Rim Country’s most famous teacher, Miss Julia Randall, wanted to be a singer as a girl. “Julia had a lovely voice,” local historian Stan Brown has written. “She said, however, ‘My parents encouraged me to stay away from it because they thought I should get into something more stable.’”
So Miss Julia entered teaching school in Flagstaff at 15 years of age, and graduated two years later to teach in Star Valley.
In 1923, she moved back to Payson to begin her long and influential teaching career that would result in a school receiving her namesake and local people coining her a “hero.”
Today, a fancy new $15 million building that is much larger than the original, fancy-for-its-time Rock Building, bears Julia Randall’s name. Miss Randall would undoubtedly marvel at time’s unexpected movements.
The historic Rock Building, which some say still bears the spirit of Julia Randall, will become the district’s new administration building. Renovations are under way and work should finish by the end of this summer.
This story is just another page of history. It too will change, for circumstances are not lasting. The spirit of Julia Randall, however, will remain in the Rock Building no matter its current incarnation.
The school board renamed the Rock Building as the Julia Randall Elementary School in 1969, when Miss Randall retired.
It wasn’t until 1985, however, that a sign graced the building.
“People passing by had no idea what it was,” a 1985 newspaper article quotes former student Anna Mae Deming as saying. “Some thought it was an old prison.”
The Rock Building, built from local stone during the most serious economic crisis since the current one, housed all 12 grades from its opening in 1933 to 1955 when a grade school was built. It then housed the high school students until 1962, when the high school was built.
After that, the district used the building as a junior high, and later just for sixth-grade.
Before the new Julia Randall Elementary was completed last month, it served as a gymnasium.
Originally, the Rock Building was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s projects to reinvigorate the economy.
Each teacher taught two or three grades. Miss Randall at first taught grades one through three, but later switched to just first and second.
“I’ve taught fathers and sons,” Miss Randall has said. “When the grandchildren come, I’m quitting.”
The Rock Building housed Payson’s expanding student population, and replaced the hodgepodge of school buildings near the current day Community Presbyterian Church.
“There were no backhoes for digging like there are now,” Anna Mae Deming is quoted in a 1985 newspaper article written by Jayne Peace Pyle. “The men had to dig the basement by pick and shovel and wheelbarrows. Then the rocks were put in place with cement.”
Fitting, somehow, that the Payson Unified School District will renovate the Rock Building during the depths of another economic crisis.
Wonder what old Miss Julia Randall would have to say about that.
Miss Randall taught children how to read and write, but she also taught about life.
“She would get we first-graders started on something like learning our ABCs, then she would work with the second-graders,” wrote Pyle in a newspaper article. “We each learned to play an instrument, the choices being sticks, tambourines, maracas, bells, triangles, one set of cymbals, and a few other things that I can’t remember.”
Pyle adds that she played a triangle.
“There wasn’t much monkey business, but if there was, she paddled with a ruler after school and she sent a note home to your parents telling the reason for the spanking. If you were sick, she would care for you, and if she felt you were not eating a good breakfast before you came to school, another note was written to your parents,” Deming is quoted as saying in an article written by historian Stan Brown.
Brown also quoted Miss Randall as saying, “People would bring their children from the city and think they’d pass because this was a hick town. They didn’t with me though, not unless they made the grades.”
Pyle remembers Miss Randall playing “My Country ’Tis of Thee” on the piano every morning after the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Outside of their normal studies, Julia tried to teach her children patriotism,” wrote Diane Palm in a Payson Pioneer Report for fifth hour social studies dated 1986.
Pyle wrote, “she also educated us about God, the flag and the president.”
Miss Randall’s students were her children. The beloved teacher never married.
“I don’t know whether I never found the right man or the right man never found me, but the effect is still the same,” Miss Randall is quoted as saying in many newspaper articles.
Miss Randall is by all accounts a strong lady. She may have covered her disappointment with determination.
“Julia Randall thinks the saddest and hardest times of her life have been trying to live by herself and stand on her own two feet,” Palm wrote.
“When she is upset, she tries to overcome this by getting together with her friends and socializing for a little while.”
When Miss Randall retired in 1969 after 46 years of teaching three generations of Payson students, the town collected enough money to send her on a 10-day trip to Hawaii.
Miss Randall died on March 8, 1990 at 90 years old. A newspaper headline solemnly declared, “Good-bye Miss Julia.”
Friend Carroll Cox wrote, “you will be missed by many who appreciated your indomitable spirit, your strength of character and your unswerving dedication to instilling a sense of responsibility and good citizenship in generations of Northern Gila County students.”
The gym where legions of children performed plays and played music will become the school district’s boardroom.
Just as local men built the building to reinvigorate the 1930s economy, now the district is prioritizing local contractors to renovate the building to reinvigorate the new millennium’s economy.
Money for the $850,000 project comes from a $33.8 million bond voters approved in 2006, and not the government.
As Pyle ended a 1985 newspaper article, “Time and progress have etched their marks on Payson schools.”
Editor’s note: We would like to vigorously thank the Northern Gila County Historical Society for the use of its invaluable archives. This article would not have been possible without them.