Womans Club Is Cornerstone Of Town's Foundation

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Lena Chilson gave a report on the Bazaar at the Nov. 25, 1944 meeting of the Payson Womans Club (PWC).

"Cash received $196.67, on hand after payment of all bills $178.29," reads the minute book notes, scribed in neat cursive penmanship.

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Payson Womans Club celebrated with a party featuring a cake that read, "May We Have Lots of Success in 1960 and 1961."

At that same meeting, it was "Moved by Mrs. Owens, seconded by Mrs. Chilson, that the club buy two $25 War Bonds. Motion carried."

The Bazaar continues to this day as The Hollyberry Fair.

To say that the Payson Womans Club made the money they earned count toward good causes would be an understatement.

Anna Mae Deming is the member who has been in the club the longest. She wrote a history on the club's building and library in the mid-1980s:

"At its first meeting, in the old schoolhouse (it is now the gymnasium at Julia Randall Elementary School), plans were discussed for starting a building fund and a library."

That charter membership of 34 women represented a whopping 22.67 percent of Payson's population of 150 souls.

Ranchers' wives rode into town, some from 10 miles away on wagons and on horseback. Teachers came. A doctor's and local store owners' wives came to the club.

Deming called the library "a stupendous undertaking."

The library started as two cupboards in an anteroom at the schoolhouse filled with donated books and magazines.

Serial stories were popular at the time, so magazines were checked out six at a time, so the reader could enjoy the complete story.

University of Arizona sent books on consignment until the women decided the freight money could be better spent to purchase their own collection.

By the late 1920s, library patrons paid $1 per year to check out books, while the club paid the parsonage that now housed the books $2 per year for the space rental.

The Womans Club put on plays, sponsored dances, baked dinners and other goodies in pursuit of their own building and more books.

When the club's first president, Lena Chilson, had to travel to Los Angeles while her husband was treated for cancer, she also purchased books.

Disaster struck in 1932 when the bank where the club had saved more than $500 failed.

The women did not give up. They recovered part of the money and purchased a Main Street lot with three buildings, including a moonshiner's on it.

The growing library of 647 books had a new home.

"With the acquisition of the property, plans were immediately under way to finance a permanent club building," Deming continued in the club's history. "Each club member donated one dollar to the building funds. How they worked! Everyone was poor, but they washed windows all day, to donate a dollar earned. One donated a week's production of cream, made and sold 4 pounds of butter for a dollar: another sold vegetables: another baked and sold bread: one donated a dollar, the cost of two piano lessons she taught -- so many ingenious ways to help obtain a goal they believed in."

During World War II, the women of the club channeled their energy to the war effort.

"They adopted servicemen to be certain that every man from their town received letters and packages from home," Deming wrote.

After the war ended, the women returned to the building and library projects with vigor.

In its first three decades, PWC raised enough money to create the building that still stands at 510 W. Main St., Payson. The building was dedicated Nov. 17, 1951.

"This was a place to be used and enjoyed by the entire area. Card parties, potluck suppers, programs of all sorts, weddings. church services, junior banquets and cooking classes for high school girls (there was no home economics at the time)," Deming continued.

The library had a 12-foot square room of its own that housed 1,600 volumes. It was open to the public once a week for an hour, according to Deming.

By 1957, the library was receiving book loans from the state library.

1958 was another big year for the PWC.

The Gila County Board of Supervisors twice came up with $500 to aid on a new library building.

The women of the club raised $800 with their concession at the rodeo grounds on the Fourth of July. Proceeds from another dinner and bazaar added $662.39 to the coffers.

The club received nonprofit corporation status from the state.

"In September 1959, the Junior Chamber of Commerce poured the footing [for the library]. Fifteen men donated the labor. The county maintenance man, Richard Taylor, filled the floor space with dirt -- he donated dirt fill and labor. On October 23, cinder blocks were delivered and paid for! Hunting season opened and work was delayed until the season close," Deming wrote.

A snowstorm caused the cement floor, poured Dec. 13, 1958, to crack and crumble, but the women and the community did not give up.

Aug. 24, 1961 minutes indicate the estimated $6,500 cost of the library building was paid in full.

It housed 9,000 books.

The Payson Womans Club had accumulated about 30,000 volumes in the library, which was donated to the Town of Payson in 1987.

The PWC owns and maintains the Payson Pioneer Cemetery where many of their pioneering members rest in the shade of its trees and beauty of its flowers.

"I personally feel our Payson Womans Club can claim the honor of being the busiest, most respected, unique club in the nation, possibly even the world," Deming wrote in a 1994 article, "Payson Womans Club -- from the beginning."

Join the club

PWC meets at 1 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at 510 W. Main St.

They have a luncheon at varying locations at 11:30 a.m. every fourth Tuesday.

PWC also has a Juniorette Division for girls ages 11 to 17.

For more information, contact Anita White at (928) 474-5999 or via e-mail to anitawhite@npgcable.com.

Theater helps bring clinic to Payson

"We all had these little kids and Gladys Meredith said, ‘what we really need is a well-baby clinic and a clinic where people can get patched up,'" Pat Cline said.

So, the Jr. Woman's Club started the Payson Little Theatre and did fashion shows, variety shows, plays and bake sales to finance the clinic.

"We did something constantly to raise money," Cline said.

Pat Cline was one of the first women Elaine Drorbaugh met in Payson. Both were members of "the little theater group."

"My swan song was "Arsenic and Old Lace," Drorbaugh said. "I played one of the sisters."

Memories of past performances bring smiles to her face.

Pat Cline played "a country hick" in one play, and Pat was taller than the short fellow, who seemed to be on stage with her in every scene.

Or "Miss Julia Randall," who Elaine describes as "a good sport." She carried a Reader's Digest onstage to help her remember her lines and when she left it there, could be heard calling, "My book! Get my book!"

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