The Chamber has selected 11 businesses to shine a light on their origin stories and what unique qualities they bring to Willcox. We've sat down with the founders, owners, and coordinators and created short articles giving you not only a piece of Willcox's history but why you should invest in local businesses here. Enjoy!
Bodega Pierce Winery and vineyard
Barbara and Dan's son Michael acquired their viticulture and enology degrees from Washington State University. He gained experience working for other wineries and vineyards in the US and around the world. They began their wine journey in 2011 on the Willcox Bench. Bodega Pierce highlights wines made exclusively from the 18 varieties of grapes grown at their family's 80-acre estate vineyard in Willcox. The wines are designed to express the high desert terroir of the Willcox Bench that they have found to be unsurpassed in producing spectacular world class wines. We aim to provide other Arizona wine drinkers with a consistent product over-delivers on quality.
Dan loves working the vineyard, watching the vines and grapes grow and mature. They are proud of being a family business. They are also proud of being awarded 2020 Arizona Wine Competition winner for Best White Wine for our 2019 Sauvignon Blanc Double Gold winner of 2017 Graciano, 2018 Petite Sirah and 2019 Sauvignon Blanc.
Lee's Pecans started when Jackie and Paul Lee began searching for a pretty place to build a house. When they did they decided to plant some trees as a retirement hobby. Producing was something they spoke about shortly after they met. They talked about different types of production – whether it be fruits, nuts, or something else and they decided that pecans would be the least demanding to produce. "They're more forgiving when it comes to the weather and we don't have to catch the nuts when we shake them to the ground. Other nut trees have to be protected from freezing, but our trees can hold up pretty well during the extreme weather conditions." Jackie says. Three or four months after Jack and Paul met each other, they planted their first trees. Jackie was living in San Diego county and Paul invited her to Willcox a couple of months before we got married – to see if she can work in the dirt. They spent the weekends planting trees. "He took a city girl and thought maybe she might make it on the farm...I must have passed the test, that was 39 years ago," Jackie says. The first four trees we named Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. As the trees grew and needed more sunlight, they thinned the orchard and transplanted them – Mathew and Luke are still there. After starting with 500 trees, they now have a total of only 220. They had acquired the adjacent property and relocated some of the trees there. Other trees were transplanted to many locations for miles around where they are flourishing today.
"The weather and soil makes Willcox unique for pecan growing as well as the market for pecans . I moved here about 56 years ago before I started the business. I had some auto-parts businesses and just really loved the area, nice people. I wouldn't leave here not even for the end of the world. Willcox for life," says Paul.
"And Paul always did a little farming on the side - even when he had the business, so he was a natural. When he retired, he said I definitely want to have something to keep me busy. His love for farming went in the direction of pecan farming and we never looked back," says Jackie.
"We are proud of so many things. Everything. We are living our dream. I mean, what else could we want? And farming just keeps me healthy and fit," says Paul.
"My favorite part is being able to meet the people who come and visit our farm. We have met people from all over the world and the reward is what they share about their lives. When they want to ask questions and learn about the pecans it’s a big reward. It keeps us both very busy and very healthy. We're not sitting around wondering what to do. We don't post hours on our website because we never know when people are going to want to come by. I always encourage people to text or call to let me know when they are coming so that we can be available. I'd hate to have people come down from Phoenix or when they are passing through, and they start looking online to locate us and we’re not here. We are happy to have a wonderful, healthy place to live that just puts off good feelings. People will come here and comment on the peacefulness of being in the orchard. We are recognized by the Chamber of Commerce and the people of Willcox and that's all the recognition we need. I want to thank all of the friends and wonderful acquaintances that we have made from all over that have continued to praise our pecans and that have shared them with others to promote Lee’s Pecan Farm. They have helped us to grow into the terrific business that we are today," says Jackie.
"Visiting Lee's Pecans give people the opportunity to obtain the most wonderful tasting and nourishing pecans. Everyone enjoys learning about the process that’s involved with creating and producing them. Information and a tour are available when you visit. Folks tell us that it’s a beautiful and peaceful place for everyone to experience," says Jackie.
Encore Dance Academy
In 1966, the Encore Dance Academy was started by Betty Worley and then in 1980 her daughter Dina Ellis took over. She was Amy's dance teacher. Then Dina sold it to Katie Hill in 2003 and Amy was her instructor from then until she bought the business in 2017. Betty was from California; she was a professional dancer. She came here in 1966 owned a chain of dance studios, one here in Willcox, one in Morenci, and maybe 3 or 4 others elsewhere. Betty and her family had a farm out in Kansas Settlement and she travelled to each dance studio and taught there. "So, when people ask me why dance – because I was just 3 years old when I started - I asked my mom, "what made you want to put me in dance?" And she said, "well ever since you were walking you liked it." And I’d go with my grandparents to get my older cousin from her dance class and I couldn’t sit still, and I kept asking "when is it my turn? So that’s how I got started in dance," says Amy.
Willcox is her hometown, she was born and raised here and my family has deep roots. Her great grandparents were some of the first foreman on the Sierra Bonita Ranch. There is a long history on her side of the family. She married her high school sweetheart. "So it's been a place of opportunity for us. We moved away just for a short while and then we came back because we missed the simplicity and quiet atmosphere. We're raising our family....so we've had great opportunities here," says Amy.
"What makes its nice is in the city a lot of students wouldn't be able to do dance based on the economy. Dancing in the city costs a lot of money, so it's nice because out here we have something that gives everyone the opportunity to take classes. Though it's hard because we're a recreational studio and most of the time in the city it's not recreational, you have only your serious dancers that take 8 hours of dance a week. But it's nice that we’re able to do that here."
Encore Dance Academy has classes for kids as young as 2 and a half. here's tumbling classes for the kids who are about 3 years old and they do it based on primary, intermediate, advanced levels. They also have an adult tap class right now. They provide a class for the dancers that would like to experience more and be a little more serious about dance life The Encore Elite Dance Company dancers compete in competitions and take more than one hour of class a week. With COVID, there is a Google Meets service for students to attend classes virtually. You can set it up while the class is going and they can interact with the other kids.
"I am proud of the growth that we've experienced. The first year is hard because you’re switching the baton and you're either going have those that really don’t like change and those that are excited to continue. So it's kind of risky but we had experienced the greatest growth last year. Everything was going really well, then COVID hit. But it was a great accomplishment that we had since I became owner. So, it says a lot about the staff we have and the atmosphere that we've created. We had great students and families that came back when we were able to open and worked with us as things changed. My husband and I worked very hard at rebranding the studio. That's part of the great accomplishment and growth. It takes a lot of work to change something that has been here for over 50 years. We kept the good parts and revamped all the others. I think our greatest accomplishment is that we've been able to establish this as our own and make the kids feel like they are a part of something great," says Amy
"Well, they always say you learn how to dance before you walk. When young children learn how to dance it increases their knowledge of spatial awareness, physical, and sensory learning. It helps develop literacy and strengthens physical development. It helps develop cognitive learning, emotional maturity, and social awareness. For example, a mom put her little girl into dance 2 years ago because she had a speech impediment and has noticed that her speech had improved by being in dance from socializing and singing while dancing. The National Organization of Dance says that dance is the basis for educational learning. The boys that we've had in dance showed improved coordination. They come in and have 2 left feet but within 3 months their coordination is great. So I always try to tell parents that boys need to take dance to help them in football and basketball because that pas de bourree is the same thing you’re doing on the football field. I tell my boys if you were in tap you would know how to balance your weight on the football field and you wouldn't be so clumsy. I think a lot of parents might worry that their son is going to dance like girl, but boys dance masculine and girls dance feminine so when they come to dance, we will continue to teach them like a boy. But I recommend starting with ballet because it is the foundation to anything."
"After seeing the needs in the area, we want to create a non-profit. We have already kind of started it, it’s the Bar Up Foundation. This would allow us to give more to our students because as minimum wages increase, our costs increase and we're not a strong enough business to keep up with that. So if we have some extra help as a non-profit we can make sure to have on-hands staff that we need for the kids; the equipment, supplies for competitions, to maintain our gymnastics program and to keep tuition at a flat rate. As far as events, we're hoping that we can have our Spring Recital which we do every last weekend in May or the first weekend in June. Also our gymnastics program has their showcase usually in May. We weren't able to do that last year because everything had shut down at that point. So, we're hoping that this year we can do it if not, than at least we can do it outdoors."
Maid Rite Feeds
Cheryl Moss started Maid Rite Feeds in 1984 when she was 22 years old. She worked for Arizona Park Producers until they moved to Phoenix. She then had the opportunity to do bookkeeping for Maid Rite Feeds. "It was a new company that a few local hog farms started. They were buying there hog feed out of Texas, so they thought, why not make it here in Willcox. That was 37 years ago," says Cheryl. Cheryl's cousin Billy Thompson, started working for Maid Rite in 1986. With the both of them working there at their young ages, they fell in love with it and they grew with the business. "It was an easy transition and we knew nothing else," says Cheryl.
Maid Rite employs 19 people that are paid with full benefits. They have a rail spur that allows surrounding dairy’s/feedlots to bring in commodities that are not available in this state. They also buy local grain from the farmers and then turn it around a make feed for local ranchers. Maid Rite manufactures its own fresh feed. They have a retail store that they sell it through. They not only provide feed, but almost anything for your pets. They have amazing customer service too.
In 2005, Maid Rite Feeds became a family owned business. Billy (Shelley), David (Tina), (they are Cheryl's cousins), and Cheryl was offered to buy the business. With Billy & Cheryl working there most of their lives, they took the business and made it what it is today. "We have grown from 6 employees to 19 employees and a few more headaches, but we wouldn’t change it for anything," says Cheryl.
(520) 384 4688
Willcox Rock & Sand
Willcox Rock and Sand was started by Kelly Owen's grandparents, Keith and Margaret (Peggy as most people knew her) Gallagher Sr. with just one dump truck. Her father, Keith Jr. and his brothers, Robert and Bill worked with their dad, even as kids, eventually running the business. Peggy's grandfather was able to see the business move to their current location on Maley Street in 1991. You can still see where the business originally was on the corner of Bisbee and Parker on the south end of town. In 2011, Kelly and her husband Dwayne, along with Stephen and Shaye Klump purchased Willcox Rock and Sand. Last year they celebrated their 75th Anniversary for Willcox Rock and Sand Inc. "Historically, most businesses don't last 5 years, much less 75!!! This to us is a HUGE accomplishment that we want to see continue", says Kelly.
Kelly is a third generation Willcox resident, fourth in Cochise County. Her great grandparents homesteaded in Pearce, her grandfather being born there and living in Dos Cabezas when he was young, and moving into town sometime later. Dwayne and Kelly were both born here in Willcox and began dating in high school. They went away to college, Dwayne to UofA and Kelly to Western New Mexico University. They returned home after they graduated and got married. Kelly and Dwayne are small town people so they decided to stay in Willcox.
"Rock and Sand offers many kinds of aggregates from fine sand to large boulders. We produce our own material but also provide decorative rock from other sources. We provide ready mixed concrete as well as concrete finishing services for most concrete projects needed. Most concrete companies only sell the concrete. We try to provide many services under one roof including Dozer, Blade, Trenching, Backhoe and Skid Steer just to name a few. We try not to compete with Sierra Lumber or Ace, but we try and carry other products that they might not keep in stock such as culverts, concrete planters, splash blocks, flagstone, and more."
"We feel we have quality products and provide helpful customer service. We want to be a business that people want to come back to and know that they are cared about as a customer. Our reputation is important to us. We have been in Willcox for 75 years and people don't realize that we provide concrete. Come visit us and see how we can help with your projects or just come and take a look at everything that we provide."
Willcox Against Substance Abuse (WASA)
WASA (Willcox Against Substance Abuse) was birthed from the Arizona governor's office. There was a big nationwide grant, and Sally White was recruited because she had done a lot of volunteer things. The grant was for drug prevention that was primarily aimed for the youth but it had to be a partnership between the school, the police force, and the city. At one point there were over 90 alliances against drugs in Arizona. The first 5 years of WASA were totally government funded as long as it made clear what the money was going to be used for. The money was only for programming and the high/middle library school gave WASA an office. Sally did WASA for 32 years and she received a lot of training. She was able to go to DC several times, New Orleans, Phoenix to work with the governor's offices there. Although the first 5 years was entirely funded, they let WASA know that them was going to eventually move to grant funding. The funding trickled out over time and WASA had to become more and more on it’s own but those years were vital in building WASA’s foundation. Sally says, "I'm 74 and resigned now, it was time for me to back out and rest. But Alicia Hernandez (the current WASA coordinator) has my number, and she is welcome to call me if she needs me.”
WASA often faced challenges. Someone people came and go, and people’s feelings got hurt. Sometimes a program would crash because there's no longer somebody there that had the passion to keep it going. But they never put somebody in that didn’t know their subject very well. A huge contribution was that there was enough good funding for a while that it got stabilized. WASA was not a corporate sponsored group and depended on grants after its 5 years of funding ran out. “When it came time to write grants, we already had something to show for," says Sally. "That helped a lot. After those 5 years, WASA was funded by smaller grants, fund-raising activities, and generous donations from local citizens and organizations. The school providing facilities has been amazing too. If we were having to pay rent and utilities, WASA would have gone under years ago. Sometimes WASA didn't put any money, but instead would provide a venue and advertising. Despite the challenges, we stayed in business because it was truly about the youth. Deep down the community wants the kids to thrive.”
The main program that WASA lived by is its summer activities. It established youth court, which is a program that they developed with the help of Judge Hatch where the kids were able to do legal things like working with the judges and attorneys as well as sentencing their own peers. WASA has held an annual Halloween carnival for over 25 years, rented out the theater, provided free movie tickets for seniors on prom night, and hosted bird watching to give kids a sense of family so that they are not out in the streets doing drugs. “Your valedictorian will probably do fine wherever they go. Although I’m happy if they want to do something with us but they didn't need WASA. I am warmed by how many of the kids will come back and bring their kids to stop and say hello. Were we always successful? No, but the fact that we were able to help as many people as we did is an accomplishment. My heart is in prevention and helping them find something better to do. I prefer to be a referral for those who need intervention. What I can provide is a self-esteem program that you can learn and earn from. I know we've made a difference because there are kids that stay in touch with me. I've even talked kids into staying into school and not dropping out. Those are the experiences that speak to my heart," says Sally.
“My greatest success story was that of a little boy that was in first grade for the 3rd time. He had 4 siblings with him being next to the youngest, yet he was the one who would go to the nurse's office to make sure his brother had his mediation. There was no dad in the home and mom didn't speak much English. He had a lot of barriers. That particular year we had a WASA summer program and this kid just stole my heart. I worked with him and found programs that he could do. I would also get him to come to the office after school. I hired him for summer help as soon as he was old enough. WASA had message theater for several years and we took him to school all over the state to perform plays. We did message theater plays for a good 10 years. This young man had stage presence like you wouldn't believe and he loved it. He came to see me between his junior and senior year. He said, "Ms. White I'm thinking about not coming back to school." I replied, “no you can't, we've got you here and you’re a senior, you've got to stay.” He said, "I've been working in the fields, and I make $8 an hour, do you know how much that helps my mom?" I said to him, "but when you get older and you're still going to be working there and you'll still be making $8 an hour. Please stay in school." He said that he would love to go to college but there's no money and I encouraged him to look for scholarships. So we headed over to the educational assistant, who was also the drama director, for funding opportunities. The educational assistant asked me if the boy was good, and I said, "you don't want to give him a lead part that is complicated and has a lot to learn because he'll get frustrated from learning, but he has amazing stage presence. He will give you all he's got and he'll also put away props and sweep your floor afterwards.” I recommended him for a full ride scholarship, and he got it. He now lives in Tucson with his wife and 2 kids. He called me a few years ago to let me know that he has made salesman of the year at his job and won a vacation for his family. To see how much he struggled in elementary school, this was a big deal, says Sally.”
Sally hopes that WASA stays aware of the dangers of drug abuse. “It’s important to understand the things that lead children to drugs. WASA must always be growing and evolving with its drug prevention tactics. I have 5 kids and they refer to WASA as my 6th child. WASA has always been my baby and I hope that it can continue," says Sally. WASA is a 5013c, so any donations are always welcome and appreciated. Volunteers are always needed for our programs year-round. You can call Alicia Hernandez about getting involved.
(520) 384 8862
PO Box 741 Willcox AZ 85644
Northern Cochise County Community Hospital (NCCH)
Before the Northern Cochise County Community Hospital (NCCH) was developed, Willcox was a municipal hospital located on Maley Street in the 1880's. It had 12 patient beds and only a few doctors. NCCH opened on February 16th, 1968 and was created to provide updated and more modern services and facilities. Mo Sheldon has only been with the hospital since April of 2020. She has only been here through the pandemic and has little pre-pandemic experience with the hospital. When she travelled here everything was already closing and the whole medical industry has been pandemic focused ever since. As the pandemic progressed, the hospital’s response to the pandemic progressed. Organizations all over the country including NCCH have had to act based on the best evidence and information available at the time. NCCH is focused on staying current with pandemic requirements, but, thanks to a reduction in area Covid cases, is also back to moving forward with a renewed direction toward community engagement. “We are excited to get back to a sense of normalcy”, says Mo.
NCCH offers the services of the hospital and two rural health clinics. Sulphur Springs Medical Center is the clinic here in town and Sunsites Medical Center in Sunsites. Two of the three providers provide services in both locations and one of the providers is full-time in Willcox. Kristian Abarca, FNP and Laurel Kibler, FNP are local to Willcox and Karen Moskal, FNP comes from the Safford area. NCCH provides a slate of robust, high quality diagnostic and acute care services to the community. The radiology department has new equipment and is modern. It has the new 3D Mammo technology which helps take intricate photos to aid in the radiologist reading. As of last summer, it received a brand new digital rad room. It’s CT is still new too. NCCH provides CT, MRI, bone density exams, and ultrasound. It’s ultra-sonographer has a special expertise in doing cardiac ultrasounds, such as echocardiograms. On the medical floor, NCCH treats outpatients, so people who need special infusions or wound care on a regular basis can stay local. NCCH may admit inpatients who are acutely ill with conditions such as a blood clot, pneumonia or a number of other ailments. They are also equipped to help patients with physical or medical rehabilitation, stays that occur after a patient has been acutely ill or had surgery to assist in strengthening or medical management before the patient is ready to go home. This service is similar to the service provided frequently by nursing homes in an urban area for rehabilitation. NCCH can provide that in the hospital so patients can recover closer to home, near friends and family.
Rural hospitals frequently face critical financial challenges. Many rural hospitals nation-wide have closed. Healthcare is a volume driven business and rural areas typically can't produce the volume necessary to sustain a hospital without additional assistance. Successful rural hospitals usually have three things in common: Medicaid expansion, affiliation, and a local subsidy. Arizona has expanded Medicaid so that means more people have insurance to pay for services. As for affiliation, NCCH and Tucson Medical Center enhance their long relationship effective June 1st of this year. NCCH is now a subsidiary of TMC Healthcare. This new relationship will afford our local hospital additional reimbursement not previously available to NCCH. The final component to assure a viable rural hospital is a local tax subsidy. For NCCH, this is essential to continue services. The Northern Cochise County Hospital District was established in the 1960’s to assess a tax to support the hospital and that tax assessment has continued since. At present, NCCH receives approximately 2.1 million dollars each year in local support.
First and foremost, NCCH takes care of people. They are here to serve the community. When there is a need, they do everything possible to take care of that patient, whether it's in the primary care environment or it's in the acute care environment but most critically in the emergency environment. If someone is having a heart attack, was in a car wreck, a farm accident, or had a stroke, they are ready to take care of those patients to get them the immediate treatment that they need and then arrange for a transport to an acute care tertiary environment where those patients can receive specialized services. “The faster you can get to us, the faster we can initiate treatment to save vital organs and to help that patient have a better outcome. We may not be able to fully treat that patient and keep them here, but we can initiate life and organ saving treatment and arrange for that patient to receive further care elsewhere”, says Mo. NCCH is also an economic driver in the community. Rural hospitals are typically the first or second largest employers in the community and that is the case here as well. “Our payroll hovers in the $7Million range. Much of that money is spent in the community and supports the local economy. Additionally, our hospital utilizes local vendors wherever possible.”
For the hospital to survive, it needs the tax support. It is not a new tax. The election comes up every five years. A $200,000 homeowner would pay roughly $281. So it's a very small price to pay for the availability of an emergency room, primary care, radiology, and so on. “We have worked very hard to reduce our expenditures here by over a million dollars, but still the support of the local community is needed for survival. I view it as a 3-legged stool – we need to be good stewards of our resources, we will leverage the affiliation with TMC for additional reimbursement and for economies of scale, and lastly we must have the support of the local tax base”, says Mo. The austerity program, the relationship with Tucson Medical Center, and the tax are all necessary to keep our hospital doors open. And if it receives all three, there is no doubt that the hospital will be successful. But that is why the election on November 2nd will be critical. Without the tax subsidy the sustainability of the hospital is highly in question.
“Our greatest accomplishment at present would be the pandemic response. The employees here have been tremendous throughout. For months our staff has been following the science as it evolved, doing the things they know to do, to protect our community, patients, and staff. We have had new equipment coming in to help patients stay off ventilators, new medications to help COVID patients, and the monoclonal antibody treatment to help people before they get sick enough to be hospitalized. The team’s dedication was incredible – they gave up family time, holidays and sometimes worked many days in a row without a break to care for our patients. All of them came together for the good of the community to make sure that our patients were as safe as they could be and received treatment as fast as possible. As soon as vaccines were available, the team pivoted in that direction. We gave about 2000. I am so proud of them”, says Mo.
Growth: A Community Health Needs Assessment was conducted last year and revealed what the community desires and needs: additional primary care, dental care, mental health care, and elder care. NCCH’s goal is to be financially successful so that it can provide the services that the community wants and needs.
“There are a lot of ways to contribute to the hospital. They can join the auxiliary as a volunteer, or they can help with the election by calling Mo directly, they can invite us to come speak or give a presentation about what we do and we will be more than happy to engage with the community. We would like people to contribute by supporting the election on November 2nd and also by giving support in whatever way they have a heart to”, says Mo.
901 Rex Allen Drive
Willcox, Arizona 85643
Monica "Mo" Sheldon
(520) 766 6464
Cochise County Farmers Association (CCFA)
Cochise County Farmers Association (CCFA) was incorporated in 1955 by a group of farmers that needed supplies they used such as lubricants, propane, batteries, and tires that were not available locally at the time and at a reasonable cost. Carl Hestand is the general manager for CCFA and joined the association in March of 2019.
“CCFA is still on the same track that we were when we started supplying lubricants, propane, batteries, and tires that farmers need to operate their farms”. They supply something to virtually all farmers in the area, small time farmers as well as big companies. These supplies are used for on and off-road equipment. CCFA also sells to the public. CCFA provides not only farming products but propane that rural folks use for heating, heating water and cooking at their homes and businesses and to those who can’t get natural gas. CCFA is very competitive with their batteries, tires, lubricants and propane. Nonetheless, they still provide a service to the community and areas outside Willcox. CFFA supports many youth and adult programs that are farm and ranch related. They do have one local competitor and there are other propane companies that come from out of town. “It's somewhat competitive but we're in a good position because of our culture, friendliness, customer service, and our competitive prices, we probably have most of the propane business in this area”, says Carl.
Since Carl began as general manager, CFFA’s business has increased by double digits which has also increased its employees. They’ve increased their tire techs by two and propane drivers by one. “Our increase in business is our greatest accomplishment”. Their greatest challenge was bringing the company into the 21st century while maintaining the rural culture that has existed since the beginning of the company. “Our customers, board members, and employees seem happy, so we've done a pretty fair job since we’ve been here”, says Carl.
CCFA has sold propane to most of Cochise County for decades, but they’ve recently opened a new area that they never serviced before: Sierra Vista. CCFA has been servicing that area for a little over a year. CCFA’s focus has been to gain a propane business in that area. If anyone want to support the association, it would be to purchase their products. The one thing that people might not know is that they can service any size of tire including the large loader tires. They have the equipment and capabilities to offer those services.
Willcox Theater and Arts (WTA)
The Willcox Theater started in October of 2011 after the old movie theater was abruptly closed. Community members got together started the non-profit Willcox Historic Theater Preservation (now Willcox Theater and Arts –WTA), incorporated in 2012. The theater building was bought from the Rex Allen Museum and started operating in January of 2013 using the existing 35-millimeter projection system.
The theater has tons of volunteers who helped make basic repairs, put in new seats, and design their logo. In 2015, they received additional funding from the Rural Development Community Facilities Program (RDCP) to refurbish their digital and audio projection systems, air conditioning, and electrical system.
WTA’s Summer Drama Program for youth was hosted in the movie theater before it acquired the Studio 128 building which opened in 2017. This allowed WTA to start a variety of art programs, STEAM activities, and host guest artist performances. In 2019, WTA acquired The Palace building and refurbished it, again with support from RDCP. The Palace has two sides - one used for art workshops and programs that require an open space, and the other is used as a performance theater.
The big challenge that WTA has today is emerging from the last year in a half of COVID-19 closures and restrictions. They were fully shut down for 40% of 2020 and otherwise at 50% capacity through March of 2021. “We’ve had quite a hole to dig out of and are utilizing the PPP loan program,”, said Gayle Berry. “Our biggest challenge was to ensure that we could keep our staff because they are unique and talented, and they make it possible for us to offer the programs that we do. When we were 100% shut down, we were still allowed to sell concessions, like popcorn for those that wanted to watch movies at home. Now people are coming back to theater to see movies.” Willcox is a community that has been very supportive all the way through. Everything from donations to amazing and wonderful volunteers. They fix things that need repairing, help run the website, and much more. “I think the support helps us stay motivated to continue doing things and to succeed at it,” said Gayle.
WTA is a kind of Swiss army knife of arts and culture. They do movies, started their drive-in on most weekends, just finished their summer camp program for kids, with a dozen camps from arts to photography. September starts up their main programs again. WTA will have guest artists performing in September through April, live on stage in Willcox. Paint Night starts in August and will be year-round. They have arts and craft artists that they will be using throughout the years to offer different kinds of programs. With the support of the Arts Foundation of Southern Tucson Arizona and Blue Cross Blue Shield Arizona they are able for the time to offer stipends and purchase the supplies for the programs. Regular jam sessions start in August. Open mic nights are now moving to Fridays. Kid’s Art Club will be starting up again in September which will be monthly. “There are a lot of opportunities for people to get out of the house and do something. We’d like to think that the theater is a special place because it brings people together. When you've been to a theater or participated in arts experience you are changed as a person. You have something to go home to relive and talk about. You leave different than the way you came in. So, what we do is provide the opportunity for people to have art and cultural experiences that we know allows them to engage with others and themselves,” said Gayle.
“Maybe the greatest accomplishment is that WTA has taken lots of small steps and become a broad-based organization. We’ve acquired 3 buildings along Railroad Avenue and that’s pretty awesome”, said Wesley Schofield.
"Refurbishing a building that has essentially been empty is a huge accomplishment. The Palace was empty for some years and Studio 128 was vacant for about 6 or 7 years. So, we’ve revived a good piece of Railroad Avenue from the dead and that’s a good thing,” said Gayle.
The theater wants to expand but isn’t interested in refurbishing another historic building. They currently have about 7,200 square feet of vacant ground behind Studio 128 and The Palace and have decided to build on that. They started with an idea and presented it the National Endowment of the Arts who awarded a grant for an architect to design plans for it. The building will consist of a performance theater that could also show, with a real front and backstage. It will be used to host larger musical groups and space for interactive heritage programs.
“We want to celebrate the heritage of the area and we believe it’s best to do that on the street front along our historic buildings,” said Gayle. “We’ve got some cool technological stuff going. We’ve done some video work and played with virtual reality. We want to create an experience where you could put on a VR headset and go out on Railroad Ave in the 1880’s and walk into a saloon or drug store. The experience will give people who aren’t familiar with the Willcox wild west, ranching, or cowboy culture an understanding of what it’s like to be a part of history. Willcox Theater and Arts is merging heritage, art, and technology to be able to do that.
“Volunteers are always great but taking part in the programs we offer is even better”, said Wesley. “Whether it’s coming to performances or coming to paint night, it all means so much to us. When we have locals and regulars come out to our events, it means a lot to us too. The kids get pumped at club and creative youth programs and they come back for more. However, we would like to see the adults taking pride in engaging in our programs too.”
“Volunteers and donations are great,” said Gayle. “We are a nonprofit, so these are a part of our life blood. However, to be a part of things means everything. We want people to see us as a comfortable place to step out of the ordinary and find something different. We want people to feel like when they come here, they are going to enjoy whatever it might be and step out of themselves a little bit to try something new. I think this energizes us. We have a family that is devoted to Paint Nights, they’re four generations. There’s something here that everyone can do together, from 5-95 years old. Just come on in the door.”
Agriculture Management Services (AMS) Insurance
Agriculture Management Services (AMS) Insurance started in 1995 in Casa Grande, Arizona, where their main office is today. In April of 2018, they opened their Willcox branch. They also have an office in San Luis Obispo, California and Flagstaff, Arizona. Patina Thompson has been a crop insurance agent since 2008.
AMS offers insurance for the agricultural industry, which includes field crops, grapes, nuts and commercial Farm and Ranch Insurance. They are experts in a product called Whole Farm Revenue Protection. AMS services farmers and ranchers throughout Arizona and parts of New Mexico with Pasture, Rangeland and Forage (PRF) Insurance, too. The main crops that are insured around Willcox are alfalfa, corn, cotton, beans, milo, wheat, triticale, barley, potatoes, and chili peppers.
“We make Willcox better by providing a service to the agricultural community which is vital for the area,” says Patina. “We also provide a local agent and office, which is ideal for any issues that may arise or just having someone that is familiar with the weather patterns and what's going on in the community is definitely an advantage for our customers. I was born and raised in Cochise County, so I know a lot about the geography of the area, prior farm owners and about the people who live here. It's a huge advantage. AMS also supports the community and participate in various youth events. We just love watching the community thrive.”
Before AMS delivered their first federally subsidized crop insurance products to the Sulphur Springs Valley, they were constantly warned that federal crop insurance wouldn’t work in this area. Today, the Willcox office comprises 25% of the AMS volume written in Arizona.
The Sulphur Springs Valley is a unique area because farmers can double crop. This increases the diversity of products grown but can also increase risk because we live in an area that is prone to high winds and hail, and also early and late freezes. AMS can provide services to farmers and ranchers to help mitigate risks involved with growing crops, and protect their assets. A big highlight for AMS is that they were able to work with a local potato grower and obtain a written agreement to insure their potato crop. Without it, the potatoes would have no insurance coverage. “We love servicing the agricultural community. When people come here, they don't realize how much agriculture there is. It's a major part of what drives the Willcox economy – we want farmers and ranchers to stay in business,” says Patina.
AMS plans on growing their customer base in the area and in New Mexico. They want to provide a service for those farmers and ranchers who are so vital for communities to survive. If you are in the agricultural field and interested in an insurance policy for your crops, ranch, or agriculture operation, come visit AMS at 105 N. Railview Office and find out what they can provide for you.
Zarpara vineyard and winery
Rhona and her husband, Mark, lived in Phoenix for many years. They left behind their corporate jobs and were looking for something outdoorsy and away from the city that they could enjoy doing. They were ready to move on from their computer programming and strategic planning jobs and do something different. So, they began exploring different things and thought wine might be a good direction to go because they could get involved with growing and producing a product for consumers. They began exploring where they could do that and Willcox was one of the best locations for wine growing. The idea was that they could buy land in Willcox where the wine industry was just getting started so they purchased land in 2009. Their background was not in wine or farming at all and they had to develop the necessary skills to be successful. They planted most of their vines on bare land in 2010, and in 2012 they opened their tasting room in the Kansas Settlement area. They were the first tasting room to open out there. “In the years that we’ve been here, there has been a lot of growth. Things have started to take off. It was always a big region for growing fruit but tasting rooms have been a bit slower to come along,” says Rhona.
Zarpara is an estate wine producer, which means they grow their fruit and make their wine on-site. They have their vineyard, winery, and tasting room all in one place. When visitors come, they can see all of the work that’s going on. During harvest time, they can experience the fruit being brought in, and otherwise explore the winery and vineyard, and sometimes even taste the wine from the barrels. From an educational perspective, people can learn what happens in a vineyard and how the product is made. All the wine that they sell is from their own locally grown grapes that never leave the vineyard until they are in a bottle and ready for sale. They offer wine tasting services in their tasting room. “Usually, it’s me and my husband serving so the guests are interacting with the owners. We’re pretty informal here so people can just walk around and check out the vines,” says Rhona. “Visitors can come inside or else sit outside on the patio and enjoy the views of Dos Cabezas. We offer that romantic experience that people are looking for. That’s kind of our thing. It’s all here. We do everything here.”
Zarpara helps drive tourism to Willcox. When people visit Zarpara they are also spending their tourism dollars at the hotels and restaurants in town. They promote local businesses in the tasting room and on our website, zarpara.com, and also promote the other vineyards because people enjoy visiting other wineries and can have a weekend-long experience. Zarpara has been involved with Local First Arizona Foundation and was a participating winery in their annual WeekendZona event this year which allowed them to introduce the Willcox wine industry to people from other parts of the state.
“During the pandemic, we didn’t know what to expect. We closed our tasting room for a couple of months last spring and at that point, it was unclear what was going to happen and when we should reopen. We questioned if people would ever come back to visit us. It turned out to be a great opportunity because people in Arizona were looking to travel but not very far and somewhere safe to go and they found Willcox. Whereas before some people from Phoenix might have gone to California to visit wineries, they came to us instead. Visitors can also enjoy cooler temperatures here compared to Phoenix and Tucson. We still would like to see every restaurant and store in Arizona carry some Arizona wine. We’re not at that point yet. In other regions in the States, you can’t go anywhere without finding local wines. But that’s something we can work on.”
“We’ve been working at this for 10 plus years now and the initial goals have been met, like establishing our vineyard and getting our winery and tasting room running. We want to provide a better experience in our tasting room by improving the ambiance of the environment and giving the guests a better overall experience. We don’t have grand expansion plans though. Our focus is staying small and intimate. We want to be able to leave this place with a healthy and established vineyard that is ready for expansion so that whoever comes next can take it to the next level. The focus is on the quality of the wine, so we’re not focused on large production but instead on the quality of the grapes and wine”
"We appreciate how the tourism businesses in the area promote the wine industry, and we in turn promote those businesses, so let’s keep doing that. Vineyards are also farms and it’s good to part of a supportive farming community. Water is a big issue in this valley. We want people to know that grapes are a low-water-use, sustainable crop, and also a high-value crop. Whatever happens with water in this valley, we hope the vineyards continue to expand in size and number"