The ‘Backbone Of Payson' To Be Honored At Pioneers Barbecue

Organizers hope event will revive interest in culture of West and honor those who made Rim Country great

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A western-themed cedar hope chest -- handcrafted by Richard Alvarez's Payson High School advanced woods class -- is among the items Curt Jackson will auction at the inaugural Gila County Pioneers Honorary Barbecue Dinner and Dance.

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Payson High School senior Porter Wilbanks works in Richard Alvarez' woodshop class, putting the final touches on an oak chest to be auctioned off at the Gila County Pioneers Honorary Barbecue Dinner and Dance.

Alvarez complimented the students who designed and made the chest saying, "They did a real nice job and it's for a good cause."

All the money earned from the chest, as well as all other proceeds from the dinner/dance, will benefit the PHS FFA agriculture education program.

The gala celebration will be held 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday, in the Tonto Apache gymnasium.

The event will mark the culmination of months of work by 11 men who all hail from Rim Country Pioneer families.

Each week, the committee members gathered at Roy Haught's Star Valley home to plan the festivities they call a tribute to local pioneers.

"We want to honor the pioneers who 60 years ago were the backbone of Payson," committee member Ronnie McDaniel said. "We want it to become an annual event."

In scheduling the evening, the committee members took extra care to include most of the activities of dinner-dances held decades ago including the traditional cake and dessert auctions.

"I remember as a young boy going to those," McDaniel said.

The evening will also be highlighted by a quilt raffle, prize giveaways and a dance featuring classic country and western music performed by some of the finest local musicians including Eddie Armer, Angela Godac, Don Gibson and Len and Mary Little.

"You'll see some old timers do the waltz," committee member Duke Wilbanks said. "There'll be plenty of dancing going on and you can expect John and Jeri from the Cline family to be cutting a rug."

The dinner, which Wilbanks has called "elbow-lickin' good" will serve as another gentle reminder of simpler times in the Rim Country.

The menu will include, slow cooked beef and chicken, cowboy beans, coleslaw and rolls prepared by Albert Hunt and Haught.

"Those ol' cowboys can cook," Wilbanks said.

In putting on the Pioneer Honorary Dinner and Dance, the committee members hope to recreate past celebrations that were sponsored by the Tonto Cowbelles.

McDaniel has called the dinner-dances "some of our best memories."

In 2000, after hosting the events for 23 years, the Cowbelles disbanded. Then president Dixie Jones said at the time, "There doesn't seem to be much interest anymore. Not that many people even own cattle anymore."

The 11 committee members have said it doesn't matter. The return of the pioneer dinner dances will help revive interest in the culture of the Old West and also honor those who made the Rim Country great.

Tickets priced at $10 per person (children will be admitted free) and are available from any committee member or by calling Haught at (928) 474-2554, Wilbanks (928) 474-0979 or McDaniel (928) 474-4000. Tickets will also be available at the door.

--- To reach Max Foster call 474-5251 ext. 114 or e-mail mfoster@payson.com.

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