Payson's First Pharmacist Leaves Legacy

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Don Manthe lost his battle with cancer Feb. 4, but through his pioneering efforts he continues to touch the lives of citizens who never had the chance to meet him.

"Don felt his greatest accomplishment in the community was working on the clinic and gradually seeing the clinic become a very fine hospital," said his wife of more than 61 years, Phyllis Manthe.

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Don Manthe

The Manthes came to Payson from Wisconsin by way of Tucson in 1949. He built the first drug store, Payson Drug on Main Street.

Before the clinic was built and the first doctor came to town in 1957, Manthe was the next best thing to a doctor.

When 10-year-old Gwenna Owens was seriously hurt in a fall it was Manthe on the phone with a doctor in Cottonwood who applied emergency bandages, gave her a sedative and, according to her mother, saved her life.

As a member of the school board, Manthe was a guiding force who kept the old rock schoolhouse, that would become Julia Randall Elementary School as a landmark.

In 1958, he built another store building at the corner of the Beeline and Main. It housed the drug store with a soda fountain, a doctor's office and the Arizona Public Service utility company.

Between semesters at college, Manthe's daughter, Carol (Manthe) Powell, worked at the soda fountain. She remembers going with her Dad to quarry sandstone to build it.

A regular "coffee klatch" met at the fountain, recalled Manthe's son, Don. "People like Walter Surrett, who was head of APS, and Dr. Johns would come over from their offices, and the owner of the sawmill and Adolph Haynes who owned Texaco would come.

"Dad would stop and have coffee with them before lunch and they would talk about the issues of the day and the town. It was an informal gathering before the town had a council."

"Don was always ready to help the town," said Ronnie McDaniel, former Payson justice of the peace and magistrate.

"It's funny how in Payson, back in those days, people just worked together and nobody really stood out. You were just part of the community," said Manthe's neighbor, Ted Pettet. "Everybody did their part and Don did his part and then some. Whatever was going on (from the Sanitary District board to Rotary membership to training Boy Scouts) he got involved in it."

"My father was a very private person," Powell said. "He was a very strong person, not necessarily physically, but of moral character. A lot of that had to do with the Boy Scouts. He never tooted his horn. He just got in there and did a lot of the grunt work because he knew it was important to the community.

"If you'd get him talking about projects he was doing in town or about his grapes, he would expound on them."

Manthe's renewed interest in wine making began in the early 1970s. His dad had grown grapes in Wisconsin but the climate wasn't right and the wine was awful.

Over the next 30 years Manthe's home vineyard on Phoenix Street grew to 300 vines. The house was built with a bomb shelter, which became the perfect wine cellar for his hobby.

Wine appealed to Manthe as the perfect blending of chemistry, biology and husbandry.

"Every time Mom and he would travel the world, the funny thing was they always stopped in a wine growing region, whether it was Australia or Germany or France or Spain," said his son.

Both Don and Phyllis were avid gardeners and have graciously opened their property to several Rim Country Gardeners club tours.

"We worked together," said Phyllis. "Our business was always both of us together. We enjoyed being together and watching our children grow up. Our lives were right here in town. It was a marvelous life.

"You should have known him when he was younger. He was electric."

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