Vance Bryce's roots run deep in Graham County and he came home to help his community grow on multiple levels.
Bryce, 30, graduated from Thatcher High School and attended Brigham Young University, majoring in American Studies and minoring in English. After graduating, Vance worked in Washington DC from 2016 to 2018 as a congressional aide to U.S. Representative Mike Thompson in California's 5th Congressional District.
He returned to Graham County in 2019 and began working with the Graham County Chamber of Commerce as an assistant director, before being named executive director in November of 2019. He is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints and the Safford Rotary Club. He also directs the Gila Valley Live Nativity every year.
For roughly two years before becoming the executive director of the chamber, Bryce volunteered for the Graham County Democratic Party.
Nicholas Nordgran-Tellez, Graham County Democratic Party chair and restaurant owner, met Bryce two and a half years ago. A fellow member of the gay community, Nordgran-Tellez said he and Bryce both work to gain the community's respect for members of the LGBTQ community.
“We want to be utilized for our talents and characteristics, acknowledging we are LGBTQ,” he said. “He’s not willing to hide who he is, but he is willing to give his all for what he’s doing. That’s all I think anybody asks for.”
Bryce has a huge heart and dedicates himself to the causes he works for, Nordgran-Tellez said.
“He deserves the respect and understanding, knowing that he is a multi-faceted person, and that is what makes him an asset to the community. He also should be respected and cherished as well,” he said.
Bryce is multi-faceted in the way that he can also lead as well as follow, Norgran-Tellez said. He is willing to have conversations he isn’t always comfortable with, but he will face his challenges head-on.
Brianna DeRusha Morris, president of the Safford Women’s Club, works closely with Bryce and is the former assistant director to the chamber. She believes Bryce is an excellent asset to the businesses in the community.
“He’s awesome. He’s got incredible diplomatic skills, a huge heart, and (he is) an 8th generation local,” Morris said. “He has lots of integrity and he’s very compassionate and thoughtful person.”
The chamber has been through many directors in a short period because it requires so much, she said. However, Bryce is incredibly giving of himself to those who ask for his help.
“He shows up for everyone. Through all the changes this world is going through, he's true to himself, and he’s diplomatic and passionate to everyone,” she said.
Bryce has been able to create bonds between local businesses and help them realize the importance of having a support system, which includes the chamber, Morris said.
“He’s been able to help them feel supported by a community they didn’t know was there,” Morris said. “It's there, so they have to do it all, they think. You can’t do it all. He’s been a very good leader showing that it’s all about the team and showing support for your team.”
The Gila Valley has been home for the Bryces for a long time.
“I do love the community. I’m a part of it. There’s a cemetery in Bryce with my grandpa, and my great-grandpa. It’s literally home here. It’s a part of me,” he said.
After traveling across the country, Bryce said he returned to his home because it is home to him and because he sees so much potential. He was quite happy in Washington, but he felt like he should come home to not only help the community grow but to help the community understand the LGBTQ community.
The increasing number of visible young LGBTQ people proves the Gila Valley has become more accepting of minorities, he said. They feel safe, he said.
“One of my goals is to make this place safe for gay people, women, and racial minorities,” Bryce said. “The Gila Valley can be for everyone. I believe we are good people and we can be even better.”
In order to reach his goal Vance said he would like to host a regular morning coffee for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex community members so they can have a place to socialize, find support and feel safe.
Bryce’s short-term goal is to alter the chamber's funding pattern to make it more sustainable and to celebrate the chamber’s centennial in 2026. His long-term goal is to start an independent book store.
Ultimately, Bryce said the one main element he has learned is that the community is based on teamwork.
“No one can do anything in this community alone. We all have our mentors, friends, and community members. Otherwise, you can’t do it,” he said.