Philemon Paul Merrill was born in Pima to Pearl Geneva Weech Merrill and Philemon C. Merrill III on Nov. 16, 1899.
The first of 10 children, Paul throughout his life brought music and enjoyment not only to Pima, but the entire Valley. As a very young boy, Paul was organist for the Primary organization. People often remarked “Paul Merrill could always play the piano.” Not true. His mother recognized early Paul’s musical ability and determined it would not be wasted. It was she who insisted on daily piano practice, sometimes rather persuasively as he would rather be outside with other boys.
In the early ’20s, Paul, with two of his brothers, Daunt and LeGrand, organized “The Merrill Trio,” a popular ensemble that played for dances and other social events. Later he, with Daunt and other talented men, organized another popular dance orchestra called “The Arcadians.” All during the Depression the citizens danced at the open air dance halls that dotted the Valley.
Paul attended Pima Elementary School and later graduated from the Gila Academy as valedictorian of his May 1917 class. In his second year at the University of Arizona, World War I was raging. Paul passed the exam for aviation cadet training, but this training was canceled when the armistice was signed. In the 1940s, he earned his private pilot’s license.
As a radio enthusiast, he built the first set in the Gila Valley. People came, donned earphones and were amazed at what they heard. In 1938, he was in on the planning and application to the Federal Communications Commission for the first radio station in Graham County, doing much of the project’s engineering work. That was for KGLU. Paul held a Class A Radio Operator’s license. He was chief engineer and press operator. In 1940, he was named general manager of Gila Broadcasting Co. As the radio network spread from Safford to Globe, Coolidge, Winslow and Clifton, Paul managed those properties. After retirement, he built and operated his own station in Willcox, KWCX.
In 1952 he was the inspiration and prime mover in the formation of the state’s first community antenna television operation in Safford, Clifton, Morenci and Globe, called Antennavision. His hobbies and recreation consisted of prospecting mineralogy and ham radio. He held mining claims in the Gila Mountains since 1935, later becoming part of a local successful mining development group. He held one of the first amateur radio licenses issued in the state.
Thurza Drew was the lady he chose as his bride, and they were the parents of two sons, Keith and Edward. The youngest, Edward died of injuries received in an auto-bicycle accident in 1935. Keith, a major in the Army Air Corps during World War II was killed when his plane went down over Japan in 1945. Thurza passed away in 1955.
In June 1956, Paul married Cora Brown Long (who came with son Kay), widow of Elliot Long, local builder. Cora was also a daughter of Graham County pioneers, Jared Taylor Brown and Polly Elizabeth Matthews.
Church-wise, Paul served a mission to the Eastern states in 1919-1921 for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served as the Mount Graham Stake genealogical chairman and in this vein helped organize the Mount Graham-St. Joseph Stake Genealogical Branch Library in Safford. He gave service on the Mount Graham Stake High Council. He was a bishop’s counselor, and when Safford 3rd Ward was created in 1966, he was named bishop.
Paul was a member of Safford Rotary Club, the board of directors for Graham County Chamber of Commerce and the board of directors for the Safford Public Library.
Siblings of Paul were Ralph Waldo who died at age 17 during the flu epidemic, Pearl Melba, Joseph Dauntforth (Bessie Lucille Alder), Hyrum LeGrande (Grace Curtis), Walter Scott, (Eleanor Eliza Phillips), Ruth Geneva Merrill (Theodore Louis Moeller), Bruce (Virginia Mae Walters), Beth (John Henry Rizley) and Robert L. (Betty Posteher).
After a very active life of service and many achievements, Paul passed away Sept. 2, 1968, and is resting in the Pima Cemetery.
This and other individual and family histories may be found at the Eastern Arizona Museum & Historical Society in Pima. Hours of operation are Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.