how much they can teach me.

"I think there are two groups in this world that we need to advocate for and one is our senior population and the other is our children," she said. "There is one thing that you can be assured of -- if you get to live long enough, you will become a senior."

Houghton moved to Payson in 1999, looking for a safe, small-town environment to raise her daughters. Although she didn't have a job lined up, she had 20 years of experience in the medical field.

Houghton soon got a job managing a medical office and when Tori Ferrari left her position at Senior Circle, Houghton stepped in and took over the reins.

In the course of three years, the program has grown. Now 800 members strong, local seniors have a resource for health and wellness information and activities.

"We know exercise is very important," Houghton said. "We offer classes geared toward helping seniors maintain physical strength, flexibility and balance."

Houghton said that 300,000 people break their hips every year and that falling is most often the cause. Members can participate in a walking group, belly dancing, aquatics and attend seminars on health and wellness topics.

Houghton also assists members with navigating the complex world of health insurance.

"My job is to gather information and give it to people so they can educate themselves and make informed decisions," Houghton said.

"I have folders full of information of different prescription discount cards that are available -- and you don't have to be destitute to qualify for many of these programs."

Houghton has now taken on some of the work of former PRMC administrator Missy Spencer.

"It's incredible that a little community hospital can offer so many services," Houghton said. "We are really lucky to have this resource."

Making life better for the community's seniors is Houghton's passion.

"You can't live in this world and not care about people," Houghton said. "I care about seniors and I look for ways to make their lives better."

BUZZ WALKER, Payson Public Works director

Buzz Walker is someone who never minces a word and has made it his mission to give the people of Payson a good dose of reality on the value of water.

As director of Public Works, Walker has instituted conservation policies and introduced residents to some innovative methods of saving and finding water.

Walker's efforts and brutal honesty may keep Payson from experiencing a devastating water crisis. It was one year ago when the town passed a water conservation ordinance that put restrictions in place.

As a result of the new conservation ordinance, water use was down seven percent, just short of Walker's target reduction of 10 percent.

"Water is easy to take for granted," Walker said. "We are taking the next step to protect what we have."

Walker, who literally founded the town water department, said he approaches his job with a sense of humor.

"It's the only way to survive," Walker said. "Utility people are hard nuts. If you can't take a lot of pressure, you won't last. It's like natural selection."

In the past year, Walker has introduced Payson residents to some cutting edge technologies, including the non-invasive mapping of the Diamond Rim area.

Using an electrical current, a hydrologist can get information about the sub-surface geology.

"This won't find water," Walker said. "It will just define the most optimum places to drill."

Walker continues to navigate the bureaucracy of the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of the town to get permission to drill exploratory wells.

The Blue Ridge Reservoir may be a partial solution to Rim country's water woes, he said.

Located atop the Mogollon Rim near Clint's Well, Blue Ridge is an option Walker continues to explore.

On a smaller scale, Walker and his department have introduced things like low-flow toilets, recirculation pumps, sinks with motion sensors and waterless urinals to town residents and businesses.

Walker holds firm on Payson's need to limit development in accordance to the town's available water supply. While some developers have tried to circumvent the requirement of finding their own adequate water supply if they go beyond the 20-lot maximum, Walker can't be shaken.

From toilets to high-tech imagery, the town can rest easy in the fact that Walker is watching and protecting our water supply, turning every rock for additional sources, and looking ahead with a realistic perspective.

DICK WOLFE, Payson Town Councilor

Dick Wolfe has been an instrumental player in his four years on the Payson Town Council, not just in advocating for projects and issues relevant to the working class, but also in those that preserve the history and culture of Rim country.

"I've been in public service my entire adult life and politics was just a natural outgrowth of that," Wolfe said.

Wolfe began a career in law enforcement. Before becoming Chief Special Agent for six states attorneys general, Wolfe investigated organized crime, consumer fraud and public corruption in the Valley.

Upon retirement, he and his wife, Marilyn, moved to Payson in 1992.

Wolfe has championed the causes that benefit those struggling to make a living in Payson -- affordable housing and economic development.

"I see economic development as an answer to a lot of our problems," Wolfe said. "Bringing jobs here that pay people a living wage will help families afford to buy this high-priced real estate."

Wolfe was instrumental in helping the Door Stop, which now employs more than 60 people, jump through the town's bureaucratic hoops.

Thanks to Wolfe and the current council, Payson now has affordable housing and will soon have low-income housing for seniors in the Green Valley area.

Revitalizing Main Street and the Green Valley area is something Wolfe was active in even prior to becoming a councilor. Wolfe helped to get the new Deming Pioneer Park built, which honors one of Rim country's pioneer families.

More recently, Wolfe is leading the community fund-raising for the reconstruction of the Zane Grey cabin, to be located at Green Valley Park. The original cabin burned down in the Dude Fire of 1990 and used to draw 20,000 visitors a year.

Beyond his work in the political arena, Wolfe is an artist and has been an active member of the artist community.

Wolfe creates stunning jewelry and won Artist of the Year in the 1999 Best of Payson contest.

"I'm really a craftsman, not an artist," Wolfe said.

Wolfe also has stood firmly behind projects that improve quality of life and has been a staunch advocate for parks and preserving our forests.

Although Wolfe will no longer sit on the town council, no doubt he will remain an influential force in making Payson a wonderful place to live.

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