Ron Christensen served his neighbors in the Rim Country well. Not only as a county supervisor for 16 years, but also as an involved member of the business community, a citizen of Payson and through service on behalf of higher education.
He also served his country in the U.S. Army for eight years.
Christensen died Nov. 29, 2012. Services were held earlier today, Friday, Dec. 7.
The Roundup sat down with Christensen as he prepared to leave office as a county supervisor in December 2004. The article, mostly in his own words, is now a tribute to how he saw his years of service to the Rim Country and Gila County.
The outlines of frames are still visible on the walls of the second-floor office at the Payson county complex. There are boxes stacked beside the desk; surfaces are generally free of the usual clutter of stacks of papers, folders and binders.
An era of Gila County politics is ending. After 16 years of service as northern Gila County’s representative on the board of supervisors, Ron Christensen is stepping down — and clearing out his office.
“We’re packing up and moving, so they can get in here and paint for Tommie (Cline Martin, who was elected District One supervisor in November),” Christensen said.
The changing of the guard will not take place until Monday, Jan. 3 when swearing in ceremonies are held. Until then, Christensen still tends to county business.
Sitting down at his mostly empty desk, Christensen picks up a few pieces of white paper and hands them over.
“I gave this some thought and thought it might help,” he said.
Christensen then produces an outline, neatly typed and numbered, of what he considers his most noteworthy accomplishments. There are 41 items.
Although “Equality to Road District Funding,” tops the list, Christensen is most proud of item No. 6. “Closing Gila County Hospital,” he said was his personal highlight. “It was costing us $2 million a year.”
Christensen also considers paying off the county’s debt, centralizing road district funding and overhauling the county jail system other areas of accomplishment.
Christensen said that he and the board of supervisors were able to develop continuity, and together, they created a political culture in which the county was viewed as a whole entity rather than partisan as it had been in the past.
He owes his success, in part, to voters.
“The voters had the foresight to keep those (in office) who have worked well together, instead of replacing all of them constantly, which leads to the staff running the county and not the board of supervisors,” Christensen said.
At one point the voters felt Christensen was working so well, he ran unopposed in a couple of his four bids for supervisor.
“I was very fortunate at that time,” he said.
“I’ve certainly enjoyed it and the people I’ve met, including three presidents.”
As with success, there are regrets, he admitted.
“I would have liked to have built two more bridges on Houston Mesa Road,” he said. But funding was not available. It costs a few million dollars to build a bridge today, he explained.
Two bridges, however, were built on Houston Mesa Road during Christensen’s 16 years in office; one at the First Crossing and the other at Whispering Pines.
“(The new board is) going to have to be down there at the Legislature and fight for rural issues up against Maricopa and Pima counties all the time,” he said.
Christensen has not finished his fight either.
In November, he was elected to serve on the board of governors for the Gila County Community College, and he will continue serving his northern Gila County neighbors by helping improve and expand higher education opportunities for residents of all ages.
“I would like to thank the fine people of Gila County who have supported me and made it possible for me to serve them as District One Supervisor,” he said.
“It has been an honor.”
This week, the County Supervisors Association lost a dear friend, former Gila County Supervisor, Ron Christensen, Gila County District 1 Supervisor Tommie Cline Martin wrote. Mr. Christensen served four terms with Gila County, January 1989 through December 2004, and was well respected in his community and among the county supervisors across the state.
Mr. Christensen was the president of CSA in 1994, serving as a powerful advocate for county issues. He was a founding member and longtime chairman of the Eastern Counties Association (ECO). Mr. Christensen was also a founding board member of the Arizona New Mexico Coalition of Counties. He served as the chairman of the NACo Public Lands Steering Committee and was Arizona’s representative with NACo’s Western Interstate Region Board (WIR).
Mr. Christensen was a strong, tireless advocate for the effective use of public lands and hunting rights.
Martin shared that “Supervisor Christensen served Gila County well. He was an outstanding leader, showing his colleagues what determination and calmness can achieve.” Supervisor Martin went on to explain, “It was his influence, his leadership, that established a harmonious working environment for the Gila County Board of Supervisors. Without his quiet grit, our board would not be where it is today. His legacy lives on in our boardroom, our community and our lives.”
“The staff here at CSA extends our thoughts and prayers to Mr. Christensen’s wife, Clarice, and the entire Christensen family,” Martin wrote.
Surviving Mr. Christensen is his wife of 56 years, Clarice, who was his partner in business, as well as life. Ron and Clarice moved to Payson in October 1982 and owned and operated Tonto Books ’n’ T-Shirts and Tonto Silkscreen for seven years. Also surviving are two sons, Stephen and Kevin and their families. Stephen and his wife Karen Percell reside in Payson; their daughter, Sarah, married to Ian Burkhart, resides in Houston, Texas, and their son, Casey, married to Emily Long, resides in McKinney, Texas; they are expecting Ron and Clarice’s first great-grandchild. Kevin is married to Diane Ramey and makes his home in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho; their children are Brandon and Keely.