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WALKER FAMILY HISTORY

RALPH H. WALKER INTERVIEW
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH, 10 JUNE, 1996

 

Bill: Are you prepared to tell me about your Mom and Dad?

Ralph: Oh, a little bit. You ask the questions.

Bill: You told me a story yesterday about Wilford Heninger that nobody has ever told me before. Tell me that story.

Ralph: Wilfordís middle name was Abidjah, and one time when we were kids we really cracked up at Wilford. Every time Wilford got up in church to make a speech, or give a sermon, he cried, literally cried. Tears would stream down his face. He was very emotional. He was doing the tribute to the mothers on behalf of the Bishopric, during the Motherís Day ceremony. In the old Raymond Second Ward, the Bishopric and the Sunday School Superintendancy always organized almost the same program every year. Every woman that came in the door got a little potted geranium.

It was a special service. No classes, or anything like that, just the Mothersí Day service. Wilford was up speaking, giving the tribute, the tears were streaming down his face, and his voice always quaked, in a tremolo when he was speaking. He said: Thank God for my mother, if it werenít for my Mother, all I would be named is Abijah.

Bill: Tell me about your Dad and his counselors, Wilford Heninger and Les Palmer.

Ralph: They were three very different people in many ways. I think as a Bishopric in a little town, they brought different perspectives; which I found was very unusual. Each of them had their own personalities, Dad was a very dominant type of character. Wilford was not cowed by anybody, I donít think, but he was one of these very kindly type of people. Les had his own opinions and he wasnít afraid to express them. Their relationship extended beyond being in the Bishopric. It was a very personal relationship, as well.

I suspect that Wilford probably was the closest friend my father had. As a little kid sitting in Dadís office, I remember during the winter time, sometimes the three of them would have informal Bishopric meetings, sitting around the old pot-bellied stove in the office, because it was warm there. Dad was there all the time, and Les was just down the street at the Post Office, and Wilford couldnít farm, cause it was winter. I donít know about their formal Bishopric meetings, but they certainly did keep minutes of everything they talked about, Iíll tell you that. They were very different people.

One of the points of contention in a little town like Raymond was Coca Cola. Les always used to drink Coca Cola. And he would have a bag or a box full of Coke behind the counter at the Post Office. People were pretty careful about what they said, but it was a point of contention. I donít think it ever came up in Bishopís meeting though.

Bill: Well, your Dad didnít drink Coke.

Ralph: Oh no, no no. That was anathema. That was anathema.

Bill: Do you have any recollection of when your Dad was a counselor in the Bishopric?

Ralph: No, that was before my time.

Bill: How much younger are you than my Dad?

Ralph: A lot. I was born in 1924, so Iím 12 years younger than Harris.

Bill: So, he was pretty much gone before you remember much?

Ralph: Oh no, I should say not.

Bill: What are your early memories of him?

Ralph: I think in some ways, when we were little kids, I was going to say: We hero worshipped him.

Bill: Just the boys in the family, or other too?

Ralph: Other kids too. Because he was so proficient in athletics. Athletics was a big part of our lives. Your father had actually done so many things, it appeared to be so many things by the time he left home.... You look up to your big brother anyway, but he was a star athlete. He knew how to play the violin. When he went to Normal School and came back, he was a school teacher at an early age.

I donít know if youíve got this in any of your other interviews, but when your father was teaching up at Kimball, he organized a small group that played at little country dances. He was telling us one time, that they got over to some little country dance, I donít know where it was... well, they had forgotten their music, so they got a hymn book, and they played the music out the hymn book at the tempo they wanted to have for their little country dance.

As little kids we really admired your father. Weíve admired him all of our lives, as a matter of fact. We looked up to him, and he was the oldest in the family. He and Fay used to have great disagreements sometimes, and sometimes they would be reduced to physicality. Occasionally Dad would come in and break them up when they were having a tussle.

Your father was a leader. Very much so. He always was.

Bill: Tell me about your Mother. Tell me a little about her and her personality, and the things she liked to do and the things she emphasized in her life.

Ralph: I think of my Mother as being a very unusual person. Her temperament was such, and her abilities were such that almost everybody would love Mother. She had a very tough side to her that wasnít obvious to most people. She didnít necessarily apply it a great deal -- in terms of being overly tough as a harsh disciplinarian, or anything like that with the children.

Ralph: Mother was very talented, quite apart from being extremely well organized. Raising that many kids, she carried through on certain principles. Iím not talking about religious principles, I mean personal principles. Such as - she felt that it was necessary almost always to have an order in our home...so that she could have a modest amount of cash flow, quite apart from what we had coming through our Father. She owned her own farm, and that was a little farm, but it was her farm. Not my Dadís. It had nothing to do with what he was doing. It was hers.

Bill: Did she buy that before she was married?

Ralph: It was a farm, by the Jensen farm, out on the north side of town. All of Dadís land was out east and south of town. I think she must have been in her 50s before she agreed to trade that land for a piece of ground close to where my Fatherís land was.

Mother was busy. She had lots to do. She was a hard worker. She involved herself in the community, not just in the church, but in the community.

She loved art. There are still some of Motherís paintings around. Mary has some, Beth has some, I think. Bob has some.

She loved books, and literature. She loved music. The old wind-up phonograph that we used to have... She had some good records. I remember not much about it, but scratchy Caruso, and stuff like that. She liked good music, and she liked good books. One of the things she did was collect books. My Father liked to read, but he used to read mainly church-type books. Mother had a broader taste for literature than my father.

A few isolated incidents in terms of her independent thinking process: If I remember rightly, my Father had finally bought my Mother an electric stove. We had a big old coal stove in the kitchen. It took my Mother a little while to get used to using an electric stove, so we had both. We had the coal stove and we had the electric stove.

When they bought an old square tub Maytag washer with a wringer on the top of it, Mother wasnít sure if she wanted to use the wringer, rather than the old hand wringer that she was accustomed to, for some time. She had to adapt to things like that.

That was her independence. Father would buy these things. Iím sure they talked abut them, but she had to get used to using them before she would really use them. She wouldnít dive in, in a hurry.

One unusual story about Mother: She and Lizzy King were driving down to Milk River to sing at a funeral. My Father had just bought a new Ford car. All the roads were gravel. I was sitting on a tractor, running around in the field on the farm out east of town, when they went past. I waved at them as them were going down the road in this brand new car. Late that afternoon, they are coming back down the road, coming into Raymond, and I could see them coming in but it was not the same car. It doesnít look like the same car. Its a brand new car, but they had gone down on the road to Milk River where you used to go down this hill and cross this bridge before you got into town. Mother had got excited, she saw something, and she stepped on the gas instead of the brake, and she had rolled the car. They got it tipped up, and continued on their way, and went and sang at the funeral and then came home. But Dadís new car wasnít particularly a new car when it came back.

Bill: How did he react to that?

Ralph: Oh, with Mother, he had all kinds of patience. He had patience with a lot of people, although some of the time he didnít have much with the family, the kids - probably deservedly so. But with Mother, he always had patience. They made an unusual couple; a very capable couple.

Bill: You mentioned your Mother wanted an order in the house.

Ralph: The rules in the house werenít terribly strict, but in some ways they were. We were raised to understand that there were certain things that you were supposed to do, and certain things you werenít supposed to do. Sometimes we did both. Mother was not the tough disciplinarian. She had an awful lot of work to do, first of all. It was a big family, a big house, and their involvement in the church, and items of that nature. So she needed somebody around, but most of the time she seemed to want somebody else beside the family there. I think it was partially a monetary thing, and it may have been a social thing, too. She wanted to help people, obviously. But she had people around and we were all assigned responsibilities. It was not necessarily systematic, like this is your job this week sort of thing. My memory of it was that it was more on an ad hoc situation. The division of labor was more on the traditional line; if you can call it a division of labor - that the girls basically were in the house, but they were also out in the garden, and the boys are in the garden or out on the farm when they got older.

Mother ran the house during the course of the day. Iím sure she and Dad talked about what the kids should be doing during the course of the day, before he went to work. He was not the guy who was up and gone and in his office at 6:30 in the morning. He would usually be up and have his bowl of oatmeal and mush and the kids would be off to school most of the time before he went to work. They talked about it, and I presume Mother followed through with what they had agreed that the kids should be doing throughout the day.

We were not discriminated against in being assigned chores in the house. Not because we were male and female, but the girls basically migrated that way and I think that was deliberate on the part of our parents. That may not fly in todayís life, and maybe it wasnít fair in those days. That was Motherís role.

Fatherís role in that was quite different. He expected us, as we were growing up as boys, to learn how to do all the work on the farm. The older ones, your Father and Fay particularly, when they were growing up as small kids, we had the big yard, and we had the corral, and we had milk cows and chickens and pigs and horses all right there on the property (next to the house). I think their responsibility was heavier than ours to begin with. But the younger kids all had their jobs. We had to do the chores, in due course, and as Harris and Fay got older they went to the farm, and as we got older we went to the farm. By the time we were 10 years old we were out stooking grain, and working on the farm during harvest and spring and by the time we were into our early teens, we were not just expected to be at the top of our classes academically, but we were also expected to be on the honor rolls, which used to be there, which let you out of school a month early. Not so that we could have the academic honor, but so that we could work on the farm.

At harvest time, I remember Bob and myself particularly; I donít think we ever started school before nearly the end of September, unless there was a storm and we couldnít harvest. Our responsibility was there, and most of us during the winter months had to report into (Dadís) office after school. The boys particularly. We had to report into the office after school. It was excellent training. We learned something about bookkeeping, by pasting the checks in the checks book and moving from there into simple reconciliation of bank accounts, and then moving from there into simple financial statements and journals, to ledgers. This was our winter education.

Bill: Do you have any recollection of your Dad being called as Stake President?

Ralph: Yes. It was 1947. He had been on the High Council for a short time, and then he was called to be Stake President. Of course, it was a big change. There hadnít been many Stake Presidents before him, I think only two, if Iím not mistaken. H.S. Allen and T. George Wood.

So it became somewhat of a radical change, in a small town, the social structure at the top of the church had moved from the west side of town to the east side of town. And that in itself, I think represented an element of philosophy.

My Father being called to be Stake President also represented, I think, an interim period between the original church movement of selecting people who had come from Utah at the behest of the church to become leaders; (not just in the church, but also in the community -- for example, T. George Wood having been brought in to run Utah-Idaho Sugar coming from Salt Lake) and then my Father, although he came from Utah, representing a totally different ... On a strategic basis, I think that was what was deemed to be a policy in the church at that time. My Father fit that role perfectly. And he also fit it at a time where the domestic needs, in terms of the community, were answered. For the simple reason, there were many immigrants, and he had been extremely active in the community. Not in the high profile social aspects of the community, but in getting things done. These were the years just coming out of the war years, where there were still a lots of feelings, and there was a lot of immigration, and my Father was accustomed to dealing with non-American, non-Canadian residents. I think this mainly came because of his personal attributes, but also partially because of his job responsibilities. He had been one of the prime movers in helping to accommodate and bring in the Japanese people, the Yugoslavs, the Croatians, the Hungarians, and the church as a result of the internationalization of the world as an outgrowth of the war, the church in Raymond was faced with a need to take a broader perspective of the involvement of non-Mormon people in the community.

Bill: Dad told me that Grandpaís funeral told a lot about Grandpaís life, because everybody in the community was there. He said all the Europeans, just like you had mentioned, were there. It wasnít just a Mormon funeral. He represented the whole community.

Ralph: These people had an awful lot of respect for Dad. They had that respect for him before he was Stake President. The changes when he became Stake President represented a major change and thrust of the church, per se, as a portion of the community, rather than the community. In the early stages, obviously, the church had been the community.

When Dad came in, I think that represented that change, and it bridged a period of time, in a community like Raymond, which had an exposure internationally through the church activities, and through Mormonism and through the missionary aspect of things, but also by the introduction of these non-Mormon elements that my Father had been partially instrumental in bringing into town. Iím not sure whether youíll find any place in your records, that he was one of the prime movers (way before he was Stake President) in trying to get the church to donate the old church to the Japanese for the first Buddhist temple.

Bill: My Dad told me about that. I also had an interesting interview a few years ago with J. Golden Snow, where he told me about Grandpa making an exchange of the Opera House, which had been owned by the church. President Snow told me that some people thought Grandpa had a pretty radical idea when he wanted to trade the building to the school district.

Ralph: When Dad was Stake President, because of his broader community involvement, I think he was able to move in a more practical way into areas that were somewhat foreign to others. When you went out to Wrentham, for example (or places like that), which were all of 25 miles away. On the east side (of the Stake) you were moving almost out of Mormon country, and my Father had a lot of acquaintances over in those areas. There were a lot of Mormon people living over there, and they really werenít being serviced a great deal.

In Milk River, for example, he had good friends there that were not Mormon. One of his better friends was a guy by the name of George Madge, down there. George didnít particularly like the Mormons, but he liked my Father.

Dad went down, when he decided they should have a Milk River Branches; he went down and got Woody Stringham, who owned the theater there. Woody had come out of a big ranching family, a good Mormon family, and sat with a big cigar in his mouth and talked with my Dad. My Dad told Woody he was going to be the Branch President.

Bill: My Dad told be that story.

Ralph: Well, Woody told me that story!

Bill: Tell me a little about your recollection of your Dadís political career and your perspective on that.

Ralph: Maybe a little different from the other kids. I think partially from my Fatherís influence, I got involved briefly in politics. One of my earliest exposures to my Dad being involved in politics..the first campaign that he lost.. he was a supporter of the United Farmers of Alberta, at one point. Then when he ran the first time, Solon Low beat him. My Father won the second time.

They used to bring the kids up to Edmonton once in a while. My Mother and Father would stay at the MacDonald. I remember one time I was up there staying with them and we were having dinner in the dining room. It was an old CPR Hotel, with linen, with crystal, with waiters with white gloves and all this stuff behind you. I was pretty excited because about two tables over was Bill Aberhart, the Premier. I said to my Dad: "Look, thereís Mr. Aberhart, heís the Premier." My Father was the leader of the Opposition (in the Legislature), and he said: "Youíve got to learn one thing about people in this world. Heís a man, and he puts his pants on just the same way I do."

A very practical thing.

I had the opportunity of meeting a lot of people that have been in politics with my Father. After I got fooling around in politics, and my Father introduced me to politics after his experience. He introduced me to George Lommis, and Senator Buchanan in Lethbridge. I guess Iíd been home off my mission about a year. The Federal election was coming, and these Liberals were looking for a young Mormon guy who could be a campaign manager for Ernie McFarlane, who didnít like the Mormons one iota.

George and the old Senator asked my Father about it, and he said maybe you should talk to Ralph. So they interviewed me and hired me. Through that I got to meet a lot of the people, who on a political basis, not a personal basis, without my father who had been associated with my father. There was a common thread with all these people: Jim Mahafee, Jack Pole, Wilf Edgar, people like that. Percy Page, The thread was respect. They didnít all agree with everything my Father tried to do in politics, but they did all agree that he was honest, maybe too uncompromising in some things to be a good politician.

Bill: Thatís what Lyman Jacobs told me when I interviewed Lyman once. He said:" Your Grandpa was too honest. He always told people what he really thought. And that wasnít the right formula for politics."

Ralph: Well, having been around it a bit, there was an element of respect, and recognition of his integrity and his leadership ability was very common for these people. They were very practical politicians, the guys on the edge of the politicians. Old Senator Buchanan owned the Lethbridge Herald, and he ended up in the Senate. You had Wilf Edgar, who never did get to the Senate, but was one of the most influential people in the Liberal party during the last days of MacKenzie King and all through Luois St. Laurentís Prime Ministership. Youíve got Jim Mahafee who ended up as a one of the wealthiest lawyers in Calgary, and was first Chairman of Alberta Natural Gas, and other companies of this nature. When they talked about politics, they were practical politicians, and politics is essentially, or theoretically is the art of compromise. The element of compromise is something that my Father understood, but was only willing to go as far as he felt comfortable and not take it beyond that to a point of expediency for political purposes. In politics, he was a very practical guy. I think he was very detailed. He had an extremely, extremely sharp mind when it came to looking at figures and the relationship of certain elements of figures. Oddly enough, I donít think my Father was highly motivated to make money. But he understood the flow of money, on a large scale, as well as a small scale. I think he fit in, in understanding the flow of revenues and taxes and expenditures relative to governmental implementation on a larger scale than a town, or something like that. That made him somewhat unique, without having the academic training to be in there.

These other guys basically had more academics along that line.

Bill: Well, he obviously had a tremendous intellect. Well, we better get you to the airport.

 

End of Interview

 

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