On a warm Tuesday June morning I went to meet with my friend Bobbie Stephens Hunt at her and husband Orville’s home in Heber. They spend winters in Tonto Basin now as Orville has a hard time breathing in the high elevation. This day Orville is maintaining with oxygen as they enjoy the cooler temperatures in Heber.
Bobbie and Orville are newbies in town compared with Mabel Despain and her relatives who were some of the originals settlers. (See issue no. 92 on Mabel) Although not original settlers or descendents, the Hunts moved here in 1963, a mere 52 years ago. Bobbie and Orville met in Maverick, AZ which was a logging camp about 30 miles west of Hannigan’s Meadow. Bobbie’s family lived there as did Orville who was working as a logger. Orville asked her to go horseback riding with him and another couple – not a bad first date. Even though she had little horse experience she agreed to go. At the end of an “unforgettable day” as she calls it in her book, Those Days Are Gone Forever, teasingly she grabbed Orville’s new Stetson hat and threw it in a nearby pond used to cool the town’s electricity producing generators. He promptly threw her in the muddy pond with instructions to retrieve his hat. “He drawled, ‘When you come out of the water, you bring my hat to me. You may not know much about hats, so I’ll tell you. Number 1, you don’t touch a cowboy’s hat. Number 2, that is a 3XXX Beaver Stetson that cost me a day and a half’s wages. And, Number 3, you just struck out with me by throwing it in the water.’”
Poor Bobbie! And to think when Orville showed up on her parents’ doorstep a couple nights later wanting to court her, she accepted. He must have been extremely charming for her to get past that experience. They dated three months and then married. That was 62 years ago.
Orville and Bobbie raised their five children, Bill, Marty Lee, Laura, Adrian and Bodie here in Heber.
For years they owned and operated Hunt’s Hamburger House on SR 260 where Tin Pan Alley now sits. “Each Memorial Day, we would open the flee market on our property along Highway 260,” Bobbie explained. She continued,“There wasn’t much anywhere local to shop for things back then, so people would come here. It was open everyday as long as the summer weather lasted. The sellers could camp here and Orville kept it all so clean. People would shop and then they could eat hamburgers and ice cream. We also served a three piece chicken dinner, fish, cheese crisps…it wasn’t just hamburgers. People would tell me they felt such peace there – they didn’t know that every morning I would lift up the name of Jesus – and you could really feel God’s presence.”
As times changed, the restaurant closed and the flee market stopped. Bobbie loved to visit the older people in town and hear their stories. Not knowing she had a gift of writing, she began to document these stories to help preserve the history she was hearing. She said, “People never think their story would be interesting to others. But, there was always a story that made me laugh or something that they would tell me that I realized was a thing of the past that people should know about.”
Bobbie started writing stories for the Pine Graphics, the newspaper in town at that time. “I bought a computer and taught myself how to type,” Bobbie said. “Every week, I did an interview on Monday,” she explained, “Then composed my story in long hand on Tuesday, Wednesday I’d type it up and then turn it in on Thursday.”
Her book, Those Days Are Gone Forever, was published in 2002, before the Rodeo-Chediski Fire. Her first book which had many of the same stories, titled It Is Not Often, was first printed in 1993 by Jo McKernan of the Pine Graphics and is out of print.
I used to faithfully pick up the Pine Graphics when we came in town for the weekends in the mid 1990s, and remember loving to read Bobbie’s stories. Who would have thought I would be listening and writing up her story for my own newspaper? Not me, for sure!
Bobbie’s book is still available in print. In fact, she will have a booth at Tall Timbers Park during the July 4th festivities near the Chamber’s booth where she’ll have books for sale for $20. Stop by and meet this lovely and gracious lady. Remember, these days won’t last forever either!