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Historic Provo

Oral History of Grace Hall Bennett


SMEDLEY: This is Varci Smedley. I'm here with Grace Hall Bennett. Today is April 29, 1999. I'm here at her home in Provo, Utah. She is going to tell us about her history of living in Provo. You have not lived here all your life but you were born here right?

BENNETT: My parents moved here when I was three years old, nearly four.

SMEDLEY: Where did they move here from?

BENNETT: Winter Quarters, Utah, a little mining camp in Carbon County. I lived here until after I had been married two years. I grew up and went to school at the old Maeser School which still stands on the corner of Fifth East and Second South. I went to school six years there and then I went to Farrer Junior High School. I was in the first seventh grade to go to it after it was built. I graduated from there and came to the Provo High School which was situated where the police department and the Provo office building is now. It was a high school at that time.

SMEDLEY: So what happened to it, did they knock it down?

BENNETT: They demolished it when they built the new high school out on University Avenue. The city took it over and used it for their offices.

SMEDLEY: Have you seen a lot of changes in Provo since you've been here?

BENNETT: Oh yes. When I was a little girl we moved to a home on Fourth East between Center Street and First North. That was where I went to elementary school to the old Maeser School on the corner of Fifth East and Second South in Provo. At that time our neighbors were Alma VanWagenen who was a financier, and they kept that home. I don't know whether they still live in it or not. But they kept that home for many, many years and it was one of the beautiful homes in Provo. Across the street west was the Mangum residence. Mrs. Mangum was a daughter of Jesse Knight so they had money too.

SMEDLEY: Jesse Knight had something to do with BYU. There is a Jesse Knight Mangum building.

BENNETT: The Knight's and the Mangum's gave them money for that to be built. It wasn't built until many years later, after I was grown. I did go to the BYU for one year after graduating Provo High School. At that time the main building was the building down on the corner of University Avenue and Fifth North. That was the main building and then there were three buildings up on the hill. There was the Maeser Memorial and the Brimhall building and I can't think of the other one right off. We thought that was pretty great at that time, because those were new buildings up there on the hill.

SMEDLEY: What year did you graduate from High School?

BENNETT: 1937.

SMEDLEY: Then you enrolled in BYU the next year?

BENNETT: Yes, but I only went one year. I took short hand, typing, accounting, and book keeping and that's what I did for the rest of my time that I was at an employable age.

SMEDLEY: What did you study at BYU?

BENNETT: Accounting. We used the most queer calculating machines to work on. They would have nine numbers across and nine numbers up. It was really weird when I think of what we have now. But those were the first ones that I remember. Then they condensed it down to a little adding machine.

SMEDLEY: So you went one year to BYU and then you started working, is that right?

BENNETT: I worked with Provo City for two years before I was married.

SMEDLEY: Where did you meet your husband?

BENNETT: My friend went with his friend and they were from Springville.

SMEDLEY: When did you marry him?

BENNETT: September 1, 1940.

SMEDLEY: You worked for two years and then you got married to him. Did you live in Provo after that?

BENNETT: We lived here for two years in an apartment. My husband had been raised on a farm. So we moved to Mapleton and that's where we raised our family. I moved back here probably about 1987. I think that I've lived here twelve years.

SMEDLEY: What made you decide to come back to Provo?

BENNETT: My mother had died and left me this home that I live in. I just decided that it would be easier for my old age to come where I could catch a bus. When I quit driving it had more conveniences and was easier to get to places. I wanted to work in the temple which I have done for ten years.

SMEDLEY: How many kids do you have in your family?

BENNETT: I have five living. I had six but I lost my youngest one when she was three months old.

SMEDLEY: So all five are still living?


SMEDLEY: Do they live nearby?

BENNETT: My youngest daughter lives with me. She never married. I have seventeen grandchildren and twenty-seven great grandchildren with two more to be born in the month of May.

SMEDLEY: What was it like during World War II and the Great Depression?

BENNETT: Yes, I was here part of it but not all of World War II. I was here through part of it. We lived in the apartment.

SMEDLEY: You were here for all of The Great Depression.

BENNETT: Yes, I remember that very well.

SMEDLEY: What was that like?

BENNETT: Most of the men we knew didn't have jobs. It was really hard. It was good that the government started the W.P.A. It let men who had families work so many days a month, which just barely gave you enough money. My parents were renting a home at that time, and it just barely gave us enough money to pay the rent, food, and electricity. It was very hard. My father asked some people who had a vacant lot if he could raise a garden on it. So for several years he raised a garden on this piece of ground and that really helped us so that we had part of our food from it.

I imagine that most of the men that could find a piece of ground did the same thing, just so you would have your vegetables. We canned everything that we could get. All the fruit and vegetables that we could get we canned and dried, which helped a lot.

We used to get skim milk from the dairy after they had made butter and taken the fat out. Then we would buy the skim milk by the gallon. We would get a gallon every other day.

SMEDLEY: Basically people just survived from their farms and what they grew?

BENNETT: Yes. The farmers had it a little better because they had their food. But if they had a mortgage on it they had a hard time too. They had to try and sell enough to pay for the mortgage. It was hard going.

SMEDLEY: What are some of your greatest, most significant memories during that time?

BENNETT: I always felt secure. I really didn't feel threatened through it, even though I know after I grew up what a hard time they had. But they were very frugal and took care of their money so we made it. Most the people I knew did.

SMEDLEY: It was hard for most people in Provo?

BENNETT: There were rich through it and they made it. I imagine that they had to skimp according to their standards too. People didn't have money to spend to buy the things that they had for sale. I know my mother made all the clothes that we wore except socks. She would make coats some times. We would just buy the material to make them.

SMEDLEY: So where would you buy your groceries? They had grocery stores but not like Smiths.

BENNETT: No, the biggest store that I can remember when I was a child was Haywards. They had a grocery store. There were little corner grocery stores around. They really didn't have much of a choice in what you could buy. You could buy bread, butter, milk, and sometimes fresh vegetables in the summer and some canned goods. We canned everything that we could get like the vegetables and fruit so we would have those for winters. People are trying to get food storage now, but we did it every summer.

SMEDLEY: You didn't have any malls then?

BENNETT: No. Haywards was the biggest grocery store I remember when I was a child. The bigger ones came later. There was a JC Penney store on the corner of First West and Main Street here in Provo. Across the street, they weren't there when I was really small, but soon after there was a Kress store across from Penney's west.

SMEDLEY: Was that gas?

BENNETT: No, that was a dime store where you could pick up those articles. Wilma that lives up on the corner from me here, she is the same age as I am. She didn't move here until after she was married. She worked in the Woolworth's store that was here which sold articles like pencils and pens and paper and little items of jewelry, like big supermarkets do now.

SMEDLEY: Where was Haywards?

BENNETT: It was on University Avenue pretty close to where First Security Bank is now.

SMEDLEY: I guess it's gone now. I haven't seen it.

BENNETT: Oh yes, Mr. Hayward died a long time ago.

SMEDLEY: He just had all sorts of things and groceries?

BENNETT: Yes, he had fresh vegetables and groceries. It was a bigger store. It had canned goods and things like that you could buy. It was a bigger grocery store, but not as big as your supermarkets are now, not by a long way. But I used to think it was neat to go there.

SMEDLEY: Did they have penny candies?

BENNETT: Yes. They cost quite a bit now.

SMEDLEY: Did you grow up in this house?

BENNETT: No, I lived on Fourth East between Center and First North when I was really young. But then we moved to First North between Fifth and Sixth East right by the Farrer Junior High School. We lived a half a block from there and that's where I lived when I got married.

SMEDLEY: When did your mom move to this house?

BENNETT: In 1942. My oldest girl was just six months old when my mother and dad lived here.

SMEDLEY: Are you the oldest in your family?

BENNETT: Yes, there was only the two of us, I and my brother Ray.

SMEDLEY: He is younger?

BENNETT: Three years younger than I was.

SMEDLEY: What are some memories you have as a child in Provo, some places you went to?

BENNETT: All the kids would get together at nights in the summer and we would play run-sheepy-run, and hide-and-seek and lots of games like that.

SMEDLEY: Run-sheepy-run, what's that?

BENNETT: We would have one that was it and he would count to a certain number, fifty or a hundred. We would all run and hide. Then he would try and catch us. The first one caught that he got back to the goal, if the one that was it got back to the goal first then they would be the next one that had to be the goal keeper. It was kind of like hide and seek. We had to make our own fun.

I remember the first radio that I ever saw. I was probably eight years old and one of our neighbors got a radio with a big gramophone on it. We just thought that was just so much fun to go over. About the only thing that came over it was a little talking and music.

SMEDLEY: When did the first radio come out, do you remember approximately?

BENNETT: I don't remember exactly, but I know that we had one by the time I was in high school. We had one in our home then.

SMEDLEY: What did it look like?

BENNETT: Big. Sort of like a horn.

SMEDLEY: I guess you don't still have it.

BENNETT: No. They had records because even when I was a small child we had a phonograph. My grandfather had a phonograph with records on. We did hear music but it was a big thing. On the radio they used to have all those years ago on the phonograph. The piano that I have was my grandmother's so it's really old.

SMEDLEY: What kind of piano is it?

BENNETT: Has it got it printed there. I don't know whether it has or not. I don't think so. But maybe it does have it if you put that up.

SMEDLEY: W. Brandford Anderson. Does it play really nice?

BENNETT: Well it needs tuning.

SMEDLEY: Do you play the piano?

BENNETT: I did take lessons when I was twelve years old until I was fourteen. But we didn't own a piano at that time. We had been living in a house that had a piano in it and that was as long as I could take lessons. I got this many years later after I had children and my grandfather died. I purchased it from him. That was my grandmother's china closet too.

SMEDLEY: When were you born?

BENNETT: May 6th, 1919.

SMEDLEY: Your birthday is coming up soon and you are having a family celebration?

BENNETT: It was published in the paper today in the Springville Herald. We are going to have it over in Mapleton.

SMEDLEY: Does your family live around here?

BENNETT: No, Diane and I are the only ones that do. The rest of them have moved away during the years as they were married.

SMEDLEY: So what was it like in elementary school?

BENNETT: I don't think it was much different than it is now. The teacher taught us. We had nearly all female teachers. We didn't have a male teacher until I was in sixth grade and then the principal was our teacher part of the day. We only went half a day for first and second grade. Then third grade we started all day.

SMEDLEY: Did they give you school lunch or did you have to bring your own lunch?

BENNETT: We lived close enough that most of us could go home. There were a few that rode on the bus but they brought their own lunch. We lived just three blocks from it. I always went home for lunch, my brother and I.

SMEDLEY: School was about the same then as it is now?

BENNETT: Right. We started at 9:00 and got out at 4:00 in the afternoon and we had a lunch hour, like they still do. Only most of us went home for lunch.

SMEDLEY: Do you have a favorite teacher, or some memories of your favorite teacher?

BENNETT: I don't remember my first grade teacher too well. I really liked her. I know I did. She lived close to us. I don't remember her name. It's been too many years. There was Miss Brough when I was in fourth grade. I can't remember the name of the teacher when I was in fifth grade. She was really a nice teacher.

SMEDLEY: Do you have any interesting experiences?

BENNETT: I was going to say when I was in high school and I took book keeping I remember Harold Boyack. He lived here in Provo and taught school until he was too old, and he retired. There was a lot of people who remember him in this end of town. He lived here. I was trying to think of some of the others that I had in high school. I'm sure with the year book I could refresh my memory.

SMEDLEY: Do you remember what they taught?

BENNETT: Mr. Boyack taught typing and book keeping. I took two years of book keeping from him. Then H.R. Slack taught what we would call history now, but they called it social development and contemporary problems. Ora B. Tanner taught English and Eunice Bird taught speech and English. Reese Bench taught algebra and geometry.

SMEDLEY: What were your favorite subjects in high school?

BENNETT: Book keeping was one. I enjoyed short hand also from Ethel Spencer. I enjoyed history from Mr. Slack and I enjoyed the seminary teachers. Mr. Washburn was head of the seminary at that time.

SMEDLEY: Did you have release time or did you go early morning to seminary?

BENNETT: We had release time. It was taught during the day and early too. Church History was taught early, but the Old Testament and New Testament were taught there in school.

SMEDLEY: Were you involved in any high school activities or extra-curricular activities?

BENNETT: Not too much. I enjoyed gym and playing basketball and things. I was more of a student, a reader. I didn't go to the school dances. We had good programs. What did we call them then? I did enjoy learning tap dancing from our gym teacher. I really enjoyed gym and playing basketball and all the sports.

SMEDLEY: Were you an athlete?

BENNETT: Not really, I just enjoyed them. I didn't really try to excel in them. I was a book worm.

SMEDLEY: You had good grades?

BENNETT: Yes, I did. My friend and I had read all the books in the junior public library by the time we were in seventh grade. They didn't have as many as they do now. We asked them where they went next and they said upstairs in the grown up library. We went up there and we couldn't find anything that was interesting to read for quite a while. As we grew up we did.

SMEDLEY: What were some of your favorite hang-outs with your friends in high school?

BENNETT: We had a girl's club, a group of us who liked each other really well. There were about fifteen of us and we really had a lot of fun and we did things. We went hiking, and roller skating. We all liked to roller skate. They had a roller skating rink out at Park Roshea.

SMEDLEY: Where is that?

BENNETT: In Springville. All your old timers know where that is. It isn't there anymore; it's homes. I did belong to the roller skating club while I was in high school. We did a lot of hiking up on the mountains, up to the Y. I was there at that time too. We went to Devil's kitchen which is up above the temple. It's in Rock Canyon.

SMEDLEY: What was downtown like?

BENNETT: It went up Center Street from Avenue clear up to the state hospital. We used to like to go out there. It separated the traffic on Center Street. We used to like to go out there and play on that strip of grass and walk up it. One night when we were in high school, my friend and I were carrying our blankets and our pillows, right up Center Street and singing at the top of our lungs. We used to do that. She lived just over here on Third South between Fifth and Sixth West.

SMEDLEY: While all the cars drove past?

BENNETT: Oh yes. And they'd honk at us. That's when we were in high school when we did that. Maybe you would like to read that. You can have it. Some of this I've already told you on your tape.

[tape interrupted]

SMEDLEY: Did you work after attending BYU.

BENNETT: I worked in an office. It was on University Avenue between Second and Third South. It was a brick building there. They used to sell milk and ice cream, and ice cream bars. I worked in the office there. That was my first job. I did book keeping and short hand.

SMEDLEY: I will go ahead and just read this on and then you can add things as I go along.

BENNETT: I don't know if I think of anymore. You can take it too if you want.

SMEDLEY: (The interviewer is reading some experiences from Grace Bennett's Life Story.) "I remember Provo as being a good place to grow up in. I thought that Provo was a beautiful city. I liked Center Street from University Avenue to the boundary of Provo. Center Street was divided into two roads by a strip of grass in the middle. Both sides of the street were lined with trees as children would like to walk on the grass strip." Was it a lot bigger than it is now?

BENNETT: No. That grass strip took some of what they would park on.

SMEDLEY: "The cars traveled at a much slower speed than they do today." About how fast?

BENNETT: I think about the highest we used to travel is around forty miles an hour when we were going along to Salt Lake.

SMEDLEY: Now it's double that. "We walked nearly everywhere we went in the city. There was a train service in between cities. It was called the Orem train. It went to Salt Lake City on the north and to Payson on the South. The station was located on the southeast corner of Second West and Center Street." Was that a commonly used train?

BENNETT: Yes, and it went clear to Payson, too.

SMEDLEY: People used that instead of cars?

BENNETT: Instead of using their cars so much.

SMEDLEY: Did most people not have cars?

BENNETT: During the depression it was hard to own a car. It was too expensive. It was cheaper to travel on the Orem than it was to take your car, especially if just one person were going.

SMEDLEY: It's not there anymore.

BENNETT: No, it's been gone a long time.

SMEDLEY: Are the tracks still there?

BENNETT: No, not on Center Street. The tracks followed the railroad tracks on the south end of town. In fact I think they were part of the original ones that it traveled on. It did come into the train station right in town.

SMEDLEY: Where was the train station?

BENNETT: On Second West and Center.

SMEDLEY: Now what is there?

BENNETT: A building with a bicycle shop.

SMEDLEY: So Provo has changed a lot?


SMEDLEY: "Children in our neighborhood would get together on summer nights and play hide and go seek, and run-sheepy-run. We did this until we were about thirteen or fourteen years old. My brother and I attended the Maeser School from the first grade through sixth grade. Farrer Junior High School was finished just in time for me to be in the first seventh grade class to attend the school. I graduated from the ninth grade in 1934. Provo High School was located where the Provo Fire Department and city buildings are located now on 300 West between Center Street and First South.

"In the summer time a group of my friends and I would walk to the foothills and then climb to the Y on the mountain or go to Devil's Kitchen at the base of Rock Canyon, and roast wieners and marshmallows. I was a Girl Scout from eleven years old 'til fifteen years old. We would hike along the bank of the Provo River from about Sixth West toward the lake and cook wieners or hamburgers on hot rocks and roast marshmallows. We made banana boats with marshmallows and chocolate squares.

"I graduated from Provo High School in May of 1937. I attended BYU the school year of 1937 and attended BYU for one year, 1937 through 1938. There were four buildings on Temple Hill and we used the lower campus for some classes."

BENNETT: That is the Maeser Memorial building. The Brimhall building was up on upper campus and the Maeser Memorial was up there too.

SMEDLEY: "I worked in the office of Arden Sunfreeze Dairy the summer of 1938. I started working in the office of the reporter for Provo City in January 1939. The office was in the old Utah County building until the fall of 1939 when Provo City offices moved into the old post office building on the southeast corner of University Avenue and Center Street. The post office had moved to a new building on the northeast corner on First West and First North.

"They had youth dances for the young people which I enjoyed. BYU students attended them at their ward buildings. We would go roller skating in groups. There was a roller skating club at the high school."

BENNETT: I told you part of that.

SMEDLEY: How did you get your job from Arden Sunfreeze Dairy?

BENNETT: I just put in an application and they hired me.

SMEDLEY: You were just looking for a new job?

BENNETT: Right. I needed one that was steady five days a week. Then I heard about the one in the recorder's office for Provo City and was interviewed. I started working there and worked there until I was married. They did not hire married women in those days, if their husband was working, because it was still hard times and they just didn't think it was fair for women to take a job away from a man if he needed it for his family. I knew that as soon as I married that I would have to give up my job in the recorder's office.

World War II came along at that point and so many of the young men went into the service that I was able to work until we moved over to Mapleton.

SMEDLEY: What do you remember about World War II?

BENNETT: I remember the day that it was first declared that we were at war. Pearl Harbor had just happened a few days before. It was right soon after that President Roosevelt declared war on Japan and we were in the war.

SMEDLEY: You told me earlier. I didn't get it on tape about your younger brother. He went to war.

BENNETT: My brother was three years younger than I was and when World War II was declared in December, my brother had joined the Navy about a year before that. His ship the big cruiser, Houston had sailed for Hawaii just three weeks before Pearl Harbor. We were afraid that his ship was one of them that was sunk. Then we received a letter from my brother. They had left the Hawaiian Islands just two days before Pearl Harbor and had arrived on Manila in the Philippines.

They immediately got their ship ready as fast as they could and sailed from there and went to Australia. They were trying to take supplies to some of the men who were stranded on some of the islands. There were two Australian ships and three American ships that were trying to get supplies to some of the men who were stranded. They were sunk by the Japanese off the Java coast. All five ships went down. The United States lost a lot of ships all at once.

There were some of the men that were able to swim to shore, so we did not know for sure he was dead until after the war was over. The Japanese took the men that got off the ship over to Asia. They really were cruel to them and used them as slaves. When the war was over and those men came back, they knew who had survived. They said my brother never made it to shore.

We didn't know for all that time. On the night that his ship went down right at midnight our time, my mother woke up in bed hearing my brother calling her. All of a sudden his dog outside started howling. My mother felt right from that moment that he had died.

SMEDLEY: That must have been hard on the family.

BENNETT: It was, but so many lost their young men in that war and right through there. All those ships going down in Hawaii was just such a terrible tragedy. Many people lost sons.

SMEDLEY: Were you aware of more in Provo? Did you have a lot of friends that had lost members of their family, too?

BENNETT: Not too many. Provo just wasn't that big of a city then. In fact the next one I knew that got killed was one that was the age I was, Dean Mendenhall. He went to the Y with me. He was my age. His plane went down over Alaska. It was shot down by the Japanese. So there were some boys here from Provo that were killed right at the beginning of the war.

SMEDLEY: Is there a memorial to them anywhere?

BENNETT: There is at the Provo Cemetery.

SMEDLEY: Is your brother listed there too?

BENNETT: His name is there. Provo City put a memorial up for the boys that had been killed in the service at the Provo Cemetery. My brother's name was not among them because he was missing-in-action for so long. My mother worked in the mother's group for the boys that they had here, that tried to get things done and tried to help boys that were going in the service. It was a group of mothers. She worked for it through all the years although she felt that her son was dead.

She was finally able to get his name on the plaque at the Provo Cemetery. They put up a new plaque here by the county building that has all the boys that were killed in World War II on it. My brother's name is still not on it. I have tried to get it on. I've copied the material that says that he is dead but it is still not on it. They say it is so expensive to put it on.

SMEDLEY: Three of your boys fought in Vietnam?

BENNETT: My oldest son went to Vietnam but he was in a supply corp. He saw service over there and the Vietnamese came in to their camp that they had. But he came back safely.

SMEDLEY: Did your husband fight in World War II?

BENNETT: No. He didn't go because I would rather he didn't.

Interviewee: Grace Hall Bennett
Interviewer: Varci Smedley
April 29, 1999

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