If you have lived in the Rim Country for any length of time — say five years or so, you probably have at least heard about Ted and Lillian Pettet.
Ted was the new town of Star Valley’s first mayor, and he was the first mayor of Payson when it incorporated 35 years ago. He has served the Tonto Apache Tribe on its gaming commission and he has operated a State Farm Insurance Agency in town since 1962.
Last year, you might have noted an announcement about the Pettets’ Golden Wedding Anniversary. Well, they celebrated another golden anniversary last month: 50 years ago in November, they came to Payson so Ted could fill a mid-year vacancy as a Payson schoolteacher. The physical education teacher, who also happened to coach basketball, had been let go, and the school needed to find a replacement.
Ted and Lillian were living in married housing at the college in Flagstaff — then known as Arizona State College, and now as Northern Arizona University. Ted was working on his master’s degree and driving a taxi. When he had graduated in the spring, the schools he interviewed with told him he was too young (at 21) to be teaching high school, so he’d gone back to get his master’s. Consequently, he was one of the few students on campus that November who could teach.
The college’s basketball coach, Herbert Gregg, who now also lives in Payson, told Ted about the opening. He interviewed and was hired and the couple moved to Payson — with everything they owned in the back of a 1955 Chevy pickup.
The move was made over gravel roads; the new paving only ran between Payson and Phoenix. Work was continuing on the new Beeline Highway, so all the rental housing was occupied by construction workers and all they could find to live in was a rustic cabin behind where Wells Fargo Bank is now located.
One of Ted’s regular taxi fares was Bruno Rezzonico, who owned several bars in Flagstaff. Bruno had talked about having a cabin in Payson, so Ted asked if it was available for rent. It was — but only until Memorial Day, which is when Bruno and his friends started using it to play cards.
“When we walked into it, it was only furnished with a round table with a felt top and a light over the table,” Ted said.
He said he later learned that some serious card games were played in the cabin — games in which area ranches were lost and won.
“It wasn’t a cabin like you see today,” he said.
“We could see daylight through the chinks,” Lillian added.
Ted’s teaching duties included high school and junior high physical education and one business class — and in the spring, he coached baseball. He coached the basketball team, drove the travel bus to away games and was a substitute bus driver for the school.
“We had three buses and a nine-passenger station wagon,” he said.
One bus went down into Tonto Basin, another went to Christopher Creek and the station wagon went to Pine. The other bus picked up students around Payson, if they lived far enough away from the school — which was contained in the Rock Building which is now part of Julia Randall Elementary.
Ted may have come in as a replacement basketball coach, but he built a winning team. His squads had winning records from 1958 through 1962 and while Payson was a C Class school, it petitioned and was allowed to compete with bigger schools in the B West and B Central regions. Some of the members of those winning teams are still in Payson. Among them: George and Robert Randall, Jinx Pyle, Ray Sexton, Bobby Owen and Kenny Watkins (who is Lillian’s brother).
Coaching basketball, baseball and teaching were just the start of Ted’s duties at Payson High School. In the spring of 1960 he started the track team and that same year became the school’s athletic director.
The Payson track team was small — “We used the nine-passenger station wagon and didn’t fill it,” Ted joked — but it was mighty. It’s first year it competed in an 11-school conference and finished fourth. In the 1961-62 school year, the track team was runner-up in its conference.
Ted didn’t coach football, but he helped get the program started.
“I went all over the place getting used equipment that Jiggs Hardt lined up for us,” he said. He was also the voice of Longhorn football — announcing the games for many years.
“We had our first team in 1962. We played six-man ball and had three away games. The field was a horse pasture out by the golf course (where Country Club Lane and its homes are now located).
He let his P.E. classes play tackle football though — if it snowed. “I’d tell them to be sure to wear old clothes the next day and get a couple of empty barrels and scrap lumber and have a fire going and they’d all be tackling so they could go sliding in the snow.”
After 50 years in Payson, the Pettets have seen lots of changes. Asked what the biggest change has been, they agreed it has been the number of people in the community and their attitude.
“No matter where you went, you used to know everyone. Now, you hardly ever see anyone you know,” Lillian said.
The change they have enjoyed the most is having more places to shop. When they first came to Payson there were three little grocery stores: Wilson’s on Main, which had the post office in it, Frontier Market, where Car Quest is now and Jackson’s. “If you needed to buy a big bunch of groceries you had to go to the Valley because the prices were so high here,” Lillian said. Clothes had to be bought out of town as well, she said.
“Having reliable electricity,” was Ted’s contribution. “We’d be without electricity for a day or two and no one thought anything of it,” he said.
Payson’s electrical supply was through a single line running from the Irving and Childs Power Plants on Fossil Creek in the Pettets’ early days in the community, and it went out frequently.
The Pettets still have their State Farm Agency, it opened in 1962 in their home. Ted has remained active with the school baseball program. Both bowl and Ted enjoys hunting and fishing. Lillian said about the only place she likes to fish is at their cabin in Canada. They have been traveling north for more than 20 years and have owned property for about 12 years in the far reaches of Saskatchewan. The property is so remote, it can only be reached by an airplane that has to land on the lake.
The couple also stays busy with their family. They have two sons, Teddy and Jeff, and two daughters, twins, Dawn and Donna; 12 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.