Twist of fate introduces Walking Stick winners

Debra and Karl Humphrey of Axtell are this year’s recipients of the Axtell Walking Stick. The award was presented at a Pioneer Day gathering at the Axtell Ward.

AXTELL—Karl and Debra Humphrey, the winners of this year’s Axtell Walking Stick award, met as children, but in a way no one would expect.

Debra, a fourth generation resident of the town, is the daughter of the late George and Arva Lee Bertelson and a graduate of Gunnison Valley High School.

Karl is the son of the late Merriam and Leone Humphrey. The Humphreys were from Salina, where Karl grew up and graduated from North Sevier High School.

One day, Debra’s mother was driving her children down a country road in a station wagon with the rear door of the station wagon open.

Suddenly, Debra pushed her younger brother out of the vehicle. He landed in a field where Karl’s mother, Merriam Humphrey, was helping pick corn with her son.

It was quite a few years after that chance meeting that Karl and Debra met as young adults working at the Norbest turkey processing plant in Salina.

At the time, Karl rode a motorcycle and had long hair, according to a story told by Debra’s sister, Nancy Goff, at a Pioneer Day lunch at the Axtell Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That didn’t bother Debra’s dad, but her mother had some concerns.

Debra told Karl she wouldn’t marry him unless he was qualified to be married in the temple. On Oct. 11, 1975, when Karl was 20 and Debra 18, they were married in the Manti LDS Temple. They will celebrate their 45th anniversary later this year.

The Walking Stick is a surprise award recognizing an individual or couple who have symbolically walked many miles in service to the Axtell and Gunnison Valley communities.

Over their 45 years of marriage, the Humphreys have served in various official capacities. But what stands out, their daughter, Mandi Buege told the Pioneer Day crowd, is their many acts of informal service.

“I think my parents are pretty amazing,” Buege said. “They’re the most selfless people.” Whenever anyone in Axtell has a need, “if there’s anything they can do, they’re right there.”

They Humphreys tried for several years to have a child before adopting their son, Matthew. Two years later, Debra gave birth to their daughter, Mandi.

Debra worked many years as a CNA at Gunnison Valley Hospital. In 1989, she got her associate’s degree in nursing from Weber State University and became an RN. She plans to retire at the end of this year after 33 years at the hospital.

Karl worked at the IFA store in Salina, at Checker Auto Parts in Richfield and retired about a year ago from GIC in Gunnison.

He formerly served on the Utah Propane Board and on the board of the Axtell Special Service District, which runs the town’s water system. He currently serves on the Sanpete County Planning and Zoning Commission and is a member of the Gunnison Lions Club.

Through much of Debra’s and Karl’s marriage, Karl helped George Bertelson with his farm. After he died, Karl took over the farm. Originally it was a diary farm, but today, Karl raises alfalfa.

Currently, Debra’s sister and brother-in-law, Nancy and Chris Goff, are living with the Humphreys while the Goffs repair their home, which was damaged in a fire.

“All through the years,” their daughter, Mandi says, “if there was anything going on, they were some of the first people who showed up to help.”