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Historic Provo

Oral History of Bergeta Williams


WINN: Today is June 28, 1999. This is Jennifer Winn and I'm in the home of Bergeta Williams. Bergeta, what are your earliest memories of Provo?

WILLIAMS: The earliest memory I have is rather a disaster. I was raised in Arizona. Most of my family, my husband's brothers decided that they wanted to move to Utah, so they wanted us to move, too. They went ahead of us. By the time we could sell our place, what little we had, and get up here to Utah, it was kind of late.

In Arizona we didn't ever put antifreeze in our cars, because they'd never freeze. It was November when we first came up here. It wasn't stormy, but it was quite cold. My nephew had rented us a little apartment. We just parked the car and went to bed. In the morning when we got up, our car had frozen and broken parts of the car. Everybody here had put antifreeze in their cars and we didn't know anything about that having lived in Arizona all the time. That was my first memory.

WINN: What year did you move here?


WINN: What were the parameters of Provo?

WILLIAMS: It wasn't a very large town then. It was quite small. At first we were kind of up in the Grandview area. Down across the street from where Deseret Industries is, there was a little ice cream store. We had a small child, a little boy. Every time we'd come down into town, and come down that hill, he'd watch for that ice cream store. He'd say, "There it is." We'd have to stop and buy a nickel ice cream for the kids. That's gone. It's not there anymore. Things are not the same at all as they were when we first came here.

WINN: What were some of the other things that you noticed about Provo?

WILLIAMS: I like Provo. I thought Center Street was a very nice street. There was a big store, Taylors. We used to shop in that store. It's different. It's not there anymore. Down beyond Berg Mortuary there was a woman that had a little restaurant that I used to work at. It's gone. There is things like that that I remember that are not here anymore. I go down Center Street now and it's entirely different.

There was a drug store on the corner, on this side of University Avenue. There used to be a drug store there. Now it's a restaurant. There has been a lot of changes through the years.

Brigham Young University is much before my time. The University has always been an interesting place for me. I did take a few classes there and my husband worked there for quite a while.

I always keep a scrapbook. If I find an interesting article in the newspaper I'll cut it out and stick it in my scrapbook. I was looking through my scrapbook to see if there was anything you might be interested in and I saw that President Bush visited Provo. The students in one of the elementary schools went and sang for him. There are little things like that, that are interesting.

WINN: You mentioned that BYU has had a big impact on your life. Could you explain a little bit more about that?

WILLIAMS: The impact it had was it gave my husband employment.

WINN: What did he do?

WILLIAMS: He worked in the paint shop and did repairs. He wasn't a student. He just did the things that needed to be done around the buildings. Work was kind of scarce at that time. It was good that he could work there. He worked there for about ten years.

WINN: You mentioned that you moved here in 1937.

WILLIAMS: We moved here in 1937, but it was much later than that he worked for BYU. He worked when they built the Geneva Steel Plant. That was a blessing for people, because there hadn't been any work around. When they built Geneva Steel Plant, everybody came. Everybody that could pound a nail or lift a hammer or saw was out there getting work. My husband was quite a skilled workman. He was the foreman over all of the night crews. They worked day and night. That made a big impact on our lives.

When we first came up here it was just after the Depression in the thirties. It was still quite down when we came up here. It was hard to find a job, because not many people could get a job. A few years later when they built the Geneva Plant, that boosted the economy quite a bit and helped out a lot. Now they're on the rocks. Things really change.

Provo has grown into a big city. Then it was just a small town. We've always enjoyed it here.

WINN: What were some of the signs of the Depression in Provo?

WILLIAMS: Mostly no work. The Church helped out people quite a bit that didn't have any supplies. They built a church building out on the road as you go to Orem. It's still there. It's a nice building. My husband worked on that. They didn't pay them any money. They paid them in produce. Anybody that would come there and work they'd pay them in produce. That was a good thing during those Depression years.

I don't think I'm the authority on Provo, but it's been a nice life here for us.

WINN: What schools did your children attend?

WILLIAMS: They attended the old Provo High. My daughters both went to the old Provo High. Then they graduated from high school after they built the new Provo High. My sons went out in the Orem area. Some of them went to BYU for college. My daughters didn't. They might have taken a few classes. I remember the old Provo High School where my daughters went and then when they built the new high school they went there. They were elated about the new high school. They were going. Now the old high school could just go. They didn't have good memories of it. They had about two years in the new high school before they graduated.

WINN: What were some of the activities that they were involved in?

WILLIAMS: I don't remember too many. We were quite a way from the new high school. My girls were not old enough to be driving cars yet. My one daughter turned sixteen and she was always begging to drive. We used to let her drive. They didn't have bus service then. The girls did drive the car to school. It was quite a ways to walk to high school.

WINN: What are some of the places that you would go grocery shopping?

WILLIAMS: The grocery store that I remember the best is the Reams store that is down on Center Street. My husband built that. They had a big place and the Reams family lived in part of it. He decided to build a store out of it. My husband did most of that building. He did a lot of it. Then the man ran out of money. He ran out of money and stopped the building. They moved his family out into another place, so he could use the whole place where they had lived. He finally got it finished up.

There is another building on Center Street. It's still sitting there. The man wanted it plastered. Jobs were so scarce and my husband knew how to plaster. He had done a lot of that in Arizona. When a lot of men went and applied for the job to finish up that little store, my husband got hired. That upset the other guys. He was the new guy in town and he was getting hired and they're weren't. The man said, "You don't know how to plaster is the reason you're not getting hired."

I remember those early days. It was kind of a struggle. The people that had lived here all the time were a little better off. Yet, I'm sure that it was the Depression years and getting out of those Depression years when we moved up here.

WINN: How did the war affect your family?

WILLIAMS: My three sons have been in war. In World War I I had a brother that was killed. We were living in Cedar City, Utah then. My brother joined the Marines. He went to France and was killed over there. My oldest son joined the Marines. He served overseas a lot. A second son joined the Navy. He didn't go overseas. My third son joined the Navy when the Korean War was on. He served a lot overseas. I have had three sons that have served in wars and a brother that was killed in World War I.

WINN: Your sons liked the water.

WILLIAMS: My two sons liked the water. They liked the Navy. Life goes on. That's been quite a few years ago. I've been alone for a little over 18 years. My husband has been gone. I've managed pretty well by myself.

WINN: What were some of the signs of the war?

WILLIAMS: I remember the day that we heard about the war. It was on a fast Sunday. We had been to church and had a baby blessed. We were coming home happy and feeling like everything was wonderful. All the family was together. We came in the house and the kids always turned on the radio. We didn't have television then. The kids turned on the radio and here came the president's voice saying that the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor. My boys were teenagers. It struck me really hard. I thought my boys were going to have to go in the war. That was in December of 1941 that we first heard that news on the radio. It was on a Sunday. I remember the president said it was a deed that would live in infamy. It was such a terrible thing that the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor.

My husband had always wanted to get into the war when he was young. World War I had ended. He kept trying to enlist and they said, "No, you're on the draft list. You wait and you'll get drafted." If you enlisted, you could choose which field of the Army you wanted to be in. But if you were drafted, then you went where they told you go to. He wanted to enlist. He wanted to do what he pleased. After the war ended in 1918 he enlisted and he was sent to San Francisco for a while. Then he went to Hawaii. He enjoyed his time over there in Hawaii very much.

Years later after we were married, he always wanted me to see Hawaii. When we were about ready to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary we went to Hawaii. By then Hawaii was part of the United States. When he was there as a young man it wasn't.

That's the memories I have of the wars and my brother that was killed in France. I remember very well the morning he left. I was quite a young girl when we finally got word that he had been killed. I was working as a helper to some lady that was expecting a young baby and she had two or three other little children. I was about fourteen.

The news spread all over town fast. It was down in Cedar City. That was a small town there, too. Her husband came rushing home and told me that he had gotten the word. My brother's girlfriend had investigated. We kept hearing rumors, but we never got anything really definite. She wrote to the authorities to have them determine if he was alright. The telegram came to her. I remember running home as fast as I could go. I had to tell my mother. That was my first memories of the war.

WINN: During World War II in Provo did you have rationing or were there shortages on supplies?

WILLIAMS: Yes. Gasoline. You could only get so much. My oldest son got married and he wanted to take his wife on a little trip. My kids all loved Arizona because that's where they were raised. They were going back to Arizona. They asked if the gasoline rationing was going to last. When we got down there, he met a cousin and we would never have been able to get back on the gasoline we had, but this cousin said, "I've got some ration stamps. I'll go back with you." That's how we got back. They did a lot of rationing like that of different things.

WINN: What were holidays like in Provo?

WILLIAMS: Mostly what I remember is the parades on the Fourth of July.

WINN: What stood out? Why did you notice them?

WILLIAMS: Just about that time, Robert Redford married a girl from Provo. Her parents lived on the east side of town. The parade always came down University Avenue and would go east. The VanWagenens were quite a nice wealthy family. They had a big house up there on this street where the parades would go. Robert Redford had married their daughter. On the Fourth of July they would be there at her parents home. They had a big porch and they'd sit out there with their family. That was where we liked to go because we were as interested in seeing Robert Redford as we were the parade. They'd say, "Let's go up there. We'll watch the parade there and then we can look over into that house and see them." That's what I remember most of the celebrations was the parades on the Fourth of July.

That was just one year that they went there. I had some family and relatives that lived on University Avenue and we'd generally go to their place and watch the parade. Their marriage didn't last. That was fun.

I don't know much of any celebrations, except the Fourth of July. The Twenty-fourth was generally celebrated mostly in Salt Lake. That was the big thing in Salt Lake was the Twenty-fourth. We used to go up there.

Provo is where my kids went to school and where my grandkids went to school. In fact I have one grandchild that went right over here to the Franklin School. Family gets scattered. I had one son that went to BYU. He has been a teacher all his life. He taught school here for quite a while, then he went to California.

WINN: What are some of the major changes that have occurred in Provo?

WILLIAMS: All I know is it's just grown so much. It's not the little town it was when we came. I don't get to go out to things very often because I never did drive a car. Now my children are taking me around town. It's amazing how much it has grown. It's just a different town. It's a city. It was just a little country town. In fact they used to have a bus that came down from Salt Lake. People could ride that. It's not the same. Even down Center Street it's different buildings. Taylors big store is a different thing there now. I don't recognize things anymore.

WINN: A lot of growth.

WILLIAMS: In my scrapbook I have how Provo got it's name. A man whose name was Provost was travelling down here. They had a fight with some Indians. They won the fight. Some of them were killed. The name just stayed on after this man. You wonder about Provo. What does it mean? It was just this man's name. If you look in my scrapbook you can see.

Interviewee: Bergeta Williams
Interviewer: Jennifer Winn
June 28, 1999

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