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Historic Provo

Oral History of Ken Leetham


WINN: Today is June 25. This is Jennifer Winn and I'm interviewing Ken Leetham. Ken, what are some of your earliest memories of Provo?

LEETHAM: My earliest memories is that it was a very quiet and nice town. I lived on the west side. I lived a block from where we are now. I grew up there. I could walk out my back door and hunt pheasants to Provo boat harbor to the west and to the old K.O.B.O. and Utah Lake to the south. There was no subdivisions here and very few farms. This was just a real nice quiet town.

When I was a youth we didn't have things like little league baseball. We had to get our own teams together. We got a team called the 6th South Sluggers. We would go around town challenging other neighborhoods to baseball games. We played in cow pastures because there was really not a lot of baseball fields provided by the city. It was kind of fun. We had to get our own activities and our own recreation. Recreation today is all done by the adults for the children. When I grew up it was all done by the children.

WINN: What were some of the other activities that you were involved in?

LEETHAM: The things that I really enjoyed were the things like the old Provo rock crusher. It used to be up on the Provo River where Exchange Park and Wilderness Park are built. They used to dig the river out after every spring and crush the rocks for gravel. In doing so they had big holes in the river twenty or thirty feet deep that we would go swim and fish in. That was fun.

WINN: Was it legal?

LEETHAM: Oh yes, it was legal. Then we would dive off the train trestles and have fun like that. I enjoyed the old rock crusher. There was the old show boat that used to be on Utah lake were people could ride it and have dances and parties. That's no longer in the area. It's long gone. Activities like that were fun. It was a slow pace and I miss that. I miss the days when we could leave the house unlocked and the doors open, the cars open, windows down and it would never get broken into. Those days are gone. We went hiking up Slate Canyon and around through Maple Flats and down through Eagle Pass and Y Mountain. They were fun days.

WINN: Where did you go to school?

LEETHAM: I went to school at the Franklin here and then I went to Dixon Junior High and Provo High School which was located at that time where the city building is. I went there. My last year before they tore it down I was a junior. Then my senior year we went to the Provo High School were it exists today on University Avenue. I was the first graduating class for that school. Then I attended Brigham Young University.

WINN: So you really are a home town boy.

LEETHAM: I was born and raised here. I was born on Sixth South and I lived down on 300 South. I have lived in the same ward for about fifty years until they changed boundaries and I had to get out of the bishopric.

WINN: Are you still in the Second Ward?

LEETHAM: No, I am in the Pioneer Park Ward now. It used to be the Second Ward. I was there for fifty years.

WINN: Same home, just different boundaries.

LEETHAM: Just different boundaries. I bought my grandfather's home and remodeled it. I worked for Provo City so I got to help develop the park system and I have watched it grow. When I started with Provo in the early Sixties, the population was only around twenty thousand. When I attended BYU the enrollment there was only seven thousand. It's all grown.

WINN: What were some of the changes that affected the parks? Are they as used as they have been in the past?

LEETHAM: I think they are. We have quite a few parks for the populous but I do believe they are used. I do believe that they do need recreation for idle times for people whether it be walking, jogging, or just recreation and reading. The city has done a good job there. I credit a lot of that to a gentlemen I worked with by the name of Floyd Giles. He was very thoughtful and really looked ahead and purchased a lot of property that saved the city a lot of money in strategic places in the city twenty or thirty years ago. They could eventually develop those into parks.

WINN: Which areas are you are talking about?

LEETHAM: I am talking about Columbus Park, Foothill Park, the Edgemont Veterans Park which is now a plaza out there at Riverwood. Also Paul Reams Wilderness Park, Exchange Park, Riverside Park by Centennial Park, and Saratoga Park just to name a few.

WINN: Most of those at that time probably were on the outside of the city.

LEETHAM: They were. North Park was originally Saliett Park. There was that park and Pioneer Park, then Royal Park and a little west park in a little subdivision on the west side of town. Other than that there was Harmon Park which is a baseball facility for little league and Timp baseball park. Every Wednesday and Sunday you would gather together to watch the Provo Timps play. As a youth that was great. We would watch the House of David come in and play our Provo Timps.

WINN: Were there any major celebrations on holidays?

LEETHAM: The biggest one of course is the Fourth of July. When I was a youth I remember Christmas in Provo was fantastic with the big wide Center Street and all the hustle and bustle of up and down the streets. It's all scattered in the malls now. It was an open air very wonderful feeling. The Fourth of July has always been big. You can see now how much it has grown.

As a youth the carnival for the Fourth of July used to be on Fifth West and Center, down past Albertsons to Sixth West and then down to First South around Pioneer Park. Can you imagine blocking that street off now for a carnival? It used to be before Albertsons was built that was an open field where the old foundry used to be. The carnival would be there before Albertsons and the parking lot was developed. That was kind of the center of town in those days. It went up to a little east of Memorial Park.

Memorial Park about Eighth East was the landfill at one time. There was a landfill I remember as a child in Slate Canyon right at the mouth where all of those homes have been built. That was a landfill. I remember as a little child going with my father up on the side of the mountain to dump the garbage. At Memorial Park they had the Ten Commandments statue.

WINN: I also heard about a park that you actually stepped down to get to it. Because of the ground it had to be taken out?

LEETHAM: It could be a new park that has been developed since I retired. There is one in Rock Canyon that is a base bowl. It's very well done.

WINN: Was there any strategic planning as far as the distribution of resident homes and where they were built and where they put the parks? Did they project that it would go that way so they built Kawanis Park?

LEETHAM: Yes they thought that's where a development would go so years ago we purchased property. Like up on Grandview hill we purchased where Liberty Park is located by Westridge Elementary School. We purchased property next to the Grandview School. We had some joint agreement projects with the Provo School District where we would buy and maintain adjacent to the schools and develop for recreation. In turn we would maintain them. In turn they would let us use their school facilities for our recreational programs such as basketball. We had no gyms or anything like that to run our leagues. We would use the school facilities in the winter time for our programs. It worked very nice.

WINN: Were you also in charge of all these different programs for recreation for the youth?

LEETHAM: I wasn't in charge of recreation but I was the maintenance side. We had a very good person that was working as a part time recreation director for the city. He also worked for the school district and was over school maintenance and transportation. It tied in very nice to save the tax payers a lot of money.

WINN: Is that a normal arrangement?

LEETHAM: No, it wasn't. It is just something that was developed back in Flint, Michigan and we sent some people to it and decided it was a good savings for the tax payers and so we went with it.

WINN: What was your father's employment?

LEETHAM: My father worked for Geneva Steel as an administrator there. My grandfather worked for the city of Provo as well. I think I have had a life of service. I like people.

WINN: What is your family's history in Provo?

LEETHAM: They are pioneers. Most of my relatives came from England. The Church brought them here. They changed their names from Lea to Lee. I don't know the reason why. It's pioneer stock which came and settled and I am grateful for my great, great grandfathers who owned the farm adjacent to Franklin School here from 300 South to Center Street including Pioneer Park. My wife's great, great grandfather owned the adjacent farm north of Center Street. We found that out in our genealogy. My wife and I are both from pioneer stock. She's from Vineyard just down the hill from Orem. We have lived around here a long time. We loved it. I went in the military and I traveled all over and to be honest with you I never saw a place I would want to live other than right here. That is why I am still here for sixty years.

WINN: Were you born in the forties?

LEETHAM: I was born in thirty nine.

WINN: That was at the beginning of the war. Did it affect your family?

LEETHAM: Yes, probably, but as children you don't know. When you're growing up like that you don't know whether you're wealthy or poor. That really doesn't matter. Realistically it really shouldn't matter today, but it does. Yes, there were hard times. I remember the old margarine. You couldn't get butter and some food was hard to get. It looked like white lard and it had a little coloring button in the middle of it. It was like plastic and you'd pop the color button and squeeze everything until it turned yellow like butter. I remember tires were hard to get. Fuel and things were tight.

I do remember we didn't really go do a lot. But families were closer then and you didn't need to go out and do a lot of things. There were things that you could do with the family. It should still be that way.

WINN: As far as meeting your wife where did you meet?

LEETHAM: I met my wife dragging on Center Street in Provo. I grew up in a good time. We didn't have problems with drugs or alcohol. It was just really a good clean time when I was growing up. Dragging Center was fun. We got to meet a lot of people and it was just good clean fun. Times like now I have gone up on Center Street, years ago. One of my employee's vehicles broke down and they had a flat tire. It was my night water crew. I had to go up on Center Street, bring them a tire and fix it. Some of the people I saw, I wondered where they came from. I thought, "Are we safe at night?" I don't recall anything like that when I was a child. I hope that we can get back to those same values. We met on Center Street and it was love at first sight.

WINN: What did you do for dating?

LEETHAM: We would go to ball games. I was playing on four or five softball teams. She would come watch me play. We would go out and have a bite to eat and we would go to the drive-ins like the old Geneva Drive-In that used to be in Orem where Grand Central used to be. That is where the Outback Steakhouse is now. That used to be the old drive-in. We used to go do that and have picnics, and ride horses.

WINN: Did you dance?

LEETHAM: Yes, we used to go to a lot of the church dances in those days. We had a lot of gold and green balls on Saturdays. We would go to a lot of the church dances.

WINN: Was raising your children in Provo different from when you were growing up? What are some of the activities they were involved in?

LEETHAM: They were the same activities. Actually we didn't have organized leagues which they did have for my children. I was happy for that. I think it really helped my children. My son was active in athletics and my daughter enjoyed athletics. She enjoyed gymnastics. I was happy that the city and the school both were having those activities for the youth. We made sure that we utilized them to the best of our advantage for our children. It stretched them.

WINN: How many children did you have?

LEETHAM: We only had three children.

WINN: Were you affected at all by the Korean War?

LEETHAM: No, I was not. I was fortunate.

WINN: Did you see any changes in Provo or did it impact the city?

LEETHAM: It didn't really seem to. We were behind them. I know on the national scene that they weren't. We were supportive of the people. I know of a few guys that went over from Provo who never came back and I feel bad about that. I was just too young at that time.

WINN: Were your children too young for Vietnam?

LEETHAM: My children were too young. I tried to stay active. I am in the American Legion and I make sure the flag flies every day. I have tried to teach them the importance of that flag. I have talked to them about my military experiences. I made sure that when we go to events that when the national anthem is playing that they pay attention and they know what they're supposed to do and show some respect, because a lot of people gave their lives for that flag so they should respect that.

WINN: From your perspective what are some of the major changes from when you were growing up to now?

LEETHAM: The major changes were all the subdivisions. I remember the old Utahna dance hall when they tore it down. That's where the post office is down on First South and First West. There was an old motel and bar that was tore down. It was where the parking garage and the Marriott Hotel is located on First North and First West. Some of the older things like that were torn down.

I remember the old Provo brick yard on 200 West and about Thirteen, Fourteen Hundred North. They used to have hydro-electric power that used to run off the Millrace that came down through there. When that closed up and they started developing, we as a city started to dismantle and take as much as we could of the hydro-electric stuff. We took it to Edgemont Veterans Park to set it up and then run it over to the river and show the youth how it works. We started setting it up and it got vandalized and set on fire and so we weren't able to do that. But that was always nice to go up and see that.

That area has all changed now. With the development of Indian Hills and all of that it's just unbelievable. We had our class reunion two years ago and a lot of the students that came back could not believe the change. We used to go down on Patton's Lane. We would go down Fifth West and where it makes the turn by the church now to go to the mall was an old dirt road that went straight across to University Avenue. That was Patton's Lane. We used to try to go down there and drag. But the police would catch us.

University Avenue used to dead end at approximately Patton's Lane because that's where the county fair grounds were. The UVSC had some old buildings there years ago where they had some welding and mechanic classes. The Provo City Parks and Recreation Maintenance Department was located there for several years as well as the street department and the old Timpanogos Golf Course. That all dead ended right there. There was no other development. In the Seventies it just took off and the freeway came through and they extended the Avenue down to hit the freeway and the rest is history.

WINN: What do you think was the cause of the growth?

LEETHAM: Everybody I talk to says lifestyle. As an example, our neighborhood here every year would get together and have a block party. One year we were having this block party and this outfit from California kept going back and forth. They were in a motor home and finally they stopped and they said, We are trying to get to the Timpanogos Cave." They had missed the highway. They were driving back and forth and they said, "We are trying to figure out what you are doing." We said, "We are having a block party. Would you like to join us and have some food. It's potluck." They said no and we gave them the directions. But they said, "We could not do this in California. There is no way. This would really be a nice place to live." When they do that it brings the other element that we don't like here sometimes, like the gangs. Maybe we had them here and I didn't know. I think it has come in from outside. Those are a few things that I have noticed.

WINN: Is there anything else you would like to add? There is a lot of Provo history that I am not aware of.

LEETHAM: There is a lot of changes that have happened.

WINN: I have one question about the show boat. What happened to it? Where did it go?

LEETHAM: The show boat used to be stored there by Provo River. For some reason it got pulled out for repairs and it got dried off and it just rotted and it never did go back in the water. Finally it was just done away with. I think that's a good viable thing that somebody could do.

One of the other things that changed was that Provo City owned Utah State Harbor. That was a Provo City Park. Years ago they figured that most of the people that used that facility where not in Provo, so Provo shouldn't foot the bills. They gave it to the state instead of making users fees like the state has done. I think that is one place we fell down.

WINN: Is it because of Geneva that the lake is not used any longer?

LEETHAM: No, I think it's really used. It's really developed down there. I really don't know. I know it was fun times on that show boat. I was just a little kid but that was fun.

WINN: Have there been more boats in the past on the lake than there are now?

LEETHAM: No, I think there is more now. Although we used to have what they called the Memorial Day Regatta and the Provo Boat Club used to go out and have boat races on Memorial Day. They were fantastic. They were great. They don't do that anymore. Wes Knudsen, Darryl Macky, and a couple that I know raced. Those were fun times. They don't do that anymore. That would be great.

WINN: That is interesting that that's not utilized. Maybe it's because it's not as exotic as going to Lake Tahoe. From my perspective I don't hear people saying, "I am going down to the lake."

LEETHAM: I've watched the development go east. I know we have a water table. But most places you live the most expensive property is lake front property where you can live on the lake, have your boat, and then still enjoy the mountains. For some reason here in Provo they live on the mountain where they can't enjoy the mountain but they can see the lake. I can't understand why they have not been dredging and developing and doing more around the lake. Not that I want them to. But I have not understood why that has not happened because that seems to me to be capable of being expensive property.

WINN: I know it's been some time since the flooding back in the Eighties.

LEETHAM: I was with the city in 1982 and 1983.

WINN: Is the level of the lake controllable?

LEETHAM: More so now because of the Jordanelle Dam above Heber and Deer Creek Dam.

WINN: Is that recent?

LEETHAM: Since the flood of 1982 it has been built up since then, I think it is. But I also think that it could be dredged somewhat in places. I know they have talked about doing that for years. You could always dike it if does go down and reclaim ground and then when it does come up it will be deeper. There is a lot of things that could be done with it.

WINN: I think that's one thing that's amazing about Provo is the way they manage the water and irrigation. They've really made it flourish. It used to be the garden city.

LEETHAM: It is really a nice, beautiful town.

WINN: Thank you for sharing with me some of the history of it.

Interviewee: Ken Leetham
Interviewer: Jennifer Winn
June 25, 1999

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