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

Oral History of Lee "Pony" Brooks


HOLT: This is Shanna Holt and I'm interviewing Lee Brooks or Pony Brooks. Today is September 5, 1999. Please talk about when you moved here.

BROOKS: I moved to Provo in 1935. I had been on a mission to the eastern states. I had an exciting time back there. You might be interested to know and I tell my kids I went with Bruce McConkie. He was only 17 and I taught him everything he knows. They always laugh at me. Elder McConkie was going with the daughter of the president-to-be of the Church, President Smith. President Smith wanted his daughter to continue her dating activity with Bruce McConkie. He wanted him to go back and get off a mission.

He sent him back when he was seventeen. They were only allowing them to go out when they were twenty. I went when I was twenty and I met Bruce McConkie at the Church mission headquarters in Salt Lake. He was just a kid. He didn't know how to shake hands with any of us. He was very, very shy. We thought it was because he thought he was better than the rest of us. But that isn't so. We got to know him.

He didn't do any actual missionary work. He didn't go out and tract like we did. He was only seventeen, so he sat at the Church headquarters on Gates Avenue in Brooklyn. That's where he served his mission. He went out on speaking engagements with the president of the Eastern States Mission, John Coltron. He went out with him. But as far as the missionaries were concerned we thought he had it pretty easy.

HOLT: Did you move to Provo after your mission?

BROOKS: After my mission.

HOLT: What was it like when you first moved here?

BROOKS: I think it was in the neighborhood of 12 to 14,000 people.

HOLT: What were some of the things that are different?

BROOKS: We didn't have any money in Provo to buy construction. Things were a lot different. Taxes were low and we didn't have any money for the city. I ran across a lot of excitement in my time here in Provo. I was always excited about athletics. Down in St. George I played high school basketball as a sub. I played in junior college down there. I played one year. I ran into a problem with our coach. He thought I was too small to run. I tried to talk him into putting someone out there and find out if I could run. He got quite excited to have an athlete telling him what he should be doing.

That was at the time when they had one coach for all the things. Now St. George has jumped up to 50,000 people from that point. 1400 is what they had then. Dixie College has pretty close to 10,000 students.

I moved up here and I didn't have any money. I got off my mission and my clothes were worn out. My father had nine children. He made $100 a month and that was to support nine kids. We had a lot of things like gardens and cows to milk and chickens to feed and pick up the eggs, and pigs to feed. That's the only way we were able to get by. We never knew what money was like.

I went out with AR Whitehead's store down there and got a job as a delivery boy for two years. It was quite an amazing thing how you can get by if you have to.

I came to Provo. I can't remember if I hitchhiked or not. I believe I hitchhiked. I had a suit that was worn out. I didn't go out on dates. I was interested in athletics anyway. I went to see Ott Romney. He was the basketball, track and football coach. He discouraged me from going out for basketball because of my size, which was 5'7". I had to have a scholarship or I couldn't stay. I had $40 when I came off my mission from transportation on the way out.

I went up to see the coach and told him I'd like to try out for track. He said, "What do you run?" I said, "I don't know." That was amazing to him. I told him I didn't have a chance to go out for track. My coach had told me I wasn't big enough. I went right on over. Some exciting things happened and I ended up going out and outrunning his whole track team with my bib overalls on and my heavy duty work shoes that I milked cows with.

We scraped off the lids of the wood stoves that we used to cook. When we scraped them off we would take and put it in a little lid and put a little water on it and clean our shoes up. That's what we used for blacking for shoes. We ate real good with that group of kids. We had lots of milk, cream and butter. We had chickens with eggs. We killed about three pigs every year for pork. We had big gardens. These were the things you had to get by with. We all had a job. We had something to do. We had to do it.

I came up here and talked to Ott about track and he never knew. He had just come in that year or the year before from Bozeman, Montana where he had won the national championship up there with his basketball team. He came down here and took over the job as head athletic director and coach of basketball, track and football. BYU didn't have much money to sponsor athletes, so if they could attract someone to come in; that's the way they got their athletes.

All these things happened. Finally the coach said, "What makes you think you can run?" I said, "I don't know. I'm pretty quick." He laughed when I told him I'd outrun all those missionaries out there, 145 of them in the Eastern states mission. I knew that I could run, because no one could out start me.

Finally I got upset with him and told him, "Put a couple of athletes out there from your track team and I'll run and you can find out a lot easier than trying to talk a scholarship out of me." He told me, "That's okay. We're going to have a track meet here in the fall. We do it every year to find out who's in the school." He kept looking at my height and didn't think I could do much in athletics. That's all I had ever done in my life was work and athletics.

As we showed up for the fall track meet, I didn't even come out. He had some of his athletes come out here. He gave me a slip and told me to go to the equipment man and have him give me a pair of shoes and shorts and so on. It was quite an outfit. I could understand BYU didn't have any money to buy equipment. Shoes were like a rainbow. They were so worn out. I went out and ran and then I ran again Saturday at the end of the week.

When I did all this, I went back to report to him that I had run. He didn't even remember me. He finally said, "Did you enjoy it?" I said, "Yes, it was alright, but I got pretty tired." He said, "That's great," and he started walking off. I said, "Do you want to know how I did or what I ran?" "Yes." I said, "I ran the 100, the 220 and the 440 yard dash." He said, "That's good," and started off again. I said, "Do you want to know how I came out? I've got to have a scholarship." He said, "How did you come out?" I said, "I won all three of them. You haven't got anyone out there, but Dale Scoffield that can outrun me." Dale was an Olympic high and low hurdler and the hundred and 220 yard dash. I was going after the quarter mile. I had a lot of things I could do. I could broad jump.

In 1940 I had been out two years teaching school in Bunkerville, Nevada. I brought two great athletes up here with me and I turned them over to Eddie Kimball. They didn't even go out after athletes. They said, "If you want to come up you can." If you were big you could play football. If you had a little basketball experience, you could do that.

I brought Brady Walker out of Mesquite, Nevada. He was my top athlete in the state of Utah and also Nevada. He could win the shot put, the discus and the javelin and played regularly on my basketball team. He was the best basketball player in Nevada. I had to talk pretty hard to get anybody to get interested in him.

I brought him up here and I said, "We've got another great kid down there, whose name is Duane Esplin." He was not very big, about 5'10", but he was so quick. He was a terrific defensive man. Those two boys made the BYU team. They got to listening to me a little better.

Brady Walker lives out in Orem now. He's retired. He had caterpillars he worked on. He got a call after he had been in the service from the Boston Celtics. That was the top basketball organization in all of pro-basketball. They told him they wanted him to come out. They had seen him play and they sent him a ticket on the bus. It might have been the train. They picked him up and had him come in. He made their team and he was all-pro rookie of the year for the Boston Celtics. We could have lost him if someone hadn't been a little pushy.

I've had a lot of experience in athletics. I went out in boxing. I couldn't find anybody in my weight that could stay with me in boxing. I went out and made the wrestling team. Ott Romney pulled me out of the ring when I was going in. He grabbed me by my foot and pulled me out. I said, "Let go." He said, "Where are you going?" I said, "I'm going in that ring until that big U is on his butt." He said, "Not if you have a track scholarship. Go get one on the wrestling team." I said, "They don't have any." He said, "I know and you won't have one either if you get in that ring." That took care of my wrestling and boxing at BYU.

In 1940 after I had been out in Nevada I came back. I had been out there two years. It was hard to get in shape. There was a guy from Utah State that could run. I knew he could and he did. I found out that if you get in shape you run a lot better than you do if you're not. The coach didn't spend much time with getting us in shape.

I went out to the track team and in 1940; I don't think there is anyone that remembers me. I could outrun anybody in the state of Utah in all the races. I had a heartbeat of 50 and it didn't matter whether I ran a mile or two miles or 880. We had two of the conference champions in the half mile and the mile. I beat both those out in practice. That's when we found out what we could do. We were always there alone. The coaches were never around.

I think I could outrun anybody in the state. After the conference track meet, in which I did real well, they invited me to come up and run in Salt Lake in the AAU, Athletic Association from the United States. They invited the best runner on the coast up here. His name was O'Real. He was at the University of California. I can't even spell his name. It's a little different. He ran against me up in Salt Lake. I was surprised that I could beat him. I won it.

In that year, 1940 I had a chance to expose my athletic ability a little bit. I played basketball in every gym in the state. I played baseball for the Provo Timps for 11 years and then two at American Fork. That's what everyone did in those days. They didn't have television. Most of them couldn't afford them.

I bought a Stromberg Carlton when I was selling Oldsmobile's for Glenn Wasner. I quit coaching. I couldn't live on the salary. I left down there to come up and I was getting exactly half of what I was getting down there.

Things were a lot different. No one could get a job. We picked apples for 25 cents an hour. I was supposed to do that to earn my scholarship. Then I found out that the athletes weren't doing any work. They just didn't show up. You couldn't kick them out of school. I started doing the same thing and I was excused from any more picking apples.

There were no cows around here that I could milk. That's the way I got through high school was milking cows for five cents apiece. Today it's impossible to talk to kids about what they have to do to make a living.

I walked from here to Lansing, Michigan, 1460 miles in one year, milking cows, down in St. George. I made 36 dollars. Would you walk 1460 miles for that? That's what we had to do and that's the way we got by. When I see all these signs around where they want labor and they want help, no one will go take the job. They have a hard time getting employment.

I graduated from BYU in 1937 and went out in education and had a degree to teach school. I was going to come back another year to BYU, but Paul Thurston was superintendent and his coach had grabbed a job at Dixie. He was the coach at Bunkerville. He wanted me to come take the job, but I didn't want to because I wanted to get another year of schooling. I don't know why. Even when you had a master's degree you didn't get enough to live on in Utah.

I always worked on the side when I was teaching. I was able to get by and made quite a bit of extra money. I was able to buy a new car every year. I got interested in selling cars. I went out to Glen Wasden and talked him into letting me sell the Oldsmobile as soon as they became available. They were starting to get them out of the factory in 1939. I started having extra money. I bought a television and all those things.

I started to officiate. Things were poor, but I started out and took whatever they would pay me. I went in on the MMen league. The people up here didn't know I had played a lot of basketball. In 1933 I was voted into the Cedar City tournament as the outstanding junior college basketball player in the states of Utah and Idaho. I was the leading scorer. I scored 16 more points than anyone else. They voted me the outstanding player. That was my first introduction into much of the program of basketball.

I started officiating and my first year after I got going pretty good I thought I was doing a pretty fair job for MMen basketball. They'd have these little tournaments and play once a week. They needed us and didn't have any money so they paid us 25 cents a game. I'd run for three hours and make 75 cents. That's the way my wife and I paid for our Christmas. When we came home with a check for the year of $70 it wasn't much money. That's the way the economy was in Provo.

There is a lot of jobs, but you'd have to quit teaching and I couldn't afford to do that. I held it for two years then went on six more years that I coached out at Lincoln High School in Orem. I was the basketball and track coach besides teaching. That was basically my introduction to Provo from a financial point of view.

Cars started to become available and I sold quite a few cars. I sold more cars than anyone else, because I worked harder and I knew everybody. I would go from 7:00 in the morning until 7:00 at night, 6 days a week. I'd go see people. I didn't take any floor time. That means you didn't sell off the floor. That was basically the way I got tied up with Oldsmobile. I've been with them for 51 years. After I quit coaching, I was selling cars and refereeing.

I moved on up in referring into college and I worked 20 years for college football and about the same amount of time for college basketball. I made pretty good money on the side. After two years in Nevada and six years up here and another year in college, I decided to get back out of the school teaching so I left the job as a teacher.

The philosophy in Provo was that if you don't do what they tell you to as a principal, you don't crowd them, they get someone else. I know several times I had them tell me that they had people lined up that would like to teach school. I hung in there until the time went by and I didn't have to put up with that. I got to where I knew so many people and had sold so many cars that I told them that if you don't like it and don't think we should do it this way, we didn't have anyone that knew anything about selling, then I'll move in with another dealership. That changed the whole thing for me. I had continual offers of people wanting me to come and sell cars for them.

In my life I've bought personally over 100 new cars and I'm still doing it at 86. I have three new cars right now that aren't older than a year and a half. One is two months old and the other is a 1998 Oldsmobile. I bought an expensive Oldsmobile that cost about $40,000. It's an Aurora. This is how the car business has changed. I decided to retire at the age of 85. I worked hard all my life.

I got involved in the Monticello Apartments and put that deal together. It was going under when I got into it. I couldn't see why with the location right against the campus we couldn't have a good student rental. We had about 240 students. I sold half of it to a friend of mine, then turned around and sold him the other half so I'm out of it.

In Provo one of the chief employers at the time was Cast Iron Steel just outside of Springville. If you wanted to work like a horse and I mean work like a horse, you always had a lot of people wanting to take your job, if you didn't want to work. You could get a job. If you worked hard, you could keep it. If you didn't, you couldn't. I've seen them fire a lot of people that had families. I've seen people who went to BYU during the day and went out there during the night to work, so they could get through college.

Provo was a very, very poor economical city at one time. When I was out at Lincoln teaching, my students would leave when school was out at 3:00 and go work until 12:00. They'd go pick their lunch up and go down to Geneva. They were making a lot more than I was with a mission, college and a five year degree. I decided that if I could outwork someone who was smart enough and knew a lot of people like selling cars, I was going to give it a try. So I left school teaching.

The most I ever made as a teacher was $1,900. Wages had gone up a little along the way. When I came up here and got through a year of college and I'd been in Nevada two years, and had a five year college degree I started out at Lincoln for $840.

I know one of my people went after a coaching job and they said, "We're going to let you have the job, but you'll have to bring your wife." He said, "I'm not married." He was one of our better athletes, one of the best basketball players we ever had here. They said, "Then we can't hire you." He had to turn right around and go home and told them to hold the job. He went home, got his girlfriend, took her down and married her right then at the Justice of the Peace. He spent the rest of his life coaching. That's how tough it was to get a job.

I didn't know how to get a job in Provo until I got a little confidence from finishing college. I had pretty good reports to turn over to any superintendent as a school teacher and as a coach. And I liked and enjoyed school. My greatest friends are out in Orem that I used to teach in school. They're great people.

But I couldn't make as much money as I wanted to make teaching school. I got into something on my own. I built my officiating business up to where I made about half as much as some of them did teaching school. I had it in baseball and in all the track meets for the BYU. I belonged to the college basketball association for college and I had a full program of officiating. I handled all the baseball games for BYU and also all the track meets and the invitationals. That's basically what I've done in my spare time.

My wife used to think it would be appropriate that I should go by and meet my kids so I would know who they were. I was out working nearly every night officiating. We'd get on a plane and travel to Missoula, Montana to the University of Montana in Bozeman. We went up there a lot and to Pocatello. We worked basketball games down in New Mexico and in Tucson. I did a lot of heavy football work. We had a lot of games down in Phoenix. Merlin Olsen played for Utah State. Clark Miller and Merlin were the tacklers for Utah State. Utah State had a great team. I would go all over the country doing these games. I made a lot more money at one game than I could make the whole month coaching.

They never did have facilities that were adequate. I lived half a block from Lincoln High School in a rental trailer, my wife and I. We had four kids when I finally quit and moved down to Provo. I bought a new home. I bought a new home in Orem. I had five of my grandchildren buy new homes in one year. They cost over $100,000.

To give you an idea of how the economy was, I bought a home in Steel Acres. I was the sixth one to buy a home. It's across the road from were Robot Forest was. I bought that home and it cost me $4,945. My payments were $34 a month and I didn't sleep two or three nights for fear I couldn't make them. Then I got doing well enough that I went down to Provo and bought a new three bedroom home. We had two boys and three girls at that time. That comprised our family.

Things have changed. I was out at a party the other night for my grandkids. It's amazing how much they've changed. We have twenty grandkids and four of those were my present wife's. My first wife died of cancer. We have twenty great grandchildren and thirty five grandchildren. Those are the most important thing in my life. We enjoy having them come down and try to get around to see them.

I finally sold my apartments and was able to carry quite a bit of money around at the bank. I would never have been able to carry that if I had stayed with teaching. I have been successful in that end I think. I knew how to make more money but I didn't want to get any more involved.

I have been running those apartments with my partner. We own them. They're all paid for. They brought quite a bit of money. That's the way the economy of Provo is now. We have a heated pool and laundry and 240 kids. And now I'm running a pop and candy machine at the apartments. I can't find anybody that wants to buy it. That comprises the economy of this area. The pool halls were always full because they didn't have jobs they could go to.

Provo is the best place I have ever lived. I tell my friends down at St. George that. I say, "That's where I grew up." I was going to move back to Provo and I got so excited. I got half way to Cedar City and had to go back and get my car. That's what I think of the Provo area. It's a great area and great people.

Now you're looking at a community that is now 90,000. These aren't particularly accurate, but I've been told by people. There were only 2,200 people in Orem. That included Pleasant View and Vineyard. Now there's 80,000 at least. All these stores have been put up. It is nothing to spend several million dollars for stores. Look at the chapel. It's a $2 million building. These things have all changed. Up at BYU when they want something, they turn in the papers. The General Authorities look it over and say, "Go ahead." They okay it.

I used to have a house that I bought. I got a little money ahead and then sold it. I leap frogged up on Lindley Heights. There is a building up there now named after President Ezra Taft Benson. It is $32 million. I watched them move in there with their typewriters, adding machines and all their electrical stuff for them. They handed them their keys so they could get in and out and take care of them.

We used to not even have any place for our athletic programs. I remember watching football games with 2,500 people. Now we have 65,000. We have a basketball arena that will handle 22,800. All these things have come up. Now we're contemplating building a big sports arena so the football team can practice in an area where they won't freeze to death. It would be enclosed. It's going to cost $55 million. They've already got quite a few million put in and ready to go. I understand it's going to be announced next spring. These are the things that have happened in Provo.

Now everyone wants to live here and in Orem and Pleasant Grove and Lehi and American Fork. These are smaller cities that are very popular. They can get away from all this up in Salt Lake and Los Angeles. Things have changed. I don't know what's going to happen. I do know that I have found for me it's the best town I've ever lived in.

I got up one morning when I was out in Orem and started thinking I ought to buy another house. I went down and went around Orem. I couldn't find the Orem temple, the Orem BYU or the Orem MTC. So I moved down where they had them. These are the great attractions that we have here. The temple is a great addition. Now they're in American Fork, Vernal and all over. We've got a lot of them in the state of Utah.

It's a wonderful place to live and the economy is straightened out if they could do something to this steel plant so they could keep the Japanese people from shoving inferior steel at a cheaper price down our throats. It would be worthwhile. We don't have near the work force out there we used to have. There was 5,000 or more. Now they have 2,200. That will have to be taken care of and improved on.

The biggest employer in the whole area is BYU. It's now up to 32,000. When I came here I think it was 1,400 or 1,600. And they didn't have nice buildings like they have now. Now the athletic program pays for the sports. Football and basketball take care of the cost of maintaining sports here at BYU. It pays for all the girls' activities, and the boys activities that they don't have tickets for. People won't pay to watch girls' basketball. I used to go out for track. We would have what I thought was a big meet and there wouldn't be 100 people there. They weren't a paying sport. But it's gotten so much now that volleyball and soccer are up with any university in the country.

HOLT: Will you talk about the wards that you were in.

BROOKS: My first ward in the church was at this one at Manavu just off the hill on 200 East and 600 North. Then there was another one that burned down. They built an apartment complex. When I was going to school they didn't want us to come to church, because they didn't have any place for us. The students didn't go to church like they do now.

When I came into Provo, I'd been on a mission. Naturally we were all looking for a place to go to church. They didn't have any of that program on campus to speak of. Our ward buildings were not very big. The Manavu ward was a very small ward. It was on Sixth or Seventh North and 200 East. There was nothing of a student ward. If you didn't get in on some other ward, they didn't want us because we caused a problem. We didn't have any money going in to help pay for it. The Church was lagging a little behind. We finally got that ironed out. Now they make it very, very interesting for students.

Our old stake house has 24 wards. They don't have children so that eliminates a lot of the classroom activity. They're college kids so the church had to build another one. That's the $2 million one up by the temple. That's what it cost to put that in.

The growth has been so great in the Church it's hard to believe. It's hard to believe what they've got going up there. We complete just about two new chapels every day in the church. They're paid for before you can dedicate them. We've got so many things going and helping us out, it's hard to compare them with what it used to be and what it is now.

They couldn't even begin to handle it. We went upstairs in the old BYU and had an assembly. I thought it was the biggest one I'd ever seen. We probably had 1,400 who came to assemblies. Now you have over them in the Marriott Center, 27,000 people crowded in there. They use the playing floor. All these things have changed.

The cost of running the athletic program is staggering. We'll have a sell out on all football games. I notice that football tickets for the better seating areas cost $30 for each game per seat. That's how they're able to pay for these other things. The church foots the biggest part of the bill, but so does the city of Provo by people who buy tickets. Basketball has had its problems. Hopefully they'll get that straightened out.

But everything has changed. I remember when I came in town here that the trolleys were running up University Avenue. They'd go right in the middle of the road and came from down south. Then they came from up Center Street. It was an entirely different thing. You'd see horses in my day tied up to the poles along there.

People would come in, open stores and last as long as they could make a living, then they'd leave. The BY has changed so much it's hard to believe. The old tabernacle would handle everyone that wanted to come. But now with the big buildings they have built, millions and millions of dollars. And I think you can go anyplace you want to go. People tell me this is the nicest town they've ever lived in.

The town that I grew up in used to be 1,200 to 1,400 people. Now it's 50,000. They have huge football games even in junior college. They've got a big campus. It won't be too long before Dixie College will be a four year college. There are more people there than there are in Cedar City. St. George is bigger by quite a bit than Cedar City. You can see why. It's cold up there. I thought we'd freeze to death when I went up there to play basketball.

HOLT: Will you talk about the holidays and celebrations.

BROOKS: We've always had big parades. They've been second to none on the Fourth of July. This is the biggest town in America for parades and programs on the Fourth of July. Now in Salt Lake they take over the Pioneer and Twenty Fourth of July programs. We don't do much at all for the Twenty Fourth.

When I came in, we had baseball. It was fun to belong to the Provo Timps. We had better baseball than any other city in the state. We didn't have any problem handling Salt Lake baseball clubs.

There has been such a great change in the moving of the populace from one area to another. They used to couldn't do it, but now they can. I remember I think it was Alma VanWagenen had a carriage shop. People would go buy their wagons and buggies. He was the first one to get back from a baseball program on Sunday. They can't get it to work anymore. A lot of people wonder why we don't have baseball like we used to have. You couldn't even get in to a lot of games I played in. It was absolutely jammed. You can't get anyone to come now. In those days there was no place to sit. Now they can sit at home and watch it on T.V. That's why they don't go.

The kids are typical of the work force. So many of them won't work. They won't learn how to play baseball. You have to spend a lot of hours. We used to throw a ball against the building and field it. You have to spend not just a year to play baseball. You have to play it like you should. We were learning baseball and they would come to all these towns, like Eureka and Delta and down to Nephi and down through there. Some of the best players came from those outlying areas. They were good ballplayers. Those kids had spent a lot of time. It was quite a skill. I've noticed that. Levan was another little community that always had good ballplayers. The Wankers were from down there. He was a good pitcher. His brothers were Leo and Udell.

There is one thing that I noticed early in life in athletics. If you can't run you don't make many athletic teams. It's like trying to chase me around in the outfield down there. I could run backwards faster than a lot of the guys could run.

Those things gradually moved out. They're trying to start baseball again. They'll have to bring baseball players in or get them off the BYU college players for summer. Then you start putting up an expensive stadium. I'm mentioning these things because a lot of people want to know if I ever think baseball will come back. If you make errors, people won't pay to watch you play. We can go home and watch all this on T.V. and that takes away a lot of things.

HOLT: Can you talk about how any of the politics affected Provo, like the presidents and Watergate or the Korean War?

BROOKS: I don't remember much. I went through all that. I was called to come up three different times. First they said, "Go home and we'll call you when we need you." I had four kids. They didn't want to have someone shot and have to pay for the raising of all their kids. The next time they said, "We want you to go back home, because you're too old." I was 29 or 30. That's the way a lot of things have been ironed out. I was put on standby basis three times. I'm glad I didn't have to go. We would have gone like everyone else did if they had called us up.

That's the thing they need to take control of more than anything else is this business of sending kids to war. No one gains anything. It makes some politicians stronger, because they're in a position where they get a lot of political jargon. I don't know what will ever happen. But you can't make anything by war. It's one of the worst things that ever happened to this generation.

Interviewee: Lee "Pony" Brooks
Interviewer: Shanna Holt
September 5, 1999

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