Trusted local news leader for Williams AZ and the Grand Canyon
Tue, May 26


Helen M. Polson

Helen M. Polson, a woman known to many in Williams due to her long teaching career in Williams Public Schools, 96, died in Michigan Dec. 20, 2000.

Mrs. Polson, who moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1991 to be near her only child, Janis Gill, was the wife of Kenneth Morrow Polson, who passed away in 1986.

The Polsons were a pioneering family. Polson Brothers Merchandise was established early in Williams. The railroad to the Grand Canyon was laid to within a few miles of the Canyon by Kenneth’s father, Frank O. Polson, and other investors before funding forced them to halt the project and hand it over to others for completion.

Mrs. Polson was born May 14, 1904 in Jenny Lind, Ark., a little coal-mining town named for the famous opera singer called “The Swedish Nightingale.”

Her father, John Maxwell, worked in the mines and her family, along with most in the town, waited in fear for the news when the mine whistles sounded to signal an accident underground. Malaria was rampant in Arkansas.

So, in 1909, Maxwell moved his family west to a healthier climate to take up farming, promising the government he’d “prove up a claim” for 160 acres. Helen, her sister Elsie, who was two years older, and their parents lived in a dugout, with dirt floor and sod roof they constructed on the plains of Kansas. The girls collected yucca pods and cow chips to supplement coal for fuel.

School was three miles away by buggy. Water was hauled several miles to their farm where the first year, a crop of broomcorn was harvested. But the Maxwells were restless and John realized he was no farmer. After that first crop, they sold their farm, and moved into town near relatives.

After several years of looking for the right opportunity, John Maxwell bought a car, loaded up his family and headed west to California. Women and children were not allowed to cross the Mojave Desert that summer in cars, however, due to the heat.

They couldn’t afford to travel by train, so at Kingman they turned back and settled briefly in the town of Williams to plan their next move. Employment for John at the SaginawManistee Lumber Company made them permanent residents.

Helen graduated from Williams High School when she was but 16. She then enrolled in Northern Arizona Normal School in Flagstaff, graduating with a teaching certificate before turning 18. She taught school in Winslow and Prescott before returning to Williams where in 1930 she married Kenneth.

Ken built their home on Sherman Avenue on a lot next to his parents, and the couple lived happily there until his death. Janis Claire Polson, their only child, was born in 1932.

During the Depression years, millions of Americans left their homes, became hoboes and rode the rails looking for work anywhere. Most were hungry. The Polson home became known as a place where a hungry person would be given a bite to eat.

Over the years, Ken served several terms on the Williams City Council and the Water Board.

Mrs. Polson had retired from teaching when she married Ken, but during WWII, was asked to head back to the classroom. She returned to then Northern Arizona University, completed her bachelor’s degree, and joined Williams Public Schools.

She taught second grade there some 25 years until retirement in 1966 and said, “I loved every child in every class I taught.”

In 1991, Mrs. Polson moved on the Fourth of July to Grand Rapids, Mich., to be near her daughter and family.

Musing about her life, and her planned autobiography, she thought a good title would be “Covered Wagon to Jumbo Jet.” She recalled a trip to the metropolis of Fort Smith, Ark., when as a young girl she went to the circus and saw her first automobile.

“Two big eyes and a horrible racket,” she said. “Horses were pulling the streetcars, the streetcar bells were clanging and the hollow clipclop of horses feet on the pavement was wonderful.

“But the roar and rush of the automobiles terrified them. Me too!”

Mrs. Polson was preceded in death by her husband, Kenneth Polson, and sisters Elsie Mellick and Nellie Claire Maxwell. Surviving are her daughter and soninlaw, Janis and Bill Gill of Grand Rapids, Mich.; seven grandchildren, Donald Hoffman of Lake Worth, Fla., Lorraine Averill and her husband, Craig, of Lansing, Mich.; Steven Hoffman and his wife, Jennifer, of Okemos, Mich.; Lynn Rainbolt and her husband, Tim, of Farmersville, Texas; Diane Schroeder and her husband, Dan, of Tampa, Fla.; Susan Thierry and her husband, David, of Chicago; and Kris Hoffman of Grand Rapids; two stepgrandchildren, Michael Gill and his wife, Sharon of Alto, Mich. and Debra Massey and her husband, Kevin, of New Milford, N.J.; and 17 great-grandchildren. Also surviving is a favorite niece who thought of Helen as her second mother, Maxine Polson Brown and her husband, Oral, of Albuquerque, N.M.

Mrs. Polson will be deeply missed by all who knew her. As she wished, cremation has occurred.

A memorial service will be held Feb. 10, 2001 in Michigan for family members. Cremains will be placed in the Williams Cemetery at a future date alongside her husband.

Those wishing to do so are asked to consider a gift in her memory to a charity of their choice in Williams.

Roxie Flow Bills

Roxie Flow Bills, 100 years old, died at her Williams home Jan. 1, 2001. She was born to Charles and Evabelle Tice on Aug. 28, 1900 in Columbus, Ohio. Mrs. Bills was foremost a wife and mother having a total of 16 children. She lived in Junipine Estates with her daughter, Mary Tull, having moved here nine years ago from Texas.

Survivors include six of her children, sons, Chester Tice and Oliver Tice of Texas; daughters, Pauline White of Arkansas, Allene Moore of California, Naomi Garlock of Michigan and Mary Tull of Williams, as well as 34 grandchildren and numerous great- and greatgreat grand children.

Mrs. Bills was laid to rest Jan. 8, 2001 in Williams Cemetery. Stewart Chapel was entrusted with the arrangements.

Dennis Murphy

Dennis Murphy, Flagstaff resident from 1968 to 1982, died Jan. 3, 2001 in Clarksville, Ark. He was 58 years old.

Mr. Murphy was born April 13, 1942, in Chicago to Bea and Maurice Murphy. In 1958, he and his family moved to Phoenix where he finished high school and started college. After serving in the army for two years, he returned to Arizona and moved to Flagstaff to complete his education at Northern Arizona University where he was a member of the Blue Key Club, Tau Kappa Epsilon and the business fraternity.

After graduation, he started teaching at East Flagstaff Junior High School (now Mount Elden Middle School). He was a popular business teacher there from 1969 to 1975 and then went into administration at the same school. After two years as an assistant principal and five years as the principal, in 1982, Mr. Murphy left Flagstaff to pursue other interests.

He worked for Lamsons and Phillips Business Schools in Las Vegas and Seattle for several years. His love of northern Arizona brought him back to Williams in 1992, where he worked at various occupations and enjoyed renewing acquaintances with old friends. For the last two years, he drove a truck for Prime Trucking Co. and traveled all over the United States.

His hobbies included hot air ballooning, working with youth, reading voraciously and ranching. He was also a member of the Elks Lodge No. 499 when he lived in Flagstaff.

Survivors include three brothers, Tom Murphy of Williams, Bob Murphy and Brian Murphy both of Phoenix; a nephew, Patrick Murphy of Colorado and many friends.

Private funeral services are planned. In lieu of flowers, individuals may make a contribution in his memory to a charity of their choice.

Report a Typo Contact

More like this story

Event Calendar
Event Calendar link
Submit Event