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Historic Provo

Oral History of Rachel Heninger


WINN:Today is May 16, 1999. This is Jennifer Winn and I'm interviewing Rachel Heninger. Rachel, what are your earliest memories of Provo?

HENINGER:My very earliest was I lived down by my grandfather. My grandfather was Heber J. Grant, the president of the church. He liked to come down here. He had my husband drive him down. I remember coming down with him.

The earliest one I remember is when I came down to a junior prom at the BYU. My boyfriend and one or two of his friends got permission from my parents to come down and stay at the Roberts Hotel, not all night. We made reservations at the Roberts Hotel to come down because we were going to have dinner with the boys at the Sun's Cafe which was an early famous cafe in Provo. We were going to the Junior Prom. We had to change into our prom dresses. That was held at the girl's gym on the west side of the street in Provo near lower campus. We went to dinner, then we came to the Roberts Hotel and changed our clothes and put on our party dresses and went to the Junior Prom at the Y. We went home without changing. We didn't stay overnight. That was my first experience.

I may have come down in between. I think I came with my grandfather a time or two. Then we moved to Provo. My husband had been appointed as the assistant superintendent of the state mental hospital. He had his medical education at the University of Chicago. We moved to other places before that. We were living in Salt Lake at the time. We came to Provo and moved into a small home which was on the State Hospital grounds. It was farther east than where it is now. It was a rather small home and we had four children by then. We were quite proud of it. We lived there. He was assistant superintendent for some years.

Things have changed like the attitude toward the mental hospital. At that time the people of the community generally looked on the hospital as a place of disgust. They made fun of the patients that had mental illnesses. That was the custom. Many people would drive up around the state mental hospital and yell and taunt at the buildings. It was terrible.

My husband had a great deal to do about changing the attitude of the community toward the patients at the mental hospital. He has written a book about it. You asked me about the Provo area, I think he put a copy of that in the Provo City Library. There is a copy at the State Hospital. It's xeroxed. It was a very important record of the changes at the hospital. I won't go into them, but it's an entirely different attitude. The community took hold of this attitude that he brought to the hospital and it's changed extremely. It's turned completely around.

He decided to let the patients out on the Fourth of July. He was going to let them go out on the grass in the front yards. The only time they could go out before was in a cage with wire around it, just a small space. That was the only time they could go outdoors. He was going to let them go out on the grass and watch the parade. The parade was going to come through. He just walked the floor for fear people would run away. There were six hundred people and he was afraid they there would be a mass exodus. But nobody ran away. Nobody got off the grass.

That was a terrible thing that the people of Provo thought it was awful. They thought they were risking their lives by doing this because these patients were so dangerous. That wasn't true. I remember him hoping that nobody would go off.

They made their own float for the parade. They made their own float from the hospital. It was nice. Things like that were what he did. That's a whole story about how the hospital changed. It's also Provo's story because Provo participated in that. It wasn't easy.

WINN:What year was it that you came down?


WINN:How did your children react to the move?

HENINGER:They had to move several times before. I don't think they found it difficult. We had a nice little community. On east Center Street where we lived, we lived in three different houses up there. It was an interesting community. It was half farms. Some of the families were large families. They had their own gardens and own cows and chickens. We didn't, but they did. Our children became acquainted with them. They even learned to milk at some of those houses, although we didn't do very much of that. But they learned about farm life, but we'd always lived in the city before. They had an interesting family life.

One of the things the boys used to do as they grew up, there was a place down towards the lake called the rock crusher. There was some place where they had a lot of gravel. They had something to crush it to use for the streets, for cement. Where they dug the gravel out there was a pool. They used it for a swimming pool. They used it to skinny dip.

When their friends came to visit them, that was a treat. They'd get on their bikes and ride down there. It was supposed to be a no-no, because one of the school teacher's sons had been drowned in that pool. That didn't deter the boys. We told them they weren't supposed to swim at the rock crusher, but they still did it. That was a favorite place for the boys to go as they grew up and they were in their early teens.

Another very prominent thing in my eyes was the community concerts. BYU and the city had a compact. One of the BYU professors whose name was Harold Clark had a wonderful connection in New York and some of the big cities with musicians. Harold could get contracts with the musicians to stop and play in Provo very reasonably because they had to travel by train then. They would be tired and they would stop and stay overnight and they would give a concert in Provo on their way to the west coast.

At these concerts we had dozens of wonderful musicians, the most prominent in the world who would stop in Provo and they sang at the tabernacle which is really good acoustics. There was one drawback. The transportation between Payson and Salt Lake was a little electric railroad called the Orem. The Orem track went right past the tabernacle. Often right in the middle of a concert the train would come by. It would be wonderful music going on and here was this rattly train. The station was on First West and Center Street. More than once that train rattled by and it just ruined it.

I was on the committee to sell tickets to this community concert. That was one of my most satisfying activities. I'm a musician and I appreciated the music. In fact we were living in a large house. My husband had been made superintendent at the State Hospital and we were living in a large house on the hospital grounds, which was a lovely home to live in with the family. I entertained some of these musicians quite often overnight, because at that time the Roberts Hotel was the only hotel in town. They didn't have any place for these musicians to stay, so they stayed at our house. I had the privilege of entertaining. I entertained for two nights. He was so gracious.

The best thing was that the musicians loved it because I gave them homemade breakfast and homemade food and they could relax at our house. It was wonderful for me. I enjoyed them being in our home. That was one of the interesting things about Provo that we were exposed to these wonderful musicians that even Salt Lake didn't. It was a nice thing.

He (Harold Clark) was so adept at getting them all around. Then we put on a concert when they got there. We all worked hard. It was an interesting place to have these concerts. We had local concerts.

My mother had a friend who was on the women's council of Provo. It was a very active group of women that did things for Provo. During the war years they entertained the soldiers and did a lot of things like that. I was active in that. They had purchased a church. It was on the corner of Third North and University Avenue. We had that for our club house. They had a lot of activities there. We had sort of a USO for the soldiers during the war. Later we sold that club house and built one on Fifth North right next to the Eldred Center. That house is still there.

That was a real active organization with different sections. I was active in music. They had several sections. It was open to everyone. It wasn't just for the club or by invitation. It was open to everyone. That was a very fine organization. I think it's still going although I haven't been active in it for some time. I was president one year. I made many Provo friends through that.

I was active on the school board for a number of years. I met a lot of people through that Provo School board. Another board I was active on was the recreation board. We tried to plan recreation activities for Provo. I didn't do an awful lot on that. I suppose those boards are still going. I know the school board is. The recreation board, I'm not sure that that's still functioning. We planned the recreation activities.

WINN:What were some of those activities?

HENINGER:There was swimming and games. Down at the parks they had breakfasts at the park and we had games and activities. Utah Lake was always a great attraction for us. We had a little boat and then we got a bigger boat. We spent a lot of time that way.

The children in the early years spent time swimming in the canals. They knew they weren't supposed to, but they did. The canals around here even now where we lived were above ground. They used to get in those canals for a mile or two. That was one of the things my little boys liked to do. I don't think the girls swam in the canal, but the boys did.

We did lots of hiking in the canyons. We would hike up to the Y. In the early days every year they had Y Day and they would carry buckets of lime up to the Y and paint the rocks up there that made the Y. It was just rocks. They made a cement one. They don't have Y day anymore. That used to be a good thing for my kids.

Then they had the Y Day parade and made their own floats. They had social units and they would make their own floats. They used to make stuff at our house. Y Day was always a big day then. The fellows and the girls would go up on the mountain and hand this white wash up then go hiking. That was another big day.

They had dances in the girl's gym, which was on the west side of the street. I don't know whether that building is even used now. It was right across the street from the old campus. It was the girl's gym and that was where the dances were held.

The plays were held in College Hall which was on the east side of that lower campus in a building over there. There was a stage on the east side of campus. That was called College Hall. That's where they had the plays. We used to go participate in them. There were good plays.

Husband: You were part of the women's group during the war and you entertained the soldiers.

HENINGER:And made bandages.

Husband: What other kind of things were you involved in during the wars? There were several wars during that time.

HENINGER:This would be the earlier one. There have been so many wars.

WINN:In World War II, in the 1940s.

HENINGER:That was the one. We moved here in 1938. There was the National Guard here in Provo. My son was in that. They were called to go to Korea. It happened that when he got into camp in Oklahoma, they shifted him from the group that went to Korea to one that went to Germany. Most of the National Guard went to Korea. One of the boys was killed that went from the Provo National Guard. I don't know about the later ones, because when my son came home, he was in Germany for two years and after he came home it was a stop and go deal. I don't know about what the next ones are.

WINN:How did the war impact Provo?

HENINGER:Of course it impacted us on rationing and things like that. Getting a car was almost impossible. We used that little Orem railroad to go to Salt Lake. My husband was allowed gasoline because of his work to go to Salt Lake. We personally could get to Salt Lake quite frequently. We didn't have rationing any better than anybody else. We had to have rationing for shoes and food.

Once one of my aunts came to visit Provo and she gave me some coupons for a pair of shoes for one of my boys because he was right on the ground. She gave me an extra pair of shoes.

We had to conserve our food. We raised rabbits in the back yard. We had some rabbits that would help with food. It was just about like everybody else. I don't think Provo was much different. Most of us had vegetable gardens that we could get by on. Provo was just about the same as everybody else. We did a lot of walking.

WINN:What are some of the ways that Provo has changed through the years?

HENINGER:The main thing is it has gotten bigger. For instance, right out here in back of us, a little to the south, there are several hundred homes. It used to be the city dump. The dump was my boys favorite place to go. They used to drag stuff home from the dump that was curious to them. I remember once they dragged a whole bathtub home. I didn't know and they said they wanted to raise some carps. Carp is one of the fish that is in Utah Lake. They're no good to eat, but they're a curiosity. They partially buried the bathtub and dug out the place in our yard, and filled it with water and put carp in it. That came from the dump.

Sometime in a thousand years when it's excavated, someone will wonder what that's doing. It certainly didn't belong there. There are a lot of funny things like that that happened.

It was like living in the country, because we had a lovely, comfortable home. Our home was a beautiful home. It was wonderful for entertaining. If anyone asked me to entertain to hold this or that, we said we would. Even people asked me to have their wedding receptions there. We had our own children's wedding receptions there, but not strangers. It was used by the public a lot. The home adapted itself to entertaining and I liked to do that.

The city government has changed a time or two. To tell you the truth I can't remember now enough to tell you about those changes. I know that there are different kinds of changes where they had different kinds of governments. I'm not familiar right now with how things are going. I haven't been able to read for some time because I am legally blind. I don't keep up with local things, unless I'm told about them, because I can't read the Herald anymore. I can watch television and keep up with the national news, but not the local. I don't know about local affairs. I'm not even able to go out to go to meetings. I don't participate locally anymore.

WINN:Can you recall the public attitudes towards the government in Provo during the time your husband was at the state hospital? Were people content with it, or were there disagreements between the way that the townspeople wanted it to be run?

HENINGER:I can't recall anything that happened at that time. That doesn't mean they didn't. I can't recall specifics as well as general. There were a few difficulties that we had, but I can't be specific enough to say in depth what they were. I can't remember enough details.

There were conflicts. There were these people that were running against each other. I don't think it was any big religious things. There was always a non-LDS group of people that participated. There were some that were active which met out in Provo. There were always several small groups of people who were not LDS. I don't remember any particular campaigning against the central LDS populace.

Recently there was one against the mayor who wanted to be some group. We all, including me, opposed that. I can't think of any other conflicts that came up that were anti-LDS.

WINN:Can you recall any other changes in Provo?

HENINGER:No. I don't particularly remember. The growth problem is much more complicated. I always feel like I don't want it to grow so quick, but then people come and you can't change that. Now we're getting many more that are other races. We've never had much of a population of blacks. There are a few. But there are a lot of Hispanics and other people. There is a lot of black people in the area now. There is bound to be problems. I think that the citizens of Provo have to realize that. If they're going to have a contention they've got to prepare.

I haven't run into that myself because I feel like I'm accepting of people and of others. You couldn't say Provo is mostly that way. Now Provo has lots of people from other states, especially California. But it's okay. I lived there for a number of years. It's just part of the deal. With a religious school you expect to have those conflicts, although I think the LDS are more accepting. They want them to live in their city.

WINN:How long have you been here in this house?

HENINGER:We moved here soon after we retired. My husband has been dead about a year or so. I think I've been here about twenty years.

WINN:Thank you for sharing with us your experiences in Provo and your unique perspective. You mentioned there was something else you wanted to say.

HENINGER:When we first moved into that big house in Provo, when we moved to Provo, between the state hospital that is on Center Street and what we called Potato Hill there were no homes at all. There was a big field where people grazed their horses and there were no homes in that whole area all the way up to the hill right by Rock Canyon. There were some families that lived there. Henry and Lynn Taylor had homes up there and one other Taylor family. There were no homes between Center Street all the way up there. That was in 1938. There was nothing on Ninth East at all.

Interviewee: Rachel Heninger
Interviewer: Jennifer Winn
May 16, 1999

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