Towns’ Oldest Civic Group Still Serving

Members of the Payson Womans Club have provided invaluable services to the community for generations.

Members of the Payson Womans Club have provided invaluable services to the community for generations.

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There will be plenty of partying on Historic Main Street in Payson, Saturday, Dec. 7 at the annual Electric Light Parade, which starts at 6 p.m. at Green Valley Park and goes to the Sawmill Crossing.

Things kick off much earlier though. The venerable Payson Womans Club annual Holly Berry Fair is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and again from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7 at the club building located at 510 W. Main St. In addition to having crafts and baked goods to purchase, the event will feature a Southwestern Lunch with green chile burros, posole, beans and a dessert of pie or cake

Founded in 1921, the Payson Woman’s Club is the oldest civic group in Rim Country. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Payson Womans Club members pitched in and took care of the “civic” duties required in the tiny community.

When a neighbor’s house burned down, PWC gathered together clothes, found a place for them to live, provided basic furniture and food and moved the victims in. They also helped whenever someone needed help “big time.”

When the Payson Pioneer Cemetery needed upkeep of any kind, PWC took care of it.

Founding members Julia Randall, CeCe Gibson and Ethel Owens were almost always responsible for the music at funerals.

The club still owns and operates the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.

“PWC members had the idea that we all needed to get together at Christmas,” Pat Cline said.

“So they bought ‘string’ sacks and filled them with hard candy, an orange, three chocolate drops, two almonds, two English walnuts and two filberts (hazelnuts). Then the school students, grades 1 through 8, put together their Christmas plays and Christmas music.

“When the school programs were over, Santa Claus came in and handed out the sacks of goodies. Barber Levi Cooper was Santa for the celebration for many years. Every person was given a sack, and if they could not attend, members of the PWC saw to it that their sack was delivered.

“The celebration was held in the dance hall that was on the south side of Main, across from the Lone Pine Hotel.”

For Easter, the PWC had an egg hunt at their clubhouse.

Cline said it was the members of the PWC who decided the community needed a church building and parsonage.

Ethel and Frank Owens had two sons, Keith and Kerm, and the boys had a sawmill. They brought the logs and lumber to town from Christopher Creek and further up on the Rim. The WPA furnished the labor and the Presbyterian Church was built in 1935 and 1936, Cline recalls.

The fifth through 12th grades were in small buildings where the church was built, and the students watched the construction. Parts of that early church now house the Community Child Day Care Center.

1940s and 1950s

According to various local history publications, the members of the Payson Womans Club first met in what had once been a speakeasy, then in the 1940s the Womans Club members voted to build a new clubhouse and it was decided to use cinder blocks from Flagstaff.

Many spaghetti dinners later it was built, with Julia Randall placing the first block for the structure, Cline said.

During this time, residents organized The Payson Little Theater Group. At a meeting at the home of Gladys and T.L. Meredith, the members started talking about what good cause it could give the group’s money to. Gladys Meredith suggested looking into building a clinic — a Well Baby Clinic, Cline said.

“It just went on from there and the women, under the charter of the Payson Womans Club, formed the Payson Junior Womans Club and the Payson Regional Medical Center grew out of those early efforts to have a Well Baby Clinic in town.”

The Womans Club was the only civic club in town from 1921. The Chamber of Commerce was first organized in 1938, according to Ira Murphy’s book, “A Brief History of Payson, Arizona.” He wrote that the Junior Woman’s Club organized in 1953, with the Rotary Club starting in 1958, followed by both the Elks Lodge and Lions Club starting in 1960.

The Womans Club provided a “home” for the Episcopal Church during the 1950s and at least two other churches until the congregations could get their own buildings.

Education

The PWC sent a girl and boy from the high school to Girls’ and Boys’ State every year; a girl and boy to band camp; and it even sent a number of promising young women to nursing school at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix. The only thing required in return for this generosity was a report back to the members.

Library

The PWC had one bookcase with about 15 to 20 books to start the community’s library in about 1935. The “library” (just the one bookcase) was open one day a week from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The idea of sharing books caught on, and soon people were donating books in good condition.

From that single bookcase and a few donated books, the town’s library grew. Toward the end of its life at the Womans Club building there were so many books there was barely room enough to make your way through the stacks (a book lover’s little bit of heaven on earth — to be utterly surrounded by books, mostly musty old volumes requiring a long, hard squint to make out the title on the spine).

That portion of the club building dedicated to the library was actually an addition built by Nan Pyle through the Holbrook Pyle Foundation.

The library was eventually purchased by the town, which continued to operate it at the Womans Club building until the new library was built at Rumsey Park and the inventory was sent over.

Starting in the 1970s, members of the Womans Club taught literacy classes at their facility, helping participants not only earn their GEDs, but also helping residents get citizenship papers.

Food Bank

The Womans Club started the community’s first food bank, according to Cline. Nan Pyle financed it and Bill Kleinz managed it.

It was operated at the back of the building, which was closed in for the purpose of storing food. Members of the club donated food and coupons for shopping trips; other members of the community also donated coupons. The food bank also received commodities from the federal government.

The money from the 2013 Holly Berry Fair will go to the food banks operating today.

Other

The Womans Club rents out the old library space to the Humane Society of Central Arizona’s thrift shop for just 50 cents per square foot. It also collects the pop-tops from beverage cans and donates those to the Humane Society to exchange for cash.

Members of the Payson Womans Club meet at 1 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month at their building on Historic Main Street, just east of the Payson Senior Citizens Center and Thrift Store.

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