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

Oral History of Julie Blair


MEYERS: My name is Sharon Meyers. I'm interviewing Julie Blair. The date is May 18, 1999. Julie, can you begin by telling us when you first came to Provo?

BLAIR: My mother was born and raised here, so I came here as a child often. I was really born and raised in Idaho Falls, Idaho. I came here officially as a student in 1951. The year before I graduated, I was married, at the end of my junior year. My husband and I stayed here. After we graduated, we both continued in graduate school and then went for his Ph.D and came back on the faculty. We've been here pretty much ever since. I've really been here since 1951.

MEYERS: Tell us what you majored in and about coming back and what you did on the faculty.

BLAIR: I majored in English and Speech and in French. I taught freshman English. Later I did some ESL. We have eight children and I stayed home most all the time. My husband was the first chairman of the Linguistics Department here. It began in 1966. He came back in the English Department and then in 1966 he was the first chairman of the Linguistics Department. That was a wonderful experience for us, to be in the pioneering of that department.

MEYERS: Did you have some special teachers you remember or instructors at BYU?

BLAIR: My first English teacher was Bruce Clark. He was just a wonderful teacher. I think he had just barely finished his Ph.D. I really appreciated him. He was pretty much the one that gave me the confidence that I could be an English teacher. I appreciated him very, very much. I also worked with Harold R. Hansen in the Drama Department and B.F. Cummings in the French Department. What a wonderful person he was. I really enjoyed him.

My husband worked under P.A. Christensen and Sam Monson was very, very influential in his life as his thesis chairman and one of the first language kind of thesis, rather than English, looking at language. Bob did a comparison of some Bible translations.

The Pardoes were here too. I enjoyed working with him. I had phonetics from Dr. DeJong. I enjoyed that. I had all good teachers. I appreciated them all.

I came in 1951, the same year that Ernest Wilkinson came as the president. That was a kind of stellar year. BYU suddenly started really growing very fast. I remember President Wilkinson would greet every new freshman down at the George Albert Smith Field House. He was there and knew a lot of us by name. He was there at registration.

Registration was horrible. There were these huge lines and then you wouldn't get the classes you wanted and the faculty had to be there to dish out the cards. You'd talk to them and you'd wait in line all day and it would be time to close and you still hadn't got up to where you were supposed to be. It got much more efficient as time went on. It's amazing how you can dial it in. I just marvel at what we had to go through. I remember the first quarter that I registered I was so discouraged I was ready to quit with that. I had to sit in line the whole day and still was not registered. That was an interesting and discouraging experience.

MEYERS: Do you remember any school activities going on at BYU when you were a student?

BLAIR: There were a lot of them. They had the white-washing of the Y. That was a fun and interesting thing. They had cleanup day, Y Day and Hello Week. I was involved as a freshman on the committee that worked with the girl students. My husband was on the Honor Council. That was later. They had Homecoming parades.

When I first came there was one huge campus branch, then it was divided into two. There were two huge ones. There were student branch presidents and that was the preferred man. All the girls were in love with the branch presidents. It was pretty funny. I think it was a great idea for them to have faculty come in. The honor of that was far more than being student body president or anything.

That's where I met my husband actually, at MIA. He was the MIA President after his mission and I was the drama director. It was interesting. The branch was huge, very reverent. Being a teacher or officer in that was almost more political than spiritual for the young people then.

I remember what a long time it would take to pass the sacrament. They were quiet. That was the days of the old campus branch. Those were interesting days.

MEYERS: Tell us about what the campus looked like then, what buildings were where, and where you met for church.

BLAIR: We met in the Joseph Smith Building. It was the center of everything, a lot of things. All the athletic activities were down in the George Albert Smith Field House. That was a great addition. Also the Eyring Science. Those were the new buildings, those three. The Eyring Science Center, Joseph Smith Building and the George Albert Smith Field House. It seemed like they were so huge and so great, that there would never be any need for anything else.

The campus branch met in the Joseph Smith Building. Also we had the dramas and the operas and everything performed there. Also they had a cafeteria there. They had Wymount, the barracks. You probably heard that from the war they had these barracks and a lot of faculty had their offices in these barracks also. They were quonset hut sort of things.

Bob and I both had classes on lower campus also. We would run up and down between the two campuses. Education classes were pretty much all on lower campus. And other classes. I took a grammar class at the very top of the Education Building on lower campus. Then I'd have to race up the hill to get to the other classes. The Joseph Smith Building was a great addition as was the Eyring Science Center. They seemed so huge and new and marvelous.

The campus has always been beautiful. This area over here wasn't very much developed. It was just a dirt road. The road that is just north of the law school was just a dirt road. Carson's Market was just a little tiny store. And it was dark. The roads weren't lit in this area.

MEYERS: During those college years, were there favorite hangouts in Provo that you remember?

BLAIR: There was Rowley's where Alexander's Print Shop is now just south of campus on about 800 North in that area. A market was there. That was the most popular hangout that I remember.

My first year I lived in the campus dorms. I stayed in the Knight Mangum Hall in the summer. It's where the history department is now. That was called Campus Dorms. It was very new and very nice. It was a girl's dorm. There was a lot going on right there.

There were things at school and people would go up town to movies. It was just a hangout. It didn't really have a bad reputation, but not terribly good. Everyone went there. It was small and we played games. I think they had a pool table. It would really get crowded. It was definitely enough different from BYU that it was attractive. It was off campus.

The theaters were downtown. But most everything was centered right there.

MEYERS: What might you do for dating during that time?

BLAIR: We went to movies, dinner or a play or musical at BYU. They still have wonderful operas and plays. I don't remember that we actually had movies on campus. It seems like if we went to a movie we went downtown. A lot of people would go to people, the rich people. There were some dance places there, called Riverside. The real socialites would go to Las Vegas.

I was pretty much a very ordinary person and didn't date that much. I was always on campus. I don't remember doing hardly anything except a movie downtown. The movie theaters downtown were popular. I think there were three of them. That's all there was downtown Provo. There wasn't anything else for sure, no malls or anything like that.

Going to Salt Lake was the big thing to a movie or a dance or a dinner. That was the real in thing to do if someone had a car. Not very many had cars. Very few had cars. It wasn't a real ordinary thing. You walked pretty much every place you went. You didn't think about having a car.

MEYERS: Tell us about how your experiences attending LDS wards have changed over the years.

BLAIR: I started at the Campus Branch which was amazing. That was a unique experience. All the girls were in love with the branch president. That was the thing to be. They just idolized him. There were no children and no noise.

MEYERS: Were there married students?

BLAIR: Married students had their own. They didn't come. It was for single students. I don't think they had a branch. I think maybe they just went to the local wards. There was Wymount Terrace and there were quite a few married students. I imagine they just went to wards.

We lived in the Thirteenth Ward. That was the first ward where our first two children were blessed. Then we moved and went back to Indiana and Chicago and had that experience of being in those branches and wards. That was wonderful.

Then when we came back here we were in the Oak Hills Second Ward and we have always been in that ward. Many around us have had to change wards, but we never have. It's been a wonderful ward. I look back and I did this for a missionary farewell on the bishops of our ward, the people that have influenced them. There was Longchilds, who actually was no longer the bishop when we came here, but my husband had lived in his home as a student. We had wonderful feelings about him. He is a dear person.

When we moved in, it was Bishop Arch Bowden. He was a marvelous bishop. I think back to the things I learned from each of them. They were the most gentle kind people in the world. We watched his family grow up as we were here. They were enough older and one of their sons was the same age as one of our sons.

Then Mr. Broadbent. They're all still alive. Brother Childs is in his late nineties. They've been wonderful bishops. I can't imagine that any ward could have had better bishops. As I think of the Relief Society presidents, they have been to me, just marvelous people.

At first when we came here, my husband hadn't finished his Ph.D. He came back and we were here just for a couple of years and then we went back. While we were here I was invited to join a literary group. I knew we were going away so I declined. I was never asked again. Sometimes I felt I didn't quite understand or I wasn't part of the overall city of Provo. We were right here by the university and we were totally involved in the university and we have been all the time. I didn't know how to get involved in the community. I was active in the PTA as the children grew up. I felt that there are social groups that are different associations than wards, but pretty much ours has been just the wards and families.

Our ward here has been wonderful. It's been really interesting to watch people grow up and move away. When we first came here it was such a substantial neighborhood. People had just built new homes and they were pretty much BYU people. This would be 1960. Right around that time. We stayed here and bought this house at that time, then we rented it when we went away and came back. It was pretty much BYU people raising their families. No one planned to ever move. There was a huge Primary. It's interesting now. Pretty much they've all gone.

The zoning is a huge problem. The question is whether you can rent to students. It's interesting. It's still a problem, but people realize that. People that built these homes have moved and it's an older area and it's been interesting to be here through it all.

When we came, the Finlaysons' home right across the street was just a basement. We watched them through the years add and build their home. The Haywards were in their home for at least 50 years. He has died now and she is living with their daughter and now their grandson is there. That's wonderful. Each home has a whole history and memories.

And there are so few of us now. There is us and Brother Boyack, two houses down. They built theirs probably 60 years ago. It's a lovely home. He and the Davis' and Lola Gibson who lives across the street who is not a member, has been the dearest neighbor through all the years. As far as people who were here when we came, that is all. At the top, in the Bentley home, the daughter Elaine Angelo lives there now. It was there. Everyone else is gone.

The neighborhood has really changed. We have many married students now that are in basements or renting the homes. Our ward is much more transient. It's a wonderful ward. The students are great. I've been in the Primary. I feel great that these young couples are willing to come in and teach. Right now we have a huge turn over with the end of the semester and the end of summer. Everything changes. The ward has really changed in that way. It was such a solid place when we came. It seemed like no one would ever move.

MEYERS: Have you attended the same building all these years?

BLAIR: No. When we first got here they were just completing the one that's on Ninth East up a little way. It wasn't complete for a long time. They completed it in thirds. It's a double chapel. That has been our building. It wasn't the original building before they made the Oak Hill stake and we met. You've probably talked to people who have told you about that. It's over where the campus credit union is over on Stadium Avenue. We never met there. We have always met in that building as it has been completed.

That was when we had all these fundraisers. We had a carnival. Our ward would sponsor this big carnival. The Finlaysons across the street owned a carnival. It was a big fundraiser. We did a lot of those kinds of things to raise the money for the chapel. That's how we did it then.

Now we meet in the chapel that's just north west of the temple in the stake house. That was barely completed just before we had our mission call. In fact our son's missionary farewell was the first meeting in that chapel. We just really had two.

MEYERS: Do you have any specific memories about building the temple in Provo?

BLAIR: I remember the drives for money. The families were so excited about it. Our ward raised their allotment really fast. People were so eager to have it and so eager to give everything they could. I remember one family, a widow, Marion Clark, whose son has been the bishop and is now in the stake presidency, her children had this temple they had made and they would put all their change in it. That's one memory is just the joy that everyone had and how fast the money was gathered. We lived in the mission field and it was much different. I don't know if it was a record, but it seems to me like it was so fast. Everyone was so willing and so excited to have it.

Then I remember the open houses and the long lines. Ben Clark was the first temple president. I remember going through to see the temple and seeing him and his wife. I remember very well the open houses and the excitement of it all. I attended the temple dedication over in the Mariott Center. The Mariott Center was finished by then. That's where I was. We had a huge group there for the dedication.

MEYERS: I know that people actually physically contributed to the building of the chapels, but did they do that with the temple?

BLAIR: I don't recall. I don't think so. I remember them asking for some women to embroider. I think they did do that. I have so many memories of the Idaho Falls Temple which was dedicated when I was twelve. That was such a part of my growing up in our family. I felt that here too, that is was a great excitement for everyone to have a temple.

MEYERS: Do you remember any celebrations or holidays?

BLAIR: The Fourth of July as long as I can remember has always been a big thing. The Homecoming was a very big thing when I was in college. It's definitely much more professional in every way. The parade is about the same though. I love the Homecoming parade. Things like the Field House Spectacular is way beyond anything that we did. Things have become very professional. That's what I think of.

I don't know how long the band in the park has been going. It seems like we had that when the children were small. There is a wonderful community feeling. I get in a time warp and I can't remember when things were. The 24th has never been much here. The Fourth of July as I remember has always been a very big thing.

MEYERS: Tell us about your memories of the Provo business district and how that has changed. What are some of the first stores you remember going to?

BLAIR: I remember Firmages. Downtown Provo were the ritzy stores. The little change things would come down from the ceilings and people would change. I remember Firmages and Taylors which is the place where the Red Lantern is now. That was a big department store in that area. It was Taylors. It actually wasn't there originally. They moved there. They were lovely stores. That was it. Downtown Provo was the only thing there was. Those are the two stores that I remember, Firmages and Taylors. There was JcPenney's on Center Street. It was a very nice store too. I feel bad for downtown Provo. I think there are still some nice stores. But it really has changed a lot. It's kind of sad to see them all disappear. I have a hard time remembering other businesses. I remember the theaters.

Vietnam had an effect on the missionaries. In our ward we had a raffle, so that the boys that wanted to go would put their names in. I think we could have one missionary a month. The name would be drawn. That would be the missionary. I don't know what all the reasons were, but there were some feelings about that. I remember how sad some of the mothers and families were. They said what if their son can't go on a mission. I think all who really wanted to did. Some of them could go live with an aunt or someplace else where there weren't others. It was a quota per ward. So there were ways to figure it out. The great anticipation was when they would draw it out.

One time a missionary who had not really been excited about going, his name came. It was hard for everyone. There were those who really wanted to go. They finally were able to work it out. I don't think anyone really didn't get to go.

I also remember Robert Kennedy came here to BYU. We were in Chicago at the time of assassination of John F. Kennedy but Robert Kennedy and his wife came when he was going to run for president. He was campaigning against Johnson. He had feelings towards the Mormons because he and they both knew what it was like to fight Johnson's Army.

BYU was very, very patriotic and we had a very large ROTC at that time. I remember him saying, "How many of you want to go to Vietnam or would go to Vietnam?" A lot of them stood up and said, "Yes." I think it was quite a rude awakening that people here were supporting the government and we were not reactionary like all the other universities were and justifiably so. But BYU wasn't. That was an amazing time. The young people here, especially the ROTC people in particular stood right up and said, "Yes, we will go." They weren't at all impressed with Robert Kennedy's anti-government speech. It's interesting in retrospect. But BYU was an oasis. People were patriotic. That's the only memory I have of that time.

MEYERS: Do you have any memories of any subject we haven't touched on?

BLAIR: My mother was born and raised here in Provo. She is a granddaughter of George H. Brimhall who was the president of BYU. She was Jennie Holbrook Groberg. She loved Provo. She still loves Provo. She always wanted to move back to Provo. She had a great desire to be here and raise her family. I really thought that I didn't want to live in Provo as I was growing up. I'm from a large family and I'm the only one that lived in Provo. I can see why she would want to be here. It is a marvelous place to raise a family.

Our children and the neighborhood went to high school. That was our lives. That was our world. We watched the Wilkinson Center get built and everything that it had. Provo really is a wonderful place. We are isolated and insulated more than we should be. We are eager. I feel a need and desire to get away, get into where we're not so, where we can do more good. We're going to China. We've been in Russia and the Baltics. I feel guilty being here, especially after my family is raised. It is a marvelous place.

It has its problems, but the problems have never been really big in our area. We have felt that the city government and BYU, and the public schools that there is a wonderful spirit of working together. Not stupidly following the leader. They're highly intellectual people and always interesting problems and interesting discussions. There is a lot of vibrance, life giving kinds of things. It's a blessing. I can't imagine another place in the world. Every time we leave I can't believe there's only one Provo.

When we were at the University of Chicago and came back in the sixties to the Wilkinson Center, which had been completed while we were gone, I remember being amazed that there was such a place. You'd go by kids and no one was smoking and not dressed in grubbies. What an oasis. It really is. We have a family of Provoans. My kids have all gone to BYU and all gone to Provo High. It's a great place.

MEYERS: Thank you.

Interviewee: Julie Blair
Interviewer: Sharon Meyers
May 18, 1999

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