Everyday Heroes

Meet the folks who earned nominations for the Roundup's Man, Woman of the Year award

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Each year for the Roundup's annual "Progress" edition, residents from throughout the Rim country nominate outstanding citizens for the Man and Woman of the Year honors. While only one man and one woman can earn these designations, their selection does not lessen the value of the contributions made by the other residents nominated.

This year, to pay tribute to those other outstanding residents, this "Progress" edition includes their profiles as "Rim country residents of note."

MIKE AMON

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Mike Amon

Amon Builders, Inc.

Look around at the new buildings throughout Payson. Check the dedication plaque if there is one, chances are it will include the name "Amon Builders." Mike Amon and his company are helping build the new Payson, and they have been doing it for 16 years.

The Amon name is on town buildings -- such as the police department and the public library -- and on commercial structures -- including the new National Bank of Arizona being built on the southwest corner of Main Street and Beeline Highway. It is a name that will be found on about a half-dozen churches and the new RTA Hospice and Palliative Care Hospice House on S. Mud Springs Road.

Amon and his company started on the Hospice House project about four years ago.

"It was a design and build project," Amon said. "We worked with an architect to design a project to fit their needs and budget."

Amon, a tall, imposing figure with a flowing beard and receding hairline, has made his home in Payson for 23 years. He worked for several contractors before starting his own business a little more than 15 years ago.

"Back then, there were only about six companies around, so everyone had to work for all of them to make a living," he said. "One time it was so slow, I even had to drive back and forth to Phoenix to keep food on the table."

The lean times didn't deter Amon though, and now he considers himself, his family and his company very blessed.

And because he feels so blessed, he has made it a practice to give back to the community.

He was a very active supporter of high school rodeo when his son participated -- never missing a competition in four years.

He has helped St. Vincent de Paul, the Optimists, the Gila Foundation for Higher Education, the DARE program, the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Muscular Dystrophy Association, plus his contributions to numerous other community charities. He said his next community project is going to be helping bring a YMCA to town.

"The more I give out, the more I get back in return," Amon said. "The good Lord has really blessed us."

He has also tried to keep his sons involved in the community. Amon has four sons; a fifth boy died in 1996.

When not running his company, Amon enjoys motorcycle riding. In fact, he said he tries to average 10,000 miles a year on his bike. Most recently he completed the Three Flags runs from Mexicali, Mexico to Keleona, Canada.

Seeing so much of the country from a motorcycle, Amon admits he's given some thought to moving somewhere else.

"But I can't find any place better," Amon said. "Payson is a great place to live. It has a terrific clime and wonderful people I want to be around."

SUNNY CLARK

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Sunny Clark has a special gift for reaching out. She greets members of the congregation and visitors to Mountain Bible Church every Sunday, like longtime member George "Spud" Henry. Clark also tries to visit Henry every week at Payson Care Center.

Mountain Bible Church

True to her name, Sunny Clark, has a disposition that puts a smile in her soft voice. And she brings a bright light into the lives of the people who come into her life.

"She is always helping others throughout the community," writes Mary Smith in her nomination. "In 2003, she made 188 boxes for Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child program and in 2004, she made 657. She is very dedicated to serving others."

Clark said she became involved with the Operation Christmas Child program after reading the brochure and deciding it was something she could do. She was introduced to it by her daughter-in-law, Terry, whose mother, Louann Barker, coordinates the program.

Clark came to Payson 18 years ago. She had traveled through the area and really liked it because it reminded her of Vermont and Connecticut with the mountains and trees.

She has been very active with Mountain Bible Church over the years, joining the congregation soon after the church organized. She serves in the church's greeting kiosk, welcoming members and visitors, sharing information about the church, giving newcomers direction to services and classes. Clark also cleans the church buildings.

She has also started making regular visits to Payson Care Center to visit members of the church who are now residents there.

Clark is making plans for another project in the coming months.

"I want to do a fund-raiser for what they call Jesus Wells in India," she said. "It takes between $500 and $1,000 to build a well in communities where there is no clean water."

She said she is thinking about organizing a steak fry in Rumsey Park once the weather warms up, but has not made any final arrangements yet.

When not involved in her church work, Clark enjoys hiking with her son, Jesse and his family -- his wife, Terry, and their daughter, Abby, and now, new son, Zachary. Jesse and Terry make their home in Payson, and the rest of Clark's family -- her mother, five sisters and a brother -- live in Connecticut, where she was born.

She likes spending time with her grandchildren. Abby is 3 and Zachary was born in January. Both suffered from hydrocephalus at birth and had to have shunts, but both are doing fine now, she said.

Clark is also a fan of Creative Memories scrapbooking. In the middle of her knotty pine-paneled living room, she has a big table covered with scrapbooks, photos and supplies in front of her fireplace. The books are filled with photos and memories of adventures with her family and activities with her friends and fellow members of the congregation.

"Loving God and loving others," Clark said this is how she tries to live her life and instill in others.

ROBERT CLOSS

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Bob Closs

Payson Food Bank

Bob Closs came to Payson is 1996 to retire. He was a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and when the people running the food pantry for St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church decided to retire themselves, St. Vincent's took it over and Closs gave up his retirement.

"Closs is the president of the St. Vincent de Paul Rim Country Food Bank," writes Joe Gasiel in his nomination, "Because of his leadership, the society has been able to keep up with the growing needs of the community ... It has now grown to the point where the food bank helped more than 16,000 people last year. The society also helps with prescription medicine, utility, travel and lodging programs."

Gasiel is one of the volunteers who helps Closs with the food bank.

When Closs started his work with the food bank, about six families a week were being helped; now 100 families are provided for by the charity.

"We help them with further needs," Closs said. "We never refuse anyone, but we do share information with other agencies."

The information helps the volunteers make use of the resources the community has available for those in need, whether they are residents or people passing through who become stranded for some reason.

A whole crew of volunteers help Closs keep the food bank operating. The bank is open for distributions from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday, volunteers come in and restock the shelves with food.

"We're looking at being open on Saturday for a couple of hours," Closs said. "That way, people who can't get in here during the week can come in, and volunteers who would like to give some time, but only have the weekends free can be all be taken care of."

Serving as president of the food bank requires a lot of activity from Closs. He said he spends from three to four hours every day taking care of its business.

"We don't save (the money we receive), we spend it and it comes back in," Closs said. "It's like that magic basket of bread. You take out the last loaf to give someone and then reaching back in, discover there is still more bread. We have faith and help our neighbors."

Closs' next big project is to get a modular or pre-fabricated building for the food bank and put it on the northeast corner of the church's property.

Closs lived in Cochise and Wickenburg before moving to Payson, and spent several years in New Mexico.

"We love it," he said. "The trees reminded us of upper Michigan, which is where we're from originally."

PATRICIA COLBERT

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Patricia Colbert

Denny's Restaurant

Helpful, fair, honest, the best, sweet, awesome, friendly, strong, kind, an inspiration -- these are the words used to describe Patricia Colbert in nominations for the Roundup's Woman of the Year.

Colbert is the manager of Denny's, where she has worked for 10 years, and has been a resident of Payson for 14 years.

She came to the Rim country from Phoenix because she wanted to raise the youngest of her four children in a smaller community.

"I also wanted to bet out of the city," Colbert admits. Being from Phoenix, Payson was not unexplored territory. She and her family had visited the area frequently before making the move.

When she's not running Denny's -- which is sometimes a 24-7 job -- Colbert and her husband enjoy camping and fishing. Their favorite spot is Woods Canyon.

"I like all the trees," she said. "We have a special place there we found years ago."

Until this year, when her son became too old, they were a Little League family and Colbert helped with the program's fund-raisers.

"He wants to play football next year, so we will be involved in that too," she said.

Asked what she feels is the best part of Payson and the Rim country, Colbert was quick to say the people.

"The people are the best. There are not more generous, caring, concerned people in a community," she said.

She said seeing the new businesses in town has been the biggest change she's noticed in Payson, such as the Super Wal-Mart, the Door Stop and the soon-to-open Home Depot.

Colbert said she would like to see more things for young people and is excited that there is talk of getting a recreation center.

"Nothing would be better," she said. "They need to keep the kids involved too, in making the rules and enforcing them."

Colbert has 32 people employed at Denny's, in both full- and part-time positions. She said the strongest quality all of them bring to the job is a sense of dedication to serving the customers. "They give their best and all to everyone who comes in. The people here go that extra mile."

On the other hand, young people coming to her for a job need some pointers, she said.

"Young people don't seem to know how to fill out an application or dress and present themselves properly for a job interview," Colbert said. "It's not all of them, but the majority. You don't come for a job interview in hip huggers and your midriff hanging out."

Something she would like to see given more attention in the community is the drug problem.

"I see a lot of it," she said. "I have even sponsored someone getting cleaned up and let them live in my home. I don't see any help for the children." She said there needs to be some counseling for children with parents in the system.

"They say their mom's in jail, so they are afraid of and hate the cops. They need to be taught that it's a way to help their mother, so they don't go down the same road. I see it happening all the time."

TERESA FENDER

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Teresa Fender, pictured here with son, Mikey, and fiancee, Ray Wilson, is one of the angels of RTA Hospice and Palliative Care. A certified nurse assistant, she provides comfort and care for the patients and their families.

RTA Hospice and Palliative Care

Coming from New York to the Rim country almost five years ago was quite a culture shock for Teresa Fender. But it was a change she wanted to make.

"It was something for a change and I wanted to raise my son in a small town," she said.

She first lived in Deer Creek Village and then three years ago came to Payson.

In addition to caring for her 11-year-old son, Mikey, whom she said is very precious to her, Fender works for RTA Hospice and Palliative Care as a certified nurse assistant.

"I love my job," she said. "It's very rewarding to take care of people."

That love of her work was rewarded when Fender was given the hospice's Compassionate Care Award.

"The best part of the work is just being able to give comfort to the patients and see a smile on their face," Fender said. "It's so rewarding to walk into someone's house and see a smile on their face. And it's hard, but you're making them feel better and helping the families."

Naturally, the hardest part of the job is seeing the patients die.

As much as Fender loves her job, her world revolves around Mikey. The people who nominated her both did so because all she has done for her son.

"She has given up everything to care for Mikey," writes Penny Gilmore in her nomination.

"He's great," Fender said of Mikey. "He's my special little guy. He plays football and basketball and wants to get into wrestling."

Gilmore said Fender helps him with homework -- he gets mostly A's and B's -- and she listens to his reading. She never misses a game, even those out of town, and takes the boy sledding and to stock car races on the weekends. She took Mikey on a vacation to her native New York and made sure he was able to visit his grandmother in Las Vegas.

"Teresa spends every penny she has for Mikey," writes Gilmore. "She sees that he goes to church and in the summer, she sends him to Bible camp. When the holidays come, Mikey gets whatever he has asked for.

"We're a very happy family," Fender said.

JIM HILL

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Jim Hill

The Door Stop

While Jim Hill has made his home in the Rim country just a little more than a year, he has had more press than most folks see in their lifetimes.

In November 2003, Hill opened The Door Stop, a cabinet manufacturing company, in the Payson industrial park. It was a struggle to get the business in Payson and it has been a point of controversy from the day the doors opened.

"It was 15 minutes after we opened the doors, and this man came in and said he hoped we could resolve this without a lawsuit," Hill recalled. "I said I hoped so too and then asked him what needed to be resolved. It was the noise."

Since then Hill and a group of residents who organized into Citizens Against Noise and Industrial Travesty (CANIT) have, in fact, resolved the noise issue without a lawsuit. But the steps Hill has tried to take to mitigate the problem -- moving the equipment that captures the sawdust -- have been held up twice due to anonymous complaints made to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality about the same dust.

"In my opinion, the noise is not the issue. Our efforts are being prevented by the same people," Hill said.

Hill has operated the same company in Chandler for 20 years -- it has since moved to Mesa. No one ever complained about anything, he said. "We were never in the paper."

He said he made the decision to come to Payson after he and his general manager visited a small cabinet door facility in Hollister, Calif., south of the Bay area.

"We wanted to know he was able to get people to stay on the job," Hill said. It was a community of about 15,000 residents and the company had employees that had been with it for more than 20 years. Hill's company was in a community of 3 million and the turnover was high.

He said the owner told him, many of his employees were people who had grown up in the little town and did not move away.

"We wanted to explore that and visited several communities in Arizona," Hill said. "We looked at Payson just as they were finishing the road (Highway 87) and thought with the road it would not be too bad to deliver to the Valley."

He said 87 percent of the company's sales are in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Hill said he and his wife, Sioux, talked to the people at the chamber of commerce and they were interested in having the company come to Payson.

He said when people started criticizing the idea of bringing the company to Payson, he and his wife were shocked.

Hill is not a man easily deterred. He said he has a dream for his company -- doing all the manufacturing in Payson -- and his detractors are not going to stop him.

"We will do whatever it takes," he said.

The company presently employs 70 people, including about a dozen who came up from the Chandler plant when the business first started and have since moved to the area.

"The thing we offer up here -- because we're new and not all supervisor jobs are filled -- is a tremendous opportunity to advance. If a person makes themselves indispensable, I will apply a golden handcuff," Hill said.

ROSE HILL

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Rose Hill keeps her large family of seven children, pictured here with an exchange student, organized and running smoothly, making special effort to stay involved with their various activities.

Homemaker

She will celebrate 20 years of marriage to Dan Hill in June, and the following month the couple will welcome their eighth child. Their seven children range in age from 17 to 2.

Rose Hill should be frazzled, but she is calm, soft-spoken and bubbling over with joy. Those qualities earned her a nomination by the young friend of her 13-year-old daughter, Emily.

"She is smiling, happy and kind all the time," writes Maddie Nossek in her nomination. "And (she) will give a ride to anyone who needs it."

The Hills came to Payson in June 1999, but they weren't strangers to the community. Dan had grown up in Mesa and Rose from Tempe.

"We used to come up here to go tubing in the snow when we were children," she said.

Before coming to Payson, the Hills had made their home in Ketchikan, Alaska for seven years.

"Dan had been selling La-Z-Boy for years and saw an ad saying a store manager was needed in Ketchikan," she said.

He won the job and the couple, who met at Arizona State University, made the move from arid Arizona to the rain forests of Alaska.

"We were excited to come back," she said. "Payson is so wonderful."

Her primary job is taking care of her large and growing family, but when she has some free time, she enjoys reading fiction. Through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she is able to pursue another interest -- crafts.

"But it has to be something I can finish in one night, or it just gets scattered everywhere," she said.

She also likes to sew and also is a pianist and uses her talents with the primary classes at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Hill is trained as a registered nurse, but has not practiced in the field since before her oldest daughter was born. She has her license on inactive status, but is grateful for the things she learned in her training.

Hill and her husband, Dan, who owns Legacy Home Furnishings, do a lot of things with their children and Hill's brother, Will Wearne, and his family. Wearne is Dan's partner in the business.

Hill helps her daughter, Melissa, 10, make hats for charity, and works with Charlotte and Emily on their Young Women's Organization projects.

The organization is a program the LDS church has for girls between the ages of 12 and 18, she explained. It outlines seven areas in which the members are to set goals and when all the goals have been met, the girl is given "Young Womanhood Recognition."

"I'm so glad they have worthwhile programs," Hill said, comparing the Young Women's Organization to the Boy Scouts, in which her husband and sons are very active.

The Hills' children are Charlotte, 17; David, 16; Emily; Melissa; Joseph, 10; Linda, 4; and Mary, 2. Dan Hill was last year's Man of the Year.

RONNIE O. McDANIEL

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Ronnie McDaniel

Retired justice of the peace

He has been in Payson all his life and served the Rim country for 40 years as a member of the Gila County Sheriff's Office, on the school board for the Payson Unified School District and as town magistrate and justice of the peace.

Ronnie McDaniel retired from all those years of service in November. "I'm enjoying (retirement), but I still feel like I should be going in," McDaniel said. "I get up and get dressed and then have no place to go."

The thing he misses most about his work is seeing and talking to the people and being able to help, especially young people in trouble for the first time.

"A judge in the lower courts really has the power to do that. I hope that continues," he said. "There are a lot of options in the way you can enforce the law."

On the other side of the equation, the thing he does not miss are the civil cases.

"They can be very nasty," he said. "The parties are already so angry with each other and you have to deal with that. Hardly any judge likes them."

Since his retirement, McDaniel has been recovering from knee replacement and bypass surgery. He also has been working around the house he shares with his wife, Diane.

"I have 40 years of accumulation to deal with," he said. "I have about six months of that kind of work, but it will probably take a couple of years, since there is hunting and fishing to do and golf to play."

He expects to be traveling. He said he is hoping to go to Alaska, Canada and some of the southern states. He also plans to make a trip to Arkansas where his hunting buddies have homes.

And, he'll be spending time with his five grandchildren. McDaniel's daughter, Tippi and her husband, Jay Simon, have two sons, Justin and Chase, and make their home in Queen Creek. His son, Tony, and his wife Tiffany, live in Payson with their three children, daughters Brittany and Torie, and a son, Hunter.

And while McDaniel will be visiting other places, don't expect him to be packing up and leaving. He said he has never had any desire to be anywhere but Payson.

"When I was rodeoing, I went to a lot of different, beautiful places, but coming home off the Rim or up from Phoenix and seeing the Rim, it was so beautiful I don't know that I ever thought about moving. It's always been a great place."

All his friends and family have kept him in Payson too,

"I don't think I could leave my family and friends for anywhere else."

He said all the good people in Payson have made him stay put.

"They always join to help others and they've always been good to me in my political life. I can't think of any place in the country that would be as good," he said.

"Payson's just a really great place to live and a lot of people don't seem to realize it. If people took as much time doing something as they take talking about it, more would get done."

GEORGE NUSSHART

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George Nusshart

Safeway

He has been nominated as one of the friendliest people in Payson several times, but the honor of being nominated for Man of the Year really had George Nusshart overwhelmed.

"I like to joke around and have fun," he said. "This is pretty serious."

In nominating Nusshart, Erin Roggenstein said, "George is always positive and helpful in any way."

"I'm a real people person," Nusshart said.

He and his wife, Mary, have made their home in Payson for 12 years and he has been a part of the Safeway family the entire time.

"When I retired, I realized if I wanted extra things in life, I couldn't do it with just Social Security, so I needed a part-time job," he said.

Nusshart went to work as a courtesy clerk for Safeway, then was assigned to the bakery, where he worked for three years.

"Dave Lyons, who was the manager then, said with my personality I should go out on the floor and help take care of the customers," Nusshart said.

He loved the work and then had more tasks added. Now he continues to work on the floor, but is also assigned to fill in at different departments.

"Pleasing customers is my No. 1 ability and it gives me a wonderful feeling," he said. "And it's so much needed in these times."

He said working with people is what he enjoys the most, but he also likes to work in the bakery.

"I know the job and I can see the job get done," he said. "You come in and see all these carts of inventory and getting it all put away, you know you've accomplished something."

Nusshart's background is in route sales and when he was working he was away from home 60 to 70 hours a week.

"I contribute my success to my wonderful wife, Mary. We have lots of togetherness now, we're very close," he said. "If you're happy at home, you take that with you to work. It's a gift from God. She is my mentor and a beautiful person."

Nusshart said he considers himself just an average person.

"I've enjoyed Payson and all my customers and friends. It's a privilege being in this town," he said.

When not working at Safeway, Nusshart said he and his wife used to do yard work, but they have since moved to a different home and have very little yard to work in anymore, which suits him just fine.

He likes reading, his wife cooks and they enjoy sports, especially the Diamondbacks and the Suns, and working on puzzles. He said he also likes to follow Payson High School sports and attends as many games as he can. He also does a little fishing at Green Valley Lake.

JEAN OLIVER

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Jean Oliver

Time Out Domestic Violence Shelter

She has been acknowledged for her contributions to the community before, earning the 1996 Woman of the Year award. Jean Oliver doesn't stop, she keeps perking along, giving her all to help others.

"Jean would do whatever she could to help others," writes Marcy Rogers of Payson Community Kids in her nomination. "She is a great example of how much one person can contribute to the community.

"When we ask for help, she never says ‘No.'"

Rogers was last year's Woman of the Year.

Oliver has made her home in Payson since 1983. Her late husband, Nick, had owned property in the community since the 1970s and came here to retire.

"I wasn't ready to retire," Oliver said. "I stayed down for about three months, but then I had to get back to work."

Her background is in health, education and administration, so she went to work in a doctor's office and worked in several over the years.

One of the doctors she worked for was Michael Salwitz. His wife, Georgia, invited her to be on the board of directors for Time Out, Inc. in December 1994. She joined and in August 1995 missed a meeting and was appointed chairperson. Oliver served as the chair of Time Out's board until 2000.

"In 2000 we opened the transitional housing program," Oliver said. "I resigned from the board to do that (run the transitional program) and run the volunteer program, which we were revamping."

Last year, Oliver started wearing another hat.

"We decided we needed an education coordinator," she said. "I'd been running two or three groups and was asked to take the post. I turned over transitional housing to someone else."

She said the education groups had grown so much, formal coordination was needed.

"It is one of our greatest strengths," she said. "I'm a great believer that education is the key to solving any problem."

Oliver still presents a variety of education programs for both Time Out and Gila Community College.

The women's shelter also provides speakers for clubs and organizations throughout the Rim country and Oliver coordinates that aspect of the program as well.

Among the education programs: domestic violence awareness; inner child; post traumatic stress disorder; work ethics; and life skills. The Time Out life skills class is the only one of its kind in Gila County and teaches participants about nutrition, banking, health and fitness and sometimes self-defense.

"We're very proud of this program," Oliver said. She said she thinks she gets more out of the work of Time Out than the clients do.

"The most rewarding part of the work is believing that you're helping to make a difference," she said.

She said the Time Out program could not do what it does without the volunteers. "They make it possible to provide our programs at no charge."

Oliver has been a member of the Soroptimists of Zane Grey Country since 1990 and also is in the congregation of Shepherd of the Pines Lutheran Church.

"I'm a very fortunate person," Oliver said.

"I really love the Rim country, it's just wonderful."

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