Payson’s Grand Ole Opry produced some hand-clappin’, toe-tappin’ music for those attending its debut Friday, Oct. 10 at the Mazatzal Casino Event Center.
It also helped the Arizona Heritage Research Foundation (AHRF) committee raise nearly $20,000 to fund the historic homes they are buying on Payson’s Main Street. The first home bought was that of Anna Mae Deming, a grand lady from pioneer stock and Payson’s weather woman for 60 years.
“Anna Mae’s house had to be preserved,” said secretary Jayne Peace-Pyle, member of the AHRF executive board.
“Jinx and I grew up knowing Anna Mae, and to us, her home is like a childhood home. We couldn’t let it be torn down and replaced with some type of business.
“We are really thankful to everyone who supported us and that is a lot of people. We’re happy to know that we have so much community support. It will take this kind of support, plus a lot of hard work, to save the heritage homes.”
Anna Mae and her husband, Jim, bought the house in 1941 for $1,500 — “a far cry from what AHRF had to pay for it, but it is worth the money and hard work,” according to AHRF president Jinx Pyle.
“We really feel that someone had to do something to save the old homes or Old Payson will soon be gone. These historic homes will not make much money for AHRF, other than home tours, etc., so it is more important than ever that we get community support. We really believe in what we are doing.”
“And we are willing to do the work to accomplish this task,” said treasurer Judy Baker. “It is time-consuming, but if we can buy a few of the heritage homes and save some of Payson’s old Main Street, how wonderful. We know we cannot do it alone. The support we have received is so great. We are really thankful to everyone.”
The Deming home was built in 1927 by A.T. Vaughn. Vaughn died in 1961, but his daughter Mary Rogers still lives in Payson, and so does his grandson, Alva Bishop, who made a nice donation to AHRF.
Don Powell, a Star Valley resident who lived in Payson many years ago is a strong supporter of AHRF. He wants to see the old homes preserved. Don recalls Lena Chilson, who lived right across the street from Anna Mae, calling him and his brother up on her porch and giving them milk and cookies. “Those were the good old days,” said Powell. “Payson was a good place to be and I want to see some of it saved.”
Ted Newman, a 2008 Arizona CultureKeeper sang “I Love You Arizona” at the beginning of the evening. Newman is a good friend of the Demings’ son and daughter, Jim Deming and Mary Deming Mullen. He also knew Anna Mae and sang for her more than once.
“We have so many wonderful people to thank,” Baker said. “So many made donations to us. We especially want to thank the women who showed up to help with our many tasks.”
Commemorative plates with a photo of the Deming home decorated each table. Also, each person got to take home a tiny oak tree from Anna Mae’s house, sprouted by Dean Baker.
Pyle kicked off the opry with a song he wrote and recorded, “Rawhide Ranahan.” Angela Taylor-Godac was on hand to sing backup and harmony for Pyle and others, plus she sang a Patsy Cline song, “Crazy,” and an Alison Krauss song, “When You Say Nothing At All.” Together Pyle and Taylor-Godac belted out “Jackson.” Pyle later came back with “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”
Hashknife was the “house band” for the night. This band consists of Taylor Hale playing bass guitar, Don Gibson on lead, and Mike Chabot, drummer. They backed up all the musicians, plus Hale wowed the crowd with “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone” and “Dixieland Delight.” Gibson sang “San Antonio Rose,” and Gibson and Hale together sang “Amarillo by Morning.” Hale then teamed up with Clay Sopeland and sang “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Harry and Sharron Shill, now of Strawberry, attended the fund-raising dinner and Harry entertained the crowd with his rendition of “Rodeo Romeo.” His song went over so well, he will be singing at more of the Payson Grand Ole Oprys.
“We all knew Harry could parachute into rodeo arenas and then ride a Brahma bull, but we didn't know he could sing. He has been hiding one of his best talents,” said Pyle.
Payson First Grand Ole Opry was all it was expected to be, according to Pyle.
“We see areas that need improvement and we have made notes to try to make next year even better — but how much better can it be to have all of these musicians together?”