Merry Christmas From The Payson Town Council


Whether praised or criticized, Payson's councilors find their lives spent in the spotlight.

But when the holidays come around, they seek the company of family and friends and find comfort in their traditions.

Su Connell


Councilor Su Connell's family Christmas celebrations in Phoenix are a far cry from the snowy Decembers of her youth in Wisconsin.

Su Connell's first memory of Christmas was Christmas Eve as a young girl in Superior, Wis. She and her brothers nearly caught "Santa Claus" in the act of putting out the presents. To keep his young daughter and sons tucked in, Connell's father provided a special gift.

"My father would say, ‘If you children are real, real good, there will always be a present on the end of your bed Christmas morning," she said.

And he never lied about that.

The traditional prime rib dinner with all the trimmings -- brussels sprouts, popovers and the Scandinavian favorite, pickled herring -- marks the culmination of the holiday season for Connell.

It's a time spent with family. She will travel to the Valley where she'll spend Christmas Eve with her daughter and granddaughter -- the immediate family. They'll feast on the savory dinner followed by a deep-fried Scandinavian dessert sprinkled with sugar. After the main meal is served, and before the presents are opened, Connell and her loved ones put out luminaries and a special candle in the window to light the way for baby Jesus.

On Christmas Day, the celebration encompasses the extended family, including the in-laws -- in all, between 35 to 40 people.

"It's fun because it includes the kids and the adults," she said.

The desert gathering is a far cry from the chilly Wisconsin winters of her youth. Amid the citrus and pecan trees of her in-laws' Mesa home, Connell and her family will celebrate a casual day, filled with a white elephant gift exchange and charades.

Connell said the biggest lesson she learned in 2006 is the art of saying, "no."

Ed Blair


Councilor Ed Blair and his wife, Karyl, bring in the Christmas spirit, Scandinavian style.

Councilor Ed Blair, his wife, Karyl, and their two adult children, ring in the Christmas spirit, Scandinavian style: A tradition centered around food. Lutefisk on lefse bread -- a Scandinavian tortilla -- and potato sausage grace the Blair's table.

Normally a smelly, highly preserved fish, Karyl has mastered the preparation of lutefisk.

"You put melted butter on it and it's like eating lobster," Ed Blair said. "I always have seconds."

The Blair family also honors their strong spiritual connection. As a former Lutheran minister, the Blairs attend a candlelight service every year. When they arrive home, the family listens to the papal service in Rome. Then come the presents -- lots of them.

The blossoming Blair tradition isn't one that happens at home. Last year, they traveled to Rocky Point for the week between Christmas and New Year's. This year, the Blairs and their children will travel to Tucson.

"It was just wonderful last year," he said. "I really love this idea of getting out of town."

But one year, Christmas fell apart. The year was 1977 and Karyl fell ill and couldn't oversee the holiday preparations.

"That was awful," he said. "We had her parents and our small children. She was our quarterback. We didn't know what to do or how to eat."

As Blair chips away at his first year as a town councilor, the Minnesota native appreciates the effort and the dedication of town staff and the willingness of the public to compromise.

Bob Edwards

Mayor Bob Edwards remembers his childhood on the upper peninsula of Michigan.

"As a kid, we used to have an extremely nice Christmas because it used to snow and it was very picturesque," he said.

The Edwards family would chop down their own Christmas tree and spend the days playing in the snow.

These days, Edwards and his wife, Ginger, find solace during the holiday season. On Christmas, they spend a quiet day together, and, if the mood hits, they'll find their way to the movies.

"We decided a long time ago that we need a little time for ourselves," he said.

As the mayor who's shaken things up, Edwards has received criticism and praise for his policies. In spite of it all, he finds that people on both sides of any issues eventually find common ground.

"Most people have inside them an awful lot of desire to do good," he said. "I think the thing you have to look through are the times when they are not putting forth their best foot, but they are a solid person."

Tim Fruth

It was the Christmas of 1987. Vice Mayor Tim Fruth remembers it clearly.

"It was just awesome," he said. "Our gift to everybody was the gift of a child -- it still gives me goose bumps."

That's the year Fruth and his wife were expecting their first child.

"No one knew that and that's when we announced it to our families," he said. "It was an exciting time because we had the first grandchild."

To top it off, it snowed that Christmas.

Over the years, the Fruths have established long-lasting holiday traditions as a family.

Christmas Eves are spent in church. And on Christmas Day, the fun starts in the afternoon. They open presents, listen to music, play special family Christmas games and snack on holiday finger foods in lieu of a heavy dinner.

When the sun goes down, the tour of the Christmas lights begins.

"That time with just the family is really important to me, and my kids have really grown to enjoy it."

This year, Fruth has embraced levity: Don't take yourself too seriously.

John Wilson

During Christmastime, Councilor John Wilson heads south for a longtime family tradition in San Diego. Other than that, the Wilsons take it easy with an unstructured holiday season.

One event the Wilsons look forward to is the melding of their children's three families for dinner. At 75, Wilson said he's experienced lots of Christmases, but he particularly remembered the first holiday with his wife, Sue.

"It was something very strange and very different," he said. "It was the beginning of 32 years together."

Wilson, one of the veteran members of the council, said he's impressed with the involvement of others.

"I'm continually amazed that people listen to my opinions and ask for my advice," he said. "It seems like I'm getting more feedback from people saying, ‘You're doing a good job, John.'"

Mike Vogel

Mike Vogel's best Christmas memory took place a handful of years ago in Australia. The spirit of the land down under reflects Vogel's philosophy of the holiday season.

"It's not as commercial," he said. "You don't see the big displays. It's a special holiday and they treat it like that."

And though he admits he tends to spoil his young grandson who lives in Michigan, the Vogels tend to celebrate a subdued holiday season.

"I like the low-key stuff," he said. "It's a holiday for kids."

This year, Vogel and his wife, Stephanie, will spend Christmas afternoon with friends.

Andy Romance

The childhood Christmas memories of councilor Andy Romance revolve around the midnight church services, hot toddies and the news announcements of Santa Claus flying across the skies of his native Arizona.

"I couldn't sleep," he said. "Either from excitement or from what might be in a hot toddy."

Today, with a family of his own, Romance takes the crew out of town. They trek to Sedona for the ensuing days before Christmas to stroll through the glimmering decorations at Tlaquepaque.

"We wind down the evening by sipping watered-down, free, hot apple cider," he said.

For the Romances, the Christmas season is usually a series of intimate family traditions. With a saw in hand and hot cocoa in the thermos, the Romances kick off the holiday season with the harvesting of a forest Christmas tree. When Santa has left the building and the New Year's champagne is gone, the Romances end the season by boxing up the last of the decorations -- the family's nativity scene.

"May the drinks be warm, the hugs be tight, and the Lord's blessings be known," he said.

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