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Domestic violence affects children into adulthood - the story of Suzy Tubbs - Avakian

Suzy Tubbs-Avakian, Payson Town Council member, real estate agent and president of Payson Community Kids — still struggles to understand why she tolerated domestic violence.

She stayed after her ex took her car.

She stayed when he took control of all the money.

She stayed when he locked her in the house with their children.

She even stayed after he put a gun to her head.

But when he tried to suffocate her son, something finally clicked.

“I just threw on a shirt and I grabbed the kids and went running,” she said.

At the time, her son was 2 and her daughter a few months old.

Tubbs-Avakian didn’t know it at the time, but leaving that abusive violent relationship gave her children a precious gift.

Research now shows that exposure to physical and psychological abuse affects children down to their very genes. Just witnessing abuse puts them at higher risk of a host of mental and physical challenges including heart disease, obesity, cognitive decline, diabetes, mental illness and poor health — not to mention poor relationships and a life of crime.

Experts estimate every year 15 million children in the United States witness domestic violence and many suffer lifelong effects, which they may not connect to that childhood experience.

The World Health Organization calls domestic violence the “world’s hidden health crisis,” where the “home is the most dangerous place for a woman.”

Research suggests witnessing or experiencing domestic violence increases the odds a child will one day commit suicide an astonishing sixfold. They’re 50 percent more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and 74 percent more likely to commit a violent crime, according to an online summary of research on the Childhood Domestic Violence Association website (

Many women say they remain in violent relationships because they don’t want to separate their children from their father or fear the effect of the divorce or poverty on the children. But a growing body of research shows that simply witnessing violence in the home can have a lasting effect on children.

For Tubbs-Avakian, her violent husband had to turn his anger directly on the children before she fully understood their danger.

“I had no idea when I met him, but I grew up in love with Jon Bon Jovi and he looked just like him. He was so handsome at the time. He had this hair ... just like Bon Jovi’s,” she said.

The two married at 19. Tubbs-Avakian already had her son — and that also played into her attraction.

“Everyone told me I was so lucky: He treated my son as his own,” she said.

But as soon as the ring was on her finger, everything changed.

“It started immediately after we got married — not wanting me to work or not wanting me to have friends,” she said.

Then she got pregnant and things escalated.

“He controlled all the money,” she said. “He made me hand over my car. When we moved into this apartment, he immediately changed the locks. Except he changed the deadbolt into a double-sided key lock. I thought it was normal ... It wasn’t that it was all at once. It was very methodical. It was so well planned.”

Tubbs-Avakian looks back and wonders if something in her upbringing allowed her to tolerate the abuse her ex heaped on her.

“I took sacred vows ... I married this person for better or worse,” she said. “I grew up very religious. My mom did what my dad said. It was a very old-school upbringing ... he spanked me. It made me respect my dad ... (but) he never hurt us kids.”

But Tubbs-Avakian knew her dad loved her. She knew he would never treat her as her ex did.

When she was pregnant, her husband left her and her 15-month-old son locked in the apartment without a phone for up to 10 hours a day.

“It was a sick cycle,” said Tubbs-Avakian. “There were other women. He started raising his voice and throwing things.”

Then he started hitting her. One time sticks out in her mind.

“I remember I was wearing a salmon-colored shirt. I don’t know where the blood came from ... it may have been my nose or my lip.”

After this violent outburst, a friend came over to help.

“She saw blood all over my pregnant body,” said Tubbs-Avakian.

Then it got worse.

“Three months into it, he somehow got a gun,” she said.

He repeatedly put the gun to her temple and threatened to kill her if she did not do exactly what he demanded. She told herself, “I didn’t care about me. I just thought, ‘Go ahead kill me.’”

Finally, he went too far.

He came home late. He’d forgotten his key, so he broke into a window. Tubbs-Avakian had fallen asleep on the couch under that window. She screamed out of terror.

That set him off.

“That got me nicely slapped and he took me by the hair into the bedroom with the gun,” she said. “He told me if I didn’t do what he said he would shoot me or my son.”

Then her ex did with her what he wanted, so she sobbed.

“It was those hysterical sobs where you lose your breath,” she said. “He told me, ‘If you wake those kids up, I’m not just going to kill you, but those kids, too.’”

At that point, her son walked in the door.

“He grabbed him, threw him onto the waterbed, put a pillow on his face and sat on it,” she said. “I screamed bloody murder. As I did, it was like, I don’t know — a lightbulb went off.”

Fortunately, he jumped up, grabbed his pants and fled, leaving the door open.

That’s when Tubbs-Avakian tossed on a shirt, grabbed her two kids and ran out the door.

“I didn’t know where to go so we hid behind the soda machines all night,” she said.

The next day she called her mother and went to live with her parents.

Today, Tubbs-Avakian is remarried to what she calls the sweetest man.

“He lets me be in charge,” she said.

She also spent years in therapy trying to figure out why she had put herself and her children in such danger.

“Years ago, I would let people say awful things to me and walk away with my tail between my legs — fearful, thinking it was the way it was supposed to be ... (and) I felt it was all my fault,” she said.

Her children saved her as she saved them.

“My self-esteem was so low, I thought, ‘Just do what you want to me,’ but the minute he did that to my son, I had a voice to speak.”

And she’s not stopped speaking out since. No one who meets Tubbs-Avakian today would ever imagine her trapped in an apartment like a caged animal.

“I can’t look back at the person I was without wondering, ‘What was it that allowed me to think this was OK?’ I was always thinking about other people,” she said.

Counseling helped her find “my voice and finding out what personality I have.

“I always had that strength and didn’t know it was there.”

Vintage base ball much different than today's game

The bells were ringing at Rumsey Park in the early evening hours of July 5.

That’s because a total of 27 runs, or aces, as they were called years ago, were scored during the Vintage Baseball Game at the Randy Johnson Hall of Fame Field.

The Prescott Champions beat the Fort Verde Excelsiors 14-13 in an Arizona Territories Vintage Base Ball League match.

The match or game was played under the rules of the 1860s. Back then, bells were handed out to cranks (fans) to ring as a player scored an ace.

Among the other rules in those early days of America’s pastime — no gloves.

“It was very fun to watch,” said Payson Parks, Recreation & Tourism Director Courtney Spawn.

Spawn estimates about 150 spectators or “cranks,” took in the game.

Several Payson Little League players helped out with the score.

“In 1860 they did not have scoreboards, so the score was tracked per inning on a chalkboard and they walked around the bleachers to inform the spectators of the score,” Spawn said.

Baseballs were a bit larger, heavier and softer than the modern baseball too.

Baseball was commonly spelled as two words — base ball — before the 1880s.

Some of the more interesting rules in those early days of the game, which the Arizona Territories Vintage Base Ball League follows, include:

• Underhand pitching

• If a ball is caught on one bounce by anybody (players from either team, spectators, etc.), the striker is a player dead (out)

• Runner can’t tag up and advance on fly outs, but can without tagging up when the ball is caught on one bounce

• No bunting

• No leading off bases or stealing

• Fouls are not strikes

• No overrunning first base

• A ball is determined fair or foul on where it first strikes the ground and does not have to pass first or third base

• Only the team captain can speak to the umpire, who is always addressed as “sir”

• First, second and third maintainers (basemen) play on or within two strides of their respective bags until the pitched ball crosses home

• Gardeners (outfielders) must position themselves in line with the sack (base) and can only adjust forward and backward depending on the ability of the striker (batter)

• The short scout (shortstop) or rover can play anywhere in fair territory and is the only defender who can move before the ball is struck

• Behind (catcher) plays not more than 45 feet behind home base

• When fielding, balls must be caught with the hands — gloves, hats or other items may not be used

Payson High 2019 graduate Carli Carpenter sang the national anthem and Mayor Tom Morrissey threw out the first pitch.

Why they left: Payson schools lose teachers with 80 years of experience

The Gowers are gone now.

So are the Quinlans.

Their leaving is full of love and joy and frustration and tears.

They’ve taught our kids for years — decades if you add up the time.

They have loved those kids, recalling the moment a teenager understood what really happened during the Revolution, the heartbreaking effort to compensate for a broken family, the triumph of the kid struck mute with autism at the football game, the little gang of kids who insisted on painting a turtle on the wall of the Gowers’ nursery.

That’s the joy.

But they also feel frustrated with a system that didn’t support them and/or consistently provide what those kids needed — at least not all the time, not enough.

A Roundup interview with Bree and Chad Gower, along with Bree’s parents Barbara and Jim Quinlan, illustrated the rewarding, life-affirming, frustrating challenges of teaching in a system battered by changes in modern families and the lurching progress of education reform, now obsessed with standardized testing. Their 80 years of accumulated teaching experience illustrate some of the reasons for the national teaching shortage, as well as the problems facing Payson schools. Their experience provides a sobering challenge for newly hired Superintendent Stan Rentz, who took over the district this week.

Chad Gower — a popular history teacher in a department plagued with turnover — will teach at a Catholic high school in the Valley next year, after 12 years teaching here. “It’s a bittersweet exit for me. Payson gave me a great start. But we have to accommodate and accommodate and accommodate and that takes away from the really good kids who want to learn.”

Bree Gower, his wife, was a special education teacher who took on the toughest cases, the children who struggle to function at all. She’s taught here for five years. “It just definitely opened my mind and my heart for what I have and that I’m able to help them and they’re able to help me in return,” Bree said. But she also feels few in the system seemed to recognize what she does. She’s going to be a special education consultant for Valley schools.

A big reason they’re leaving has nothing to do with the district. Their son has complicated medical issues and they’ve decided they need to move closer to good medical care, while also freeing up Bree to be home when Jackson needs her.

Barbara Quinlan, Bree’s mother, has taught elementary school here for years, after switching over from a career as an accountant. She loves her kids — watching how their minds open up, savoring their excitement. But she’s had enough of the micro-management and overwhelming emphasis on standardized test scores. “Let teachers do their jobs. The teachers know their students best. They’re with them all day. So let the teacher do what they’re trained to do.”

And finally there’s Jim Quinlan, Barbara’s husband and Bree’s father and a former member of the Payson School Board. He’s been a teacher for 44 years, including 25 years teaching English at Payson High School. Now, he’s on the faculty at Gila Community College, where he’ll remain. When he went on the school board, Barbara stopped working at the district due to conflict of interest rules, which apply to spouses but not other family members. He resigned from the board when the family decided Barbara needed to return to the classroom. Of their six children, four became teachers but only two remain in the profession — Bree and Byron, who at one time was a middle school counselor in Payson until the district eliminated the position.

Studies show that the best teachers can make a tremendous difference in how kids’ lives turn out. Things like poverty, family trauma and family education have the biggest impact on whether students thrive in school. However, the quality of the teacher remains the biggest single factor the school system can actually control. It counts for more than per-student spending, class size, administration, transportation, extracurricular activities or any other factor, according to studies by the RAND Corporation and other researchers.

But some 1,600 Arizona classrooms started the year without a teacher in 2018, according to an Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association survey. Another 663 teachers quit in the first month of school. Arizona has among the lowest teacher salaries and largest class sizes in the nation. The Legislature has responded to the shortage first by saying teachers don’t need formal teacher training and credentials, although research suggests a good training program does have an impact on teacher effectiveness. Then lawmakers promised a 20 percent teacher raise over three years — with one more year to go. However, the raise will still leave Arizona in the bottom 20 percent nationally when it comes to teacher pay.

The Morrison Institute for Public Policy recently completed a study that found Arizona loses more teachers every year than the teaching programs at the three state universities produce.

So that makes it vital to listen to the insights about Payson schools offered by four veteran teachers.

“They’ve taken so much away from the teachers — being the expert in the classroom,” said Jim. “The high stakes testing mode we’ve been in, it’s taken the fun out of teaching in school. If you want to teach the letter “O” for “Orange” during Halloween, you can’t because that’s not what’s on the schedule or calendar. I think it’s education in general, not just Payson — other districts obviously have the same problem.

“We have a great faculty, great coaching staff, but slowly but surely we’ve lost a lot of great teachers. Once you have a good teacher, you should do almost anything to try to keep them — they’re so hard to find and to develop. But so often I’ve seen teachers leave Payson with a bitter taste in their mouths.”

Next: Get the insights of veteran Payson teachers who are leaving the district.

Boutique hotel planned for Main Street

In what would be one of the biggest developments on Main Street in years, a local Realtor would like to build a two-story hotel on the west end of the street.

Wendy Larchick recently came before the Planning and Zoning Commission for a permit to develop the site, at 621 W. Main St., which she has owned for some time.

The property has housed various businesses over the years and currently, there is a manufactured home, detached garage and office building on the site.

Larchick would like to build a boutique hotel where the manufactured home now sits. It would be replaced with a two-story, 10-room hotel. The office building would be remodeled to house two additional rooms for a total of 12 hotel rooms, according to a memo from Trever Fleetham, planning and sustainability adviser with the town, to the P&Z commission.

“I am excited about building a boutique hotel on Main Street which will give visitors the opportunity to stay on our historic Main Street and experience Payson on foot — walk to Green Valley Park or Zane Grey Museum ... and experience the Oxbow Saloon,” said Larchick. “Plus, I am hopeful with all the focus currently on Main Street we will see some new restaurants, additional retail opportunities and events on Main Street which will allow Payson to be a destination.”

The property is already zoned commercial and is surrounded by commercial property, including the now closed 703 on Main restaurant.

There are only five parking spaces and staff said the minimum is one space per room plus one per employee.

“While the provisions for Main Street and Green Valley Redevelopment Area (GVRA) do allow for relief from minimum parking requirements, a parking plan needs to be provided during plan review to ensure adequate parking is provided,” Fleetham said.

The new development will need Design Review approval and to comply with town codes.

A citizens participation meeting was held June 24 after letters were sent to all owners within a 300-foot radius of the property. Only two residents attended and both “were hugely supportive and excited about the boutique hotel project and offered to attend the Planning & Zoning meeting to lend their support,” Larchick wrote the town. “There were no other attendees or responses to the letter.”

Larchick hopes to start construction by this fall.

Pia Wyer / File photo by Pia Wyer/Roundup  

Brian Kramer, Payson Roundup publisher; Wendy Larchick, 2018 winner for Best Business Person in Rim Country, Best Realtor and Best Real Estate Broker; Gary Tackett, Roundup general manager at the 2018 Best of the Rim awards event at Mazatzal Hotel and Casino.