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Historic Provo

Oral History of Wilma Hicken


BLAIR: Today is July 18, 1999. I'm here in Provo, Utah with Wilma Hicken at her home at 710 West 100 South. This is Bridgette Blair. When did you move here?

HICKEN: August of 1950.

BLAIR: Why did you move here?

HICKEN: His folks were up there. We had rented our house in Orem to a couple and we said if they rented it we would let them rent it for a year. The year wasn't quite up when we decided to come back. So we bought this and have been here ever since.

BLAIR: Can you describe Provo at the time?

HICKEN: When we came here the oil in the street was only down the middle. It was dirt on both sides. They had just put in the curb and gutter. Ours was paved, but there were others that were still paying for it. As the years have gone by they have curb.

When we moved here the drive strips had weeds in them shoulder high. That was the first thing my husband wanted to do was get rid of the weeds and put in grass. One of the neighbors brought us over some wire to put around it so no one would walk across our new lawn. It's still there.

It was an old neighborhood then. It was quite run down. People moved in and upgraded everything. Now it's a special part of town.

BLAIR: How big was the ward at that time?

HICKEN: I don't know actual numbers. It was the Provo Second Ward. It was one of the wards formed when in August 1852 Provo was divided into four wards. Before that it was the Provo Branch. The first, second, third and fourth wards were made out of the old Provo branch. My husband was a seventy. When we looked at the records, his great grandfather was also a seventy in the quorum of the seventy. That was special to us that he had been in the same quorum.

It was a single ward for a long time. Then they were going to build the new chapel. The old chapel was old and wasn't big enough and we were increasing in numbers. Students lived down here and went to the Y. Then they decided to build a new building. It took quite a while. That was nice.

They had divided the Sunset wards off. Provo Second Ward used to go from University Avenue west to the lake and from Center Street south to the lake. The pioneers in Rivergrove were all in this stake. All of a sudden there are about five stakes in what used to be the Second Ward. That has changed. It's always been wonderful people in all these wards. One time I was stake president of the primary, so I got to meet quite a few people in each ward. I enjoyed that.

BLAIR: What was the organization of the church like?

HICKEN: When we were going to build the new building, the bishop and his counselors went around and looked at all the vacant lots in the ward and knew how many new homes could be built. And then they changed it into multi-level housing and now there are lots of people. There are three stakes now.

BLAIR: You didn't have all your meetings on Sunday like we do now.

HICKEN: We met on Sundays always, but we had Relief Society and primary during the week. We did have Sunday School in the morning and then come back at 7:00 in the evening for Sacrament Meeting. It is so much nicer now that we have the block. It gives you more time to visit family.

BLAIR: Your kids went to which schools?

HICKEN: They went to Franklin. In junior high they went to Dixon. Then they went to Provo High. The ones that went to college went to BYU.

BLAIR: Were you pleased with their education?


BLAIR: Do you remember any teachers?

HICKEN: I know some of the favorites down here. Down the street was the first grade teacher. She started out with kindergarten, then went to first grade. She said, "I will not have a kid come out of the first grade that can't read." She was really strong on that. She was really strong on phonetics and sounding out words. As a result, most of my kids are very good readers. She was the only kindergarten teacher. Some went in the morning and some went in the afternoon. They had her. Then they moved her on to the first grade and she taught that. Usually she would see that my kids got very good teachers.

One year my youngest son, who was not a bookworm, had this one teacher in the third grade. She said, "Jim, you can be a better student than that, I know because of your brother, Steve." That made my husband very angry. He said, "You go back and tell her you're not a Steve, you're a Jim." What did they do? They moved her into fourth grade, so he had her two years in a row. I really should have had him changed to another one. When Sarah was seeing that they got good teachers I thought, "Maybe they're missing something from the teacher they would have had." So I didn't say anything.

They all got through grade school and enjoyed it. It was only two blocks. When we moved here, the high school was only three blocks away. It was where the police station is now. That was the high school. Then they moved the high school up to University Avenue where it is now. When that got too big, a woman got up in Relief Society and she said, "When you're coming up to vote on this school, you vote against it. They've got that planned for 400 students." A woman across the street said, "How will I vote?" I said, "For the new high school. They know how many students they've got." Now they've even had to build another high school since then. They've built on to the old high school three or four times. It was good that we started out with 400 students. They knew how many were going to go there.

Then all these people moved in and all this developed down here. I can't believe what used to be fields are now houses. Another interesting thing I thought was one year the water was so high in the lake there was a boat house down there and the water was clear up within a foot and a half of the eaves of the boat house. It's gone now. It left its high water mark there. There was one home down there and it was flooded too. They put dikes to keep the water from coming up on the farms. Now most of the farms are houses.

BLAIR: My mother said Provo has changed incredibly just in twenty years. She loved it here. She thought for sure she wanted to live here. She still likes Provo, but it's just a lot bigger. She said that the lake has been polluted a lot by Geneva Steel. I wouldn't know because I've never seen anything.

HICKEN: Anywhere you've got people going out on the lake, there will be pollution, whether it was all Geneva Steel or not. They did their part.

During World War II my husband was overseas and there used to be a pleasure boat down on Utah Lake. I can't remember what it was called. KOVO, which was our local radio station, had a big party on this boat. It was so nice. My sister-in-law worked there, so I went as her partner. There were no men. They were all overseas. We went out on this boat and we had the best time. It was like you see on the Mississippi River, only smaller. So we did our share of pollution. We threw our paper plates and watched them sail on the water. We did our share too.

Then the airport has gotten much bigger since then. It was there when we moved here. It's gotten bigger.

BLAIR: Which wars came after you moved here?

HICKEN: The Korean War was first and my oldest son was in that. Then Vietnam. I didn't have any in it.

BLAIR: Was it a mandatory draft?

HICKEN: No, he joined.

BLAIR: Was Provo involved in that and were people aware of what was going on on the other side of the world?

HICKEN: Do you ever know what's going on? I do know with World War II no one that I ever heard of resented having to go to war. It was our life. Either we stayed free or we were slaves to Germany. When my husband was in Hawaii, he was a medic. He was a lab technician. They spent four months in Hawaii. Pearl Harbor was before he was drafted. They spent 59 days rendezvousing after his training out to Okinawa on a hospital ship. He said they rendezvoused for 59 days off the shore of Okinawa because it hadn't been secured. Finally the Japanese suicide planes were coming in to hit the ships and they all went overboard and went on to the island that wasn't secure. They lost a lot of men and a lot came back.

BLAIR: Provo is this little town far in the west. Did people know what was going on?

HICKEN: We knew if we didn't fight and stick up for America that the Germans would take us over, just like they did some of the other countries. I had a brother that was in Holland on a mission when the war broke out. He finished his mission in St. Louis and Kansas in the Central States Mission. They got all the missionaries out of those countries before they were invaded. We felt fortunate there.

Once my husband gave a talk in church and he was telling something about his time in the service. If he had been older, they wouldn't have taken him. I can remember him saying in church that if they needed him, he would go again. It's the soldiers that you don't see very many of complaining. It was their duty. And it kept their homes, families and country free. That was the thing. We never regretted it, only being away from home. We had a little boy that was a year old when he went in the service.

I lived with my in-laws up on 800 East. My sister-in-law worked for KOBO and another girl lived there and went to BYU. One day Grandma said to me, "Wilma, this is silly for five adults to raise this one little boy." So I went and got a job. It was her home. I couldn't very well say, "You go get a job." She was sixty. I worked in Woolworths. I worked for $17 a week. That doesn't sound like very much, but we got by. We made do. I'm not against wives going to work. But do they go for luxury or do they go because it necessity?

A week ago my family had a party for my eightieth birthday. They wrote me letters. That was the one thing that especially one son-in-law said was that you stayed home with your family. His dad had died when he was two and his mother had always worked. He said no one was ever home when he came home. He really appreciated that. Their family is nearly all grown and my daughter never went to work.

BLAIR: That's definitely changed in the world today. It probably wasn't even so much that way 20 years ago. But more and more people are going to work.

HICKEN: Is it necessity, or is it luxury?

BLAIR: Did you keep up with local politics?

HICKEN: I was in scouting and so was my husband. Earl Dixon was at one time a commissioner and mayor. My husband and I were Provo Peak Scouters. Those are the ones that have been outstanding scout leaders who receive this award. Earl Dixon was one of the first that did it. Every summer we had a party up the canyon. This last one was held on June 19 and Earl Dixon was there. He drove up by himself. Not only that, two or three years ago my son built a tree house where our cabin is and Earl came back and said, "I climbed up to the tree house."

BLAIR: How old is he?

HICKEN: He is 90. It was in the paper when he turned 90.

BLAIR: Was he the mayor?

HICKEN: Yes, and he was also a commissioner. You could find that record. A lot of really outstanding people here have been scouters.

BLAIR: What kinds of things did you do with scouting?

HICKEN: When I was stake president of the primary, the woman that was stake president before me, when cubbing came into the church, Sister Parmley, said to her, "You have just never accepted scouting." I was the one that followed her, so it fell to me. Scouting was under me as stake primary president. My husband had been a scout master and we'd work with the cubs.

At one time he was the cub master of three packs, the 2nd and 11th. Then we worked with the handicapped at the day care center. Nothing that we did for one worked with the other. Our whole family was out at the day care center. They were the cutest little boys you ever saw. Their mentality was very limited. One little boy was tested and his mentality was that of a three year old. The day care center was out by the river. The Provo Lions were the sponsors of these. Rulon Skinner was the Provo district official. We got all involved there. That was really nice.

Years later when these boys were going into scouting, they had a court of honor for these boys to go in. This little one that was supposed to have a three year mentality, I didn't think any of them would remember us, even though we had the whole family out there and I was the den mother. When we walked in, the teacher was putting a neckerchief on this little boy. He ran over and threw his arms around me. He went back and she was putting the neckerchief on and he ran back and hugged me again. His memory was alright, even if his mentality was only a three year old.

Jay Jolley was the same. We went to his sister's wedding one day and Russ walked over to him and said, "Jay, do you know me?" "Yes." He thought and thought and couldn't remember Russ' name. I walked up and he threw his arms around me and said, "Mrs. Hicken." Then she turned to him. Later on some of those boys got their Eagle scouts. One of the men here, Woody, just worked and worked to get handicapped people to be able to receive the Eagle award. The national council finally agreed to do it. There were three, four or five boys that received their Eagle that night that were mentally retarded or had Downs Syndrome.

I am the secretary of the Provo Peak Scouters and it was started in 1951. It took all the churches in town. There were two guys from the Catholic Church. We held our district roundtables at the Community Church for a long time until we got too big. We've been involved in scouting for a long time.

BLAIR: It seems now there are more non-members. How were the non-members involved in the community?

HICKEN: Some were scouting with no religion at all. The Catholic Church had a pack and the Community Church and I believe the Seventh Day Adventists did too. We all cooperated very well. It was neat.

BLAIR: Can you tell me where you did your grocery and clothes shopping. There wasn't a mall.

HICKEN: Allens had a big store on the other corner across from Allens. Reams was just down here. We didn't stay completely with one. We went around.

BLAIR: They were big grocery stores?

HICKEN: They weren't terribly big. They were a little bigger than just neighborhood stores. They just kept growing. Then Allens were renting there and when Albertsons wanted to come in, they bought that and Allens stayed for a little while, and did a real good business. Then they moved up onto 7th East and 3rd South where they built a bigger store. They're still doing very well. They have one in Springville. At one time they had one in Orem. I don't know whether they still do. We watch the ads.

BLAIR: How did young ladies spend their time as teenagers?

HICKEN: Everything is so involved in church and they don't need much on the outside. That and schools. In fact with my oldest son, one semester the girls took shop and the boys took cooking. I still have a flap jack recipe my oldest son brought home. He would cook hot cakes anytime he wanted to. It was interesting. It makes better husbands out of them if they know. He even made himself two shirts.

BLAIR: Were T.V. and movies a big thing for your children?

HICKEN: We got our first television in 1952.

BLAIR: Was it a big novelty?

HICKEN: Yes. Madelyn Anderson two houses across the street had one. All the kids were welcome to come and watch it. This sounds funny, but we sold our house in Orem and it paid off this house plus $245. So they decided to get a television. I said, "If you're going to have a television, I want a dishwasher, because I want to watch it too." That's when I got my first dishwasher, in 1952. I've had a couple since. I wore them out. It was good. At first there wasn't too much on television and there wasn't any of the sleaze that is there now.

BLAIR: Do you remember any shows?

HICKEN:  I Love Lucy and the one that used to tell stories to kids. One day she put her finger to her eye and it dawned on me she had a contact and it was slipping a little. We loved the westerns like Hopalong Cassidy with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

When we were up in Logan in 1940, we could take a dollar and go downtown and each of us could have a hamburger and a milkshake, the two of us. Hamburgers were ten cents. It all depends on whether we walked or whether we rode the bus. There was a farmer up there that would deliver milk right to our door. It was seventeen quarts for a dollar.

BLAIR: What movies did you watch?

HICKEN: Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy. Lana Turner and Bing Crosby and all that bunch were real popular. They put on good shows. Many were musicals.

BLAIR: It seems like the construction of homes have gotten a lot bigger. People build really big homes. Was it that way when you first moved here or were homes smaller?

HICKEN: When we moved here, this door was in. There were two bedrooms, a front room and a kitchen. Then we built on the utility room, because my son needed a bedroom and we put a single bed there. That's where he slept. Years later we decided our family was growing. These were ten foot ceilings and we lowered them to eight feet. That left a lot of space up there. There was enough to put a bedroom over there and over here. We decided the stairs would have to go up the ceiling and put it up there. He said, "Why don't we take the roof off." That's what we did. There are four bedrooms and a bath upstairs.

BLAIR: The ceilings were a lot higher. Why did they do that?

HICKEN: It's just the way they were. I don't really know. A lot of the old houses were. The bathroom and one of the bedrooms and this room had ten foot ceilings. That bedroom and the kitchen had a shed roof on it. They were added after. It was moved in from 3rd South and 7th East. Allens Store was on that side of the street and it was on this side. They moved the entire house. We thought this house was built in about 1890. We've really changed it.

BLAIR: What were the celebrations you remember?

HICKEN: I can remember once going to a circus in the south fields. I can't tell you exactly where but it was southwest in a farmer's fields. There was a circus and a merry-go-round and ferris wheel. They always used to have a big celebration on the 4th of July and the 24th. The 24th wasn't as big as the 4th. They've just kept growing and growing. We had the parade route on Pioneer Park. This is Pioneer Park, but that one has pioneer heritage in it. We had big celebrations.

The church was in charge as I remember. We'd bake things to take to them. We had all these cakes and cookies and pies and we'd freeze them and then bring them out and sell them. There was a lot of handiwork and they had booths and we sold them. We used to have real good celebrations.

BLAIR: Is there anything else you'd like to say?

HICKEN: I didn't know what you were going to ask, so I don't think I have anything else to say.

Interviewee: Wilma Hicken
Interviewer: Bridgette Blair
July 18, 1999

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