Kay Loftfield, who wrote a cooking column for the Mogollon Advisor and The Rim Review for 12 years, had a delicious little secret. She didn't like to cook.
After raising four children and spending half a lifetime in the kitchen, the joy of cooking had become a gravy-stained cookbook stashed in her pantry, a stack of take-out menus piled by the phone and the magic of microwave technology.
"How did we ever survive without one?" she often marveled. But of course she knew the answer firsthand.
During the Depression, when she had a hard-working husband and two young boys to feed, she learned to be resourceful.
"I cooked our meals on a flat piece of metal that replaced the domed top of a (wood-burning) heater," she once recalled. "We soon replaced my 'cooking' stove with a two-burner kerosene stove, on which I learned to bake a cake using one of my heavy aluminum pans."
During World War II, when her husband Fritz went off to war, she learned to churn butter and disguise hamburger a dozen different ways to stretch her ration card far enough to feed her four children. But no matter how much food she put on the table, she said, all that could sustain her through those frightening, uncertain times were the letters that Fritz sent home from the Front.
"He sailed from Boston Sept. 9, 1944," she said, "and I felt like I held my breath until he came home safe Aug. 6, 1945. Seeing him again was such a relief - like a long, cool breeze on a hot summer day."
But if she didn't enjoy slaving over a hot stove, she loved to chew the fat, and that put the kitchen table at the heart of her household. It was a place to discuss piano recitals, schoolbooks, golf scores, hairstyles, dress patterns, baseball games and lesser world affairs. It was a place where the girls could gossip while the guys watched the game and yelled at the TV. And, more often than not, it was a place to laugh and share stories.
She was a natural storyteller, with a wry wit, quick smile and unassuming charm that could command the attention of an entire room. The only thing she loved better than telling a good story was telling a funny one.
If you want a happy life, she'd say, "first have a sense of humor,"
"Kay always had a smile and a wonderful sense of humor," said Roundup digital imaging specialist Dave Rawsthorne.
"She had such an upbeat attitude," added Roundup reporter Teresa McQuerrey. "It was always wonderful to see her because she lifted your spirits."
Loftfield's own story ended quietly last week when she died in her sleep Feb. 4 at the home her husband built 43 years ago when the couple retired to Payson. She was 97.
Her arrival on the world stage, however, was a good deal more dramatic. She was born in a tent in Englewood, Colo. Dec. 28, 1909, during a snowstorm that stopped the doctor's horse-drawn buggy in its tracks. Her family was building a house, and she was due to be born before Christmas, but, as was her lifetime habit, she was late.
"My mother told me that she held me up to see the lighted candles on the Christmas tree," she wrote in a 1998 column. "I don't remember being impressed."
She was certain, however, that the incident was the source of her chronically cold feet.
When Loftfield was working for The Rim Review, she said she couldn't remember a time when she didn't want to be a writer.
She wrote her first story in high school - a murder mystery in which the villain employed a tarantula to dispatch his victims. Her teacher gave her a B on the project, marking her down because, as he noted in the margin, tarantula bites are "rarely" fatal.
"That didn't seem to stop the people in Hollywood," she stubbornly pointed out years later.
Her father worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad, so her family, which included two brothers and a sister, stayed on the move.
According to a 2001 Roundup article, "They moved to Yuma, where her grandparents had farmed since 1905 ... to Oakland, Calif. in 1915, where they waited out the end of World War I and survived a deadly flu epidemic ... and to Tucson in 1923," where Loftfield graduated early from high school and was admitted to the University of Arizona at the age of 16.
"But I never did graduate from college," she said. "I met someone I liked better than school. I met him on a blind date, and it lasted 57 and a half years."
She met her match - Fritz Loftfield - in 1927 and married him two years later.
Fritz was a civil engineer, an officer with the Civilian Conservation Corps and a reserve officer in the army so she returned to her nomadic life, moving her family around Arizona, Wyoming, South Carolina, Colorado, Louisiana, Georgia, California and back to Tucson, where Fritz began a career in the homebuilding business.
It was during just such a trip to the Grand Canyon to build a road for the CCC that Loftfield lost her husband, or more accurately, misplaced him.
"It was very late at night, we were all dead tired and we were pulling this big old trailer," she said. "Well, the trailer started wobbling so Fritz got out of the car and told me to drive slowly while he checked the tires. So I started driving slowly. And I kept driving ... and driving ... until one of the kids started crying.
"I said, 'Fritz, look and see what's the matter with the kids.' I turned to look at him, and he wasn't there! I'd driven off without him! I couldn't turn the car around with this big old trailer on the back. So I just pulled over and waited for him.
"Eventually he caught up with me, huffing and puffing and hollering: 'Why in the hell did you go off and leave me back there?'
"He was really mad," she said. "I never lived that one down."
When the couple finally settled down and retired to Payson in 1964, Loftfield quickly got involved in the community.
She opened a little clothing store on Main Street called the Payson Style Shop where she kept folks in blue jeans and more fashionable attire for 11 years. She was a local election board member and personally drove the town's ballots to Globe to be counted and validated. She was among the early members of the Payson Women's Golf Club Association.
"I took up the game in order to see my husband once in a while and tell him 'hello,'" she said.
And she was a founding member of the now-defunct Payson Wildlife Society, which sponsored the Payson Zoo for many years.
But her proudest civic achievement was becoming a founding member of the Payson Humane Society and establishing the town's first animal shelter to alleviate Payson's emerging stray-dog problem.
"At first we just had a service of finding homes for lost dogs, which I ran out of my store," she said. "When someone would bring in a homeless dog, I'd just take it up and down the street until I'd find someone who'd take it. My friends started avoiding me when we met at the post office or the grocery store because I was always trying to find a home for some dog or cat in distress. But finally, we got a building fund going, and some of the local vets got involved ... and that's how we did it."
It took Loftfield, the other board members and a small band of volunteers 10 years to raise enough money to open the shelter, which is still in operation on McLane Road today.
"They tell me ... I fell into a tub of rainwater (when I was 3)," she said. "We had a collie at the time, and I'm told that the collie pulled me out. I wonder if that's why I've always felt a special fondness for animals.
"My (older) brother and sister probably pushed me in the tub," she once said with a wicked, unrepentant laugh. "I was an ornery little brat."
By the time she retired from the humane society board she'd adopted four dogs and four cats. She'd run out of room for more animals in her house and, she suspected, her husband had run out of patience.
"She was creative, talented and caring," said her daughter and former Rim Review columnist Judy Whitehouse. "She wanted to make a difference in the world, and she did."
After her husband died in 1987, Loftfield took a proofreading job at the Mogollon Advisor, where she impressed editor Carroll Cox with her fiery letters to the editor. Cox needed a cooking columnist, and she asked Loftfield to fill the bill.
"I agreed to do it on one condition," the 79-year-old said shortly after taking the job. "I'm going to write about people, not just food. Otherwise it'll be awfully boring."
And for a dozen years - from 1989 to 2001 - that's just what she did. She interviewed people, learned about their lives, carefully copied their recipes, recorded the area's oral history and wrote it all down. That was the secret ingredient to "Kay's Korner: The Spice of Life" until she retired at the age of 91.
"She was an amazing woman," Roundup advertising manager Julie Haught said. "They don't make them like that anymore."
"Kay was full of fun, and she defied any stereotypes about 'little old ladies,'" said Roundup production manager Sherrie McQuerrey. She always greeted us with a beaming smile, and she delighted in swapping off-color jokes. I could be having the most stressful day, but when Kay arrived, she would light up the room with her laughter, and all my troubles would disappear."
"(Kay) was not too fond of deadlines," said Jerry Thebado, one of her many editors. "But her talent was limitless. She was a kind soul, and will be deeply missed."
She was preceded in death by her father Clyde Sturges, mother Frances Milligan, brothers Glen and John Sturges, sister Jean Barrett, husband Fritz Loftfield, son Berner Loftfield and grandson Doug Loftfield.
She is survived by daughters Judy Whitehouse of Phoenix, Ariz. and Anne Loftfield of Tucson, Ariz., son Roger Loftfield of Napa, Calif., eight grandchildren and numerous great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.
Two services are planned. The first is at 1 p.m., Friday, Feb. 16 at the Church of the Holy Nativity, 1440 N. Easy St., Payson Reception to follow from 3 to 5 p.m. at Best Western Payson Inn. A second service will be held at 4 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 17 at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1407 N. Second St. in Phoenix.