At this time a year ago, Catherine Hurla and her fellow members of the Pine-Strawberry Arts and Crafts Guild were fretting the closure of the Tonto National Forest due to extreme fire danger would significantly impact the annual Memorial Day Festival.

Since attendance records are not kept, it’s difficult to tell if numbers were down, but festival organizers are not worrying about fire danger this year. The Rim Country enjoyed one of the wettest winters and springs on record.

The 39th festival is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, May 25, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, May 26 at the Pine Community Center.

Since weather conditions are now almost ideal, Hurla is expecting a good turnout.

A popular draw of the show is the benefit pancake breakfast served at 8 a.m. both days by the Mountain Village Foundation. The service line can be long, so it’s best to arrive early to enjoy a scrumptious meal of pancakes, sausage, juice and coffee at a bargain price.

Following breakfast, hang around to enjoy live music and vendor booths and visit the boutique to admire the guild members’ work.

All money earned benefits worthy causes in Pine and Strawberry. Most years the guild donates $8,000-plus, with contributions to the Pine-Strawberry Food Bank, Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library, Pine-Strawberry School, Mountain Village Foundation, Meals on Wheels, Tonto Rim Search and Rescue, Pine-Strawberry Fire Association, Pine-Strawberry Fuel Reduction and others.

Driving for seniors

AARP is offering a Driver Safety Class for seniors interested in improving defensive driving skills and possibly becoming eligible for multi-year discounts on auto insurance.

The course is from 9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a one-hour lunch break, Saturday, June 15 at the First Baptist Church in Pine.

To register call 928-476-3552 and leave name and phone number.

The fee is $15. Participants may bring their own sack lunch.

Benefit for shooting victim

Bandits Dirty Cowboy Saloon in Strawberry is hosting a benefit for Cody Newman, who was shot multiple times May 7 in a confrontation at the Giant service station on South Beeline in Payson.

The benefit begins at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 22 and includes an auction, raffle, corn hole games, live music, 50/50, lunch and an off-road raffle run all for a $20 donation.

Newman, of Payson, is married and has three young children.

The man who allegedly fired the shots, 35-year-old Samuel McDonnell, has been charged with attempted homicide and two counts of aggravated assault.

For details call 928-363-4975.

Da Bears

Those pesky bears remain on the prowl in Pine Creek Canyon.

Recently a Portals III homeowner’s security camera caught a bear dawdling nearby, most likely in search of food.

None of the bears sighted have been aggressive and all retreated when seen.

However, residents should remove all possible food sources including scraps in garbage cans, bird feeders and pet food.

Rodeo benefits students

The Gary Hardt Memorial Rodeo, held May 16-18 at the Payson Event Center, drew cowboys and spectators from around the West including Pine-Strawberry.

The rodeo has its roots in the National Old Timer’s Rodeo Association circuit and has long been a big attraction in the Rim Country.

In 1987 the Payson Rodeo Committee changed the name to the Gary Hardt Memorial to honor the Payson native who died that same year in a construction accident in Flagstaff.

Hardt’s family has a storied athletic history in the Rim Country. His father, Jiggs, was a legendary high school track and field coach who has been enshrined in the Arizona Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

His brother, Chuck, as well as son, Shaun, followed in Gary’s coaching footsteps.

Gary was a successful coach in the Northern Arizona Youth Football Association and Chuck joined his father in the HOF after a long career as a football, basketball and track and field coach at Payson High School.

Shaun served a stint as head coach of the PHS girls basketball team and assisted in track. He now teaches and coaches in the Valley area.

Hardt’s local ties also include the late Ronnie McDaniel.

McDaniel and Gary Hardt were close friends and standout athletes at Payson High School who went on to compete on the pro rodeo circuit.

This scribe once spent a few hours with McDaniel researching a newspaper story about Gary.

The tales he spun left the impression that Gary was the quintessential cowboy. Shaun also shared memories of his father and they too were of a legitimate tough guy.

Following the rodeo’s name change, the rodeo committee, headed by longtime rodeo boss Bill Armstrong, decided profits would benefit the area’s youth in their pursuit of educational and athletic achievements.

Hardt Memorial scholarships are awarded each year to graduating PHS seniors and financial assistance is provided to the Payson School District athletic and other programs.

Thought for the week

The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?

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