Investor, Teacher, Caretaker, Spy

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Her plans were foiled in the 1940s, when the county sheriff started cracking down on hookers. She decided against the idea. She didn't buy her Rainbow Valley property until the 1960s, when she got the idea of running a group home.

The home has seen as many odd and dangerous characters as any whorehouse. But Izora doesn't see them as threatening.

Izora treats her charges more like illogical children than people with serious, often disturbing mental problems. She seems to have no fear of the men, even though she has counted rapists, murderers and child molesters among her residents.

Those who don't follow house rules--not making their beds, for instance--have their cigarettes taken away.

The few residents who have, through the years, attempted to act out sexually are isolated from the others until Izora gets a doctor to prescribe a drug she says reduces the sex drive. But mostly, she says, residents "have been without sex for so long they don't even think about it."

"These men," she says, "are harmless."
She believes her years of experience give her a better understanding of the chronically mentally ill than the parole officers and social workers who occasionally visit the home.

Although she regularly lashes social workers with her biting tongue, the state has reprimanded Izora only three times in the past 25 years. The deficiencies were minor--leaving burritos uncovered in the refrigerator, having dirty or torn furniture in the rec room.

Renz Jennings, chairman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, recalls that when he was a state legislator in the late 1970s, he was invited by state officials to go on a "surprise visit" to a supervisory care home in his district.

"We were going on this trip with the sense we were going to bust somebody," he says.

When he arrived at the home, Jennings was surprised to find the owner was Izora Hill, whom he had known when she was a precinct committeewoman in Phoenix in the 1960s.

"There were alcoholics and mentally ill people walking around in this great setting, and the [state] people were saying the kitchen wasn't quite clean enough," he remembers. "What I saw was a great setup for these people who live in their own little worlds."

"These people felt part of something," he says. "Their lives had dignity. Even then, the place had a ramshackle quality to it, but it was humane. And it was sufficiently clean. I was impressed by this woman. She took a thankless job out in the middle of nowhere and made something out of it. She impressed me as a woman of substance.

"But the [state] people were concerned about the pigs and chickens running around."

Sunday afternoons, after Izora has done the lunch dishes and left them on the rack to dry, she leaves the residents in the care of her daughter and steals off to see her siblings, who gather at her sister Alice's house next door. Alice is 88 and still has a few hogs, although she's slowed down considerably from the days when she sold hundreds of pigs each year.

The property line between the two sisters is immediately clear. Although Izora's acreage is cluttered with junk, the junk is ordered into areas and piles.

Alice's junk is randomly strewn on her property, along with cans and other pieces of trash.

"Just a raggedy old house," says Alice, "but it suits me fine. I'm a junker." She is wearing a blue housecoat, no shoes. Like her kid sister Izora, it's hard to tell whether Alice is black, or Indian, or white.

Of Izora's nine brothers and sisters, only four survive. The siblings seem to resent Izora a bit, seem mildly jealous of her. Their parents indulged Izora most, Alice says, while the rest of them "had to work like mules."

Izora listens, looking amused, doesn't say anything.
Izora's sisters Margaret and Helen sit on one couch. Alice relaxes by the dining-room table. Their brother, Lawrence Callahan, sits opposite them.

"Oklahoma is OK-la-ho-ma, Oklahoma, OK," says Lawrence, who was once was a janitor for former senator Paul Fannin.

"Yeah, then why did you leave," retorts Margaret, pulling on a cold beer.
Later, when the others are gone, Izora and Alice, the closest sibs, talk about things that matter. Like real estate. Alice has nine parcels, including a nice property in Cave Creek.

Izora still owns her house in South Phoenix, which she purchased for $250 in 1938.

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Terry Greene Sterling

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