HEBER-OVERGAARD – Phyllis Ault was born in Wisconsin. She was the next to the youngest of six children. When she was five her family moved to Kokomo, Indiana where she resided until she was 18. But, that is only the prelude to her arrival in Overgaard where she serves as the volunteer President of the Rim Country Senior Center (RCSC), a Meals on Wheels driver and an RCSC fundraiser.
Ault’s father believed that children should stay in the home with their family until they married. But as the fifth child, Phyllis had already begun planning her escape when she was only nine years old. Her Italian father was a drinker and a violent person, and that taught Phyllis about consequences. Her mother, she says, was a saint who treated all of her children equally, recognizing their differences.
“I grew up without consistency,” said Ault. “They gave me a bed and food.”
She knew what lay ahead for her if she stayed – working in a factory. School at a university and getting a degree was out of the question because of money. She recognized money as a tool for a different life and at age 12, began saving the money she earned as a nanny for her get-away.
In the 9th-grade, Ault knew she wanted to be an accountant. She wanted to take on the government over taxation.
“As an economics student I did not understand how someone with no education could make $15 an hour and a teacher make $14,” said Ault. “
Driven as she was, when she turned 18 she asked an older sister who lived in California if she could come and live with her and go to school. Even so, she wanted her father’s approval, and having never gotten into trouble, he gave his permission.
It was off to Southern California, and with the knack she had for taxes, she went to school for basic bookkeeping and was fortunate to break into the mortgage industry where she got her real estate, notary and mortgage licenses.
She married Garry Ault in 1981 and they had one son. This year they were married 40 years – minus two years off for bad behavior. They hit a rough spot during their marriage and Phyllis filed for divorce. She said her “ticker was broken for dating,” and she didn’t want a blended family, so she bought a house in 2004 and focused on her son.
Imagine the shock she experienced when a paralegal called one day to tell her the divorce papers had never been filed and she and her husband were only legally separated.
Approaching the issue with the same practicality, patience and wisdom she exhibited as a child, Phyllis and Garry got into counseling and were able to “put their marriage back together.”
When the economy began to tank in California, Garry was in manufacturing and only working around 30 hours a week and Phyllis was on commission. They lost their insurance and lthought they would lose everything. They wanted to leave California.
With their son having relocated to Phoenix, they came for a visit and their godson took them to look at properties in Prescott and Flagstaff. Phyllis said it was too like California, so he suggested the eastern part of the state. On another visit they came to Show Low and drove a bit farther to Overgaard and they were home.
Though Garry had always wanted to live in Colorado on 20 acres away from everything, Phyllis, a social being, did not. They settled on one rural acre. That was 2014 and both were retired.
Coming to a senior community at 53 was hard for Phyllis and she only missed two things from California – sourdough bread and vegetables. She remedied that – she learned to make her own sourdough starter and as for vegetables, well, “gardening is gardening here” – she said.
Following a diagnosis in 2015 of Rheumatoid Arthritis for Garry, who was not yet old enough for Medicare, and with Obama Care being too expensive, Phyllis went back to work at Wells Fargo covering Window Rock to Gila County and put 20,000 miles on her vehicle. When Gary turned 65, Phyllis said, “I am retiring.”
Phyllis got involved with the Lion’s Club, Meals on Wheels and the RCSC. With her knack for money, it wasn’t practical for her to go back to work and, with Medicare not yet in her sight, she decided to “kick the can” until then.
Raw from having just experienced a suicide in her family last November, Phyllis, vice president for RCSC, found herself thrust into the president’s seat when the president suddenly resigned. She was already a certified food manager and had her Level 1 fingerprint status for senior protection, and with her typical attitude towards everything — just do it — she rolled up her sleeves and tackled the 160 page RFP for NACOG that would changed the status of the center from its probationary ranking.
“Four months taught me a full understanding of why we do everything. There were eight sections up to G of how we deal with it. The RFP taught me all I needed to know, and working with NACOG was easier than government loans – FHA.
“I answered every question, even if I had already answered it eight times. They wanted you to write like you are talking to them and I did.”
After that, she decided she could write grants and she did – two of them to the tune of $25,000 which will allow the center to get a backup generator.
“Volunteer in your community is what I tell people. Never measure yourself by your money. God will take care of you. Do service and God will provide the money. That’s what he wants us to do.”
On her birthday this year, Phyllis, the consummate senior caregiver, was with one of the members of her community who was making their transition from this life, surrounded also by fire, police and family.
“I never thought I could do end of life care,” said Phyllis. “I pass out in a hospital at the sight of blood. There was peace, no sadness. They were on the road to meet their God. I never knew this would be a calling for me. Trauma, no, but if I can sit close by you and hold your hand, I will be there in a heartbeat.”
Phyllis says she has faith, is purposeful, resourceful and solution oriented. She is not fancy. She believes that cleanliness is next to Godliness; you should live within your means, and service starts with your community –your house, out your front door and maybe start by shaking hands with your neighbor.
Phyllis was brought up Catholic but learning about alcoholism on both sides of the family and generational suicide (there have been three family members who taken this route), she found spirituality in Alateen where she was a counselor for 16 years. Today she goes to the Baptist Church but because she is not vaccinated, she listens every week to the services at home.
“What I want to leave behind is not to be afraid to conquer fear and allow yourself to excel. If we are afraid to make mistakes we won’t make anything,” says Phyllis Ault, someone I wanted you to meet.
Author Mitch Albom said, “... there are no random acts, that we are all connected. That you can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.” That being the case, here in the White Mountains there are people you need to meet and places you need to know about it. And, on the last Friday of each month, I will connect you with some of those as I go ‘Round the Mountain.