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A banner with an image of the Provo Historic Courthouse and the text Historic Provo.

Oral History of Doyle & Helen Thurston


STONE: Today is May 7, 1999. This is an oral history with Helen Thurston. The interview will be conducted with Helen's husband, Doyle Thurston. Tell me about raising your family in Provo.

HELEN: Doyle and I met in California during World War II. We moved to Utah and then we moved back east to Pennsylvania and then back to Provo. By that time we had two children. We lived in Provo up by BYU. Doyle was working for the government and he chose not to work for them any longer. He took a custodial job which gave us a house with the job.

We have seven children now. He wasn't real happy with that situation. He was able to work as an electrician for BYU. Because of that, we had to either purchase the home or find something else. We purchased this home on Carterville Road. By that time we had four children.

I'm a convert to the church.

STONE: How did you find out about the church?

HELEN: It might take a long time. I'm from Pennsylvania originally. My mother and my step father moved to California during World War II. We lived in Port Chicago. The whole town was blown up by two ships colliding in the harbor. We were there.

HUSBAND: They just recently had that on T.V. There was also a book.

HELEN: We did purchase the book. It brought back all of these memories. They had all Blacks working on the docks and a lot of them were killed. Doyle was over in the Indian Ocean at that time. They had to bring in white sailors to be stevedores and he was one of them. I met him there. We were married in California after a short courtship.

When he was released from the service we moved to Utah. That's the first time I'd ever met a Mormon. He wasn't active, but because of his sweet mother and the influence of his family I was baptized. He was one of two boys.

We moved out of state for two years and then we came back. That's when we had our two children and we were able to purchase this house. He got a job for the Bureau of Reclamation and then decided not to go that way. That's when he took the job at a grade school. He didn't like that. We had a wonderful bishop that was able to get him a job at BYU as an electrician.

STONE: How was BYU, Doyle, when you were at BYU?

DOYLE: It was a wonderful place to work. It was ideal working with mostly LDS people. The students and faculty were people that you meet. It was what you'd call an ideal situation. In later years it got so big that it wasn't so much fun. A lot of experiences.

STONE: Helen, please describe to me what your neighborhood was like when you moved back to Provo.

DOYLE: It was interesting. As you come up the hill on Carterville at the southern end, there were fields across from us. There weren't any houses there. It was very sparsely populated. Now they have apartments down the hill. A lot of them are rentals with BYU students. It was the country and serene. There weren't houses. They've built several subdivisions in that area since. It was fun


Our home was old when we moved into it. It was one of the first homes built in Provo. It was an old adobe house. The walls are one foot thick. Originally it was a two room home. We had irrigation water and a fence. We were able to have fun. Doyle would irrigate the lawn and have a beautiful garden. He planted trees. He was always updating the property. We remodeled it.

The children had fun because they could go out in the grass and it would be all irrigation. They could just play in this water. They would have water fights and it was wonderful. They were running around constantly and having fun.

Because we had moved over there, about that time, we became very active in the Church. We had turned our lives around. Doyle was made ward clerk and I was made primary president. It was a small ward. At that time we were divided from the Grandview ward area. We were such a small ward that we were able to have not only one job but three or four jobs in the ward. We were able to get acquainted with all the people. It was a fun time in our lives when we were raising our children.

We have seven children and our three oldest daughters were able to attend BY High. It was down in the old lower campus where they're going to make the Provo City Library.

DOYLE: After the University moved out mostly to the upper campus, it was all the grades from 1st on up. You had to have so many points to get in. I was working at BYU and we had neighbors that attended. It was enough points that our kids could start there. Once you get one in it's not hard to get others in. We had four of them in that.

HELEN: Then they closed it down. It was just wonderful. Doyle was working at BYU and his wage for the year was about $1800. People who made $12,000 were rich. They had so much more than what we did. I think our children didn't mind. We had to skimp and save and be careful what we purchased. I made all their clothes. They went to BYU High with some of the ones that made a lot more money than we did.

The Fourth of July was especially fun. We could sit on our yard and the people from the neighborhood would come and we would watch the fireworks across the valley. It was directly across from the stadium.

STONE: Did you know any non-members at that time?

HELEN: Yes. The people that we purchased our home from were non-members.

STONE: How was your relationship with them?

HELEN: Their children, their daughter especially played with our children all the time.

DOYLE: They built a new home to the west of that one. They were our neighbors for many years.

STONE: Did they mix with your ward community, the ward social circles?

HELEN: I don't think they did because their habits were different. Their social life was different.

STONE: So you were neighbors but you had your own world.

HELEN: They were the only real close neighbors that weren't members of the church. We could go almost all the way up Carterville road and everybody was a member that we knew. In this area, people outside the church were a bunch of snobs and we didn't want to include them. They have their lifestyle that they like. Your time is so short in life that you associate with people who you are going to church with and you have your children involved in ward activities. It's hard.

I'm certainly not prejudiced because I'm a convert and I've been on the other side. He's been a member all his life. I don't feel any different than they are. The only thing I feel like is they don't have quite as much as what we have. But they're lovely people. I have to say that because my folks are not members. I'm the only member of my family. I know those are nice people.

STONE: It's like that saying, "The very best members of the Church have yet to be baptized."

HELEN: My sister and brothers do all the things. They would make such wonderful members of the church, but they have their free agency. They do what they want to do and they have their own beliefs. I have to be satisfied with that and be an example.

STONE: And be happy for them in their lives. Going back thirty years to the Provo that you both are familiar with, what were some of the favorite hang outs? Where would the teenagers and the youth go to congregate to go on the weekends and Friday night?

HELEN: Tell her about the dance halls down in Provo.

DOYLE: There used to be, west of the field house, there was a bank across the parking lot north of Haws field. There used to be a dance hall there called Rainbow Gardens. That was a wonderful place to go. That was more than thirty years ago. It had a cement floor but it was polished and waxed and a wonderful place to dance. There was a band shell and a dress front in the front. It was quite a place.

Down on First North where the Post Office is was the Utahna Dance Hall. That was when we were growing up or early married. I'm sure that some of the kids went to it.

HELEN: There was a roller-skating rink. The people we purchased our home from had a portable roller-skating rink.

DOYLE: There were a lot of roller rinks. They did roller skate there in Utahna in later years. We used to go there all the time. Skating and bowling were some of the biggies.

HELEN: In the winter time they didn't have restrictions on the lake like they do now. They have an ice rink down at the lake. Long before that, you were able to go down and actually skate on the harbor and skate out on the lake. It was frozen. My first experience here, that's what we did with his family. Six boys at one time were in World War II. When they all came home, we spent time ice skating. It was really fun to do things like that. He's the one that went to high school here.

STONE: What was the dating experience like for your teenage generation?

DOYLE: It's the same as now. Most of our stuff was you'd go to a movie or school dances and school functions. I was one of the shy ones. I never even went to a school dance until I was a senior.

STONE: Do you remember that dance?


STONE: Did you drive and pick your date up or did you walk?

DOYLE: It was actually the girl's day dance and I was chosen.

STONE: So she sought you out.

DOYLE: That was the first dance I went to. I also went to the Junior Prom and all the biggies. It was a fun time. Most of the dating that I did was to school dances or movies.

STONE: It does sound like what we do today. Where did you go grocery shopping? Where did you take care of your errands at thirty years ago here in Provo?

DOYLE: Where DI tore that building down and built that new building that was Happy Service. That's mostly where we'd shop. We'd shop at Allen's sometimes down on Center Street which is now Albertsons. There was also Safeways where they remodeled. It used to be called Riverside Plaza. MacFruglas used to be a Safeway Store. We shopped where it was cheapest.

STONE: Thinking upon the occupations that various people had here in town, could you just list off the jobs of people who you knew.

HELEN: We had one friend that moved into Carterville and he worked at BYU.

DOYLE: He was a carpenter before he went to BYU.

HELEN: So many of them worked at Geneva.

DOYLE: That's why we went to Pennsylvania in the first place is I didn't want to work at Geneva. But I wound up working in steel in another area anywise. Our neighbor that we bought our home from was a steel worker. He worked at Geneva. Before he worked there he had his own business, structural steel. When they build a building you have to put all the steel work in before they pour the cement. Not only on building but roads. That road around the point of the mountain that was made with steel in it.

We moved over there in 1957 and our home payments were killing us at $80 a month. It cost us $12,750. It has been remodeled a lot after that.

HELEN: It's sad because we built the most beautiful fence with an arbor. We don't even like to pass that house now because they're letting everything go. He always pruned his trees.

DOYLE: The people we sold it to sold it again and they don't take care of it at all.

Speaking of neighbors and jobs, we had another close friend that was a butcher. He worked after the war for on the job training or apprenticeship at a butcher shop. He got to be a butcher and went on his own and did that until he retired from it.

HELEN: We had one neighbor that worked for the city at the old power plant down in Provo.

DOYLE: Some of them were teachers at BYU.

HELEN: We had one that was assistant manager at Penneys. She was one of my counselors in primary. It seemed to me the properties were larger. They would have their own fruit and their own vegetables and freeze raspberries and sell them in the summer time.

Our children were able to go pick raspberries and cherries. That's how they made their money for the Fourth of July which was really the big time. There was a big parade. After the parade then it was a picnic in the yard. It was so much different than what it is now.

When we sold our home our children cried, "We won't get to see the fireworks anymore." They were grown with their own families.

DOYLE: They always come back for the Fourth of July and fireworks on the lawn. Not only our family and kids and grandkids, but neighbors would come in. We had an air popper and I'd make popcorn and it kept me busy until the fireworks started and even afterwards. I could still see them from there.

HELEN: He was out on the patio that overlooked the fireworks, so he was able to see those.

DOYLE: I made 21 batches on the Fourth of July. That's a big tupperware bowl full each batch.

STONE: And you had no left overs.

DOYLE: The next year I decided instead of waiting until they wanted popcorn, I'd start ahead and get some built up. I just bought some new plastic garbage cans and so I washed them out real good. They hadn't been used so I started popping and putting it in there. When the kids came to get popcorn they said, "That hasn't been used, has it?" I said, "Only once." I was able to get it stocked up so they wouldn't be standing there waiting for the next batch to come out. We had homemade root beer with it.

STONE: Those are two of my most favorite combinations, root beer and popcorn.

HELEN: That's what we had every Sunday night with our children.

STONE: Kind of a tradition. In the course of your lives, you've seen a lot transpire in our country in terms of war, in terms of presidencies. I'm curious to know from what you've seen in your life, what kind of impact World War II had on the Provo community.

HELEN: I wasn't here during the war. For the war he went and enlisted.

DOYLE: In Provo they started Geneva because of the war. They were already starting to build it. After I graduated from high school in 1941, before Pearl Harbor, very early in 1943 I finally decided to go to work at Geneva. They were just building it in. It wasn't actually operating. I went to work but I went to work with the motor pool. That's what I do is drive. Later I worked for an engineer that was building a blast furnace system.

There was a bunch of us that were fresh out of high school. Some of them were younger than me by a couple of years. We decided we wanted to go to a movie one day and we didn't even punch out of work. We went and caught the bus to Provo and played a few games of pool and went to a movie and then went back. When we got back they had missed us.

We were all registered for the draft. We were just waiting for our numbers to come up. A bunch of them said they were getting tired of waiting. They knew we hadn't been at work for a while. The next day we were all called in to the office. If you worked at Geneva you could get a deferment if you wanted. If you number came up, you could get a deferment because it was a war time job. I didn't defer because we wanted to go and fight. It isn't like now. Then people were proud of the United States and they wanted to protect it. They didn't care.

There were about five of us signed up. When we got to the meeting they said, "As you now, if you quit, we can have you drafted within a week." We said, "No you can't. Because we already signed up." We just quit.

STONE: How was your experience in World War II?

DOYLE: It was pretty good. The only problem was the one real close friend that signed up at the same time, there were three of us, when we went to Salt Lake, because you were a volunteer draft you could choose your service. Usually if they draft you, if they needed somebody in the Army, they'd take them all in the Army or some in the Marines or Navy. I don't know why but this other fellow thought we had talked about Army all the time. I had nothing in my mind but Navy. So he signed up for the Army and I signed up for the Navy.

I went to Burley, Idaho boot camp. It was the first time I rode a train except the Heber Creeper. I wanted to shoot so I signed up for armed guard or gunners' mate. I should have put electrician first, but I put electrician second and they needed people for gunners' mate first. So I got the armed guard. I never did serve on a Navy ship. I was always on merchant ships. We were gun crews on merchant ships. We had our officers and mess.

I made three trips hauling stuff from the South Pacific to Northern India. The last trip actually went around the world. We hit India and back to the east coast.

STONE: What was it like in Provo when you came home? How did people treat you?

DOYLE: Everybody was heroes. No doubt about it.

HELEN: By the same token, everybody was wondering what they were going to do with their lives. They built quonset huts up on BYU property. They came home thinking that everybody owed them something. They could get their education. Doyle chose not to.

DOYLE: They had the G.I. bill. A lot of people went to BYU.

HELEN: They had these quonset huts for the families.

DOYLE: They were barracks. Some of the quonsets were lived in.

HELEN: That was part of BYU. It is really updated. All those things are torn down now. During the war they built a lot of war homes in the Provo area. They were smaller homes by the hospital that are still there.

DOYLE: You could buy a home when we were first married for $1,000. Later they were going up. Those little cracker boxes weren't expensive.

STONE: I think we have covered every point that my list has. You brought up everything that was on here. We appreciate your time today.

HELEN: I hope we haven't been really boring. I don't know that our life was very exciting.

STONE: Everyone's life is exciting.

HELEN: It really was.

Interviewee: Doyle and Helen Thurston
Interviewer: Sarah L. Stone
May 7, 1999

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