Everyday Heroes Continued




Gary Roberts, fire prevention officer for the Payson Ranger Station of the Tonto National Forests, is proud to see that the efforts of so many people to reduce the fire hazard to the Rim country are beginning to pay off.

Tonto National Forest

His is the name and face Rim country residents are most familiar with when there is a wildfire in our national forest.

Gary Roberts is the district fire prevention officer for the Payson Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest and the fire information officer for the Northern Arizona Incident Management Team.

Roberts has made his home in Payson since August 1997 and went to work for the Forest Service in May 1998.

"I've lived all over the West," Roberts said. He said he and his wife came to Payson for a change of scenery.

"I have always had a deep love of the outdoors and have worked for both national and state parks, as well as the Forest Service," he said.

Roberts also has worked in a variety of areas of the fire service. He has been a firefighter and a lookout.

"As district fire prevention officer, I have a terrific boss in Bob Ortlund, who cuts me loose to do what I need to do to educate the public about fire prevention."

He said the two of them share the vision about what will help prevent wildfires.

Roberts believes the most pressing need is to educate the public about what makes a forest healthy, but keeping it healthy is a team effort. It involves not only education, but lots of work by lots of people from different agencies, in the field doing clearing, prescribed burns, using the goats to go after the underbrush and the men and women who fight the fires that can't be prevented.

"Most people today have grown up seeing a forest that is not healthy," he said. But over the years he has seen a change in perspective, with more people working to make their homes defensible and agencies cultivating relationships of cooperation.

He said when he first started working as fire prevention officer, it was hard for him to get people's attention, but he has started to see the mind set change and the awareness level increasing.

When Roberts is not working, he and his wife enjoy outdoor adventures. One of their most recent was to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim in a day. They started on the North Rim around dawn, went into the canyon and were up on the South Rim by sunset.



Craig Swartwood

Realtor, former mayor

After 30 years in Payson, including four on the town council and four as mayor, a fair number of Rim country residents know Craig Swartwood.

Swartwood is one of the Roundup's Rim country residents of note for his efforts to get the override bond passed for the Payson Unified School District in 2004.

He said he decided to get behind the bond because his children had grown up in Payson and he felt they had been given a high quality education.

"I noticed a mass exodus of educators and heard about things from my wife, who is a nurse at the school," Swartwood said. "People used to beg to come up here, but it has become more and more difficult to recruit quality educators."

He said he felt the problem was primarily rooted in the district's financial situation.

"There was no way they could get ahead of the curve with available funding, so I decided to be involved in this and present it to the public," Swartwood said.

He said, in his experience, the voters of Payson would pass bond issues if they made sense, and he pointed to the Green Valley Park project as an example.

"The bond was as worthy as anything else we'd seen," he said.

Looking back, Swartwood said he would not change anything they did because they were successful.

"I felt we did a very good job getting the word out. I had hoped the district would have kept reaching out. People have choices for education," he said. Because there are choices, he'd like to see the school district market itself.

"We have a wonderful district with good people," he said. "The story should be told more frequently than when there's an emergency."

Swartwood said he thinks the Payson district could be a model for the state.

"Part of that is staying in touch with the constituency and stake holders," he said.

The people he thinks would do the best job at outreach for the district are the school principals.

"Too many good things go unnoticed. Bring them out so people know about it."

In addition to his work for the override bond and service on the town council and as mayor, Swartwood has contributed his talents to the chamber, the parks and recreation advisory board, the economic development board and the town's surface transportation committee.

He said the strength he brings to his community service is an ability to get "doers" involved.

"(The bond) wouldn't have happened without them. It was a great group of people."

He said when he gets involved in something it is because he has a passion for the project.



Music takes a major place in Marilyn Wolfe's life, she is president of the Tonto Community Concert Association and is organist and pianist for the Payson United Methodist Church. But it's her little Yorkie, Holly, who holds a special place in her heart.

Payson United Methodist Church

A high-stress job made Marilyn Wolfe's husband, Dick, take an early retirement. They spent weekends driving around the state to find a place to build their retirement home.

"Payson met all our needs, so we bought two lots here in Forest Park in 1989," she said.

They started building their home and finished it in May 1992. A builder did the shell for them and they finished the inside themselves.

Almost as soon as the Wolfes moved into their new home, they became involved in both the Payson Art League and the Tonto Community Concert Association. The couple also found a church, Payson United Methodist, and became active in it as well.

In fact, Wolfe is on staff at the church, serving as its organist and pianist. She started taking piano lessons when she was only 3 and continued with them all through grade school, but then rebelled a little and stopped studying music.

"I didn't pursue it for several years, but since we have been here I've got back into it," she said.

She puts in between 15 and 20 hours a week to prepare the music for the church. An Easter cantata is planned by the church, so more time will be devoted to her music in the coming weeks.

"We're proud of our little church," Wolfe said. "It has a very loving and generous congregation."

Later Wolfe started working with the APS/Main Street Electric Light Parade, chairing the event in 2002 and 2003.

"The whole Main Street program is very special to both Dick and me and we want to see that succeed," she said.

That is why the couple has most recently put their energies toward getting a replica of the Zane Grey cabin constructed in Green Valley Park.

"The Zane Grey Cabin is a full-time job," she said.

They have been with the project since July 2003. Wolfe is the treasurer of the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation and president of the Tonto Community Concert Association.

"I'm sort of an organization freak," she said. "I like things done well and I like to see things happen quickly. There had been other attempts to get the cabin built, but this time we decided it was going to happen."

As for TCCA, the current effort is to raise $30,000 for a grand piano for the concert artists.

"My first love is the TCCA," she said. "I truly love going to Nashville to meet the artists."

The next big push for TCCA is to do more student outreach. One of this season's artists, Alpin Hong, will be working with students and next season, there will be three outreach programs, she said.

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