Autobiography of Donald Gower Merrill
Contributor: Turpinca Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
I was born in Groveland, Bingham County, Idaho, on the 20th day of September 1912, the eighth son and ninth child of Joseph Harris Merrill and Grace Emma Hale. My sister, Katie Annona, was two years older than I was, and we were joined in sixteen months by my younger sister, Vonda Grace.
I am told that my older brothers were disappointed when I was “just another boy,” and I also had difficulty understanding why Katie got so much more attention than I until I was older and realized that a girl would rate pretty high with eight brothers.
My earliest memories are of our home in Groveland. When I was about five years of age we moved to Thomas, about ten miles west to a 160 acre farm so Dad could keep his eight boys busy.
I remember Vonda as a very happy girl and always teasing and laughing. One day she managed some how to lock me in the outhouse. The more upset I became, the more she enjoyed her little prank. She let me out only after I promised not to spank her. She was such a delight.
Then came 1918 and our involvement in World War I. My two oldest brothers, first Leland and then Leonard had entered the Army. It was on August 3rd of that year when I was not quite six, that tragedy struck our happy family and ended forever the happy moments of childhood. Katie, Vonda and I had tired of playing soldier around the barn yard with imitation guns imagined from sticks picked up at the wood pile and went in the house and got the real guns out of a bedroom closet. Katie got the 30 30 and Vonda got the 22 rifle and I got the shotgun. It went off in the bedroom, and Vonda fell back on the bed, writhing in pain. The shot had gone through her abdomen and tore up the bedding and mattress. She died minutes later in my brother Melvin’s arms.
Mother was in the hospital in Logan, Utah, recuperating from an operation. I remember their bringing her home and her grief at what I had done. I remember all the well-meaning neighbors coming to console the family and the torture I went through when they pointed me out with “and this is the little boy who did it.”
My brothers returned from the Army for the funeral and then returned to camp. My father and mother never talked about the incident, never condemned me, but also I don’t remember getting much comfort from them in this regard. I am sure I received their love, but I still carried the guilt for having killed my little sister.
I should have started school in September but was kept out a year because of the accident and so was a year behind the children of my age all through school. I also will never forget the hard time I had at school because I wouldn’t fight or defend myself when someone wanted to pick a fight. I remember being egged into learning to fist fight by my friends who wanted me to be able to stick up for myself. During an exchange of blows, I bloodied my friend’s nose, and almost went into hysterics for fear he had been badly hurt.
It was not until I was in college at Utah State in Logan, years later that Professor A. N. Sorenson, my English composition teacher set the world straight again. He had assigned an essay on the subject “The event that changed my life.” An event had changed my life when I was not yet six and had taken my sister at the age of four and a half years. I wrote an account of it, confessing my guilt for the one-millionth time, and handed it in. It was Prof. Sorenson’s method of teaching to read excerpts of the themes before the class. He would tear the bad ones to shreds and rave over the beauty of expression used in the writing of his students who had caught the vision of his method, and were learning to express themselves to his liking.
The next class was no exception, until he got to the last theme--mine. He hesitated a minute and then dismissed the class, all except me. He invited me into his office, sat me down, and said, “You didn’t kill her!” Then he went on to point out that whoever had left the gun loaded without even the safety on, was really the guilty one. “A six year old isn’t accountable--and especially for accidents resulting from someone else’s carelessness,” he counseled me. He took a terrific load off my soul and left me with the knowledge that there is one in our family who is also carrying the real guilt for not unloading the gun. I have never found out, nor do I ever want to know who it is that has been suffering more torment than myself.
Growing up on the farm was, I suppose, a normal experience. We had to get up before daylight during the school months and do the chores, milk the cows (by hand), clean up for breakfast and walk a mile to school. We learned to differentiate between chores and work. We did not work on Sundays - ever- but chores were a daily obligation.
I started high school at Thomas with first and second year all in one room. Our class would study while the other would recite (just like all the elementary grades except for the subject). My second year they decided to truck us to Moreland to a larger school. A farmer put a canvas cover on his beet truck and benches inside and this was our transportation. After the first semester we had such a bad snowstorm that we lost almost a month and so I quit. The next year they decided to resume high school in Thomas. After waiting the first semester out, I decided to go back to school and finished my second year. By this time I was two years behind the students of my age.
Dad wasn’t exactly happy about my returning to school. My older brothers had married, and left and he really needed my help. He told me “if you can read and write and figure, you can be a farmer.” But I had resolved I was not going to be a farmer.
In 1930, Dad sold the farm to two of my brothers, Alma and Kenneth, and moved to Logan so he and Mother could work in the temple. Katie and I went with them. I got a job for two summers on the farm of a Bishop Evans who needed my help while his son served a mission. I was paid eighteen silver dollars a week--the first wages I had ever been paid in my life.
I attended Logan High to complete my last two years of high school. It was a large school with 750 students where each of the teachers had their own room and the students changed for each class. I was able to get more subjects and filled all six periods with classes and studied at home. My favorite subject the first year was chemistry and my teacher had to run me out of the lab each evening so he could close up and go home. My senior year I studied physics and found a great interest in the sciences. I graduated in 1932 in the top twenty students scholastically.
I was able to enroll in a summer school physics class at the college that summer, taught by Eugene Gardner, a brilliant friend, and earned one quarters credit. I enrolled at college (Utah State Agricultural College) that fall following my desire to study chemistry. The next summer I helped the boys on the farm and they couldn’t afford to pay my wages until the crops were sold, so I worked through the harvest and missed the fall quarter. I was glad to have the quarter’s credit in physics so I could complete that course in my second year. Even so, while I should have graduated in1936, I was nine credit hours short so I attended summer school to complete the requirements for graduation and had to get my diploma with the class of 1937 the following spring.
By this time, I was employed by the Amalgamated Sugar Company at their Paul plant and rented a room in Rupert, Idaho. When I was able to buy a 1930 Model A Ford, I drove over to Burley to visit Bert Tucker, my second cousin and close friend, because he had lived with us in our basement while attending college. The date was June 13, 1937. Bert and his friend, Ada May Clark, who I also knew at school, were putting up a picnic lunch to take to Lake Cleveland, south of Burley, where he was tending the camps for the Forest Service. They didn’t know what to do with me at first, but Ada May told Bert “you take Don over and introduce him to Pearl while I make more sandwiches and we’ll all four go to the lake.”
So, I was introduced to Pearl Elizabeth Stocking. She accepted our invitation and we had the rest of a beautiful day to get acquainted. We both knew after that first date, we later confessed, that we would later marry. After a beautiful courtship, we were married in the Logan Temple February 3, 1939.
Pearl was the daughter of Joseph Horace and Martha Jane Butterfield Stocking. They were sheep ranchers from Burley, Idaho, who spent their summers in the canyons northeast of Soda Springs, Idaho with the sheep.
At first, we lived in a motel in Burley until we found a lovely basement apartment. Pearl was employed by the Idaho Bank and Trust and continued to work. I had been transferred to the Burley plant for the sugar company.
In 1940, we took a belated honeymoon trip to California by way of Las Vegas to visit my brother, Melvin, in Lomita, then drove to San Francisco and the World’s Fair and returned via Sacramento and Reno. We enjoyed the trip but had resolved that we would never live in California because it was too crowded and people lived too fast.
My work at Amalgamated was mostly maintenance work and I was only able to apply my chemistry during the few months they were processing the beets into sugar. So, after four years I resigned and returned to school for a couple of quarters to brush up on chemistry and then found a job with Pillsbury Mills in Ogden. After our move to Ogden, Pearl was asked to work at the Commercial Security Bank when word of her experience in Burley followed her to Ogden.
After eighteen months with Pillsbury, I was recruited to work at the Ogden Arsenal because of their need for a laboratory to control the quality of the munitions. I was assured that they would get me a deferment, if drafted for service in World War II. Since we were expecting our first child and Pillsbury could not defer me, I accepted the job at the arsenal.
In January 1943, my draft notice came and the arsenal did not make good on their assurance. I entered the Army on February 1, 1943, shipped to Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City and bid my dear wife so long. She was six months pregnant and it was terrible to leave her standing alone in the night.
I then shipped by rail to Camp Sibert, near Gadsden, Alabama, for basic training in chemical warfare. Near the end of basic training, on April 26, I received a telegram from Ada May to announce that I was the father of a lovely daughter, Elizabeth Ann, born April 25, 1943. I tried to get a furlough to return home but was denied, and because I had turned down a chance to go to cadre school in hope of returning home when the baby came, I was soon on my way to Newport News, Virginia, and then aboard the USS Mariposa, a luxury liner converted to a troop ship. A week later, I, with 5000 other GI’s disembarked in Casablanca, Morocco, North Africa on 25 May 1943. I was assigned to the Second Replacement Depot and soon shipped through Oran to Bizerte and to the Seventh Replacement Depot. It had been a ten-day trip by rail in small freight cars. There I was assigned to the 213th Anti-Aircraft Battalion and shipped across the Mediterranean Sea to Naples, Italy . We then followed the front as it advanced northward to the port of Civitavecchia northwest of Rome. Here we were converted to Combat Engineers and assigned to the Fifth Army Headquarters, then through Florence, Vernonia, and even two weeks R & R (rest and recreation) in Venice.
When the war ended in Europe, I didn’t have enough points for discharge, so I went into basic training for the Pacific Theatre, and embarked on August 6, 1945, at Leghorn to ship to Manila. More troops came aboard the next morning with the news that the bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. While in mid-Atlantic, Japan surrendered and our course was changed to New York City where we landed on August 19, 1945. I called Pearl from New York and she and Elizabeth Ann--now two and a half years--traveled from Soda Springs to Salt Lake City and we were reunited on August 23rd. Happy Day! !
Pillsbury wanted me to rejoin the company in Los Angeles, but remembering that we didn’t want to live in California, I resumed my employment after discharge from the Army in October 1945, at Ogden. We were renting a small one-bedroom cottage when our second daughter was born on January 22, 1947. When I called Mother in Logan from the hospital with the news, I asked if I could name her Vonda Grace. Her reply was “if anyone has that right, you surely have.”
In 1950 we bought our first home at 3646 Monroe Blvd., and our third daughter, Lois Jane, was born on December 9, of that year. Understandingly, I had hoped each time for a son, so when our fourth daughter was born on January 29, 1955, we put an “e” in Don and named her Deon Pearl. With four such lovely girls, we didn’t need a son.
In the spring of 1956, I was transferred to Astoria, Oregon, to Pillsbury’s export mill. We bought a beautiful home on a hilltop across Young’s Bay from Astoria. We became very active in the little branch there. I was made clerk of the Pacific District, then also a counselor in the branch presidency. Pearl and I served a district mission and later I was called to be district president. All during our time in the northwest, we were clearing the building lot for a new chapel and had just got the final plans approved when I was transferred again after five years to Los Angeles in the spring of 1961.
Pillsbury was just completing their new ultra-modern flourmill and I was to be the chief chemist! We located in Whittier and bought our present house in February 1962. I had been ordained an elder in Logan by Bishop Ray E. West on January 27, 1933. I was ordained a seventy on August 27, 1966 by Elder S.Dilworth Young. When called to the seven presidents of seventy in the Whittier Stake, I was set apart by Elder Paul H. Dunn. While a seventy, I served a successful stake mission. I was ordained a high priest by High Councilor James Kerr, Jr. on November 19, 1972.
I retired from Pillsbury on January 1, 1973. Pearl was employed at Crocker Bank (always a banker) and continued working. I helped a friend operate his health club in the mornings for several years, and also cared for a dear friend, L.D. George, who was crippled with multiple sclerosis by tending to his personal needs and also managing his acre of avocados and gardens. We also made many trips to the temple each year until he could no longer manage to attend. He passed away in March 1986.
June of 1987, Pearl and I received a call for a two-year temple mission to be ordinance workers in the Los Angeles Temple. This is one of our choicest blessings. We have completed our first two years and have extended it for two more years and so are still serving in this calling, two shifts each week.
Our greatest event so far since the birth of each of our children happened when we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Our four lovely daughters left their husbands and children at home, and we spent a glorious week together, just the six of us. It could not have been more beautiful. As this is written, we have just observed our fifty-first very quietly.
Completed by their daughter, Ann Jones:
In October 1991, Don and Pearl moved to St. George, Utah to enjoy their retirement years in a small town near a temple. They bought a home one block from the St. George temple and had it fixed up. They enjoy the quiet life of the small town compared to the megapolis of Los Angeles. For several years, they enjoyed being temple workers in the St. George temple. In February 1996, Donald suffered a heart attack, which led to a quintuple heart bypass operation in Salt Lake City, Utah. Since that time, they have lived quietly in their home, each taking care of the other. In February 1999, the family gathered around to help them celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. There was a quiet dinner and program with their children, spouses and friends.
In February, 2003, they moved into The Meadows, an assisted living and independent apartment complex. In August of that year, Don fell in the dining room. After a few days in the hospital and a few weeks in a nursing home, he developed pneumonia and died 19 September 2003, just 12 hours short of his 91st birthday and also the anniversary of his father’s death, 19 September 1961. He was buried in the town in which he grew up, Thomas, Idaho, on 23 September 2003, the anniversary of his father's burial.
Pearl went to live with her daughter, Lois, in Redmond, Washington. She died 13 October 2007, and was buried next to Donald on 20 October 2007.