Move To Utah

After graduation from Union Theological Seminary, we remained in New York City to further my “performance” career (which was almost non-existent) and I worked full-time as a cataloger at the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue. We lived in a small apartment on the 20th floor of a low-rent housing project in Harlem – overlooking the famed Apollo Theater on 125th Street near Amsterdam Avenue. We quickly learned that the building was infested with roaches. We could feel them crawling across our faces in the middle of the night. When the lights were turned on quickly in the kitchen there would literally be hundreds of roaches scurrying to find a hiding place. We already had 3 babies (the oldest was less than 2 years old!)

Our first full-time job was at Kentucky Southern College (a brand-new liberal arts school) in Louisville. We remained in Louisville for only 3 years but made many friends who have remained close to this day. After we left Kentucky Southern within a couple of years the school ceased to function and was eventually taken over by the University of Louisville.

I had never visited Utah until I attended a National Association of Teachers of Singing vocal workshop at Brigham Young University in Provo. I was fascinated with both the area and the wonderful local people I met there. I returned to Louisville and soon was contacted about a job opening as Director of Choral Activities at Utah State University in Logan. I had told Phyllis about the magnificence of the State of Utah and the friendliness of the residents and we were excited about the possibility of moving westward. Our Honeymoon had been spent in San Diego while I attended choral workshops at San Diego State University and we were infatuated with the western part of our great country.

We drove across the country in a caravan – Bill drove our VW van, his brother-in-law drove a U-Haul truck, his sister and their boys drove their camper, and Phyllis drove our car. We were a 5-children and 4-adults caravan. Unfortunately, we broke down in Table Rock, WY. After spending nearly a day awaiting the repair of the vehicle and attempting to keep the children entertained, we then approached the Utah border. By then, it seemed like we had been in the desert for days and days. The desert seemed to go on forever and ever with little change in scenery and virtually nothing to see but sand and a few antelope from time-to-time. We communicated by CB radios. Phyllis radioed Bill and said, “You said Utah was beautiful. When are we going to get to the beautiful part?” He joked, “I think this is magnificent – you can see forever, and there are no trees to obscure your vision.” Phyllis wasn’t amused and thought Bill was serious. Soon, however, we were in the mountains and approaching Bear Lake, Utah. We arrived after dark and camped on the shore of the lake. When we awoke the next morning Phyllis discovered one of the most breath-taking scenes she had ever seen. The blue of the sky was matched by the equally deep blue of the lake. We were only a few miles from our final destination.

Bear Lake Utah
Beautiful Bear Lake, Utah

When we arrived in Logan we were greeted by Max and Betty Dalby (Max was the Head of the Department of Music at USU.) Immediately Phyllis bonded with Betty and Max and they became our dearest friends. We did not have a place to stay because we had not thought it necessary to find living quarters until we arrived on site. We unloaded the U-Haul truck in the band room at the University and moved into some student living quarters while we searched for a place to live. My sister and family were soon to depart for their return trip to Kentucky.

Before they left, and while we were attempting to find a place to rent, we all camped in Logan Canyon on the edge of the beautiful Logan “river” (more like a creek at that location.) It was a stunning place to stay for a few days. My brother-in-law decided that he would jump in the river to bathe. He immediately discovered a couple of important things - that the creek was fast moving and nearly carried him away. (It did take his soap when he first jumped in.) In addition, the water came from melted snow and the temperature was very cold. It took some time for his body temperature to return to normal.

Neither Phyllis nor I had ever experienced the Mormon culture first-hand. The apartment we rented was owned by the LDS church dorm system and their rules stipulated that we must not smoke, use alcohol, coffee or tea while staying there. Since none of us used tobacco that was no impediment for us.

But it was very hot and dry and I craved a beer. Eventually, we discovered the State Liquor Store and I bought a couple of large bottles of beer (room temperature – HOT!) I smuggled the bottles into our no-liquor dorm room and put them in the freezer to cool down but promptly forgot that I had done so. After several hours I remembered, went to the freezer to collect my cold beer and discovered that both bottles had frozen and broken and spewed all my precious liquid throughout the freezer. In addition, Phyllis is a connoisseur of dark, strong coffee. We didn’t want to be kicked out of the David O. McKay living center, but Phyllis had to have her coffee. Would others smell it and demand our departure? Even though that didn’t happen, I still craved my now lost cooling beer. Still, we wondered if perhaps a higher power was controlling our actions at the LDS dorm?

Betty Dalby and Alta Burton were taking Phyllis around to look for a house when she spotted a Stake Center. (We still didn’t know much about the culture in Utah.) Phyllis asked, “What kind of church is that?” Betty replied, “That is a Mormon Church.” They drove a little further and passed another Stake Center. She asked again, “What kind of church is that?” and Betty replied, “That is a Mormon Church.” Phyllis replied, “Oh, you have two of them here in Logan?” (In our small Kentucky home towns there was one Baptist, one Methodist, one Presbyterian, one Episcopal, one Catholic, etc. church. To have two churches of the same denomination would be highly unusual!) She quickly learned that the percentage of Mormons in Logan, Utah was very high (in the upper 90%) and that most were devout and attended services frequently. There were many such churches in this small town. Our learning curve was steep but we learned quickly. Our friends often joked about “Oh you have two of them here?”

Because of the way we traveled from Kentucky to Utah, we were unable to drive one of our automobiles, an old Volkswagen "beetle" which we had purchased in 1959. We had asked various friends if they would consider driving our beloved beetle to Logan - a distance of approximately 1,600 miles. Two dear students, Sharon and Tom Bedwell, had recently married and thought this would be a great adventure for newlyweds. After dropping off the beetle they would then continue on the 2nd part of their adventure and travel by train back to Kentucky. As it turned out, this began their life-long love and interest in rail travel.

All went well until they reached Sheridan, Wyoming (about 550 miles from their Logan, Utah destination.) The engine of the car "threw a rod" and the car was totally disabled. They were told that the only solution was to install a new engine. By phone, I instructed them to purchase a new engine and continue their journey. Shortly, they returned my call and told me that there were no engines available in the region. I subsequently contacted the local VW dealer in Logan and made arrangements to purchase an engine to take to the disabled car in Wyoming.

Sharon and Tom Bedwell
Sharon and Tom Bedwell enroute from Kentucky to Utah in "the Volkswagen"

We had the huge engine loaded in our Volkswagen "bus/camper" and headed for Sheridan while Sharon and Tom waited in a local motel. After we delivered our cargo and the engine was installed, Tom and Sharon followed us as we drove back to Logan. Unanticipated events alter preconceived plans!

Logan turned out to be one of the most satisfying places we have ever lived. We felt the love and support of the community and returned that affection. We lived there for 9 years and in many ways, it still feels like “home” to us.

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