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Historic Provo

Oral History of Thelma Williams

ORAL HISTORY TRANSCRIPTION


WINN: Today is May 27, 1999. This is Jennifer Winn and I'm interviewing Thelma Williams. Thelma, what are your earliest memories of Provo?


WILLIAMS: They were wonderful. We were from Wyoming. My husband had earlier gone to BYU, but I hadn't gone to BYU then. We had been through Provo several times and we were just enthralled with the wide street and water running down the streets in the curb. There were flowers and grass and it was beautiful.


We came down on the Fourth of July one year and the parade and the bands and the excitement generated and there were thousands of people lined along University Avenue and Center Street. It was a real extravaganza. There were people in the parks having lunch.


In Wyoming we had grass, but it was hard to grow. Sometimes the children couldn't even walk on the grass. That was prohibitive. We came down to Provo and you could have a picnic on the grass and the kids could play baseball and badminton on the grass.


I loved the mountains. I didn't know a soul. I'd look out my kitchen window and I'd look at those mountains and think, "I've got a friend." We didn't have high mountains like this in Wyoming. In Yellowstone or Jackson Hole they did. But down where we lived was by the Bridger Valley and the coal mining area. The beauty was under the ground with the oil and the mines. I'd stand washing my dishes and look out the window and think, "I don't have any friends because I don't know anyone. But those mountains are my friend and they'll stay stalwart forever."


Either the first summer or second summer I had three little children and we bought a home over in the Litchfield subdivision which was north of 1200 North and 350 West. It was a nice little subdivision. They had a real polio scare. A lot of my friends that I have now, their children got polio and have been handicapped all their lives because of the polio. That was really scary for me, because I didn't know anyone and had to keep my children confined because I didn't want the children to get polio.


They gave this experimental shot to children at random between certain ages. We went down to the Timpanogos School and the nurses administered these big shots of vaccine for polio. My little daughter was about two and a half or three then. I'd always taught her to be very modest. When they pulled her little panties down to give her the injection in her seat, she reached up and hit the doctor and said, "Don't you pull down my panties." We were embarrassed that she hit the doctor.


It was a needle that seemed so big. On a little tiny bottom that was pretty treacherous. But you felt more secure then because your children were immunized. Then later they gave a little sugar cube with a drop of vaccine so you could take it orally.


I don't remember how often we had to get it. It was in dosages. It was a life long immunity. I have it on my records of the children's shots.


Provo was a hard place to break into. We had opened the first ladies specialty shoe store west of the Mississippi after the second World War for the Wolf Shoe Company. We sold Connies and Jacquelines and U.S. Keds and Tweeties. We had a good line of shoes. During the war our shoes were on rations and you had to get them restamped. People were really hungry for shoes. As soon as the war was over they lifted the ban on shoes and you could buy as many as you wanted.


Shoes were really made inferior in those days. They weren't nice leather. They made a lot of gabardine. A lot of the gabardine pumps with platform soles would smell just like a stink bug. They had a very noxious smell. I don't know if it was the dye in the material. They were out of cloth really. In Wyoming in just six months we made a ton of money, because people would come in and buy six or seven pairs of shoes at a time, because they'd be rationed for so long.


When we moved to Provo we decided that we would keep our store in Wyoming. We had bought a nice little home up there and we sold it and moved down to Provo. We took part of the money to put down on our home and the other part to buy stock for the shoe store. There was a radio station, KOBO that came in to our store. The lady was from Rock Springs, Wyoming. She came in and said, "Let me handle your big opening. We'll come in and have a little band and interview people." We went down bright and early. We thought we had the world by the tail and not any customers came in. There we were smiling like a bunch of goons and I thought, "This is a far cry from what we had in Wyoming."


But with Provo in those days, and I don't think it's so much this way now, in 1951 you had to prove yourself. They didn't knock the doors down getting into trade with us. We had a lot of shoe stores. We were the only specialty lady shoes, that handled nothing but ladies in town. There was Penneys and Sears and those different ones, but most of them were family shoe stores. You could buy children's and men's but ours was a specialty.


We went in first to the Sweetbrier shop, which was a special ladies store. It was on Center Street by a real nice newly remodeled Hoover's men's store. It was a perfect location. Up the street then they had Woolworth's, Thomas', two or three drug stores and up and down offices upstairs.


The first year we were here, Sears and JCPenney's was down farther where a bike shop is now. They moved and built a new building across the street from us where the old tracks used to be for the Bamberger, which was a train that took people to Salt Lake. It was probably two or three cars. I never did see it. They had this terminal and the tracks there. They took those all out and built a big new JCPenney's store. In those days that was a big beautiful store. Business was thriving. You'd go in there and you couldn't get through the aisles it was so busy.


Then the Sears store which was down by the old Penneys' store moved over to where the Sears store has been all these years, where the RC Willey is now. Thomas' moved up on the Avenue. They opened up University Avenue. They moved up there. The drug stores closed. They opened up a bank and a jewelry store.


I am surprised at how many little mom and pop grocery stores and drug stores there were on just a couple of blocks of Center Street. There must have been about five or six drug stores. There was one on the corner, City Drug. There was the two Headquists and the B&H Pharmacy. There were some variety stores that also sold prescription things. It was a delight to go downtown shopping.


That's where your social life was. Especially at Christmas time. They always had pipe music going and carolers and lots of lights. It's not like we had nowadays. They were pretty. There was music. Everybody would window shop and run into their friends. They'd all go to the drug store and have a cup of hot chocolate. That was the entertainment. After you'd have dinner during the holidays, you'd load the kids in the car and go down. They could see the lights and see the people milling around.


It was hard for the little merchant, because the big chain stores like Penneys and Sears dictated the policies because they wanted to stay open at night. In those days we didn't do credit at all. This was before the days of the credit card. We were strictly cash. They would say, "We've got to stay open one night a week, Monday night." We didn't have family home evening Monday night then. We always tried to have one night we reserved to do things. That meant that the little merchant, in order to compete, couldn't close their doors at 6:00 when these big stores would stay open until 9:00.


When we first came to Provo I can't remember any stores, other than a grocery store or two being open on Sunday. The downtown stores to my knowledge have never been opened on Sunday until the advent of the mall. That was the time when everybody went to church and got together with friends and family. We had our meetings. They weren't in a three hour segment. Relief Society was on Tuesday and primary and mutual was during the week. Sunday was priesthood in the morning and then Sunday School and then Sacrament meeting split up.


My second boy used to say, "If I have to put those Sunday School clothes on again, I don't want to go." We'd say, "Oh, but you must go." "Then I'm going in my levis." "You can't go to church in levis." "Then I don't want to go." It was kind of cute. I look back now and all kids fuss about it. Either you stayed dressed up all day, and you couldn't do much, or if you took your clothes off and put the others back on again, it was hard on the kids to dress and undress that many times.


Provo was kind of a closed society. It was difficult for me to see. I had been raised in the Bridger Valley which was practically 100 percent LDS. Then we moved to Rock Springs and the LDS were 10 percent. Catholics were 90 percent with 10 percent divided among all the other churches. It was good for me. I learned that people basically have good moral values. People basically had good family values. It was an interesting place.


They loved babies. Any time you had a baby all of these cute little foreign ladies who were probably illiterate and didn't speak very good English would bring you something to eat and some little pair of booties they'd crocheted or flowers. They grew a lot of pretty flowers. They were so fond of children. They had big families.


Out of my graduating class, those parents that had come from the old country, and a lot of them were illiterate, their families went to college, and they had doctors and attorneys. I learned the ability to get along with all nationalities and to get along with all religions and not to make other people feel that I had all the yeses and they had all the nos.


When I moved to Provo I moved into this area where they were solid Mormons and yet they didn't live the way I'd been taught how to live. I was a young bride and I wanted so badly to rear my children right and wanted so badly to go by the set things.


WINN: What were some of the things that your children were involved with?


WILLIAMS: When we lived in the subdivision they had a wonderful school. They had just opened the Grandview School and I was president of the PTA. We had cupcake sales sticking out of our ears. We found out by trial and error that children will pick chocolate every time. We ended up making all chocolate cupcakes because no one would buy the white cupcakes. We would have a cupcake sale every week and we were able to put the grass and the shrubs in the school. Now I think they're pulling them all out because they're growing so big.


When we came to Provo my oldest boy was ten. The next boy was six and my little girl was two. The next year my son was made the first studentbody president of Grandview School. It was such a wonderful experience. He had a lot of leadership skills before we ever moved to Provo. Ever since he was a little tiny kid he wanted to be a pilot or an astronaut. He did a lot of drawings in kindergarten that they put up above the blackboard. He had the little shoe laces tied with bows and the notes coming out of the band instruments. The kindergarten teacher said, "That boy is going to be very good on details. You encourage him to do whatever it is that he wants to do, because he'll be good at it." He did a lot of nice things.


He told me a story that I thought was quite interesting. He said that when he had just come to Grandview School, he had probably had a little pair of boxing gloves. I don't remember them. He had Boyd McAfee for his principal. There was never a better man that Boyd McAfee. He had a little nervous tick in his eye. When I first met him his little eye would twitch. I thought, "My goodness, he's a friendly little fellow and just so nice." He ended up in the district office as head of the Provo district.


There was some big bully that had come to Grandview School that was just being mean to the girls and just picking on the little kids smaller than he. Mr McAfee called Bob out of class one day. I didn't have the least idea. Bob said, "I don't believe I every told you about it, Mom." He had this great big kid. He towered over him. My son was fairly big sized. He put the boxing gloves on both of them and he said, "There is news that you've been bullying the children on the playground. You've been hitting the girls and I don't want any more of it. But you put the boxing gloves on." Bob said, "He turned us loose and I didn't know if the kid was going to kill me or not because he was bigger. We fought and I had learned a few little quick steps. I bloodied his nose and he bloodied mine."


Then the principal called the fight off and said, "Now have you learned something, that it is isn't any fun to be bullied and it isn't any fun to be hit and it sure isn't any fun to get your nose bleeding. Now you two boys shake hands because this is just a sparing match. This isn't anything against each other." They didn't even know each other. Bob said, "I don't think I ever came home and told you because you would have got after me for fighting. But I thought anything Mr. McAfee suggested it must be right because he was such a wonderful man."


They were active. Our own ward at that time didn't have a scout troop. We met over on Canyon Road. There were a lot of people that were in farming jobs. I don't know if their work prohibited their kids from being active in scouts. There was a scout troop down at Park Ward. Someone suggested that we go there, so we did. My son got his Eagle scout from there along with several other nice kids. He was just barely thirteen.


There wasn't any cub scouts. There was a cub scout at the community church. He went to the community church for a while in cubbing. We moved up here and they were active in the scouts up here. My second boy didn't like the scout program quite as well as the first did.


My children always had to learn to work. We didn't have a lot of money and we'd bought a home and a car and we had stores to stock. We had eight ladies shoes stores and they were costly to stock. We had a children's store. My sons had paper routes when they were just young kids. They did lawns.


As a hobby, Bob, the oldest boy, liked model airplanes. From the time he was six years old, he started making model airplanes and cutting out the little balsa wood with exacto knives and gluing them and stretching the paper and painting them. It developed into a remote club that he belongs to in Texas. The airplanes can go forty miles away and you can control them with remote control that far away.


They were active in that. My second boy was in the pine box derby with scouts. He won second in a race coming down the Orem hill. He started out with 1/4 of a pair of beaver. A man up the street raised beaver out in Orem. They had regular little places. They did a quarter pair and then they'd get half a pair, then get a pair and then they could start having kids. At one time the mink business in Provo was very good. That was before someone said you shouldn't wear mink coats. All of the women were buying mink coats and collars. I've got a closet full of things. I don't wear them because people frown on killing the little animals to beautify the coats.


He ended up with a pair and a half. One was a full grown beaver. Then the bottom dropped out. But that was a good experience to go out and check on them. They had to be pedigreed and had little genealogy sheets. You had to keep track of how much they cost and how much the boarding fee was and their food.


The second boy took airplane lessons down at the Provo Airport. All three of them took piano lessons. My girl took piano lessons and voice lessons. I believe that children should be exposed to all of the arts, and then if they were good at it okay, and if they weren't, okay. But I think one discipline helps any other discipline. You can tell if a note is wrong or right or if the dissonant chords blend with something else. It's good.


I taught my daughter real early to budget. All the children say the thing they appreciate as much as anything is I taught them to work. I taught them that they had to pay for some of the frivolous things they had. The oldest boy got a job sweeping floors down at this hobby shop. Pretty soon, Mr. Guessford, the owner, saw that he knew a lot about airplanes. He'd come in and buy the glue and the paper. He asked him to come over and help a customer. He'd come over and help them and they'd buy some stuff and he'd say, "You need some more paint." He hired him to clean up the store and be the salesman for two or three hours. He'd work on Saturdays and after school.


They always had paper routes. He had a paper route that went clear down to the west side of town. One year he wanted to go on a scout thing. My next door neighbor who was head of the band at BYU, Dick Galoo, a wonderful fellow and a wonderful neighbor, said, "I'll go with you to throw the newspaper for a week." We got on our bicycles and we had to go clear down, almost to the lake and throw those newspapers. You couldn't say no because the kids were doing it and you weren't too good to do it.


When the boys were little I said, "We've never picked strawberries or cherries, and if you'll go out and get a job, then I'll go with you." So we had to be up at about 4:00 in the morning and be out there in Orem. Orem addresses have always been hard to find. I fixed us some tuna fish sandwiches and some water in a bottle. We went out there. They were hard workers. We'd fill the cups up and they'd give us credit for that. Then they'd take part of the strawberries out and make more baskets out of them. We'd only get paid for the big full cups. Then they'd take them out. My second boy said, "Mom, that isn't honest. Why do they scoop them up and we make three and then they make six out of it. They should pay us for six."


The guy came over and said, "Are you working for so and so?" I said, "Yes.," He said, "Are you coming tomorrow?" We talked it over and I'd lost the address and we never did get back and get paid for it. We couldn't find the lane and my boy said that he was dishonest because he didn't pay us right. So I didn't insist that they go back. They'd learned their lesson that you could make spending money picking cherries and strawberries and nobody is beneath doing a good days work. I couldn't expect the children to work if I stayed in my bed. I think it was a bonding experience that we went through that was good.


They were active in a lot of things. They dug dandelions and picked rocks on the Broadbent property in Mapleton. Their father, sorry to say, was not one that supported them. I've been married twice. The real father of the children was not one that supported them in their endeavors. If they had something to say like a little part in church, he thought that was silly and he shouldn't waste his precious time to listen to them say it. I was of the philosophy that if they just said, "Boo," I'd be there to shake my head and approve of it. I'm not boasting but I supported them one hundred percent. It's a good thing I did, because even when my second boy was baptized my husband put up a fuss. He didn't want to baptize and confirm him. He'd rather be off moving horses.


They did a lot of things. They always had a project. I always made of every birthday and every Christmas, they would always get a game for fun and a good book and something they could create. It was something they could build or a chemistry set or tinker toys or something that you had to use your imagination to create something.


My daughter took sewing lessons and modeling lessons. She learned to be very creative. She's an excellent musician and house keeper. She is a good cook. She is a good little mother. She always says, "You taught me how to budget." I used to give her money for her telephone and in those days dry cleaning and school lunch. A girl always has a few needs. Instead of me paying those things, we would sit down and figure out how much that would all cost. We'd give her some money that was a little frivolous. We didn't have a set schedule where we looked for allowances, but we all knew that we were in it together and that we couldn't be wasteful, because times were pretty hard in those days.


She's make her little eight envelopes. She'd go down to the bank and get the money in coins and dollar bills and then she would figure it out. It helped her math. She would figure out what percent. Her tithing would go in one envelope. Her savings would be in another. Then what ever percent she had for her portion. All girls have a habit of dropping their clothes on the floor and they'll be wrinkled. She found that it costs money to send them to the cleaners. We didn't have a lot of wash and wear materials. She learned to pick up her clothes, because her little budget couldn't afford to be sending things to the cleaner's every week.


I always tried with anything we did to make it a learning experience. Even when we play and I have my great grandchildren come down, I always structure a bunch of games that don't cost any money. We always have a play and we have someone write the script and we have the programs and the costumes. We have it here. The children still say, "Grandma, when are we going to have another thing at your house." I'm going to take them all over to Fairfield. That's where Johnson's Army came when they were sent out and passed through Salt Lake. I've got several grandsons.


The story of the Pony Express is wonderful. Some of those boys weren't much older than my oldest grandson. They would ride ten miles, then get a little rest. They had to be light and agile and the horse had to be young. The only thing they could take was a knife and a gun. There was one fellow whose name was Haslem that had riden clear from Cheyenne, Wyoming. The Pony Express went from St. Joseph, Missouri to either Sacramento or San Francisco. Then when the telegraph came in they did away with Pony Express.


These are things that you can make at a picnic and games, but it's a learning experience while you're doing those. I've never been one that likes to buy things that kids just push around. To me I like it to be something else. I don't ever throw things away. I keep old radios, and old clocks and anything. Then I say to the children when they come and sit in a circle, "I've got each of you a little screw driver. These clocks don't work, but you can take them all apart and see what you think makes them work." They'll sit there and be so excited.


One time they came and I made dry rice and put a drop of food coloring in each little pan of rice. There's something therapeutic about rice. When my husband had his stroke, the therapist would have him pick coins out of the dry rice. There is something about the nerve endings of your fingers that can feel the rice. I get a color wheel and teach them the primary and secondary colors. You've got blue and red and yellow and move them together and you get purple and orange and green. The kids are just so fascinated by that. We play games that are learning.


I think that some children are brilliant, but their brains have never been tapped. Most people entertain their children. You need to read them good stories, but this has to be a learning experience.


My oldest boy got a scholarship to Yale University. He was voted the best physics teacher in America. They had one girl who was a Merit Scholar. She graduated from the Y. They were only able to have one child and then they adopted three children. The oldest girl was inducted into the hall of fame in Texas last year for her high jump records. She lived up in Layton. Their second child, a boy, trains dogs for search and rescue. His german shepherd dog, Ruger has been in several movies. Neil, my grandson just graduated from the University of Utah two weeks ago. He's getting married in August to a girl who graduated in microbiology.


My second boy is a linguist. He knows about nine languages. The part of the brain that holds the language skills must be the side of his brain that has been very good. He graduated in history. He went to BYU and then he went to Hawaii. He was in history and anthropology. With all the cultures in polynesia and coming of age and Samoa, he went to the University and graduated in Hawaii. He worked as an independent. As people would come in to Hawaii, he would help them with their language and money and investments and travel.


Then he met a girl from Germany who is an orthodontist. Her story is another one. She is just adorable. She had two sons. They are in private schools in Germany. They live in Studtgard. They have done so well. He just retired from the Coastguard. He's done a lot of writing for the military. He's helped on some rescue missions on the rivers in Scotland.


When he was in the third grade at Wasatch School, his teacher said to me, "Your son has a very good ability to write." I said, "But he doesn't capitalize and he doesn't punctuate." I'm always saying, "When you write, write it well." He said, "He's kind of a free spirit and if you make too many demands, he may lose his creativity." That didn't makes any sense to me.


When he got in junior high, the english teacher there said the same thing. She said, "He's very good at writing, but he doesn't want to bother to take time to punctuate." He has done a lot of writing. They live over in Studtgard. I've been over several times to Germany. They were here just a few months ago. They have a beautiful home with Persian rugs. My son was straightening the fringe on the rug. I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "These fringes are messed up. Mother, you taught me to be tidy." I said, "I didn't have any rugs with fringes."


He said, "Mrs. Orman told me one time that I was the best dandelion picker. When she hired us kids the rest of them ran away and I stayed and picked until I got them all done." She told me that too. She said, "I don't know how you taught him to stick to a job until it was done. The other kids ran away and he was still there picking the dandelions until I came out and told him to quit." Now he is doing with his two boys, the same things that I taught him about being dependable and being clean and tidy and doing your best and playing the game fair.


My daughter has a son that is a disc jockey. She has a daughter whose husband is a dentist in Salt Lake. She has two daughters that have been on volleyball scholarships. One will be graduating. She has a boy that's still in college.


I have been real proud of my family because they have all been hard workers. They have never had a lot of money given to them. They learned that you have a good satisfaction when you work hard. I think the work philosophy is good. I think kids are hard workers today. If you sit at a computer for six or eight hours and you're moving your mind, that is work. People think they just go to school. That's not just going to school, that's work, but it's satisfying.


Once your brain has been exposed to knowledge and to wisdom, there is no end to what you can do and you want to do it. Mediocrity doesn't have any place in your philosophy once you've been exposed to better. It used to be some kids would get it right to the top and some would say it is lonely at the top. They'd drop down to mediocrity to be socially accepted, because they didn't want to be lonely, but they weren't satisfied with mediocrity, because your potential wasn't being reached.


I think Provo and this area as I look around up and down the streets, I don't know what peoples' situations are today. When I moved up here I didn't know one family that had inherited a lot of money. We had a lot of professional people, and a lot of business people. But they were people that had worked to do it. Their children have learned some of those same ethics. No one is entitled to luxury if you don't put some effort in. The effort you put is rewarded.


There are wonderful opportunities. If you don't learn in this area, I don't know why. You rub shoulders with people every day that are intellects. They're not snobs. They have learned to exercise their minds and learned to be good to people. They've learned to be charitable and to be good friends. They patronize. They welcome new comers. It's such a mobile society nowadays. People fit in better because of it.


I look back and it's a wonder we even survived because we were on such a limited budget. But we did and we made our way in life and we were well accepted and our children did well. What more could you ask for. You can't ask for more than that.


I go to elderhostels which are all over the world. It's a week of study like Education Week. They send out a big catalog and you can pick and choose. They have a lot over at BYU. My husband and I met a lovely couple from New Jersey when we were in Portland. They called the other day from New Jersey and said, "We're coming out to Utah to an elderhostel and we'd like to take you out to dinner. We'll rent a car in Salt Lake and drive down to Southern Utah." I said I'd be delighted.


They came and they couldn't get over the mountains and the friendly people. They took me down to Brick Oven. We had a very nice lunch. We went all around to see the town. They were only here for the afternoon, but they fell in love with Utah and they fell in love with how nice people were. They said they were in Salt Lake and they didn't know a soul. They'd just come in on the plane and didn't know what was going on. They met two young girls. I asked them if they were missionaries and if they had a little sign on. They said, "No." They were probably just guides.


They told them where things were going on. They told them Robert Bowden is putting on his last concert at the tabernacle before he retired. I knew Robert Bowden when he was this big in Rock Springs. His dad was with First Security Bank and I was president of the MIA and his mother was my counselor. I watched Robert grow up and play Rachmaninoff's Preludes. Then he went to either Juliard or Boston Conservatory. Then he came back and has directed the youth choir all these years.


They said these two girls, who were perfect strangers, took them to this concert over at the tabernacle. Then they took them to see the Legacy over at the Memorial Building and they took them to the Museum of Art where the Relief Society Building is. They just took them all over. They didn't spend one cent. They couldn't get over it. They said, "How did the Mormons afford to give us all these beautiful things?"


My granddaughter's husband is an auditor in the church office building. They took them in there and they couldn't get over the quality. They didn't know my grandson worked up there. They could have gone and seen him. He would have been very cordial. Then they went over to the Temple Grounds and they had the missionary guides there. They went into the Visitors Center. They said, "Back in New Jersey, they've got some old covered bridges from way back when and you can't go through one without charging you $5.00. Here we came to Utah and everything was so wonderful and so refined and so clean and these people were so friendly and nice. They didn't push us into anything." They were so impressed.


They loved the mountains. They just couldn't get over it because New Jersey is so flat. They asked me to go with them down to southern Utah, but I had other things to do and I couldn't. They really got a fine impression, except the freeway. They're used to things being torn up. They loved my little home and my yard. They said, "You can walk over to BYU. You can walk to this little store. How much better could you have it?" They were really pleased.


Provo has been good to us. Provo has been a good city for us to live in. Even though you weren't immediately absorbed and everybody hooted and hollered over you, you learn that you don't have to be a big show to impress people. You're just yourself. You're not trying to convert the world to your popularity. Just be yourself and do kind things and do nice things.


The thing that I think about this neighborhood that I've always loved is that everybody is willing to recognize the abilities of other people's children. I haven't seen any sign of people being jealous because other people's children got awards or this or that. Everybody has been thrilled. It's one more child that has done well. You go up and down this street and there's hardly a house that I can't name someone who has done well. They've done well in either business or teaching or computer work or doctors or dentists. It's a remarkable neighborhood. You couldn't find it better.


When new people come into the area they're welcomed. We have a lot of younger people now because a lot of us older ones are getting elderly. We still have our little position. They come to us for advice and do a lot of thing. It's just a nice place to live. I can't think of a nicer place. I've been here since 1951 and I've seen a lot of changes.


When Art built this home, this was nothing but pear orchards. They cut down all the pear orchards, bought the land and sold the pear wood for fireplaces. This church over here was dedicated in 1957. This tells how much it cost. It only had 1000 members. The stake went down clear to the river bottoms. Everything clear up here was all one stake. There were hardly any homes up on the hill, even when I moved here. I lived over on Elm Street.


Every year we had a big carnival. They'd have Ferris wheels and everybody would bring food. We'd get script and then donate to the building fund. They'd have a big party and a big celebration for a couple of nights. They'd have dinner. They brought Art Linkletter in. They had all kinds of things.


This is Gifford Nelson's little sister. They were in the Second Ward and we were in the First Ward. This is one of the first Sunday School classes in this building over here.


We didn't have nice benches. We just had fold up chairs. We built this side first then the other side. The whole building only cost, including land, clearing, excavation, outside landscaping and planting, foundation and bricks for chapel and other related facilities needed for a four ward operation with Relief Society and Scout rooms, two stages, enlarged recreational facilities, all donated and paid, this whole great big building only came to $415,000. There is a lot of homes now in the valley that are that much.


This was dedicated in 1957 and we only had two wards. Now we've got eight or nine and it goes clear up to the hill.


WINN:What are some of the major changes that you've witnessed in Provo?


WILLIAMS:The big companies have gobbled up the little companies. There is no Mom and Pop stores left at all. Everything is in the malls. Now we have three malls. There is one out in the river bottoms, River Grove. Then there is the University Mall and East Bay. Provo's growth has been huge.


When we first came to Provo, most of the farming area was either on the west side close to the lake or out in Orem where they had countless wonderful orchards. Provo always thought Orem was their country and that they were a little inferior to Provo because of the University. The people that lived close to the University may have been a little snooty. Now it's all run in together. Orem and Provo are not such separate cities. The Chamber of Commerce is the Orem/Provo Chamber of Commerce. Some things have meshed together. I don't think there is the rivalry. Yet a lot of people who lived out there were a lot wealthier than the poor school teachers.


There was something about the intellectualism and especially in this area. People could walk to school and rent places for students to help pay their house payments. I think that that has been a change. Now a lot of people work in Provo and live in Orem. There are a lot of big industries in Orem. It's kind of melted out snobbery. It's more all one. That's good.


Brigham Young prophesied that someday it would go clear from Ogden to Nephi and would be all one continuous bunch of people and houses and businesses. It used to be this town then a big space. Now it's all together. If I haven't been out in Orem for a while I can't get over how many homes have been built and how many businesses have gone in there.


The market might be over saturated because of the pending Olympics. They surely can't make a lot of the money they'll invest back in a couple of weeks on the Olympics. But they say that technically and statistically this is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. The tax base is pretty low. It's a good climate and there is a lot of intellectual things. It's a good place to retire for older people because of church activity and the temples. There is a lot of things that draw people into the valley which will bring a lot of growth.


Years ago people didn't want to do a lot of things, because they didn't want it to grow. They wanted it to stay the same. Nothing stays the way it is. The steel plant came to town and a lot of other industries and pretty soon it was just a little city.


WINN: Have there been any major issues that have affected Provo, besides the mall controversies?


WILLIAMS: This leeway that we just voted down I worked on the election board as a judge. It was voted down four to one. It was to float a bond for more money to help the children who aren't learning to read. People were saying that's the parents' responsibility not the average tax payers' responsibility. A lot of people are saying, where do people bring children into the world and then turn them over to the Kiwanis Club or the church or mentors to teach them to read. Where do the parents come into their lack of responsibility? I don't know that you can force a parent to be a good parent. That's one of the new issues.


Then the issue about the Smith's Store coming in on the west part of town has been a real issue. The Ironton Project was an issue for a long time. There have been a lot of controversial issues. Some of them pass. The library that used to be part of the old downtown campus. That passed and now they're saying they don't have near enough money and people are saying, "I'm sick of them coming back and asking for more money. We voted for a certain amount and now that isn't enough. Tough cream puff." I don't know what the end of that will be.


This has floated around for years. I'm not one who signs a lot of petitions. I have to know the issue pretty well before I'm willing to say whether I believe or not believed. I want to be more informed. They had a lady who ran a rest home over this street, just down from where your grandma lives. I don't know whether you'd call it commercial zoning.


When these homes were built, and I don't know if this was a form of snobbery, they passed a rule that these homes were to be single family homes. They weren't to be rented out. The professors were some of the worst offenders. They built homes and they built basement apartments and the college kids needed places to live. I didn't see a thing wrong with that. I couldn't vote against it because it didn't affect me. If a college kid wanted to live up here, not park a bunch of junky cars around why shouldn't they be able to live here. Or if a grandmother wants to let the children live there while they're going to school, I think that's personal. But they fought that tooth and toe nail.


The lady who had the rest home only had about ten people. One of the doctors in town said his mother was there and he was happy with the treatment she got. They were saying they don't have a fire alarm. So she went out of business.


There are still do gooders who are saying, "We are going to get rid of any rentals." They're not going to get rid of any rentals, because this is a strong segment. A lot of people buy property and they will it to their families. There is a home over here and the people were from California and they have a big family. They have nice children and about eight of those kids have lived in that house periodically, married, graduated from college, and have been good citizens. Why is that wrong? Who is to tell people how they can spend their money? They say, "They're breaking the building code."


When I see things like this, I don't know if it's a real reform measure, or if it's just a thing of saying, "This is exclusive, so we don't have to have two families living in the same domain." That's been as long as time was. Years ago during the depression people lived in other people's homes because they didn't have anywhere to live and no jobs. Maybe I'm a little liberal on some of those things.


There are some things you cannot fight if you're going to live in Provo. You might as well know it. If you don't want to abide by those, then you go somewhere else. One was BYU and one was the church. They're both good influences. They've helped make progress. They've helped bring revenue in to the community. There is a lot of good things that those two things have brought. For you to always be bucking BYU and blaming everything on to the students is wrong. The students get the blame for everything. All of the students are bad. If you're going to live here, you have to go by the church rules. Maybe they're a little odd to some people. That's alright. If you don't want to live here, you can move somewhere else. If you don't want to go to school here and wear shoes, then you can go somewhere else. But you can't lobby over there to tell everybody to go barefooted. It's just that simple.


WINN: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

Interviewee: Thelma Williams
Interviewer: Jennifer Winn
May 27, 1999



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