Puppy Love

Valentine’s gala Feb. 14 to raise funds for Payson Humane Society building fund



Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

The Payson Humane Society is hoping for a great turnout for Saturday’s “Evening in Paris” Valentine’s Day gala. The event is a fund-raiser to build a new home for pups like this one and the many other homeless animals of the Rim Country.


Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

The current humane society animal shelter is in a tiny, run-down, old building at 812 S. McLane Road. The staff and volunteers do their best to make the animals comfortable, but the facility is barely adequate for the Rim Country’s ever-growing population of lost and abandoned pets.


Courtesy photo

This is the artist’s rendering for the new humane society animal shelter. The plans include a 15,500-square-foot, soundproof facility, a surgical suite for providing low-cost spays and neuters on site, and an outside exercise area.


John Landino

People who love people and people who love animals will have a special way to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the Rim Country this year — the Payson Humane Society is holding a gala “Evening in Paris” dinner and dance at Mazatzal Casino at 6 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 14.

“If you’re in love, it’s the only place to be,” Shelter Director Ellie Watson said. “This is the Valentine’s Day event to end all Valentine’s Day events.”

Highlights of the evening include a French-inspired gourmet dinner; live music by the Payson Jazz Trio with vocalist John Landino; a French boulevard for strolling; working artists; an exhibit of original animal art; a flower cart with roses for that special person; a photo studio; a parade of unique designer fashions; and special silent and live auction items. Last-minute Valentine shoppers can buy gifts of flowers, pose for photos and bid on romantic silent auction gift packages.

Attendees can choose from two entrée choices: Filet Mignon with Mushroom Sauce or Salmon Filet au Buerre Blanc. Besides a special selection of appetizers prepared by Chef Rick, the menu includes a salad of baby field greens, Roquefort, walnuts and red wine vinaigrette; creamy scalloped potatoes; French green beans with butter and garlic; and individual French baguettes. Dessert will be crème Brulé with fresh raspberry garnish.

The event honors the life of Mike Rokoff, an artist, animal-lover, humanitarian and a genuinely good human being who loved life and Paris, where he lived for several years. Rokoff designed the Humane Society logo and the Paws in the Park logo.

All proceeds from the event will be used to help build the new animal shelter so desperately needed in the Rim Country. The Payson Humane Society is a 501(c)3 organization, so all donations are tax-deductible.

Cost per ticket is $135 or $1,000 for a table of eight, and tickets are available at the shelter, the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce and Myra’s Gallery in Pine. Only 300 tickets will be sold.

The artists

If you’ve been searching for that perfect piece of art to hang on your wall or display in your foyer, then head to the Payson Humane Society’s Valentine’s Gala.

More than 10 artists are donating pieces, including oil paintings, photographs, pottery and batiks for the live auction, said art coordinator Shari Fennell.

“All the money raised is going to building a new humane society building,” she said.

Fennell’s husband and world-renowned artist Bill Ahrendt is creating a piece just for the event.

The 16-inch-by-12-inch piece is titled “Three Feral Cats,” and depicts Ahrendt’s three cats — Yoyo, Taffy and Cloud.

Fennell said they adopted the cats after a stray cat gave birth to the trio under the couple’s porch. Although the cats are not allowed inside the home, they curl up on the porch each night on an electric blanket.

the Mogollon Health Alliance Black & White Ball.

At the Payson Humane Society Valentine’s Gala, he will be center stage and presenting at least two dozen songs.

Don’t expect any modern ballads or rock and roll, Landino will be singing the songs he loves from jazz, the Big Band era and great standards. It is the music he grew up listening to, and the music that helped him earn a living as a young man.

The Philadelphia native said he had a cousin who was a great jazz pianist and recruited him to sing with the groups he sat in with right out of high school. From there, Landino went on to sing with assorted house bands in supper clubs, nightclubs and other spots.

“I had no aspirations to be a professional (singer),” he said. However, he did work with the theatre group in college and from that was recruited to appear in dramatizations for the local Public Broadcasting Service. He even did a summer stock musical.

Once he married, he decided he should get a real job and went into the corporate world, but continued to do work in music on the weekends. One of the spots in the corporate world where Landino worked was Hallmark, which employed both Mike Rokoff and his wife, Donna.

“I never met them then, most of my dealings were with their boss. But I knew of his work,” Landino said.

When he became single again, he was in Florida and found an outlet singing in clubs in Palm Beach, Miami and Tampa.

About the show

Expect from 3 to 3-1/2 hours of music from the Payson Jazz Trio and Landino.

The trio will provide the music during the cocktail hour, then Landino will join them for the dinner show and together they will provide music for dancing after the evening’s other activities.

Guests can expect to hear standards such as Gershwin’s “Our Love is Here to Stay,” “When Sunny Gets Blue” and “A Foggy Day in London Town,” plus some less well-known pieces such as “The Nearness of You” and “Don’t Blame Me.”

Landino explained his process for selecting the music he sings. “As a vocalist, you select songs where the lyrics have a certain meaning that connects with an audience.”

Fennell said the estimated value on the piece is $10,000.

“He usually paints large, Native American pieces and is known worldwide,” she said. “He is very detailed.”

Ahrendt holds a degree in Art History from Arizona State University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art. He studied in Germany for 11 years at the Munich Academy of Creative Art and at the Max Doerner Department of Painting and Restoration at the Fine Arts Academy.

Other artists with work at the Gala will be: May Chaney, Angela Cockle, Don Harman, Sue Jones, Gerri Levine, George Lewis, Maggie McCurry, Donn Morris, Ruth Overton, Linda Nannizzi, Rock Newcomb, Corey Richman, Mike Rokoff and Marilyn Salomon. The works from these artists include paintings, pottery, Batik, prints, sculpture and more. Almost all will have an animal theme befitting a Payson Humane Society event.

The vocalist and musicians

The Payson Jazz Trio includes Bob Smolenski on the piano, Mike Buskirk on bass and Gerry Reynolds on drums.

The vocalist does not regularly appear with the group or perform at any regular venue, but he is well known to many in the Rim Country. John Landino sits in with the Payson Jazz Trio at their regular gig at the Strawberry Lodge on Saturday evenings and has contributed his talents to the Payson Chorale Society’s bi-annual concerts. Recently he stepped up and did a song with the Sonoran Swing Orchestra at


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