Florence Decker Corry passed away in 1954, leaving behind six children, aged 2 to 18. For the younger children who have only vague memories of their mother, and for the grandchildren who know her only by legend, this is Florence's story.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Book is Available!!

I am delighted to announce the release of Florence Decker Corry: A Woman of Dignity, Charity and Grace. You can find it on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Click here or go to amazon.com and search on "Juliana Wallace".

The book includes some corrections that I have not yet made to the blog entries. Also, note that the Kindle format does not include many of the photos included in the paperback book.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


On Wednesday, December 1, 1954, a large crowd of family and friends from the church and community gathered for the funeral. Bishop Frame conducted the program according to the plan Florence herself had prepared in early October. “No detail was omitted,” he said. “I’m sure she knew where she was going, and these requests are hers.” Florence’s brother-in-law, Ancel Adams, voiced the family prayer prior to the funeral. The program that followed was filled with music and the reminiscences of close friends. The stake choir sang, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” Blaine Johnson sang a solo from Handel’s Messiah, and Roy Halverson played a violin solo. (“Have Roy play anything,” Florence had said. “I would love anything he plays.”) The choir closed with “Oh, My Father,” the very hymn sung by a similar choir 26 years earlier at the funeral of Florence’s mother, Harriet. David Sargent, Paul Edmunds, Barbara Adams and Bishop Frame spoke. Barbara had spoken at Harriet’s funeral all those years ago, as well, and her daughter Lillian was one of Florence’s best friends. The obituary reported that members of the stake high council served as pallbearers and that the members of Florence’s En Avante club acted as flower girls.

Cards and letters poured in. A neighbor, Elaine, wrote that Florence was “a constant source of inspiration to me, a factor in making me live a little better and think a little deeper.” Once back in California, Blanche wrote Elwood to inquire after the children and to send a contribution to the stake meeting house in Florence’s name. Her contribution purchased a memorial clock with Florence's name on it that hung in the stake center.

Once the funeral guests had returned to their own homes, the children were left with the emerging reality that the life they had always known had now fundamentally changed. Seven year old Bob asked Elwood, “Will we still have Christmas Eve this year?” Florence had always made Christmas Eve the highlight of the year, with special foods, beautiful table settings, family, friends and plenty of music. Elwood assured his son that yes, they would celebrate Christmas Eve just as they always had. Perhaps he, like the older siblings, wondered whether that would be possible. But Kristine remembers how the community came together to keep tradition alive:

“Preparations were made for the evening. The root beer was bottled and capped, relatives made sure there was plenty of candy, the ham was baked and tables once again beautifully set. But even more meaningful had been the outpouring of love from residents of the town in the week preceding Christmas. Almost daily people would come to the home with gifts for the children until the space under the tree would no longer hold them all, and there was a trail of presents leading to an adjoining room. Carolers came. One of the children had been sent to pick up some dry cleaning at the local cleaners, and the owner refused to take any money. A local tree seller brought a huge tree, and he also refused any compensation.”

The entire town, it seemed, came together for the family, not only for the funeral, not only for Christmas, but in the months to come. President Sargent said at the funeral that Florence “lived a very, very happy life. It was this service that she rendered which largely was responsible for her happiness.” Florence, he said, embodied the Savior’s injunction that “Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” It seems her spirit of service and love left a deep impression on those around her.

As Florence’s daughter Kristine said once, “When it comes down to the kind of person I’d want to be, if I could be what Mother was, I’d figure I had arrived.”

1954: The Final Months

Last Lecture

Florence and Elizabeth
Many universities hold a tradition of assigning popular professors to think deeply about the things that matter most to them and then deliver a hypothetical “last lecture” of the thoughts they would impart if it were their last chance to give a speech. Ironically, Florence had a similar opportunity several months before she became aware of her illness, although the opportunity came as part of a “Charm School” for college coeds rather than as a “last lecture.”

In December of 1953, not long after Elwood’s aforementioned dream, the Associated Women Students Association at the College of Southern Utah (CSU) approached Florence with a proposition. They were putting together a series of lectures for the young ladies of the college and wanted Florence to give the final two lectures in the 7-week series. Other speakers were to present talks on personal health and grooming, wardrobe, dating and popularity, and etiquette for college girls. A panel would discuss problems confronting college girls. Florence was to speak on character and on chastity. According to a newspaper article announcing the events, “The purpose of the discussions is to acquaint young ladies of the college with the importance of proper conduct and neat appearance in a critical society.”

Florence felt the weight of the responsibility. As she told the women in her first lecture, “For about a week after…agreeing to fulfill this assignment, each morning I would awaken with the heavy feeling which I compare to the fog we have had the last ten days.” Elwood remembers that the assignment came at a time of significant stress for Florence. She tired easily that winter and began to be bothered with persistent headaches. However, as the holidays and the lecture series coincided with all the usual demands of motherhood and work in the church and the community, it was easy to view the fatigue and headaches as symptoms of stress.

On February 9, 1954 Florence gave a talk she entitled “The Real You.” She counseled the young women to build a strong foundation, to honestly analyze themselves and take responsibility for their own happiness. She reminded them to seek for courage and to use understanding in developing relationships. In defining success, she shared the following poem written by Bessie Anderson Stanley (and incorrectly attributed by Florence and many others to Robert Louis Stevenson):

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth's beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.”

For most who knew Florence, the poem described her own life well.

The following week, Florence gave a challenging speech entitled “A Case for Chastity.” She expressed a special anxiety about saying the right thing in the right way, knowing from her own experience that talks on this subject could prove both helpful and incredibly harmful. “I do believe,” she said, “that frank but modest discussion, giving factual information, creates more wholesome attitudes.”  Following the promised frank discussion, she ended with this plea:

“Let us think of sex as beautiful, not obscene. One writer has described it this way: ‘The sexual nature gives grace and symmetry to the body, elasticity to the step, warmth to the blood, strength to the heart, force to the mind, firmness to the will, beauty and radiance to the face, and enthusiasm and courage to the whole life...’” (Quote from Joseph Conwell, taken from his 1903 book Manhood’s Morning)

Florence must have succeeded in her aim to say the right things in the right way, as the Iron Country Record account of the event reported that the talk was “especially well received.” A few months later, the CSU women faculty members sent a personal note to the mothers of all of the CSU women students and included a transcript of “A Case for Chastity” in the mailing.

The Fainting Spell and an Eventual Diagnosis

Elwood reported that through the winter and spring, Florence suffered increasingly from headaches and that she began to find it difficult to remember things. At ward or stake dances, she elected to sit down rather than dance, and sometimes when she spoke, her words would trail off rather than remaining strong to the end of her thought. Still, however, Florence and Elwood attributed the symptoms to stress, not suspecting any serious malady until an event in early May changed their perspective entirely.

One day during the first week in May, Elwood received a call at his office from a neighbor, Emma Brockmeier. Emma called to tell him that Florence had suffered a bad fall. She had been making beds in the boys’ room downstairs when she fell and hit her head on the corner of an open drawer. Fortunately, the Culligan man arrived soon after to change the soft water tank, and he found her on the floor. He alerted the neighbor, who called an ambulance. X-rays showed nothing significant, so Florence returned home after a night in the hospital. Her condition worsened by the day, with severe headaches and “strange spells” during which her expression would seem to freeze for a few moments. Paul Edmunds, Elwood’s counselor in the stake presidency and the Corry family physician, suggested that Florence see a specialist in Salt Lake City. Accordingly, they made an appointment with Dr. Chester B. Powell for the end of May.

On May 28, the day before Florence and Elwood were to leave for Salt Lake City, Florence had a seizure. Judy remembers that she was in the bedroom helping her mother fold the clothes, when Florence began to shake uncontrollably and slumped onto the bed. Steve recalls the scene from his vantage point in the kitchen:

“Mom was lying on the bed because she had not felt good for weeks and weeks. And suddenly my Aunt Fae called, ‘Oh, Elwood, Oh Elwood, come quick!’ From the sound of her voice I knew that whatever was happening was extremely serious, and I can remember crawling on the floor in the corner just praying that Mom wasn’t dying; and then, realizing that I wasn’t doing any good there, I ran into the bedroom and saw that Mom was in the middle of a seizure, and I was certain she was dying, and I turned to Dad and I said, ‘Is she going to die?’ Dad said, ‘I don’t know.’ Within minutes, Dr. Paul Edmunds was there, and I asked him the same question. By this time, she had stopped shaking, but she was still unconscious and breathing very heavily. He said, ‘Oh, I don’t think so’ in a kindly manner. I didn’t realize at the time that he didn’t know either, but he needed to calm me down because he could see the anxiety on my face.”

For the children, this terrifying image of their mother mid-seizure remained imprinted in their memory. Florence felt her own terror, later explaining to the specialist in Salt Lake City that as the weeks had progressed, she felt as if she were literally losing her mind.

Elwood and Florence traveled to Salt Lake for what they assumed would be a weekend of tests to determine the cause of the seizure. Doctors initially suspected that the fall in early May had caused a subdural hematoma (a collection of blood on the surface of the brain, usually the result of a serious head injury) but could not rule out a tumor. After a number of tests, they determined that an immediate operation was necessary. Accordingly, Dr. Powell performed a craniotomy on May 30. Florence initially responded well, but within 48 hours she became drowsy and responsive only to painful stimuli, and a second surgery was performed on June 1. The surgeries revealed a malignant brain tumor, diagnosed as a glioblastoma multiforme (or high grade astrocytoma). Dr. Powell told Elwood that he removed as much of the tumor as possible but could not extract it all. He also explained that if Florence survived the surgery, that she would only live from three months to a year. She would regain some of her health and strength for a time, but the tumor would eventually grow back. Elwood kept this heavy news to himself.

Recalling the Dream

The previous autumn (October 26, 1953, according to his journal), Elwood awakened one night from what seemed to be a vivid dream of forewarning. In the dream, he saw the date “June 7” on a gravestone. During the first week of June, Florence lay in her room in Holy Cross hospital in Salt Lake City in critical condition. Elwood remembers a conversation he had with Florence on the night of June 6 as he sat alone with her in her room:

“She told me she was going to die the next day and though she was extremely ill she tried to give me advice and counsel, encouraging me to carry on and take care of the family. I left the hospital next morning and spent most of the day at my sister Inez’ home endeavoring to get some sleep, but it was a restless day for me. I expected each time the telephone rang it would be a call telling me to come back to the hospital at once or that she had passed away. When I did go back to the hospital that evening, they told me that during the morning Margret Decker, her sister-in-law, was with her and that Florence began calling for her mother, telling her to wait, that she was coming.”

Elwood later discovered that on the morning of June 7, the Relief Society sisters in their ward met in the Relief Society room and held a special prayer circle for Florence’s recovery. He believed that the Lord honored that petition and allowed Florence to remain with her family for six months longer. The family had many precious experiences with her during that time, and they felt the love of their church family, as well, in hundreds of acts of service and tokens of love. These months gave them all time to adjust to God’s will and gain the faith they needed.

Due to the dream, Elwood accepted Florence’s death as inevitable, feeling that she had completed her mission in life. While he could not dispel that feeling, it troubled him. He wrote once, “I remember one day I came home at noon and went into the bedroom where she lay. As I came through the door, she looked up at me and said, ‘Elwood, if I could see you come through that door and you would tell me you knew I was going to get well, it would mean more to me than anything in the world.’” It hurt him deeply that he could not tell her convincingly that he knew she was going to recover.

It bothered him, too, that he could not bless her to recover. On one occasion, sometime during the summer of 1954, Florence was given a priesthood blessing. Stories differ on the details of the occasion. According to Kristine’s memory, several men stood in the circle, including Ancel Adams, the husband of Florence’s half-sister Gertrude. Ancel intended to give the blessing, but for whatever reason, Elwood ended up voicing the blessing instead. Whether because of inspiration or because of his own feeling of the inevitable, Elwood found himself unable to bless his wife that she would recover. The next day, Ancel came to Elwood’s office and said something to the effect of, “If anyone had enough faith around here, she would get better.” Carol Ann Parry Jones, on the other hand, reported that Ancel did give the blessing and promised Florence that she would live.
Regardless of the details, it is clear that Florence’s illness tested the faith of those close to her. Elwood wrote the following some years after Florence’s passing:

“After her passing I was very troubled in spirit and began blaming myself for having such a negative attitude, and I wondered if she would not be holding this against me. About a month after her death, as I was retiring to bed, I was feeling very despondent, and I knelt down and asked the Lord to forgive me for my fatalistic attitude and prayed that she would not old this against me. Almost immediately I experienced a most peaceful and sweet influence in the room which gave me the perfect assurance that all was well.”

Early Summer

On June 10, Florence was discharged from the hospital in Salt Lake City. She spent some time in the hospital in Cedar City before returning home to rest and convalesce. For a time, her health improved, and she even attended church occasionally. Although her head scarf was a constant reminder of the surgery, she seemed to be returning to normal.

While Florence recuperated, her sister Blanche came from California to help out with the cooking and cleaning. The Corry children struggled to connect with Blanche, and Kris remembers that they sometimes acted up. After Blanche flew home to Los Angeles, Kris confessed to her mother that she felt badly about how she had treated her aunt. Florence shared with her daughter a bit of Blanche’s background and the struggles she had faced in her life, providing a useful dose of perspective.
Steve turned 12 that July and spent the summer playing Little League baseball. Baseball started in June, and Steve said he never really expected his mother to attend his games. He remembers one game in particular:

“I was in the middle of a game, and I was at bat, and I can remember the best pitcher in the league was pitching against me: Eric Gardner. He had two strikes on me. I was not what would be considered a good hitter. I wasn’t a bad hitter—somewhat average… I backed out of the batter’s box after a pitch. I looked into the stands, and there was Mom. She had come to that game to watch me. There she was in her little headdress and right behind the backstop, watching me at bat.

“Well, I was transformed. Where I was lackluster prior to seeing Mom, I was now determined to hit that ball. I’ve never stepped in the batter’s box in my life when I wanted to hit the ball more than that time. Well, Eric threw me another pitch, and I swung and fouled it off. He threw me another, and I swung and fouled it off. I think he finally discovered I was going to swing at anything no matter what it was. And I was; I was going to hit that ball. I think realizing that, he threw me a bad pitch, and I finally struck out. It would have been nice to say I hit a home run, but the point here is that Mom made the difference. I must have hit 15 foul balls before I got out of there. …I’ve never tried so hard to please her, to make her proud of me.”

While Florence supported her children, she also expected them to support their father, no matter what the future brought. She made it clear to her older children that she knew she was going to die, and on one occasion, she made Judy promise that her support if Elwood remarried after Florence’s death.

Moving Into Autumn

The middle of summer found Florence active in her club, taking Blanche with her to the July meeting of En Avante and attending a luncheon that same week for her good friend Dagma Seaman Palmer. She even served as part of a committee in charge of planning En Avante’s annual summer supper party.

As the summer wore on, however, Florence’s health began to decline again. One evening in early August, the Sargents come over for a visit, and during their visit Florence had a seizure at the dinner table. Blanche tried to ring for help, but in her panic all she could do was rattle the speaker up and down on the phone. Finally, Mrs. Sargent made the call.

On August 14 and 15, Elder Elray Christiansen, an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, was in Cedar City for the quarterly stake conference. Elder Christiansen asked Elwood if he would like him to give Florence a blessing. Florence was in the hospital at the time, probably following the dinnertime seizure. Kristine accompanied the men to the hospital room and remembers thinking, “If he blesses her that she’ll live, she will.” Elder Christiansen did not bless Florence with a recovery, although he did bless her that things would be well with the children. For Kristine, that was the last hope…gone.

By the time school started that fall, Florence’s arm and leg began to show signs of paralysis, and she spent much of her time in bed. She began to be forgetful and struggled to focus or multi-task. Judy remembers coming home from school one day to find a mangled loaf of bread on the counter. “Man, who cut this bread?” she asked. Florence had tried to cut it but found she could no longer manage some simple tasks. Dr. Powell, the surgeon, had said they could try cobalt treatments, but the process would likely leave Florence a vegetable.

Meanwhile, the community rallied around the family. They provided meals, helped can corn, and helped with the children. The family had no health insurance when Florence fell ill, but somehow that worked out, as well.

Florence remembered vividly how difficult it was for her family when their mother died, and she ached at the thought of leaving her own children without a mother. One particular day, Steve came home from school to find his mother up and about, with her hair combed and makeup on. She looked beautiful, like the Mom he remembered from before. She told him, “Steve, I am going to get better. I am determined to get better. I want you to take me out in the yard and show me around again.” Mother and son walked hand in hand into the back yard. He remembers that they sat down on a wooden bench underneath the weeping willow tree and talked, just the two of them. It was a day he would reflect on again and again.


Abish Corry's home, as it looks now
Shortly after October General Conference, Florence’s condition had worsened to the point that the family felt it would be wise to have her cared for in a hospital. Accordingly, they called Whit Jensen of Jensen Mortuary to transport her to Iron County Hospital. She remained in the hospital for some two or three weeks with little change in her condition. Finally, deciding that the family could care for her just as well at home, Elwood installed a rented hospital bed at his mother’s house next door and called Whit to bring her back home. Despite her illness, Florence’s trademark humor remained intact. As Whit wheeled her into the bedroom, she looked up and said, “Whit, I’m sorry it was a dry run this time. You came back in thirty years, and we will make it the real thing.”

Another family friend felt the calming influence of Florence’s humor during those last months of her illness. One day, Emma Streuli Esplin came to help care for Florence, and while she was there, Florence had a seizure. By this time, the family had become somewhat accustomed to the seizures, but for Emma this was a new and terrifying experience. As Elwood tells the story, Emma became quite excited and tried to keep Florence from shaking, all the while crying “Call the doctor! Call the doctor!” In a few minutes, the seizure passed, and Florence returned to her relaxed self. She had not passed out completely during the seizure and thus was aware of Emma’s panic. Once she regained her composure, Florence quipped, “I think you had better call the doctor for Emma! She needs him more than I do.”

As the tumor grew, and she felt her health deteriorate, Florence turned outward, exhibiting her trademark compassion and concern for those she loved. Judy recalls that about the time of her mother’s last stay in the hospital that October, a boy from Judy’s class at school had been molesting old women and young girls. Knowing that her daughter would be concerned, Florence kept apprised of the situation and called Judy from the hospital to let her know that they had caught the boy. Some time later, when she dreamed Judy had been in an accident, she called Judy to her bedside to make sure all was well.

Steve remembers a similar call to his mother’s bedside. Florence heard him playing in the living room and called him to her room. She reminded him that he had recently been ordained a deacon and asked that he would always live his life according to the counsel that was given to him as a priesthood holder. It was only later that he realized that this was her final advice to him. She knew she would die soon, and this was the message she wanted to impress upon his mind.

Though mostly lucid, even at this late stage of her illness, there remained days when the tumor took control. One day in late October was a complete blank for Florence.


As October rolled into November, Florence planned ahead to the Christmas she knew she would probably not share with her family. She asked a friend in town to make beautiful tatted pillowcases for Kristine and Judy and ordered a record player for the younger kids and an electric shaver for Elwood. Kristine was to be sure the gifts were picked up from the store. Elwood had instructions to buy luggage for Kristine in preparation for college in Logan in the fall.

Far more important than the gifts were the moments Florence shared with her family. Bob was just seven years old that year but has a vivid memory from this time. “I was lying by her in bed, and she hugged me tighter than I ever remember and said, ‘Oh my Bobby.’ She is the only one I remember calling me that. I didn’t realize until after she died why she hugged me so tight.”

Florence’s siblings visited, as well. On November 7 that year, her brother Woodrow was sustained as the second counselor in the Parowan First Ward, and he came over to the house to tell her the news. Woodrow had not attended church much for a period of years, and the news of this calling delighted Florence. She had been a second mother to Woodrow and Alpine when their own mother died, and they had a close relationship.

By the fourth week of November, Florence’s condition had worsened considerably. Kristine recalls the events of that week:

“Two days before Thanksgiving, I was over to see Mother at Grandma Corry’s, where we took care of her. She could barely talk, but as I told her I had to go home and get supper, she raised her hand a little and said, ‘good-by kid.’ The next day she was in a coma. Thanksgiving dinner was at Ruth’s (Elwood’s sister), and I remember hurrying through it so I could go and stay with Mother while Dad went down to eat. Friday followed the same pattern. That night, as I was leaving to go home, I thought to myself, ‘she’ll die tonight.’ I went home and went to bed, and the next thing I recall was it being early morning and hearing the front door open and the living room light go on. I knew it was Dad, and I knew what he was coming for, so when he called my name, I didn’t answer. He switched on our bedroom light, and I had to turn over then. He only said, ‘Your mother is dead.’ I got dressed and went back over to Grandma’s with him. I touched Mother’s forehead briefly and can still distinctly recall the cold, clammy feel. It wasn’t Mother.”

Florence died at 5:45 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, November 27, 1954, just six days after her 43rd birthday.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Raising a Family in the Early 1950s

Supporting Elwood in His New Calling

On  April 16, 1950, Elwood was sustained as President of the Cedar Stake, along with his counselors Kumen L. Gardner and Dr. P.K. Edmunds. He succeeded President David Sargent, a family friend who had served as Stake President for the previous 10 years.

The Corry family was perhaps less than excited about the call. Kris reports that Elwood felt he lacked sufficient time to do the job effectively, and the children hated the thought of being labeled “the Stake President’s goody, goody kids” (not the most useful social calling card, apparently). Florence, in particular, was disappointed that she and Elwood would have to give up a square dancing group they had recently joined, as the dancing conflicted with presidency meetings. The call meant that Elwood would have to give up some of his personal activities, as well. In July 1950, for instance, the Iron County Record reported that Elwood had resigned a position on the Chamber of Commerce due to increased church responsibilities. Elwood had been one of the original directors of the Junior Chamber of Commerce when it formed in 1936, and he had been elected to a two-year term on the board of directors of the Chamber in January of 1949.

Because of his calling, Elwood typically made the trip to Salt Lake City every six months to attend the LDS General Conference. Florence general accompanied him, and they would often take one of the children. The children fondly remember that Florence would always bring home a special toy or gift for those left at home, taking care to make each gift meaningful.

Judy remembers going on a Conference trip with her parents and riding the elevators up and down in Hotel Temple Square.  For Steve, a talk on standards by one of the general authorities must have proven a little distressing. Probably 9 or 10 years old at the time, Steve was confused by some of the terminology. As they left the tabernacle, he asked his mother what “pet” meant. She explained the term. He later commented, “I don’t remember the exact wording, but I do remember her following up after talking about the subject and saying we mustn’t be too strict. Even though that is wrong you do have to love a person before you can marry them. Not meaning anything immoral but certainly meaning there needed to be some sort of affection shown before you become married….sometimes the counsel was a little stronger than it needed to be for certain people who had a real conscience.” Florence seemed to have a gift for keeping life in perspective, even when it came to the gospel.

Cedar 8th Ward Chapel in 1927
In addition to the Conference trips, the Corry family often hosted LDS General Authorities in their home. In the early days of Elwood’s tenure as Stake President, Florence would embark on a big cleaning spree before a General Authority came. Over time, she recognized that the fuss made the visits miserable for everyone. They began to simply vacuum and dust, and the family enjoyed their time with the visitors much more.

Elder Ezra Taft Benson visited for a quarterly stake conference in January 1951, later sending a thank you note for “your kindness in permitting me to visit in your home and have breakfast with you and your lovely family Sunday morning.” Also that January, Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve arrived in town for the centennial celebration in Parowan, staying over for Sunday services. According to Kris, Florence particularly liked Elder Cowley because he was not super pious. He told Florence that every time he would start to stray, the Church would come with another call to serve. Florence seemed to like the fact that Elder Cowley would stray at times.

Florence's Own Callings

Cedar 8th and 2nd Ward Chapel 2012
In addition to supporting Elwood in his challenging calling, Florence continued to serve with the children and youth in the ward. According to the Cedar 8th Ward history, she was called as Primary president of what was then the College Ward in March 1951, turning the reins over to her friend Hilda Parry in November of that year. Carol Ann Parry Jones remembers Florence reading “The Great Stone Face” at a summer Primary party on the lawn and recalls that she was a wonderful reader.

In addition to Primary, Florence earned love and respect as a leader of the Junior Gleaners, the young women aged 16 to 18 (known now as Laurels). In September 1952, Florence returned to her home-town of Parowan to give a talk on Chastity at a stake-wide meeting for the Junior Gleaners and their mothers. She would give a similar talk to the women students at CSU not long before she died.

In July of 1953 the Iron County Record reported that Florence was the featured speaker at the Sunday
evening service of a stake MIA girls’ weekend up at Pine Valley Campground. The next month, at the closing session of the Cedar Stake quarterly stake conference, she received the Honorary Golden Gleaner aware for her work with the youth. In the 1950s, the Junior Gleaners graduated on to full-fledged Gleaners at the age of 18 (or at high school graduation) and remained in the program throughout their young adulthood. Women could earn the Silver Gleaner and then the Golden Gleaner awards by completing a series of requirements designed to build stellar leaders of youth. Normally, one had to complete the requirements by age 25, but in recognition of Florence’s constant work with the youth, she was given the Honorary Golden Gleaner award. Though Elwood knew about the award ahead of time, it was a surprise to Florence. The newspaper report of the occasion lists this as the “highest honorary award that can be bestowed by the LDS Church on those who participate in the development of youth activities” and quotes Elwood as saying that these were the first awards of this kind to be awarded within the stake. (Giles Bolander received the M Men award at the same time.)

Florence certainly exemplified the type of leadership that the Gleaner program hoped to teach. After her death, Carol Ann Parry (one of Florence’s Junior Gleaners) wrote a composition about Florence that she entitled “My Ideal.” Carol Ann wrote:

“Even though she is dead now, Mrs. Elwood Corry will always be with me as the kind of woman I want to be, as my lifetime ideal…A job she did particularly well was teaching our mutual class. Each Monday night session was so enlightening and inspirational that life always seemed brighter, fuller, and more worthwhile after leaving her. Questions troubling me were always answered clearly and with plenty of references. She knew scripture as well as a missionary in the field. If a question came up she did not know, she would go home and study, then call me with the answer. We were not just students in her class, but friends in whom she was personally interested in helping with any problems we might have.”

Finding Joy in Friendships

Although church service always figured prominently in the lives of the Corry family, Florence and Elwood maintained an active social life throughout their marriage. For years they attended the “Sunday Evening Study Group” that began before Elwood went to the war and continued for some 10 years. Various couples took turns hosting meetings once every month or two. Members of the group included friends such as Vernee and Virgie Frame (Vern was bishop of College Ward from 1949-57), Rulon and Esther Knell, Paul and Ella Edmunds (Dr. Edmunds was the Corry family physician and Elwood’s counselor in the stake presidency), and Ace Terry (a fishing buddy of Elwood’s).

Elwood’s patriarchal blessing, given years later, reminded him that the Lord had blessed him considerably through the years with friends that the Lord had sent in times of need. These study group friends and so many others were evidence of the fulfillment of that blessing. Neighborhood friends figured prominently in the lives of the family, as well. Among those were Hilda and Ed Parry, who lived down the street. Hilda (originally Hilda Harwood) was part of Florence’s gang of friends from Parowan days, and the families had several children of similar ages. Florence stayed close to other Parowan friends, as well, including Lillian Adams Grimshaw and her mother, Barbara Adams. Jenny and Abner Parry had rented the basement of their home to Florence and Elwood back in 1937 when they moved into town, and the Parrys, too, remained good friends through the years.

While Florence continued giving readings and talks for various clubs during this period, a mainstay in her social life was the long-standing En Avant club that she had helped found back in 1940. The group continued to meet once or twice a month to discuss books, celebrating with an annual tea every summer and a Christmas party each December. The summer of 1950, the annual tea numbered 60 people, including club members and their guests. In 1952, they marked the club’s 12th anniversary, and in January 1953 Florence was elected vice president of the group.

Finding Joy in Extended Family Ties

During the early 1950s both the Decker and Corry families maintained a significant presence in Cedar City and Parowan. Though Elwood’s father had died, his mother lived next door, and his sister Ruth eventually joined Florence in the En Avant club. In fact, in 1950 Elwood had the opportunity to perform the marriage of Ruth to Scott Urie in the Corry family home. The other Corry siblings flashed in and out of the Cedar City scene. Virginia and Bill Palmer moved from Salt Lake City to Washington, D.C. during this time, while Elma and Inez and their families remained in the Salt Lake area. Beth enjoyed working at the national parks and also served a mission to the Great Lakes area from 1953-55. The brothers, Mel and Lloyd, were just beginning their adult lives, and Kris remembers them coming home to visit from time to time. Mel spent the early 1950s in New Orleans at Tulane University, studying for his medical degree, while Lloyd served a mission to New England and then went to war in Korea.

Decker Siblings around 1951
A pair of photos shows Florence posing for the camera with her siblings at some point around 1951. Presumably, the photographer was Fae’s husband, Cleo, and the photo was taken on the steps of the Dix home on 100 East in Cedar. Al is in his dress uniform, and Margret is wearing a corsage, so apparently the siblings had gathered to celebrate an event in their family—perhaps the baptism of their oldest girls or Al’s assignment to MAAG in Formosa (now Taiwan) in the spring of 1951. Al served on General MacArthur’s staff in Japan for some time before being sent to Formosa to serve under Major General William Chase, the MAAG Chief. He came home to visit periodically, and the visits were a cause for celebration. The formal picture of the siblings shows a dignified group, somewhat reserved as they wait for the click of the camera, but Cleo also snapped a second photo of the group. Unaware of the camera’s eye, the three sisters chat, with Blanche a little off to the side and Florence seemingly mid-story. Elwood, Woodrow and Alpine stand back with their hands in their pockets, simply observing the scene, while Margret and Vera listen in. They seem comfortable together.

Florence remained close with her half-siblings, as well. Gertrude’s daughter Trudy spent the 1951-52 school
Decker Siblings Around 1951 - The Outtake
year at BAC in Cedar City, living in the dorms. She used to walk down to the Corrys regularly to visit with Florence and often babysat the younger children as one of her college jobs. This was particularly helpful to Florence that year. With the birth of Elizabeth (Liz) in February 1952, the six children ranged from infant Liz to 15-year old Kristine. Trudy remembers Florence as always optimistic and happy, a wonderful mother to her children.

Family Life

Steve Corry once said of his mother, “She was always very personal with her children and especially effective one-on-one. She made you feel that you were her most important child and she loved you more than anyone else. As I got older I realized all my brothers and sisters felt the same way.”

Steve recalls coming home from school each day, knowing that his mother would always be downstairs ironing on her Ironrite. Florence suffered from varicose veins, so standing for long periods of time proved quite painful. The Ironrite--an ironing machine operated from a sitting position with knee pedals and hand controls—offered a perfect solution for the leg pain, as well as an ideal spot for after-school talks with each of her children. She listened with love and concern, inspiring their confidence. Her children felt comfortable talking with their mother about anything, knowing that she would not yell or lose her temper.

Florence with Baby Liz 1952
“I remember one evening, talking with her,” says Steve. “It was she and I, and somehow she got the idea that I had done something wrong that week. I had, in fact, done something wrong. It wouldn’t have been a gross sin, but certainly one that I shouldn’t have been involved with, and I was committed never to tell anyone what I had done. Well, she began to talk to me. I don’t remember the conversation. I don’t remember how she did it. But I remember that before that conversation was through, I had confessed to everything I had done.”

Making the Holidays Shine

Florence was particularly good at making the most of holidays and special events. In the autumn of Steve’s fourth grade year, for instance, she offered to help him host a Halloween party for some of his friends. She organized a spook alley, bobbing for apples and all of the usual Halloween fare. Steve and his friends looked back on that party for years as one of the most fun they had attended.

The Graduation Dress
Florence would bake coins in the kids’ birthday cakes, as well. And when Kristine graduated from high school in 1953, her mother made Kris her dream dress for graduation. “Mother saw the dress in a deodorant ad in a magazine and asked me what I thought,” recalls Kris. “It’s a white, very sheer material. No kidding, my mother had to make a strapless slip to wear under it. I was a little surprised she would make something like that, but it didn’t seem to concern her.”

Of all of the holidays, it is perhaps Christmas that made the biggest impression on the Corry children. Kristine once wrote about Florence’s Christmas Eve traditions:

“Mother decided long ago that Christmas Day should be enjoyable and relaxing for her as well as the rest of us. So the traditional Christmas dinner with all its time-consuming work went out, to be replaced by what we simply called ‘Christmas Eve.’ Preparations actually began the day after Thanksgiving when the fruitcakes were baked and set in the basement to age. The week before Christmas, Dad made root beer and we kids capped the bottles. Candy was made somewhere along the way, and on the afternoon of Christmas Eve the ham went in the oven. After the traditional service at the church, we came back to the house along with relatives and one or two other families whom the folks always invited. After the meal came the impromptu program. I managed a piano solo. There would be poems, songs, maybe a story or two, and my slightly wacky aunt and uncle would always come up with something that would leave our sides aching from laughter. We ended with Christmas carols, and I was sure each year as I went to bed that it had been absolutely the best Christmas Eve ever.”

Christmas 1953
Steve remembers, too, the more intimate moments of Christmas. The family would decorate the tree together, with big bulbs at the bottom of the tree and little bulbs higher up, leading to the angel that always crowned the top of the tree. Florence made a big deal of placing the angel on the tree. Then, one evening before Christmas, the kids would gather around while Florence read the story “Why the Chimes Rang, ” the tale of Pedro and his little brother, who go to the grand city to pay tribute to the Christ child. “I’m certain that Mom selected that particular story because of the message,” said Steve, “the message…to always be willing to help one who was in need and give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Balancing Fun and Discipline

Judy remembers her mother’s love of fun. Florence would pull pranks on her children, short-sheeting their beds or putting 7Up in their glasses instead of water. On one occasion, Florence and Elwood had both gone to meetings, leaving the kids home to take care of themselves. Judy and Steve had gone downstairs to the basement to play ping pong. The basement had an outside entrance that always seemed just a little bit frightening, but having a companion and a competitive game proved a useful distraction. Judy recalls this particular evening:

“Steve and I had become quite engrossed in our game and were quite unaware of the fact that someone was watching us through the window of the door. It wasn’t until we heard a knock at the door that we saw a person staring at us. We both made a dive under the table tennis table, our whole bodies trembling with fear. Mom came in, chuckling that she had gotten the best of us. She didn’t realize until she got inside just how frightened we were.”

Judy and Steve were not always the best of friends, however, and that was one of the few things that managed to frustrate their mother. Florence once threatened to get boxing gloves for the two squabbling siblings and make them duke it out. She was a perfectionist, as well, always striving to do her very best and expecting the same out of her children. She would shut herself in her bedroom to prepare for a talk or a book review, and the kids learned not to disturb her while she practiced.

They also learned not to procrastinate their own preparation or do a sloppy job on an assignment. One day, for instance, it was Judy’s turn to mop and wax the floor. She finished the job in a hurry, anxious to move on to more important concerns. Then she waited impatiently while Florence administered her nylon stocking test, walking across the floor in her stocking feet so that she could feel every particle of dirt and grime. The floor failed her test, and she instructed Judy to try again, turning a deaf ear to Judy’s protestations about the unfairness of the assignment.

The younger children have few memories of their mother, but Bob does remember how she handled a couple of his early misdeeds. Once, when he was just five or six, Bob took a piece of candy without asking permission. Later, his mother asked if he had taken the candy. “No,” he said, very softly.

“What did you say?”

“Yes, I did,” came the reply (more clearly this time).

Instead of scolding her young son for taking the candy, Florence praised him for telling the truth. Another time, however, Bob fared less well. “She spanked me pretty good, and you could see the imprint of her hand on my bottom. I was so proud of that and showed it to Steve and Jeff. Unfortunately, it only lasted a minute or two, and then it was gone.”

Building Exemplary Men and Women, One Day at a Time

Steve, Judy, Bob, Liz and Florence
While Florence expected her children to always give their best effort, she supported and encouraged them every step of the way. She always encouraged them to develop their talents and invariably stood by to cheer them on. As Judy says, “She did not discourage us by saying, ‘It won’t work.’ Instead, we were encouraged to try it. If it didn’t work, Mom helped us find something else that would fill our need.”

It was also Florence who worked with the children when they did their chores, often driving Steve down to the farm to milk the cows or helping him to hitch up the Shetland pony so that he could make his own way.  On one occasion, Steve had been assigned to sing in a 4th grade chorus. Around Christmas time, the chorus gave an afternoon concert downtown. Steve was anxious about arriving late for the concert and began to panic that he would not get the cows milked on time. Seeing his concern, Florence came into the milking shed and helped her son milk the cows. “I want you to know that I’m breaking my word by doing this for you,” she told Steve. “I told your father when I married him that I would never milk another cow.” Her family learned through her example the importance of setting aside trivial cares in favor of more important priorities.

The kids also learned the importance of independence and the confidence that comes from making one’s own way and taking reasonable chances. Kristine talks about her own adventures with piano. After taking private lessons for years, she began to lapse in her practicing, so Florence and Elwood ended the lessons. When an exciting new piano teacher, Mrs. Johnson, moved to town a couple of years later, Kristine begged to take lessons again. Perhaps in an effort to help her rather shy daughter determine just how serious she was about lessons, Florence told Kris she could take lessons, but she had to make the arrangements. She did, and the piano became a lifelong passion.

While Kristine immersed herself in music, Steve regaled his friends Jeff Marchant and Roger Lewis with stories about the family farm. Roger hatched the brilliant idea for the three of them to take a hike out to the farm, a distance of about seven miles. The boys were quite young, probably only 9 or so, but Steve knew the way and offered to act as guide. The other boys’ mothers initially said “no” to the idea, but when Florence gave enthusiastic permission, they relented. The boys took the long way out to the farm (of course) and plopped, exhausted, on the bank of the pond when they arrived. None of them wanted to get up and hike back, but eventually they left the pond and started the long trudge home, saved by the welcome site of Aunt Ruth, who had driven out to fetch Steve for the evening milking.

“Mom was always for us having experiences,” said Steve. “She realized that life had risks and we only learn by taking some of those risks and by doing.” Not long after the hike, the boys’ Primary teacher asked each boy in the class to name to name someone outside their family who inspired him, who was “super” in his life. Naturally, both Roger and Jeff named Florence.

Florence and Elwood

Florence and her “Corry,” as she often called Elwood, were true partners. Together they raised six children, ran a business, served, studied, danced, wept, laughed, worked, planned and socialized. Kris remembers her parents as not particularly demonstrative, almost more like business partners, but they clearly loved each other.  Florence confided to Kris once that she occasionally tired of marriage, not that she tired of Elwood but that marriage itself sometimes felt more like a job. And yet, on one occasion Elwood had to spend a week in Salt Lake City on business, and Kris remembers her mother’s anticipation of Elwood’s return home. “It was really something to see Mother’s excitement as the day came for him to come home. The house had to be clean, there was a special meal cooked, and above all that light in her eyes when he got home.” While neither Florence nor Elwood were particularly sentimental or romantic, they set a lasting example for their children of a strong and healthy marriage.

For his part, Elwood admired his wife’s business sense and her ability to effectively balance the needs of a large family with her demanding callings and her work within the community. He particularly appreciated Florence’s sense of humor, a signature trait which she carried even through her final illness.

The World Around Them

While the Corrys lived quiet but meaningful Cedar City lives, the world spun around them. Princess Elizabeth became Queen of England, not long after the beginning of the Korean War and the introduction of color television. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made their historic ascent of Mount Everest, Joseph Stalin died, and Nash cars were all the rage.

Closer to home, the United States government began testing nuclear bombs in Nevada. The American Social History Project reports that between 1951 and 1963, the government detonated 126 bombs at the Nevada testing site. Five of those bombs had a fallout pattern covering Cedar City. Isaac Nelson, a resident of Cedar City, describes taking his wife out to see the first explosion. It was dark, he says, just before daylight, "and we were chattering like chipmunks, so excited! Pretty soon, why, the whole sky just flared up in an orange-red flash, and it was so brilliant that you could easily see the trees ten miles across the valley, and if you had a newspaper you could have easily read it, it was so bright. . . ." Later, he says, town residents stood outside to watch the fallout clouds drifting up through Cedar. Isaac's wife died of brain cancer that developed shortly after one of those evenings spent watching the fallout cloud float by.

On May 19, 1953 the United States detonated a 32-kiloton atomic bomb (later nicknamed "Dirty Harry") at the site. With a blast three times the size of the Hiroshima bomb, Harry sent fallout drifting over a wide area, including Southern Utah.

Later that year, one evening in October1953, Elwood had a vivid dream. In the dream, a small woman in white appeared. She told Elwood she had come for someone and directed him to a gravestone with a date on it. Elwood immediately awakened, and with the dream fresh in his mind, he went into his study and wrote it down. He felt impressed that someone would die, and suspected perhaps the dream might be a foreshadowing of his own death. Filing the dream away in his memory, he celebrated the holidays with his family, enjoying the usual Christmas festivities and ushering in 1954, a year that would prove rather eventful for the Corrys.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Woman of Dignity, Charity and Grace

Before we peek into the last few years of Florence's life, I wanted you to have a chance to see Florence through the eyes of those around her. We all look better after we pass on, of course, and dying young adds an additional filter. However, Florence seems to be one of those exceptional people who inspired love and devotion during her life, as well. The following are a few descriptions of Florence by friends and family, descriptions that I could not afford to lose in the midst of stories and names and dates. Can't you just see so much of Florence in her children?

"Florence had a dignity—a comfortable dignity that made me feel that she recognized her self worth. I do not recall hearing her express negative feelings about people. In her presence I felt good about myself. I believe she had this influence on all who met her. Her hair was lovely, enough curl that it was soft about her face with a soft bob at the base of her head. She was quick and efficient in her actions. I can make a positive statement that I never heard anyone say an unkind or critical word about her. She was probably as nearly perfect as any normal human being ever becomes." -- Verena Decker (wife of Alvin Decker, Florence's brother)

"All of us on the BAC campus regarded her as a perfect lady, one with an unusual degree of refinement, and unusual degree of executive ability and culture. She had great leadership which we all recognized, and one of the fine, distinguishing and interesting things about her was that her superiority was never reflected in undue pride of haughtiness or snobbishness….The young people ... particularly, I believe, were blessed by her efforts. Her natural disposition and her natural talents and her devotion fitted her admirably for laboring with that active, uncertain, unpredictable group….I believe that Sister Florence Corry lived a very, very happy life." -- President David L. Sargent (Florence's college teacher, friend and stake president)

"That’s the way Mom was; she always built confidence, especially in her children. When we were down she always seemed to be there to lift us up and get us going again….She was always very personal with her children and especially effective one-on-one. She made you feel that you were her most important child and she loved you more than anyone else. As I got older I realized all my brothers and sisters felt the same way." -- Steve Corry (son)

"There are those of us who knew her as a child in her mother's arms, a little girl, and a teenager, and during all our associations she was never anything but lovely. Sweet and lovely are the adjectives I would give to her. ... She'll never leave you. Her influence, her loving spirit will be near you always." -- Barbara Adams (mother of Florence's friend Lillian)

"She could tell a person’s feelings from a mile off. She knew when they were down and somehow she knew how to find out why they were down, and she would do whatever she could to lift that person up again." -- Steve Corry (son)

"Mom was always for us having experiences. She realized that life had risks and we only learn by taking some of those risks and by doing." -- Steve Corry

"She always encouraged us to develop our talents. If there was some sport or activity that we thought we might like to try, Mother was always there encouraging us to try." -- Judy Corry Liddle (daughter)

"Now that’s one thing about Mom; she was nice and she was loving but when you crossed her, look out." -- Steve Corry

"A job she did particularly well was teaching our Mutual class.  Each Monday night session was so enlightening and inspirational that life always seemed brighter, fuller, and more worthwhile after leaving her. Questions troubling me were always answered clearly and with plenty of references. She knew scripture as well as a missionary in the field. If a question came up she did not now, she would go home and study, then call me with the answer. We were not just students in her class, but friends whom she was personally interested in helping with any problem we might have." -- Carol Ann Parry (daughter of Gronway Parry and student of Florence)

"Mom had a love for people and for nature. I think I could safely say she loved all of God's creations. She was such a caring person and much-loved in our community." -- Judy Corry Liddle

"She listened and sympathized. She always listened, and it seemed there was an endless line of relatives and friends who came over to talk." -- Kristine Corry Davis (daughter)

(In speaking of Florence's compassion for people with alcoholism) "It wasn't that the folks made any extra effort to be nice to those people because of their problem. Rather, they remained friends after others had shut the people out." -- Kristine Corry Davis

Saturday, July 6, 2013

After the War (1945-1949)

Elwood returned to Cedar City in November 1945 to find that his family and business had weathered the war well under the watchful care of his wife. Not only had Florence managed to sustain the business, but she had been so successful as to pay two or three months ahead on the mortgage. Consequently, in 1946 the family was able to purchase the second half of the house at 246 South 300 West. Up until that time, they had lived in the basement of the house, renting out the larger upstairs first to the Smiths and then to the Howards. The arrangement worked well financially, but Florence tired of the lack of windows, and the rooms were quite small. When the Howards moved to Wyoming shortly after the War, Florence and Elwood moved their family upstairs. For a time, they rented out the basement to the Topham family, but they eventually took over the entire house.

Elwood riding Slim outside the E.M. Corry house
Elwood’s parents continued to live in the Corry family home next door, and behind the two houses stood a big barn with corrals on either side. The barn housed a horse named Slim, some cows and a few chickens. Even though they lived just blocks from campus and downtown, the Corrys enjoyed the natural world close to home. Judy remembers her mother’s love of nature. “Mom knew the names of the mountain flowers and some of the things the early pioneers and Indians used them for. She seemed to know all the little ‘nooks and crannies’ of Parowan Canyon and shared with us the special memories they had for her.” Florence would take her children for walks in the early evening around the college campus, telling stories of college life and pointing out the constellations as the stars came out.

Florence had a particular love for the canyons around Parowan. In addition to the annual Decker family get-togethers at Five-Mile Campground, she took her family up to nearby Brian Head. As a young teenager, Florence had a slight heart murmur resulting from rheumatic fever, and her parents forbade her to hike to the top of the mountain. But Judy remembers her mother taking the kids all the way to the summit, and she remembers looking out for miles and miles over the mountain country.

Around this time, Elwood and Florence went in with two or three other families on a cabin up near Navajo
Work party at the cabin up by Navajo Lake (Florence by ladder)
Lake, where the family stayed for a time each summer. According to Kristine, the other families included the family of Leo Palmer. Leo was a builder by profession and thus directed the work, but the families all gathered to help out (as in the photo here).

The Corrys also took a memorable vacation to Yellowstone in 1946 with the Loran Hirschi family, as well as other vacations to places like Capitol Reef and Mesa Verde.

Church life
As always, Florence and Elwood and family continued active involvement in their church community. Cedar 2nd Ward was growing so much that in 1946 it was divided. The Corry home fell in the boundaries of the College Ward (so named because the ward boundaries encompassed the BAC campus). David Sargent, a close personal friend of the family, was the stake president, and Roscoe Grover became the bishop of the newly created College Ward, Bishop Grover was a radio announcer with a wonderful voice who had recently returned to Cedar City to manage the local KSUB radio station.

Back in those days, wards used a split schedule. Men attended priesthood meeting at 10 a.m., followed by Sunday School at 11:00. Normally, ward members spent the afternoon at home and returned at 6:30 for Sacrament Meeting--except on Fast Sunday, when Fast and Testimony meeting was held at 2:05 p.m., perhaps to keep grumbling stomachs at bay. The women gathered on Monday afternoons for Relief Society meetings, while the youth had MIA on Monday evenings, and the Primary children met on Tuesday afternoons. Thank goodness the Corrys lived within easy walking distance of the chapel!

Florence continued to work with the youth of the church in various capacities. After several years heading up the Girls Coordinating Council, at some point in the late 1940s she served in the Primary organization.

Joy and tears
1947 brought an addition to the Corry family with the birth of Robert (Bob) on March 2, when Florence was 35. Kristine remembers that her parents both took part in a play about Brigham Young around that time, probably a play called “Brigham Young and the Pioneers” that a local group presented for the centennial celebration of the LDS Saints’ arrival in Utah. Florence was a dedicated mother but also apparently understood the value of a balanced life, taking the time to nurture her own creative side and continue an active involvement in the community throughout her life.

The second half of 1947 brought tragedy to the extended family. On July 31, not long after the centennial celebration, Florence’s brother Virgil was driving toward home when a 15-year old boy without a license swerved his borrowed pickup truck and struck Virgil’s car. Virgil never regained consciousness, dying on August 3 at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. He had just passed his 55th birthday and was the third of Florence’s siblings to die in her lifetime.

Weeks later, one evening in early October, the family had gathered in the kitchen to pull honey candy. Steve remembers that his mother could pull better than anyone else. “She would take a great big wad and she was very strong and she would pull it and boy, I’ll tell you, her candy always looked better than that of anyone else.”

Steve, Kris, Judy, Jeff (baby) and Bob in 1950
In the midst of the fun, the phone rang, and the mood of the evening quickly changed. Elwood rushed to the bedroom to pack a bag, and Florence burst into tears. Elwood’s father, E.M. had been suffering from an enlarged heart for some time. He had traveled to Salt Lake City for the LDS Church General Conference, where his condition worsened significantly. He died a few days later, on 10 October 1947.

Two years later, on 30 July 1949, Florence gave birth to Jeffrey. He joined siblings Kristine, Judy, Steve, and Robert, then ranging in ages from nearly 13 to 2.

Loving others as only Florence could do
When Florence received her patriarchal blessing in 1949, the blessing recognized her desire to be useful and to do God’s work on the earth, both within her family circle and beyond. The blessing promised that “outside of your own family, this is your work, helping the wayward and those of little faith…I bless you, dear sister, that your life will be peaceful and successful.” Even before she visited the patriarch to receive her blessing, Florence’s life began to fulfill that promise.

Everyone came to Florence for a listening ear, it seemed. Kris remembers that Alpine and Blanche seemed to spend days, not hours, talking with Florence. Woodrow came by, too, as well as the Adams and Pendleton cousins (children of Florence’s half-sisters Gertrude and Rachel), Alvin’s son Udell, and Fae’s son David. Owen Webb, a mentally challenged boy, used to sell spud nuts door to door. He would often stop by to visit with Florence when he was in the neighborhood, and she always treated him with the highest respect. Kristine remembers Owen coming to the door one day after Florence died, and when he learned she was gone he “turned away sadly as if he had just lost his best friend.” I imagine he was not alone in that feeling.

Judy remembers a springtime hike with her Primary class, probably sometime in the mid to late 1940s. Florence was serving in the Primary organization at the time, and she accompanied the children on their hike. As children often do, the Primary youth had found a classmate who seemed created for their amusement. She struggled in the winter because she had no snow boots, and on this particular occasion she wore a dress ill-suited for the hike. As she climbed over a fence, the dress snagged, and the hem tore out. While the other girls snickered amongst themselves, Florence quietly went to her purse, found a needle and thread, and proceeded to stitch the girl’s dress on the spot. Judy, at least, learned an important lesson that day from her mother’s example.

For all of the love Florence shared with her extended family and community, nothing compared to the love she showed her children. She knew the importance of her role in her children’s lives, and she felt both the love and the responsibility keenly. Steve remembers one particular day when he was in the second or third grade. Florence was sitting in the front room, reading a story to Steve and his siblings. He remembers that the story told of a family that experienced a death of some kind. The story itself made little impression, but Florence’s tears burned themselves into his memory. When her children asked why she broke into tears, Florence replied, “Oh, I’m sorry, children. I’m remembering my own youth when my mother died and how hard it was on our family.”

Those tears would flow again, but not until after much more laughter and love.

Research Notes

  • Elwood Corry’s personal history and his history of Florence Decker Corry
  • The History of the Cedar City 8th Ward 1946-2001, editor Elva O. Hatch
  • Florence Decker Corry (1911-1954)—memories written and compiled for a Decker reunion held July 20, 1985
  • Memories recorded by Steven Corry
  • Memories recorded by Kristine Corry Davis
  • Memories of Florence Decker Corry, by Judy C. Liddle
  • Virgil’s death recorded in the Manti Messenger, August 8, 1947 (“Automobile Crash Proves Fatal to Virgil M. Decker”)
  • Patriarchal blessing given to Florence Decker Corry on November 12, 1949
  • SUU Special Collections, Luella A. Dalton Collection B1, F4, O1 (box, folder, container) gives info on the pay “Brigham Young and the Pioneers.”

Monday, September 17, 2012

World War II

Kristine, Judy, Steve, Florence around 1944

Once the family had buried Florence’s father, they turned their attention to the draft notice that had been burning a hole in Elwood’s pocket. Elwood assumed that the military would reject him, due to a heart murmur that had prevented him playing basketball during high school. Still, the possibility remained that he would have to serve. On Monday, January 10, 1944, he traveled to Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City along with 22 other Iron County men to report for induction. He dutifully reported his heart murmur to the examining physicians, who questioned him in some detail and then, to his surprise, determined him fit for service.  Apparently, the military had recently released a memo lowering the physical requirements for active duty. Elwood was to report for duty around the first of February.

The rest of January brought a flurry of activity. Florence and Elwood had just signed on a loan for $3,000 for the house. Military pay would bring the family $66 a month, less than one third the income the family reported on their 1943 tax return. With a house payment and three children, the family would need more than his military pay to pay the bills. Elwood’s insurance and real estate business had just begun to give them a modest income. Florence would have to join the flood of women entering the workforce. Fortunately, she had studied business in college and had worked in the insurance office from time to time. They determined that she would take the licensing exam to become a fire and casualty agent. The real estate business would stay on hold until Elwood returned from the war. Florence passed the exam, and Elwood taught her everything he could in the three weeks before he left for basic training.

Around February 1, Elwood and the other Army men left for Camp Barkeley, Texas. Kristine remembers Grandpa Corry offering to drive Florence and Kris to Salt Lake City so that they could see Elwood one more time before he left for Texas. They only got as far as Fillmore, though, before snowy weather stopped them in their tracks. Florence called Elwood from the hotel, and the next day Grandpa drove them home to Cedar.

Camp Barkeley, located 11 miles southwest of Abilene, TX, had a population of about 50,000 at its peak and was dismantled near the close of World War II. Elwood managed basic training there rather better than he expected. His heart gave him no trouble, and he felt like he held his own. After several weeks, he was transferred to Clerk’s School for an eight week course.

Back home Florence tried to make life as normal as possible for the family. Kristine was seven when her father went off to war, halfway through her second grade year. She remembers the excitement of having a soldier father with a neat uniform, and she remembers a quiet house with Dad off to war and Mother working. Judy was just five years old at the time, and Steven was only two. Grandma lived next door, of course, and neighbors like Miss Wanda helped with the children, but beneath the excitement lay a certain emptiness, a sense of light gone.

As usual, Florence managed to make each of her children feel special, even in difficult times. Kristine remembers a particular event that spring. Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly starred in the new movie “Cover Girl,” which came to theatres at the end of March 1944. Mother and daughter went downtown to see the movie and stopped next door for a treat afterward, just the two of them. This was a rare outing and Kristine remembers it fondly.

In June, Elwood completed training and came home for a brief furlough. He traveled from Texas to New Mexico and then caught a ride to Cedar with his sister, Virginia. After a short visit, he took the train to Camp Beale, California, located 12 miles east of Marysville, in Yuba County.
Abish (known as Abby), Elwood’s mother, wrote to Elwood in July, not long after he arrived at Camp Beale. The family had gathered at Florence’s for dinner that afternoon, and she described the after dinner scene:

“Dad is having his after dinner nap on the davenport in your living room. Florence and Virginia [Elwood’s oldest sister] are washing up the dishes in the kitchen. Beth and Ruth [Elwood’s sisters, ages 22 and 25] and Martin and Lloyd [Elwood’s brothers, ages 20 and 16] are playing Rook while Kristine is reading a book. Stephen is watching the game and Judy and Pat [Virginia’s daughter] are outside playing.”

Elwood must have been able to close his eyes and picture his family on that Sunday afternoon, gathered for the big meal before evening church. Abby also described the barbecue up the canyon, the fish Dr. Edmonds caught, and the visit from L. C. Miles, who had just come home on furlough. Those little tidbits from home bridged the miles between southern Utah and California. L.C. Miles expected to ship out soon, and folks speculated on whether he would find himself at Pearl Harbor. Left unspoken, but certainly looming in the minds of Elwood’s family, was the question of where Elwood himself would be stationed.

Elwood remained in California for about three months. Kristine remembers that her mother took the train to see him during that period. Florence reported that the trains were crowded, and she had to stand up for much of the trip (in high heels, no less!). A photo of the couple, probably from that visit, shows the two of them appearing rather subdued. Elwood holds the hand of an unidentified little girl, perhaps considering his own little girls back home.

On September 14, 1944 (Kristine remembers clearly, because it was the day before her eighth birthday), the phone rang. It was Elwood, calling to tell the family he was shipping out soon. Florence was still at the office, so Kristine took the message. He would be shipping out shortly, heading west. He had yet to see the specific orders, but west meant the Pacific Theater. Florence stayed home the next day, just in case Elwood had a chance to call again. When she had to run to the grocery store, she left her sister-in-law Ruth by the phone. As luck would have it, Elwood picked that moment to phone, so Ruth dashed to the store and brought Florence home to take the call.

Mel and Elwood in Hawaii 1944 or 1945
Before going overseas, Elwood was transferred to Fort Lawton, just outside of Seattle, Washington, where he spent about three weeks before shipping out. When they did finally board ship, the soldiers still had little clue as to their final destination. Eventually, they landed in Hawaii, where Elwood spent the remainder of his WWII service. While in Hawaii, Elwood connected with his little brother, Mel, who served in the Navy as a Pharmacist’s Mate. They were able to spend quite a bit of time together over the next few months before Mel shipped out. Elwood worked as a clerk during his time in Oahu and made several lasting friendships with other LDS men stationed on the island.

Meanwhile, Florence ran the insurance business and kept her family afloat. She and Elwood discussed business matters through airmail, and the light envelopes with red and blue bars around the border became a familiar sight in the mailbox. She proved an astute businesswoman. In November 1944, in fact, the monthly bulletin from Northwestern Mutual Fire Insurance Company featured Florence along with two other women in an article entitled “Women in Agencies.” The author wrote,

“Little did Mrs. Florence Corry dream that her studies in the Business Department of the Branch Agricultural College in Cedar City, Utah and her experience as a bookkeeper would stand her in good stead. But they are—now that her husband is in the Army and she finds herself running their business (besides taking care of their three lovely children). ‘I am happy that Elwood was engaged in a business that I could assist in during his absence. As the months go by, I anticipate not only holding the business he has established but I am anxious to increase it so that things will be in a sound condition when he returns.’ We salute you, Mrs. Corry, for your courage to carry on.”

Florence succeeded in running the business and even managed to pay several months ahead on the mortgage. When he returned home, Elwood would be able to pick up where he left off.
Though far away from the actual fighting, even Cedar City residents felt the effects of the war in their everyday lives. Many families, like the Corrys, sent husbands and fathers or brothers overseas. Everyone found creative ways to deal with the rationing of food and gas and other essentials. Florence’s friend Lillian lived on a farm with cows and regularly sent butter in to town to Florence and her family. Florence, always quite proud of her nice legs, took special care of her silk stockings. Since all of the silk went to make parachutes during the war, she had to make her remaining stockings last, so she meticulously mended them to keep them in good shape for church.

Without her husband, Florence was forced to get creative about home maintenance. She began to hold lawn parties, inviting neighborhood children. They would mow and rake the lawn and then gather for homemade root beer after they finished the yardwork. The Southwick boys helped out. Even F. Burton Howard joined the yard crew. Of course, back then he was “just as scruffy-looking as the rest of us,” Kristine reports. The Howards rented the upstairs apartment of the Corry house. On one occasion, when Florence was backing the Ford out of the driveway, the door flew open, caught on a pillar at the edge of the driveway, and came off. Florence roped the door back on to the car until she could get the car fixed.

Once, perhaps for Elwood’s birthday in March 1945, Florence and the children made a record to send to Hawaii. Florence recited poetry, and Kris and Judy each sang solos. Judy remembers singing “I’m So Glad When Daddy Comes Home.” About this time, Kristine started learning the piano. The Corry musical tradition had passed to the new generation.

Kristine, Judy, Florence, Steve 1945
Despite working full-time and running the household, Florence found the time and energy to focus on her children. She took them on hikes, outings to Zion National Park and even a trip to the cave just east of town. For Kristine’s eighth birthday, Florence hosted a supper for Kristine and her friends and took them to the movies afterward. She wrote to Elwood about Kristine’s moodiness, Judy’s bubbly personality and tomboy ways, and the funny things toddler Steve said or did.

As Kristine entered 4th grade in the fall of 1945, her body began changing, and it was clear she would enter puberty rather early. The aunts were alarmed. Florence must have had her own private worries, but she never passed those concerns on to Kristine. She simply guided her calmly through the process, helping her deal with the periods and the acne that her friends would not have to worry about until middle school. In October, the school determined that with her physical development and academic ability, Kristine would feel more comfortable in the grade ahead. Consequently, she moved immediately to the 5th grade. Elwood must have felt some concern about being so far away from his daughter at a difficult time, but Florence managed the situation beautifully and with great sensitivity.

As World War II wound its way to a close, the adults back home continued to support each other. Florence held regular meetings with her committee on the Girls’ Coordinating Council. While the calling must have seemed overwhelming at first, coming as it did just as Elwood left for war, the association with the other women on the committee must have brought Florence much needed support. In addition, she had her literary club, as well as the study group she and Elwood had joined before the war. At some point during Elwood’s tour of duty, that study group met at the Corry home. Elwood kept a letter they all wrote to him that evening. Calvin Frame wrote, “Nice family group you have…Still smiling, all of them.” Another friend reported, “Your good wife surely did herself proud tonight. Everything tip-top as only Florence could do it. Keep happy and remember we’re all pulling for you and looking forward [to] when you will be home with us again.”

Elwood (on left) at end of WWII
The May 8 Victory in Europe and the Japanese surrender in August brought that homecoming much closer. One evening in October 1945, Kristine came home from Primary to a sight she says she will never forget. In her words, “It was dark outside and when I came in the front door the whole feeling was one of light. Artificial light, of course, but there was something even more. Mother was sitting on a chair still with her coat on, as she’d just gotten home from work, and to me it looked like a halo of some kind was all around her. I thought of the pictures I used to always see of Mary and Christ where they had that halo of light around Mary. Mother had this letter in her hand, and she told me Dad was coming home and should be in Salt Lake in two weeks. Her voice was soft and happy. I guess when people ask what I think heaven is like, I always think of that night.”

In a small notebook Elwood kept for addresses and jotted notes, he wrote a few drafts of the telegram that Florence read that night. The most extensive draft reads, “Coming home. Will phone on arrival mainland. Have civilian clothes ready in Salt Lake. Love Elwood.” Another draft read simply, “Get those civilian clothes ready.” Private Corry was coming home at last.

With the war over, the family began preparing for his homecoming. “Only seven more letters, Elwood, and you’ll be home,” Florence wrote her husband. She helped Kristine pick out a song to play for her father when he got back, and they settled on “Robin’s Return.” Finally, on a cold, windy November night, Elwood’s boat pulled into the harbor at Stockton, California. From there, he traveled on to Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City. To his surprise, when he happened to knock on a random door, the Red Cross worker who opened the door burst out laughing. It was his sister, Beth, chuckling at his Army overcoat that was much too long and hung almost to his ankles.

Florence, too, had traveled to Salt Lake City, anxious to be there for Elwood’s arrival. She had met all of the trains at the depot but finally left to go back to her hotel room. Eventually, they found each other. In his characteristic fashion, Elwood says little of the reunion, reporting only that “it was really great meeting my good wife again after such a long separation.” Florence had her “Corry” back again, and life could return to normal.