There is a new Woman of the Year among the Daughters of Gila County Pioneers. Fern Taylor Spears was awarded the honor at a luncheon Wednesday, July 20.
Her daughters, Margaret Payne and Alice Stambaugh, told the story of her life through a delightful program highlighted by stories generated from each letter in her name “F-E-R-N T-A-Y-L-O-R S-P-E-A-R-S” and concluding with a special song.
They said their mother is: Family-oriented, Educator, Recruitee, Naturalist; Traveler, Artistic, Yacht Owner — sort of, Librarian, Organizer, Reader; Seamstress, Patient, Explorer, And Also, Real Name, Singer and Music Lover.
The bulk of Spears’ story was presented in the “Family-oriented” portion of her daughters’ program.
“Our mom grew up in a family-oriented community. Family was family, and the community was family.
“She was born into the Taylor clan in the idyllic days of small-town community life at the home of relatives on the corner of Frontier and McLane, Sept. 27, 1928.
“Her dad, Richard Taylor, was a cowboy at heart; her mom, Valda – originally a Pyle – was a homemaker, which does not begin to cover all that she did.
“Mom spent her early years on various ranches that her dad was working at, but when she began first grade, she stayed in Payson with her aunt and uncle. Later, her parents bought a wooden, three-room home on Oak with an outdoor latrine. At Payson Elementary, and later in junior high and early high school, she experienced the kind of education kids don’t get much nowadays: holistic, wholesome, flexible. The beloved Miss Julia Randall was her first teacher, and she and the other kids benefitted from the old-fashioned, country school experience.
“Mom remembers art and P.E., music and drama. The teachers taught it all, and everyone participated. Mom says she was a tomboy, pretty good at softball, but jacks — not so much. She recalls making a pig cutting board still in use. And she remembers the excitement of getting to play the triangle in music class, and wanting so badly to play the bird that one filled with water. Teachers could use their own judgment to structure the day. Mom remembers her 7th-grade teacher spending the entire afternoons reading Les Miserables out loud to the class.
“Payson was small, and celebrations were community-wide. There were community programs, picnics and fireworks, rodeos and dances that lasted into the wee hours.
“Here’s how Mom describes one event: ‘Perhaps our favorite time of year was in August, when Payson had its annual rodeo. We called it the August celebration. We cooked and baked for days in advance to prepare for all the family and friends who would be staying with us. The house was filled with people — those who couldn’t find room inside might sleep on a bedroll outdoors. We wore our best western wear. I never had much, although I did have a pair of boots one year. For two days and nights we played around at the rodeo and danced all night. It’s the only time I can remember being allowed to eat pie for breakfast.’
“Summer and winter weekends, Mom and her younger sister, Lois, spent on the ranch her parents had bought — The Doll Baby. The girls helped out with the hard and unending work that a ranch entails. The ranch life might have lasted longer if not for the war.
“Here’s what Mom writes, ‘On Dec. 7th, two and a half months after my 13th birthday, I was riding my bicycle toward Boardman’s Store on Main Street when Anna Mae Deming stopped me and asked if we had heard the news.
‘Of course, we hadn’t, we’d just returned from the ranch — but I pedaled home as fast as I could to tell my parents that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. We spent the rest of the day and evening sitting around the radio.’
“The war decimated the population of Payson, and the high school closed. Mom was sent to Duncan, to live with her Aunt Margaret and Uncle Ira to attend her junior year of high school. The advantage was being able to take typing, and piano lessons and tennis.
“When Mom’s sister Lois was ready for high school the next year, Mom’s parents ‘made the supreme sacrifice’ and sold the ranch, moving to Chandler with the girls. At Chandler High School, Mom became homecoming queen and was invited to join the National Honor Society. She was one of the top five students academically and was glad she was not allowed to be valedictorian (due to being there only a year) because, she said, it would have terrified her.
“In the fall of 1946, Mom entered ASU, where she met her future husband, George Houston Spears, at a freshman dance. And the rest, as they say, is history. They were married in September 1950 and went on to buy a house in Phoenix, which they lived in until moving to Payson in 1986. Their two lovely daughters have given them four grandchildren, all grown up now.”
Mrs. Spears earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis in home economics. She taught home economics and 8th-grade English before Alice was born and 6th-grade when Alice was small, before Margaret was born.
With the birth of her second daughter, she retired from teaching and became probably even busier than when she was a working woman. She was a homemaker for nine years, serving as both a Brownie and Girl Scout leader and volunteered with Easter Seals and the March of Dimes. She has also volunteered with the Lioness Club and Democratic Women’s Club and was among the founders of the Rim Country Museum.
“She and our dad visited other Arizona museums to learn about setup and organization, and then Mom learned how to be an ‘accessionist’ — a person who catalogues items donated to museums. She spent many hours at this detail-oriented task,” her daughters said.
Mrs. Spears’ rich and full life is something her family enjoys celebrating among themselves and with others.