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Historic Provo

Oral History of Eugene Leon & Mary Ardith Olsen Nielson


BUDGE: This is an interview with Mary Ardith Nielsen for the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at BYU at her home in Provo, Utah. Today is May 11, 1999. It's about 4:10 p.m. My name is Heather Budge. Her husband Eugene Leon Nielsen is also present.

Ardith wrote a little bit of her history for a book called For the Durationwhich was compiled by Dean Hughes. She wanted me to start off with that. She has written: "I married E. Leon Nielsen September 11, 1940. We were blessed with four wonderful children, three sons and a daughter. We purchased our home in May, 1941 and we have lived in the same home for 46 years. The price we paid for our home in the 1940s was peanuts compared to the price of homes today.

Our first trip to the grocery store was great. We purchased ten dollars' worth of groceries, which was five large paper sacks. It took us the whole evening to get those groceries in our cupboards. In the 1940s, my mother prepared a banquet for the Provo Second Ward and served the meal on $1 .00 worth of hamburger, along with potatoes and salad. These were typical prices. Plaid shirts were $.98. Bib Overalls were $1.49. Hamburger was $.15 a pound. Milk was $.10 a gallon. Bread was $.10. Ice cream cones were $.05. All day suckers were .$01. Candy bars were $.05 .

My grandmother gave me a Singer sewing machine and with my mother's help we pulled that machine on a little red wagon six blocks back to my house and I am still using that same sewing machine to this day. It is something I treasure.

I was president of the PTA at the Franklin School and was active in church organizations. I served as secretary to the LDS Stake Primary board for thirteen years and with two Stake Primary presidents.

In the 1940s there was an interurban train that went in the middle of Center Street. This little train went from Payson to Salt Lake City daily. The depot in Provo was on the corner of Center Street and First West where the Nu Skin building is located now.

December 8, 1941 the U.S. declared war on Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was sad that the war had to take so many lives. Living in the 1940's was quite an experience for us as a family. But we survived and are happy we had the fortitude and faith to go on."

Ardith, what are some of your memories of living here in Provo?

ARDITH: I was always in sports. We had a softball team. Each of us in the whole stake played.

EUGENE: She was the pitcher.

ARDITH: We had a great time together. We stuck together for about three years.

BUDGE: How old were you?

ARDITH: I was in high school from ninth grade to twelfth and then two years after we graduated.

BUDGE: You went to Franklin Elementary?

ARDITH: I went to Franklin, Dixon and then Provo High School.

BUDGE: Did they just recently tear down the Franklin?

ARDITH: Yes. They built the Franklin on the east side. They tore down the old one and put it on the east. It's on 600 West and Third South.

BUDGE: How did you like school?

ARDITH: I loved school.

BUDGE: Who were some of your teachers?

ARDITH: Miss Roberts. I had a lot of good junior high and senior high teachers.

BUDGE: What were some of the classes you took?

ARDITH: Business classes like shorthand and typing.

BUDGE: Did your family have any traditions of celebrating holidays when you were younger?

ARDITH: We always had good family reunions and get togethers. Christmas was special.

BUDGE: What would you do?

ARDITH: We'd always get all the members of our family and have a picnic. I come from a family of eight and he comes from a family of ten.

BUDGE: What number are you?

ARDITH: I'm number seven.

EUGENE: I'm the oldest. I was preceded in death by two, a brother and a sister.

BUDGE: Are your brothers and sisters still in the area?

EUGENE: I've got one brother in Idaho and another brother in Taylorsville, Utah and one sister in Pocatello. I have one sister in Mapleton and the rest are all dead.

BUDGE: When did you move to Provo?

EUGENE: I came to Provo from Levan, Utah. My father worked at the State Mental Hospital. I was in the fifth grade. I went to school in Nephi and Levan for the first four grades. Then I came to Provo with my parents and attended the Maeser School here in Provo. We moved various places in Provo. I went to grade school at Timpanogos Grade School. In junior high I went to Provo. Where the Provo City building is now they had Provo High School and a junior high school. When we first got married my income was $22.50 a week.

BUDGE: What did you do?

EUGENE: I was washing laundry. When we bought this home in 1940 there was no curb and gutter on Center Street. The interurban that traveled from Payson to Salt Lake came down through Center Street.

ARDITH: My children would sit on the lawn out here and watch the tracks.

BUDGE: What year was that?

ARDITH: 1944-45. The two boys were born in 1941 and 1943. They were just little kids.

BUDGE: What did this area look like back when you first came? Were there very many houses?

ARDITH: This street was just about like it is now. This part had been built.

EUGENE: There were some apartments that came in. This house was here.

BUDGE: You were born in the 2nd Ward. How long did you stay in that ward?

ARDITH: From the time I was born until it became the Pioneer Park Ward. This is the dividing line here on Fifth West.

EUGENE: I was a bishop in the Provo 2nd Ward.

ARDITH: For how long?

EUGENE: I can't remember. I've been ward clerk, counselor in the bishopric and I served a full time mission in California. I was the stake mission president and bishop and a high councilman. Right now I'm a stake patriarch.

For the years we've been living in this home, when we bought this home, there was no room downstairs. As our family increased we went down underneath and put the foundation and footings underneath our house to put two bedrooms. We cleared out the east window and mixed my cement. I made bedrooms.

BUDGE: How has the ward changed over the years?

EUGENE: It's changed immensely. When we first came here they had one Second Ward building. We attended that for a number of years. Then they rebuilt on the corner where the old building was. Before they opened it, there used to be a pottery plant, Henrichsen's. The Second Ward has changed immensely. It's on the corner now.

BUDGE: Has the type of people changed?

ARDITH: There is a few of us oldies left and the rest of the young ones come and go.

BUDGE: What kind of role did your church life play when you were younger?

ARDITH: We were taught by our parents to obey the commandments and do the things that we were taught to do.

BUDGE: Did you have a lot of activities?

ARDITH: Yes, we were active. We went to Mutual and Primary and any activity we could get into.

EUGENE: There have been several stakes organized. We were in the Utah Stake which comprised of Fifth West, north and south clear down to the lake all in one stake. Now we have many stakes. Since we've been married it grew from one stake to several stakes.

BUDGE: What have been the biggest challenges with the growth of Provo?

ARDITH: Living here on Center Street. I've enjoyed living here.

BUDGE: Was it dangerous?

ARDITH: You just had to be mighty careful. The traffic is so heavy.

EUGENE: The only way we can get out is when the light changes down there. Before we didn't have curb and gutter. There was an irrigation ditch in front of us. The inter-urban came down the center of town. It has changed immensely since we've been here.

BUDGE: Do you feel out of place?

ARDITH: We've got sense enough to know when to move and when not to move.

BUDGE: How did you two meet?

ARDITH: I asked him to a choir party.

BUDGE: How old were you?

ARDITH: I was in about twelfth grade. I was eighteen. A friend of mine was going to ask him and I thought, "No, you're not. I am." We went to mutual that night and I went up to him and asked him, "Will you go to a choir party with me?" He said, "Yes," so I turned around and went home. I got my answer, and that's all I needed.

BUDGE: Was it a school choir?

ARDITH: No, it was a church choir party.

BUDGE: How long did you date?

ARDITH: We dated two years before he went on his mission and then I waited for him for the two years. The year after he got home we got married.

EUGENE: About five years.

BUDGE: Where did you go on your mission?

EUGENE: I went to the California mission. In those days it comprised of California, Arizona, and Nevada. I served from Northern California, clear down to Nogales, Arizona. We baptized a man in the Gila River in Arizona. I was in Bakersfield. I was on the mission 25 months. In the summer months when I was on my mission we were to go without purse or script.

ARDITH: He ate corn flakes and canned milk.

EUGENE: You can see the change. I served 25 months in the mission field and the total 25 months I only spent $25 a month. Now it's $300 or $400.

BUDGE: Did they have the MTC?


ARDITH: They shipped him up to Salt Lake.

EUGENE: We had a week's training in Salt Lake. When I left on my mission it was 19 below zero in January. My mother and sister bid me farewell at the depot in Salt Lake.

BUDGE: What did you do while he was gone?

ARDITH: I worked at an ice cream company and Kress'. When we got married I worked in a CPA office.

BUDGE: Did you move here right when you got married?

ARDITH: No, we lived in the basement of my father's house. My father moved all our furniture.

BUDGE: How long did you live in the basement?

EUGENE: Two or three months.

ARDITH: September to May.

EUGENE: We bought this place.

ARDITH: My father put all of the furniture on his little wagon. We didn't have fancy cars, so we'd pull each piece of furniture and come down.

BUDGE: What kind of activities did the community have for your children? What was it like to raise your children here in Provo?

ARDITH: Wonderful. They had activities. All three of our sons played ball. They played church basketball.

EUGENE: Provo had a baseball league.

BUDGE: Where did they play ball?

ARDITH: We'd go to Harmon's park. We went down to Sunset School.

BUDGE: How was school for your children? Did they enjoy it?

ARDITH: Yes, they did, very much. They went to Franklin like I did and the Dixon and Provo High and BYU.

BUDGE: Was there a grocery store that you went to?

ARDITH: The 2nd Ward Grocery Store was right by the church. The building is still there. We had several home stores. My sister worked at one of them.

BUDGE: Nowadays where do you shop?

ARDITH: Reams, Smiths, Albertsons, Kohlers.

BUDGE: Grocery stores are so big now. What kind of jobs did you have?

EUGENE: I first started out when I came to Provo milking cows. There were three of us that milked 45 head of cows, night and morning by hand in order to sustain us until we went to high school. We worked on the farm in the summer months. When we first got married I worked at the Provo Troy Laundry. Then I worked at Columbia Steel Company and Ironton Pipe. I've worked with US Steel for 34 years. I retired at 65. In between I worked as a book binder. I worked several places.

I worked during World War II in order to keep me home with my wife and kids. I worked for the Union Pacific Railroad company. I worked with railroad cars. That was to keep me out of the Army. They had to have transportation by the railroad. They had to keep the railroads up. They assigned me to the railroads so I could be home with my family.

BUDGE: How long did you do that?

EUGENE: During most of the war. I went from the Union Pacific Railroad. They hired me out to U.S. Steel to do their interchange to get the cars in and out of Geneva Steel. That's when they started Geneva Steel. I worked there for 34 years and retired when I was 65, which was about 20 years ago. When I left Geneva Steel and retired on full retirement I was called by the Church to work at the Provo Temple. I worked there as an ordinance worker for 18 years.

BUDGE: You mentioned that you were a book binder.

ARDITH: That was while Geneva was on strike.

EUGENE: When Geneva was on strike I worked for a full year as a book binder. We bound books for schools and any book that was being written.

ARDITH: He worked for Elliott.

EUGENE: When Geneva Steel wasn't working, the strikes were on, the Herald Bookbinding Company always had me come up to Salt Lake to help them bind books. I did that in between.

BUDGE: What church callings have you had?

ARDITH: That was a good experience for me in my life. I worked in the temple. I was stake Primary secretary and ward Primary president and Relief Society president. I was the Sunday School secretary.

BUDGE: What were your favorite callings?

ARDITH: Stake Primary secretary. I was there for a few years and we had it nice.

BUDGE: Did you have to do a lot of planning for activities?

ARDITH: I was more or less with the presidency and I was running the books. On the penny drive I would get involved.

BUDGE: What's the penny drive?

ARDITH: The Primary penny drive is where people donate money and send it to the Primary Children's Hospital.

BUDGE: When did you do that?

ARDITH: When I was secretary.

BUDGE: Would people just bring in money?

ARDITH: No, we had the ward Primaries go around the blocks and collect it from each house. They handled a lot of money for Primary penny drives.

BUDGE: How much did you get?

ARDITH: Sometimes there was over $2,000. I have a record in the book each year. It was a lot of responsibility.

BUDGE: Did your family have any special traditions or activities when your children were growing up?

ARDITH: We went off on trips and just had fun together as a family.

BUDGE: What about holidays?

ARDITH: They were very special to us. Thanksgiving we had our whole family here. Christmas was a big thing. One year our son who lives in Idaho came down and stayed with us. They were here Christmas Eve and I had all the packages under the Christmas tree. Their little son got up the next morning and said, "Dad don't look at the presents. Something happened last night." There was plenty under the tree.

BUDGE: Do your children live around here?

ARDITH: There is one in West Jordan, one in Highland, one in Orem and one in Provo.

BUDGE: Do you still get together often?

ARDITH: We have Sunday dinner every week.

EUGENE: They are all here Sundays.

BUDGE: How many grandchildren do you have?


EUGENE: We also have four great grandchildren.

BUDGE: Do you have them over for dinner a lot?

ARDITH: I used to, but they have us over for dinner now.

BUDGE: Is there anything else you want to add?

EUGENE: We've enjoyed living in Provo. We've had a very rich life. Personally, my wife is the one that has held the family together. The children love her. That's the way it should be. That's what we strive for in our family. We feel like we have found a good part in our mission in helping hold the family together.

ARDITH: We feel that the family that prays together stays together. We show a lot of kindness and love and be concerned with each other. We were interested in their school work and their activities. We were interested in what girls and boys they go with on dates. We're very concerned.

EUGENE: My wife has been a good homemaker. It's a great blessing in my life to have a wife. I don't know how I could accomplish my callings in the Church without her.

ARDITH: He had callings from the time we were married. When he got to patriarch, that's the first time we sat in church together. He was always on the stand or off somewhere. Now he's a patriarch and we can sit together.

EUGENE: She writes all the blessings. One we give to the individual and the other copy goes in the Church archives with their permanent record. Each one gets copies. She has done more since I've been a patriarch. This coming December it will be 19 years that I've been a patriarch.

BUDGE: How many blessings have you done?

EUGENE: I count them.

BUDGE: Did you have close friends in the ward?

ARDITH: There is a bunch of us that have been together. There are two of us that are still together from the original ones. Our friendship grows stronger and stronger.

BUDGE: Was that helpful?

ARDITH: You depend on them. He was gone so much and you've got to have people you can talk to. Instead of doing it by yourself, just go out and get your friends.

BUDGE: Has it been harder to keep the family together with them getting older?

ARDITH: No. We have a daughter over in Highland. She will call every day. She has two boys. Yet she calls, even though it's 10:30 she'll call. If we're in bed and it rings I know it's her. She is my daughter, but she's more like a friend and a sister. We had three boys and one girl. We had two boys, then a girl, then another boy.

EUGENE: Our daughter teaches school. We have a son that works at Penney's. We have a son that is an interior decorator. We have another son that works at BYU in the housing department. Our youngest son graduated from BYU and is in construction. He works with the electricians and is a supplier of the all the electrical equipment for homes and buildings. We've had a very blissful life. My sons take care of the grass.

ARDITH: They're good to help us.

BUDGE: Do you have family living?

ARDITH: Yes, they're in different places. Some are in Salt Lake and some in Orem. The Nielsen side got together for a while. We have reunions for the day.

BUDGE: Is there anything else you want to add? I appreciate it.

Interviewee: Eugene Leon Nielsen and Mary Ardith Olsen Nielsen
Interviewer: Heather Budge
May 11, 1999

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