Payson's Man Of The Year

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Melvin Van Vorst is not a stereotypical bean-counter accountant type. He has done far more for the Rim country community than just sit on a board or two. He is a man, according to his coworkers and associates, who gets the job done.

Van Vorst has been a driving force behind revitalizing and keeping historic sites open in Pine and Strawberry. Van Vorst's mission started one day when he wanted to visit the schoolhouse, which was closed. He was annoyed. His wife, Judy, told him to stop complaining and do something about it.

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At one time Melvin Van Vorst thought he wanted to be a professional singer. "My sister and I sang together ... I started singing when I was taking piano lessons." Van Vorst's piano teacher heard him singing and decided to give him voice lessons for free.

According to many members of the community who know Van Vorst, he was instrumental in getting Take Pride -- a group who works to beautify Pine, the Pine-Strawberry Historical Society, the Pine library, the Fuller family and the Randall farm cooperative to work together on the Pine library museum that sits next to the Randall House Restaurant in Pine.

Since the little one-room library building has been relocated it cannot receive a historic designation, but it is still an important tourism resource for Pine. Van Vorst's coalition also refurbished the Pine community center's playground.

Ginger Jeffers, one of the residents who nominated Van Vorst, appreciated his optimism for the community.

"He gets the job done. He is easy to talk to and get along with," she said. "He's not political; he's all up front. I can't believe how much he gets done. I really respect that."

Van Vorst and his wife started staying in Strawberry as part-timers; 10 years ago, they moved to the Rim country full time.

The retired accountant and former deputy state treasurer of Michigan saw needs in the community and put his skills to work. He served as president of the Pine Strawberry Historical Society for seven years.

He sat on the board of the Isabelle Hunt Public Library for four years, and then became its president -- a position he still holds. He has worked with the Tonto Apache Tribe on their regulatory gaming commission, he is chairman of the properties committee for the Arizona Historical Society, and for the past six years, he's spent time on the Community Educational Recreational Cultural Association's (CERCA) executive board and now acts as the group's treasurer.

CERCA is a mostly volunteer group contracted to care for the community center in Pine.

Buildings potentially eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places cannot start out in need of repair and become grant eligible for maintenance and future improvements.

Van Vorst has used his affable personality and people skills, as well as his talent for accounting, to make contacts at the state and national levels to obtain historic status for the Strawberry School House and the Pine Community Center building that houses the museum.

Betty Jan, who has served with Van Vorst on CERCA and the library board, said that his efforts added the Strawberry School House and the Pine Community Center to the National Register of Historic Places.

"Whatever he puts himself into, he goes 100 percent. I don't think anybody ever wants to replace Melvin in any of those things because of the job Melvin does; nobody thinks they can replace him."

Major work has been done on the old buildings on the CERCA property, which include the museum and cultural hall where Tellabration and other events and fund-raisers are held. There is now air conditioning in the building and the furnaces have been repaired.

According to Van Vorst, the fireplace is going to be restored by one of the best stone masons in the Rim country. Everything is based on historic photographs of the fireplace. The fireplace was the original source of heat for the building and is presently hidden behind a wall, so the workers are not sure what they are going to find when they remove the wall.

Judy, his wife, has been just as involved with volunteer activities.

Van Vorst said he couldn't have accomplished anything without the help of all the many volunteers who donate hundreds of hours of time to beautifying the Pine-Strawberry community and keeping the Pine Museum open seven days a week May 15 through Oct. 1 and six days a week the rest of the year.

"Melvin has always been involved in charitable activities. That's just his way," his wife said. "He's a very kind person. He likes the challenges of things. He'll probably be pretty humbled by this award."

On the occasional Saturday afternoon, you can find Van Vorst jamming with other musicians at the old Strawberry School House which attracts around 5,000 visitors a year.

Coworker, Jerry Holland first heard Van Vorst at the old schoolhouse, sing about the peace, goodwill and the birds in the treetops on Mockingbird Hill.

Van Vorst also croons tear-in-my-beer Hank Williams' country songs like "Your Cheatin' Heart."

"It was a surprise to learn that he sings country-western music, plays the piano and the harmonica," said Cheryl Holland who has worked beside Van Vorst and heard him play when they were setting up for an event in Pine Cultural Hall. "He has a beautiful voice."

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