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Historic Provo

Oral History of Ella Casper


WINN: Today is July 14, 1999. This is Jennifer Winn and I'm speaking with Ella Casper. Ella, you were just telling me about where it began.

CASPER: I was born and raised in Charleston, just below Heber. I went to grade school there. Then I went to high school in Heber. We used to have to take a bus to go to school up there. From all over they went to high school in Heber. They went to grade school in Midway and all over through the eighth grade. All of us had to go to Heber. It was a nice time to meet everybody.

We used to have dances once a week. We wouldn't always have them all the same time in the other towns. Everybody would come and then they'd go to the next one. We had a lot of fun.

WINN: What brought you to Provo?

CASPER: The doctor got a hold of my dad one day and said, "If you don't take your wife out of this climate, she won't last through the winter." She had a bad heart. She couldn't stand the cold. It isn't as cold now as it was then in those days. I don't know why, but it isn't.

So they came to Provo toward the last of October. I had already started high school. I said, "I'm not going down to Provo because I don't know a soul and it will be a new school and I'm started here and I want to stay here."

My dad left his farm. My brother moved over from Midway and lived in our home and I just stayed there with them until spring. Then I came to Provo. I wanted to graduate in Heber. I was not going to Provo in the middle of the year. I came the next spring after I got out of school. I came down and got me a job.

WINN: Where did you work at?

CASPER: I worked where Woolworths used to be.

WINN: Up off Ninth East?

CASPER: It was next to it. It was a woman's clothing store.

WINN: Was it off of Ninth East?

CASPER: No. It was on Second West. It was next to Firmages. That's where I worked for a good long time. My husband was in Charleston always. My maiden name was Wright. When we decided to get married he said, "I'm sick and tired of having to come every week to Provo. We better get married." So we did.

They took him in the service and he was gone about three years. He had worked at the state hospital and we had two kids and he said, "You'll have to work." We had a girl and a boy. I went to work at the hospital. He used to work outside. He always ran the tracks and went everywhere for the hospital. He said, "I'm going to take you up to the hospital and make you acquainted with Dr. Heninger." When I went in he said, "I heard your husband is going in the service." I said, "Yes." He said, "Could you come to work Monday morning. I'll give you a job while he's gone."

Instead of that I worked thirty years. I had a ward of my own. I had a few older people on there and I had the ones that went out to work at the laundry and the kitchen and dining room where we used to eat and to the canteen. They worked all over. They went to the sewing room. I didn't have many on the ward that stayed there. The older people did. I had about three of them there that were toward eighty. They were old. I kept them on the ward and kept some others on the ward.

I told them, "Listen, if you come to my ward, you're going to have to straighten up or you can't stay. I expect you to get up in the morning and make your bed and clean up the room, hang your clothes up in the closet. I want it swept and kept clean."

When I first went on there I took some money out of my pocket and went down to Penneys and I got some flour sacks. We washed them and ironed them and then I had them hem them. Then I bought some designs. I went downtown and bought packages of different designs and had them work them and then we sewed them. The same with pillowcases. I bought clean pillowcases and had them work designs on those. Some of them I took the hems out and scalloped and then they'd crochet around them. That's how we got started.

Dr. Heninger came in. He didn't very often go in the wards but he came in there one day. He said, "Ella, how did you ever do all this?" I bought little curtains for all the windows. They had all white bedspreads on the bed. I bought three or four colors of bed spreads and took put them on all the beds. I took off all the whites. He said, "Why did you do this?" I said, "I wanted it to be a home for the patients of the hospital." He said, "I can't believe you. I can't believe what you've done to this ward."

The day room was a nice big room. I bought a big oval shaped rug and put in there so it would look nice. We had the first television that came up there. We had it on our ward. Our ward was on the south side of this big hallway. On the north side was the men's ward. I told them, "I don't mind you coming over here, but you're not going to roughhouse. Not on my life. You can come over and listen to the music or the programs on the television. But I don't want any rough housing. I don't want you quarrelling. I don't want you fighting or anything else over here. You can do that over there."

I did all that and fixed up the ward. It looked real nice. I got the curtains for all the windows and the new bed spreads and a new little rug to put in front of their bed. Dr. Heninger said, "Ella, I can't believe it. Now I know why when I go on the other wards that the lady patients say, 'Please transfer me to ward six.'" That was my ward. He said, "I never go in a ward that they don't ask me to please transfer them over here. Now I can see why." The other wards didn't do that. He said, "I'm interested. I want to know why you did all this." I said, "I wanted to make it a home not a hospital for them."

That's what I did. And I didn't expect to stay home. I was just there until my husband got home from the service. Instead of that I stayed thirty years. I stayed until I could retire.

WINN: You mentioned that while you and your husband were dating you lived here, he lived in Charleston. He would come down to visit you on the weekends.

CASPER: We both lived in Charleston. That's just five miles south of Heber.

WINN: When you moved down to Provo, what kind of dates did you go on, and how did you communicate with each other?

CASPER: He came down once a week. That was it. We didn't write or call each other or anything in between. He worked. He went to work in Park City in the mines. He said, "We'll have to move." I said, "I'm not going over there. If you go to Park City, you'll go alone, because I won't." It used to be kind of a rough town. It's not like it is now. There was a lot of playing cards and drinking. I said, "I'm not going there. If you go, you'll have to go alone." He decided he'd come to Provo.

WINN: What dates did you go on? What would you do for activities?

CASPER: We'd usually go to a show. Lots of times, on Sunday afternoon we'd go for a long ride, up different canyons to see different areas. We loved to go in the canyons and see the colors of leaves when they started to turn. I loved those leaves. We used to go there quite a bit.

Then we got married and settled down and then they took him in the service. Dr. Heninger said, "You come up and I'll give you a job."

WINN: How were you affected by World War II? Your husband went to war. Did you have to compensate? Were there any products that you couldn't purchase at the store? Why kind of sacrifices did you have to make during the war?

CASPER: He had the first roadster in Charleston. It was brand new. He worked in the mine and made good money and paid for that. That's how he would travel around. We would go up the canyon and see the leaves.

WINN: How was Provo affected by World War II?

CASPER: There was a lot of people in the service from here. There were a lot of young people. I think they took the cream of the crop of young people to go in the service. It didn't matter whether they were married or not, they had to go if they were called. His number came up and he had to go.

I stayed home and worked. I stayed with my mother and took care of her because she didn't have good health. She didn't live too long after I was married. My dad lived to be 85 or 87. He was a lot older. She died when she was 69.

In Charleston we lived on the block north of the school and this man lived on the block south of the school. They got together and traveled all over the country, the two of them. First they went to California and up the coast. Then they went back to New York and traveled down and across the southern states. The next thing they planned was to go to Europe. That's where they went. They went to England, Germany, and France. They were gone quite a while. They sure enjoyed traveling. The two of them could travel together and they knew each other. They'd lived there all their lives as neighbors. They'd get together. They enjoyed going. They said, "We worked hard all of our lives and we're going to take our money and see the country."

WINN: What were your first impressions of Provo?

CASPER: I thought it was awful big in comparison to Heber. They had a lot more going here than they did up there. They had a nice show house where they had shows every night. They had dances. We had parties in between. We had a lot of fun. I think it was more fun to come to Provo where people were more clannish. We were just a big group and we all stayed together and had a lot of fun. Provo was entirely different. They had a nice shopping center and Saturday night dances.

My dad lived with me after mother died. We bought the home from dad on the end of the corner, across the street right down here. We bought the home from dad. He bought it because it was on the ground level and mother wasn't able to climb stairs. We bought the home from him. That was partly how he got to travel so much

WINN: You raised your children here in Provo. What schools did they go to?

CASPER: They went to the Franklin and it isn't there now, but on north University where they used to have the school there, that's where they went to college at the Y.

My daughter passed away about two and a half years ago. I miss her. We both had a car and we'd see each other almost every day. She had lots of things go wrong with her when she got older. They bought a nice new home and moved out there with her two girls and a boy. There is one girl living in American Fork. One lives in Salt Lake and the boy lives in Santaquin. I can't remember the little place where they lived in that area.

WINN: What were some of the activities that your children were involved in while they were attending school?

CASPER: When they were in grade school, they went to Primary once a week, and then as they got older they went to mutual, both of them. The church had lots of activity then, a lot more than they do now for young people. I've always lived in this ward. They called the ward three different things until they finally got it down to one. I have been in the same place and I've lived in three wards.

WINN: What did your boy like to do for fun?

CASPER: He played a lot of ball. He loved to play basketball. He loved that. He loved to play with balls. When he was quite young he wanted to make some money. I said, "Find a job." He did. He went to work for farmers down through here. All the way over to Tenth West was farms. He worked for farmers every summer. He would buy his clothes. He could buy what he wanted. He bought clothes. Then we paid for his school. He loved to work.

When Beth was young she used to tend babies. She was a baby tender. She'd usually do that. When she got older, a teenager, then she went to work. She worked at Penneys for a long time. She worked in the office.

WINN: How has Center Street changed from when you first came to Provo to now?

CASPER: The businesses have all gone out that used to be there. All of those places had a store in them of different kinds. There was a shoe store and a clothing store and arts and crafts. They don't have that anymore. They sell bicycles in the windows. Some of them are shut up. It's not like it used to be at all. I don't go to town up there much anymore. What I've got is going to last me. I'm not going shopping anymore for clothing. When you get 90 years old, you don't need that. In two months I'll be ninety. That's getting up there.

I go to senior citizens every day for lunch. I don't have to bag my groceries. I get with people and talk to them. It makes it a lot nicer. For a long time I went to senior citizens and made things. I made a tree and I made that bowl in there. I made these pictures. I made everything. I made those pictures over there. I've made a lot more than this. I gave them to my sisters and all my family. I never sat down at night that I didn't have something to work on. I loved to make things.

Out there on the floor, I had those out on the patio. I was afraid the wind would blow them off, so I brought them in. I worked at the place for years. I'd drive up there and go to the classes. I sure made a lot of things. I used to keep my garden up.

WINN: What are some other ways that Provo has changed?

CASPER: The business district isn't anything like it used to be. In those shops you could go buy anything.

WINN: Where did you used to shop?

CASPER: Penneys and Firmages. They did good business, both of them. There were little shops all over that had clothing and shoes and arts and crafts. I don't think they even have anything like that anymore. I don't know anymore.

WINN: They have all relocated either further south or further north. Did you ever play at the lake with your children?

CASPER: No. Marvin used to go down there a lot when he got a little older, but I never took the kids down there. When I lived in Charleston we used to go to Midway. I used to go there a lot. We used to go swimming. They had a nice big pool. It was sure nice to go there and go swimming in the hot pots. It was natural. It was wonderful. It was nice to go. We used to go there an awful lot, especially during the summer. Winter was kind of cold. We'd go dancing in the winter, not over there. All summer long we'd go there. We had water in the house all the time. It was nice.

WINN: What were some of the holidays that were celebrated by the city? Can you recall any special events?

CASPER: Charleston used to put on a program. It would start at 10:00 a.m. Everybody would take part and sing and read stories. We'd have the holiday lunch. It was so good. They would make hamburgers. It was all homemade. They would make potato salad and macaroni salad and deserts and pies and cakes. People made it right there. It was wonderful.

We'd rest a while then go home and the men had to do milking. Everybody had milking. They had to do chores. Then we'd go to the dance after that. It was a nice day. The older people really made it nice for the younger ones like we were. I used to enjoy it so much. The programs were lovely. Everybody dressed in their best and we had good fun.

Provo used to have a parade. Their parades were beautiful. They'd have great big floats on big wagons. For miles they'd come around. It was lovely, this parade they used to have. In between there would be somebody all decked out in their nice Fourth of July things and they'd show that off. Someone would come along and dance a little bit until one of the floats would catch up and then they'd go on. We'd sing songs. It was nice. They don't do anything anymore. They don't do things like they used to. They don't plan for the young people like they used to. I don't hear them.

I think Orem does a lot more than Provo does. Orem is really picking up and doing for the people. At least that's what I read in the papers.

WINN: Thank you Ella. Thank you for sharing some of your experiences in Provo with me. I really appreciate it.

CASPER: I like to work. I went to work as soon as I came down here. It was enjoyable. I worked in a little clothing store. It was fun to wait on people.

WINN: Was there much of an industry for clothing? Did a lot of people sew their own clothing or did they purchase a lot of clothes already made?

CASPER: Things that were already made. Especially from about the 24th until school started, we were busy. We'd get things ready for school.

I remember my sister that lived in Heber was a nervous type person. Her husband used to work here in Provo. He'd come down and she'd come down with him often. He worked at the agriculture and when things were really on, he would have to stay late. She would come with him so he didn't fall asleep going home. She would say to me, "What are you doing today? I'll take over what you're doing, if you sit down at the machine and sew for me." She had a girl and a boy and I'd make their clothes for school. I loved to sew. She said, "I never sewed a thing that I didn't have to carry back. You can sit down at the machine and never get anything done. It just goes together for you just like it should."

She came down and if I was putting up fruit, it wouldn't matter what I was doing, she'd take it over. She said, "You sit down at the machine and I'll do what you're doing."

Interviewee: Ella Casper
Interviewer: Jennifer Winn
July 14, 1999

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