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Julia Randall – Pioneer woman & Extraordinary Teacher in Gila County

My cousin, Taylor Hale of Gisela, called me the other day and asked when the Rock School in Payson was built – the one we now call Julia Randall Elementary School – and he asked when it was named after Miss Julia. I knew the Rock School was built in the early 1930s, but I wasn’t sure who built it, although I knew it was some government program designed to help people during the Great Depression.

Thank goodness there are still people around like Raymond Cline who know these things. Pat Cline and Anna Mae Deming could probably have told me, too, but I called Raymond and he gave me the scoop. I know the information is available somewhere in writing, but it’s nice to have “instant info” people just a phone call away.

Raymond said the Rock Building was built by the WPA – the Works Progress Administration, a program instituted by President Roosevelt to help people make a little money during the Great Depression. He remembered that it was built in 1932. The government paid local people to build the school. He said the WPA also built the rock school in Pleasant valley (Young).

NOTE: Ezra Peace, Norma Jean Peace, Jr. Haught, and Oscar Greer said the Rock School was built in 1938. Mr. Tretheway of PV was the foreman on the building of both the Rock School at PV (Will Peace worked on it) and the Rock School in Payson. Ezra said they built the rock school in PV first- that it was finished by Sept 1938. Ezra went to school there in 1938. Then they built the one in Payson and it was finished by Sept 1938. Junior Haught went to school in Payson in 1939. Norma Jean remembers that this is correct. Oscar Greer also recalls that the Rock school was built in 1938- and so does Dorothy Pyle. She graduated in 1938 and the Rock Building was not yet finished. She said they built the gym onto the Rock School later, that Gene worked on it- that it wasn’t completely finished until the mid-1940s.)

Local stonemasons and many other men who were willing to learn, built the school out of stones taken from a rock quarry located south of town. The Rock School replaced two frame school buildings and housed all twelve grades.

I attended first grade in the Rock School and at that time each teacher taught two grades. Miss Randall taught first and second grades in the same classroom. Today, it would be considered a horrid situation, but it didn’t seem bad back then. She would get us first graders started on something like learning our ABCs, then she would work with the second graders. When the second graders finished their work, they helped the first graders. It was a great for the teacher to have teaching assistants in the classrooms everyday.

To learn our ABCs, we were each required to take a big match box to school. Then Miss Randall gave us cardboard letters, both upper and lower case. First we had to learn the capital letters. Starting with A, we each lined them up across our desk in the correct order, then when she came to our desk, we would point to each letter, tell her the name of it, and tell her the sound that it made. We did this everyday until we had it down pat. After we conquered the capital letters, we started with the small letters. Thus, we learned phonics which made it easy for us to learn to read.

Miss Randall was loved by all of us. She taught us much more than the regular school subjects. Every morning, when she rang her bell for school to start, we lined up outside the school, placed our hands over our hearts and pledged allegiance to the flag. Then we quietly marched into the classroom, in order, and there she played My Country Tis of Thee on her piano and we each loudly sang the song. No one thought of not saying the pledge of allegiance or not singing My Country Tis of Thee. It wasn’t a choice. If Miss Randall said “sing,” we sang. She was a wonderful women who instilled in us obedience and patriotism. She also educated us about God, the flag, and the president.

She taught us to sing many songs and we had a class band. Each of us learned to play an instrument, the choices being sticks, tambourines, maracas, bells, triangles, one set of cymbals, and few other things that I can’t remember. But I can remember that I played a triangle. Miss Randall played her piano and led our band. At the end of the year, the parents were invited to come watch us play our instruments.

And Miss Randall made us mind. If we talked when we were supposed to be studying, she would rap our fingers with a pencil or a ruler. If she couldn’t reach our fingers, she would hit us on the head. We deserved it. We knew better. She also kept a circle drawn on the blackboard for the noses of students who didn’t mind. Can you imagine what would happen to a first grade teacher today if he/she punished the kids who didn’t mind? I’m glad I was in first grade in the 1950s.

To answer Taylor Hale’s question of when the Rock School was named the Julia Randall Elementary School, I knew it was in the mid-1980s because I worked for the Payson Roundup then and I remember taking a photograph of the new sign on the school for the newspaper. After checking records, I found that it was in 1985.

I hope that Taylor remembers that his father, Ralph Duke Hale and his grandfather, Ralph Hale, were both taught first grade by Miss Julia.

I’m proud that our Rock School now bears her name. She taught in Payson for 46 years, retiring in 1969. When she retired, her students of three generations held a big party for her at the Rock School. A collection was taken and Miss Randall was sent on a 10-day trip to Hawaii in appreciation of her many years of teaching.

Going back, Julia Viola Randall was born August 9, 1899 in Denver, Colorado to Rose Redding and George A. Randall. She never married and was known to her many friends as “Miss Julia.” She had a sister, Cece Randall, who married Wash Gibson, and she had a brother, Rowe Randall.

The Randall family arrived in Gila County in 1901, first locating at the Grand Prize Mine (near the East Verde River), where Mr. Randall was employed as superintendent of the mine. After two or three years, the mine failed.

The family then moved to a cabin where the Sycamore Campground is now located. Julia recalled that her family had to cross the Verde River seven times to get to Payson. When the river was up, they couldn’t go anywhere. While living there, Miss Julia’s mother taught her first grade at home because it was too far to travel to Payson each day.

Miss Julia said her father served as postmaster at the Angora-Holder post office in 1905, then in 1906 the family moved to Payson. They first rented a house on Main Street, then her father built them a home in 1909 on what is now McLane Street. Miss Julia lived out her live in that house and it is still standing. It is a historical home.

Miss Julia attended Payson School from second grade on. She finished high school and college in Flagstaff, graduating from Arizona State Normal School where she earned a teacher’s certificate.

She first taught in Star Valley, then in Pine, then Miami, then Tonto Basin. Finally she was hired in Payson where she taught from 1924 to 1969.

Miss Julia was also active in the community. She was a charter member of the Payson Woman’s Club in 1921, and served as president three times. She was one of the founding members of the Presbyterian Church where she taught Sunday School lessons for many years. She was a charter member of the Daughters of the Gila County Pioneers and was honored as Pioneer Woman of the Year in 1988.

Miss Julia never married and she never learned to drive a car. She spent much of her life in service to others. When her twin grand-nephews, Ron and Don Gibson, were less than two years old, she took them in and raised them as her own. And were a great joy in her life. She referred to them as “my boys.”

Ron married Marte and had two sons, Brett and Tod. He later married Mary Ellen and had a daughter, Veronica. Little Ron grew up to be “Rockin’ Ron,” of KMOG-Radio. He’s also a talented drummer.

Don married Erin Walker and had two daughters, Cassidy and Emerald. Don is a great musician and singer. He and Ron had their own band for many years and played for many dances in the area.

Miss Julia died March 8, 1990, after a long illness. She is buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery. Her portrait hangs in the “Rock Building” and her name is over the entryway. Education, religion, and doing for others was her lifelong work. She was a shining example of the grit and determination to make Payson the wonderful place it is today. I’m glad she was my teacher.

*Story told by Jinx and Jayne Pyle

For more Gila County History visit or follow on all social media accounts @discovergilacounty

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