Library Tutorials
Skip to main content
Font size options
Increase or decrease the font size for this website by clicking on the 'A's.
Contrast options
Choose a color combination to give the most comfortable contrast.
Historic Provo

Oral History of Phillip & Louise Camphuisen


WINN: This is Jennifer Winn and I'm interviewing Phillip Camphuisen. Phil, what brought you to Provo?

PHILLIP: That's the main problem. The wife.

WINN: Were you married in Provo or outside of Provo?

PHILLIP: I was married in Provo right after we came from Holland.

WINN: What did you think of Provo when you first got here?

PHILLIP: Different. Totally different from Europe.

WINN: How so?

PHILLIP: Different customs. Different ways of thinking. People think totally different than in Europe. Everything is really different. The first year is the hardest year to get in the run of things.

WINN: How did people in Provo treat you?

PHILLIP: That's okay. I never had problems with people. I'm the different one so I took that for granted. If I had problems with people I always said, "It's no big deal."

WINN: Did you work in Provo?

PHILLIP: Yes, I worked from the second day on after I came here in the country. I worked in Provo first and then my wife instigated the change to go to San Francisco. I thought I was going to Los Angeles, but we ended up in San Francisco anyway.

LOUISE: Because that's where Jennifer's grandfather was.

PHILLIP: Your grandfather told us that we could stay there with him in his apartment building for free for the first month. It took only two months and then we were evicted for the silly reason that the building was going to be razed and they were going to build a federal building where we were.

Then we got the biggest shock we ever had. Louise, my wife, tried to find an apartment or whatever we could find. She put money down and it was a cottage type deal close to the beach, which was nice. I couldn't figure out why until my boss said, "Where did you live?" I said, "In Turk Street." He said, "You never come out of Turk Street once you live there. That's the Negro area. Once you live in that negro area, you'll never come in the white area anymore." That is an experience that we didn't know.

WINN: Did you have the same kind of reception here as you did in San Francisco?

PHILLIP: No, we didn't have any problems here in Utah. There is no racial problems. In fact I worked for BYU and interviewed there. The boss told me, "The dean of the grounds keepers over at the physical plant wants to talk to you first, because you're not Mormon." He interviewed me and he said, "Do you know you have to live by the standards here?" I said, "What kind of standards are these?" He said, "We have school standards and you are staff so you have to follow the school standards. Decent dress and all that." "What kind of pants do I have to use? Can I use any pants I have?" "Yes, no problems." He said, "Do you smoke?" "No." "Do you belong to the Church?" I said, "What do you mean by the Church?" He said, "Mormon Church." I said, "No, do you?" Would you believe that he was the dean and he was not a member of the Church. He started laughing and I said, "You asked me questions, why can't I ask you." That was it.

I started working the next day. I never had problems working. I've always been handled pretty good by everybody. It was very small then, eight to ten thousand students. It was a very small campus. Not the campus itself, but not too many students yet.

WINN: How has that changed over the years?

PHILLIP: Tremendous. Like the other day she took us to a lecture on amphibians and reptiles. Snakes and whatever. She said, "Do you know what this is?" I said, "I have no idea." All these buildings are strange to me. The Marriott Center was built not long after I left. I worked there in 1957. A lot of it has changed. The whole campus has changed.

I was a ground keeper and we were the repair crew. Any kind of plumbing problems we had repair, the sprinkler systems or in the buildings. We were all over the campus. Keeping the lawns clean that was the grounds keeper's job, not ours. We were the repair crew, just the two of us. We were all over the campus. I am really surprised when you go on the campus and there is not much greens left.

We went up there to the Bean Museum. I asked her, "There is someplace, Fine Arts Center? There is an area where they have American arts all the way from the beginning to now." She said, "No, that would have to be the Harris Fine Arts Center." I know where that is. She said, "Why?" I said, "Grandpa used to work there. I know that area." She said, "But you cannot park there." Whatever. That's a long time. Everything is different.

I have quite a few people that worked there that I've known from twenty five years ago. One of them was Steve Jensen. He told me, "Could you pick up a car for me?" I said, "From you? From where?" He said, "From the campus." I said, "I know where you work. That's in that lower campus area there." He said later, "No, that's not where I work anymore. I work up where the microbiology is." Do I know where microbiology is? You cannot park anyplace. I was on a motorcycle. I left the motorcycle on the bottom and went up and went straight in his office and he wasn't there. So I left a note. But that is a totally different building. I've never been in that building before. Everything is different.

WINN: Where else have you worked in Provo?

PHILLIP: Where haven't I worked in Provo? When we came back from San Francisco, I worked first for Ashton and then I switched over to the Provo City shops. I worked there for four or five years and then I worked for Chuck Peterson. Then I decided I didn't make enough money, so I went to Salt Lake. I traveled back and forth for fourteen years and made good money, until finally I decided that was getting old. You lose an hour each way, so you have two hours of unproductive time. I started up on my own and I've been on my own ever since 1987.

WINN: And now what do you do?

PHILLIP: I'm retired now, except I have a hobby working on cars, so I still work on cars. I still have my own shop. It's here in north Orem.

WINN: Have you seen any physical changes in Provo through the years?

PHILLIP: Physical in what respect?

WINN: In roads, buildings?

PHILLIP: Yes. The freeway didn't exist at the time when I first drove to Salt Lake. You drove right through Orem, right through Lehi. Part of it is the freeway over the Point of the Mountain, but then you split over to State Street in Salt Lake and drive through State Street all the way in. There was not much traffic. In the old days I drove from home, which is 979 E. 200 N. in Provo, to the shop in Salt Lake which is about 1700 South, in about 40 minutes. Now I'm lucky if with all the road conditions that you have, if you can do that in an hour to an hour fifteen minutes. They claim when the roads are finished, I don't know when, that it will be just as fast. I don't believe so. There's too much traffic on that road. That aspect has changed quite a bit.

Provo has changed since your dad lived here. It about quadrupled in size at least. They didn't have houses way up high on the hillsides. That didn't exist. Everything has changed. Downtown has changed. A lot of the business has moved to Orem, for the malls, so that's why we put in a mall here in Provo now. I don't know if that's nicer or not compared to University Mall.

WINN: How have you felt, has it ever bothered you not being a member of the Church? Has anybody treated you different?

PHILLIP: I have never had problems. All people say if you don't belong to the Church you have problems. I've never had problems. I know when the kids were born, we had a big talk about it. Louise said, "If your kids don't belong to the Church they will be handicapped, because the boy scouts and the girl scouts, that's all done by the church. And a lot of the social interaction is done by the Church." I said, "Then let's take them to church. I don't have anything against it." In fact we went together to church. I've been in all kinds of churches in my life. It doesn't bother me at all.

There's so many different things. If you go with the flow it's fine. If you start being antagonistic, then you have problems. It always has been that way, if you go against what everybody is. You have good members and you have bad ones, just like they have in any other religion.

I know quite a few guys that are really nice, outstanding. Her friend, she called him Mr. Eliott. She talked to him one day and she said, "Mr. Eliott." He said, "My name is not Mr. Eliott. My name is Eliott Butler." Oops. But he was nice. He was one heck of a nice guy. This one that I've known I worked on his cars for about fifteen years.

I have this wild idea to still ride motorcycles. I went to Salt Lake because I had to pick up small parts and I thought, a motorcycle can slip through so much easier. On the way back, I said, "I'd like to eat a hot dog." The cheapest and largest hot dog you can get is at Costco. So I got to Costco. You have to realize you cannot get off the freeway or on the freeway from Costco, because of 7200 South. I went from the inside and was there and got my stupid hot dog and was eating it on the top of the bike. Suddenly I got embraced by somebody that I never even saw coming. He said, "What are you doing on the bike?" I said, "It's one of those vices that I have. I like to ride a bike once in a while." He said, "I don't like to see you on the bike. In fact if that's the way you feel about it, I'll give you my car." So he gave me his car. It sits right there. It's a big Mercedes.

LOUISE: No complaints about that.

PHILLIP: It's an older one, but it's still in good condition. That is another one. He is a good Mormon. In fact he lives right across the street from the church. He's only two houses away. He's okay. There is some bad ones as always, like anything else. That's okay.

One of the things that I tell her, we have lived here in America now too long. I always tell her, "I don't want to go back to Holland." I have bad memories of Holland. All I did was go to school and work and then hopefully you have a few hours of sleep and then back to school and back to work. I did that for five years. I swore I would never go back to school again, which is stupid. That's past now. I would like to see Europe, if we had that much money. I could show you Europe. Of course that's changed in fifty years.

WINN: How about raising your children in Provo, what kind of experience was that?

PHILLIP: Provo I think is just like any other city that is growing up and in some ways growing up too fast. I think we have a drug problem, just as well as any other big city. We never had too much problems with Vanity, our daughter. Roy was always wild and so in a way I insisted that he would ride motorcycles just to stay away from the drugs. We didn't have too much problems there. But I know that his friends were deep in trouble with drugs, like we still have now.

WINN: Has your neighborhood changed in that sense over the years?

PHILLIP: Yes, quite a bit.

WINN: How has it changed?

PHILLIP: For the worse as far as that goes. Now I'm not prejudiced racial wise, but there is an enormous influx of Tongans and Hispanics. The neighborhood has really gone down the drain. In fact at her funeral, I talked to a guy that I've known quite a few years. He's the lieutenant now of the police patrols. I asked him and he said, "Your neighborhood is bad now. We have a lot of drug problems, a lot of drug parties and fights, people fighting. Your neighborhood is a problem." It's the fact that this is a cheap neighborhood in comparison with the average. I think an average house is close to $200,000. This one is closer to $100,000, so you get more of the poorer people here.

The Tongans are used to communal living so they go in a one family house with six or seven families. You know what that does to you. But they are trying a lot. They have this new housing project where you can get a real low loan on a house. I think it gives you something like 5 or 3% to get a house in this neighborhood if you're not rich. If you're $30,000 and up you can't get it. You comply to the rules and you can buy a house on that kind of percentage. I think the highest they go is up to 6%.

WINN: Did your children go to school in this neighborhood?

PHILLIP: Yes, the last years. Until 1971 we lived on 9th East and 2nd North. They went in that neighborhood to the schools. By the time we came here they were high school kids, just before high school, junior high. It was bad for them at that time, because this was an old neighborhood. The people were old. There was no young kids. After those old people died, then you had the younger kids. They are still too young for them. They didn't have too much interaction with kids their own age. That's what they told me. That's what they hated about this neighborhood.

WINN: What is the history of this block, the neighborhood, the homes? Did you build this home?

PHILLIP: No, this home is over 100 years old.

LOUISE: 1887.

PHILLIP: You have to realize in this kind of an area that a block has only four houses and they're all four on the corners of a particular block. Our house is right on the border line.

LOUISE: Each house was a quarter of a block. Indians and whatever else would be invading.

PHILLIP: That's how it is. And then later on they cut it down and cut it down and put other houses in. But this is how it started. If you really look good in this neighborhood, all the corner houses are the oldest houses. That's how it is. That's okay. The younger people are coming in. It's a lot of fun in the summer time to yell and scream and be young again. It doesn't help to run the sprinklers, because they love it when it's hot. It's fun.

You know most of your neighbors. Not all of them, but most of them. We have good contact with the neighbors. A few of them we really like. They're all in the next block. We don't have any complaints about the neighborhood. It's just getting bad. There's not much choice you have of going someplace else.

WINN: Can you remember any activities that the community had, such as parades? Were there any parades that would come through here or carnivals or circus?

PHILLIP: The parade way in the beginning came through Center Street. That's a couple blocks from here. It was not in this neighborhood. This was really a housing area. Even once upon a time they said they were going to sell the house across the street and make a 7-11 in it. I said, "That's impossible, because this is residential. It will never have commercial in it." The kids were never big for parades. They just didn't like it. Randy I've taken a few times. Roy never wanted to. He said, "That's kind of dumb." Then of course if they don't go, we don't go. We are a funny family I guess.

LOUISE: Senator Bennett came through this house.

WINN: Why did he do that?

LOUISE: Because it was a project by the neighborhood housing at it was funded through the neighborhood housing project. Senator Bennett came to Provo and they had a whole slew of other people.

PHILLIP: It was all his aides.

LOUISE: They loved the old sink and walls and high ceilings.

WINN: It's very beautiful. Can you think of anything else, the way the buildings have changed, different businesses that you shopped at?

PHILLIP: A lot of land that was orchard are now high rises for the silly reason they have a lot of students and they need housing for students and for young people. Not particularly one family houses which would be out of reach. We're getting too many, in my opinion, apartment buildings, which I don't like. They're all the same. That's one of the reasons I particularly myself left Holland. I don't like it because it's all high rises and a million people in one building. Here at least I thought the land is wide and the houses have some acreage around it, so if you start screaming your neighbors don't even hear it because of the way it's built. We are starting to get really crowded. I don't like that.

Perhaps I'm too old. I like it the way it was before, and it doesn't go that way. You progress too much. Planning is not that good in the cities. There is one place now close to Utah that is planned for now. It's built and they cannot put in more housing, more business than what they already have planned and it will not change. It's planned from the beginning to the end, everything. The streets and the stores are coming in. They said there is no way that I come in and I say, "I'll put in a garage with diesel engines where it's noisy day and night." They don't want you. There is no provision in the law for them to say you can't come in. That's what they should have done years and years ago. But on the other hand if you put enough money in it you'll get it anyway.

Here, in the southern part, Smiths wants to build a super grocery store. The neighbors have complained. They don't want it. Finally they said, "If you want to come in, you have to put in a brand new sewer system, a brand new this and a brand new that. Otherwise we don't want you. We want to keep the area as it is." In fact we visited friends of ours in New Mexico. They live in an area that they want to be rural. That means no paved roads, no street lanterns, nothing.

LOUISE: They object to an LDS temple being built there, because they're lit up during the night.

PHILLIP: These are half a million dollar homes and higher. Minimum is half a million. They don't like it. They just say, "We don't want everything that they push down your throats. We don't want paved roads. We want it just the way it is."

LOUISE: We don't want twenty four hour a day businesses.

WINN: You moved here in what year?

PHILLIP: 1955.

WINN: Did Korea affect the economy of Provo in any way?

PHILLIP: Korea was 1953.

LOUISE: Provo downtown is the same.

WINN: How about Vietnam?

PHILLIP: I really don't know. Because we came here in 1955 and I was in Vietnam in 1946 at the beginning of the nonsense that started when the French left. I had more problems with myself in those days, that the war, how bad can a war be? I've been through the worst time of the war and I thought it was still pretty good here compared to what it was. I knew that they would get problems. The Vietnam War I could have predicted what would happen, because I've been in that crazy country a long time ago. The problems that happened, the after math of being in a war is that a lot of people cannot get that out of their system. Also a lot of those people are nuts. They are really crazy and can't get back in civilization anymore. I've seen that in all the years that I've been in the war. Some people just can't get back anymore.

When I was working in Salt Lake we had Vietnam veterans, by choice, because the boss wanted it. They can't function. They are totally dysfunctional people. I talked to them and told them, "I've been through that." You just have to learn and it takes you three to four years to get over it, if you ever were on the front lines, which in Vietnam was all over, except when you are in the big cities. Then you're like being in a fort. You're totally isolated. If you're outside, and it is the fact that if you grew up there, like I did in Southeast Asia, you don't have the problems as much as an American that comes to Southeast Asia. Because the very first things that are bad is that the food is different. How would you like if I put you on a rice diet everyday? You wouldn't like it. But for me, rice is normal. I fit in there. If I don't get my rice I eat fruits. But the Americans can't handle that.

I've seen in Korea that the soldiers didn't want to go to combat unless they had their ice cream. That's a funny way of putting it, but it is a fact. They did not want to go in combat. I was in Korea for probably nine months. I was forced to go up there because I was company commander. I said, "You'll never keep me here. I've had enough." I had nine and a half years of horror in my life. I said, "I don't want it." I felt kind of bad, because I was responsible for these young kids that were fire troopers and red berets. I told them, "None of you guys is really ready for this. Because to survive, really survive you have to be an animal." It takes a lot of time to get over that. I've been lucky. At least I think I've been lucky.

That was worse because they're little people in the first place and they fight for an ideal and you'll never win against that. You might as well forget it, you'll never win. This is also the same thing as what you have in Ireland, what you have in Iran, where you have two different religions. You can't convince them that what they do is wrong, because you don't understand. That's all they say. "You don't understand." Vietnam fought for their independence, the same thing as what we did with Indonesia. You can't win. There is no way you can win. I was on the wrong side in Indonesia. I was born in a brick home and not in a bamboo home.

When we came back from prisoner of war ship, I fought another four and a half years before I got over it. I was shipped to Holland, I escaped to Holland. Vietnam is something that a lot of people that have been in there. It was never recognized as a war. They were spat on when they came back, because they were murderers. They were outcasts. For them coming back that was really hard to take. It is hard to understand that unless you have been in a war yourself. Then you see that we have the same thing.

We lost against the Japanese and our women and children were really upset with us. Why did we lose? Why didn't we oppose this challenge and fight to our death? I don't know. I just followed orders. I'm just a stupid 17 year old kid. Vietnam has scarred America quite a bit. It was a big group of the mechanics we had in Salt Lake that I worked with that really couldn't get over it. I've seen quite a few of the guys who were in the Navy who said they never had a real fight in the jungle and they were affected by it. They really couldn't get over it. I told them, "You never have to see combat, why are you so disoriented?"

WINN: War is a really hard thing.

PHILLIP: That's fine. Roy almost got drafted and I told him, "You will never go in the Army. I will teach you the tricks to stay out of the Army. I'll show you a few tricks that if I had known these tricks they would never have been able to." Well, we were overrun so everybody was in the Army. I was 17 years old. My dad was 58 and he was the last brigade. He was in the Army. Everybody was in the Army, whoever. If you're crippled, they still give you some kind of a weapon and try to keep them out. That doesn't work that way. A war, if you look at the programs, it's always a little bit glorified. There is only a few films and they are really brutal if you see those. To show what it is really in a war, there is nothing beautiful about it.

I can't see that we are now in a war where they use only airplanes or cruise missiles. You're just plain stupid. The question I ask now, I was talking to a guy this morning. He said, "Are you against this war?" You're for a war unless you are a professional soldier and then even then they don't want it. Let's face it, if they bomb these people, they bomb and bomb and bomb, you can't win a war with bombing people. You have to have ground troops. I said, "But now it happens already that they go instead of go to a Serbian country. It all goes back and goes in Bosnia." They said, "What if it goes a little bit farther off the Balkans? Are you going to bomb that too? How far are we going to? When are you going to pull them out?" Once you go in, you're committed. You have to see those problems.

We lived in the house up on the hillside. He told her dad and he came over and talked. We went over and I said, "What do you want to hear?" He said, "He is a rich guy. What do you know about this county?" I said, "All I know is that this country, the land itself is rich. How you manipulate that, how you govern that land, that's something else."

When we came back from prison of war ship, we wanted to come back and rebuild the country which was ravaged by the Japanese. They had four years of invasion. Whatever was available for them, they took. The country was poor at that time. The problem is what we said, our queen, a promise that it will take five years to get the country running, because they had engineers and doctors and workers. But the middle group, the technical group didn't exist. It takes five years to get those people. If you don't have those people, that country can't run. It isn't that we want to keep them hostage, we want to keep them as a colony, which Indonesia was, or the Dutch East Indies as we called it. We had it for more than 300 years. Indonesians wanted their freedom. They wanted their independence.

Interviewee: Phillip and Louise Camphuisen
Interviewer: Jennifer Winn
March 28, 1999

Return to Oral Histories List