SUMMARY OF THE LIFE OF MERRILL PARKE GUNNELL Interviewed by and written by his son, Val F. Gunnell for a class at Brigham Young University in 1980
Contributor: jillpz Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
Merrill Parke Gunnell, eldest son and second child of Archibald Baxter and Maude Elizabeth Dover Parke Gunnell, was born 19 September 1907 on a farm located in what was then Central, Bannock County, Idaho (now Caribou County). While yet only two years old, his father, Archibald Gunnell, was called on a mission to England for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This left Maude with two children, Essie, who was three years old, and Merrill, at two years old, to manage the affairs of the farm in his absence. While Archibald was in England his third child, a son, Gerald A. was born. Maude wrote asking what he wanted the child to be named and he replied that the child should be called Gerlad A. After serving during part of 1910, Archibald was forced to come back to the United States because of illness (tuberculosis).
In 1912, when Merrill was 4 years old, the family moved from the homestead they were living on in Central to a plot of land they had acquired on trade about 2 miles west of Grace, Idaho. This piece of land had been previously owned by the Kackley family. In the fall of that year they moved into a new home in Grace which they had built for $5,000. This provided the family with many conveniences that they had not had on the farm, such as bathroom facilities inside the house.
The family was still living in their new home when Merrill started the first grade in 1914. This was the beginning of his formal education as there were no kindergartens held at that period of time. In 1915, when Merrill was eight years old he held the record for being the only one in his second grade class to have a perfect attendance record. His teacher, Miss Purvis, gave him a pen and pencil set as a reward for his efforts in attending every day of school. This was the only time in his life that he was able to maintain this perfect school attendance record.
On 6 November 1915 Merrill was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by his father. Those attending this baptism had to walk to an open canal where the snow and ice were cleared away in order to reach the water. Merrill describes this as a “very,very cold” baptism and he was very unhappy that the event did not take place the next spring when the weather conditions could have been better.
In 1917 Merrill's father decided that he wanted a larger piece of land to farm, so the family moved two and one-half miles south of Grace to the “Lord” place. This included 280 acres of land stocked with horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens. The cost was $16,000. This was a strain on the family especially their mother, because they had to forfeit the conveniences of their new home for an old farm house without plumbing or electricity. Merrill felt that the timing of this purchase was somewhat poor because the land was bought in the winter when its soil quality could not be accurately determined.
The family rallied around the task of the new farm and each one tried to help out in all the ways that he could. By this time two more sons had entered the family-Halden Parke, born 27 November 1913, and Reed Parke, born 19 September 1915. Merrill considered Reed as his new “twin” brother as Reed had been born on Merrill's eighth birthday.
During these school years, Merrill worked on the farm with his father and brothers while playing baseball and basketball before school hours and at recess. He especially enjoyed sports and liked being out on the baseball field.
In 1922 when Merrill was 16 years old he graduated from the eight grade. He was older because of not going to school during the year of the flu epidemic. In order to graduate, he had to pass a state examination which he did. This led to him starting as a freshman in high school that same year while he was still 16.
In 1924, Merrill's mother and father decided that the ought to move to the Arch Lloyd home on Liberty Avenue on the east side of Grace. The home originally cost $10,000 to build, but they were able to purchase the home for only $4,000. They felt that this was a very good buy. In order to continue farming. They commuted back and forth two and one-half miles from this new home to their land southeast of Grace.
On 18 November 1928, Archibald Baxter Gunnell died in the family's new home in Grace. He had suffered from an illness which had been aggravated by an overdose of drugs from the local physician. This left the family in a more drained financial situation especially since Merrill was called on an LDS mission to England the next year.
Even though the stock market failure had spread all over the country. Merrill and his family did not feel the full impact as he left Salt Lake City for England 14 November 1929. He sailed on the St. Lawerence River on 29 November 1929 on his way to Liverpool, England, on the ship “Duchess of York”. This trip across the Atlantic took seven days.
During the two and one-half years of his mission, Merrill labored in the cities of Hucknell, Northingham, Leiester, and Hereford in England, and in Wales at the cities of Cardiff, Mountain Ash, and Swansea. On completing his mission, he arrived home in Idaho on the 24th of December 1931 after being able to sightsee in Paris, France, and stopping in Washington, D.C. He traveled home by train across the United States, sleeping in his day coach during the nights and sightseeing during the days. Trying to shave with a straight-edge blade in the moving train especially presented a challenge, but he was able to survive without any cuts.
Upon returning home to Grace, Merrill began a period of working to try and repay the money he had borrowed from his family to finance his mission. Times were not easy during these depression years as he tried to earn enough money to repay the debt. For five years he ran the family farm, but his brother, Halden, then took over this operation while Merrill worked as a hired man for Lawerence Burgin, doing work such as feeding cattle, and running farm machinery. During this time he lived at home, and during the winter months he took a correspondence course in accounting from LaSalle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In 1939, Hitler began invading some of the European countries. Merrill watched the world events develop and continued to farm and take the accounting course during 1930 and 1049. On 4 April 1941, Merrill volunteered for and joined the U.S. Army. He mustered in at Fort Douglas, Utah. He then traveled to Fort Ord, California for basic training, after which he went on reserve. He entered a ship building school in San Francisco. After the attack on Pearl Harbor 7 December 1941, Merrill went back into active duty. He spent the winter of 1942 stationed at the Service Command Unit at Morgan, Utah, where he guarded tunnels and bridges during some severely cold weather. -37 degrees. In the spring of 1943, he went to Reno, Nevada and stayed until 9 January 1944. He then spent the rest of 1944 and 1945 in San Francisco, California as a Drill Sergeant and Personnel Clerk in the Army. While in San Francisco he met Major Bruce R. McConkie, who is now a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
After being honorably discharged from the Army 7 November 1945, Merrill went home for Christmas. He then returned to San Francisco the next year and entered Golden Gate Business College. He was not used to the extensive smoking that went on in the classrooms, so he soon decided to return to Idaho.
Just on his return from California, his older sister's husband died. Wanting to help his sister, Essie, as much as he could, Merrill thought about going to work on her farm, but then decided that he might not be physically able to do that. Instead, he worked for Halden in the summer. In the fall of 1947 he enrolled at Brigham Young University under the G.I. Bill. He continued this pattern of summer working and winter schooling during 1948 and 1949.
In 1948, Merrill met a BYU coed named Beth Fisher. They decided to get married in the fall of 1949. On 19 September 1949, they were married in the Salt Lake LDS Temple. Merrill had saved some money during his time in the Army so they had been able to buy a new car 19 July 1949-just before they were married. They really enjoyed the new green Olymouth Deluxe Sedan that had cost them around $1800.
Merrill worked toward graduation from BYU which he did in June of 1951. He lacked only six hours of completing a master's degree. Following graduation, Merrill and Beth returned to Grace where Merrill worked for his brother, Halden, until September.
Merrill and Beth moved to Ogden in September 1951, where Merrill became employed at the Ogden Arsenal, where he worked until it closed in June of 1954. Most of this time they lived in a basement apartment at 5353 South 2000 West, Roy, Utah. In May of 1954 they moved to 1900 West about 5151 South in Roy. They were excited about moving into this newly built apartment.
On 19 September 1953, Merrill's birthday and their wedding anniversary, a son Vaun, was born. Vaun was the second boy born in the family. The eldest son, Merrill Fisher Gunnell, was stillborn 15 November 1950, while Merrill and Beth were still living in Provo. Having this boy brought a great deal of happiness into the home, since they had wanted children for some time.
In September of 1954, Merrill started working for the Ogden City and Weber County Police Force as a jailer. In order to be closer to this work, the family moved to a duplex apartment at 2617 Jefferson Avenue in Ogden. This was not the most desirable work for Merrill or Beth because of the caliber of people that Merrill came in contact with. Once in a while the family would receive threatening phone calls from one of the people who had been in jail.
While Merrill was still working at the jail, another son, Val, was born on Mother's Day, 13 May 1956. Merrill and Beth considered this a blessing in their home as they had wondered if they would be able to have any more children.
On 16 January 1957, Merrill began work at the Ogden Post Office as a letter carrier. He seemed to enjoy this work as he was able to gain exercise while working in the out-of-doors all year long. After about one year and five months, Merrill was able to advance to a regular mail carrier.
Just 13 months after Val was born, another son, Mark, was born, 23 June 1957. This baby was a surprise at first because they did not know they would be having another one as quickly as they did. Mark was premature at birth which necessitated him staying in the hospital for special care for the first three weeks of his life. The family was excited to have a new member again.
With the growth of the family, Merrill and Beth decided that they should look to see if they could find a home to settle in to raise their sons. After looking for some time, they found a red brick home at 1131 Liberty Avenue , Ogden. They moved the family there during April 1959.
During the next next seventeen years, Merrill continued to work at the Post Office, while taking care of his growing family. One way he found of relaxing after work was by raising a vegetable garden each summer. He did and still does enjoy seeing the starting of life through young plants in his garden. Occasionally his sons would help their parents with the garden, but they were not always as dedicated as they might have been.
Merrill set a goal of working until he was seventy years old at the Post Office. This goal was changed, however, by a heart attack which he had 22 June 1976. Merrill's life may have ended at this time had it not been for medical help.
With this heart condition, Merrill decided to take a medical retirement. He had accrued almost a year's worth of sick-leave hours at the Post Office which resulted in him being paid full salary during the first year after his heart attack. His condition gradually improved in order that he could do many of the things that he wanted to do. He still had to make sure that he didn't tire himself out, however.
One of the things that Merrill liked to do best was to go to the Ogden LDS Temple to do endowment work. Since the Ogden Temple first opened in January of 1972, Merrill has gone faithfully, performing many hundreds of endowments in the LDS Temple ceremony. Continuing to take care of the yard and garden also occupies much of Merrill's time.
Merrill continues to live by his motto in life: “Live righteously every day in every way.” He has a strong testimony and belief in his religion and its eternal plan for him.
Because he is my own father, Merrill P. Gunnell has had a great effect on my life. As a child I was able to enjoy the benefits of having a father and mother in the home, a blessing that I did not always appreciate. I sometimes wanted to rebel somewhat at the discipline of my father. Although I sometimes didn't appreciate him, I now realize that my father has tried his whole life to provide the most that he can for his family with the means that he has had available.
As I consider the challenge it must have been to start a family in midlife, I am impressed by the courage and example that my father showed. Even now he continues to help all three of us children; never does he spend much money on himself.
I feel that health factors have determined much of our family relational status over the years. Sometimes I wished that we had done more things together as a family such as outings and camping, but as I look back I wonder if my father had the energy to do all of those things after he had put in his time at work. Just recently my father has suffered a stroke which again takes some of his strength and limits him in some ways.
A few things that my father has taught me stand out in my mind. One of these is the desire to work. My father has had a habit his whole life of getting up around 4 A.M. Each morning. His constant example of being industrious has inspired me to try to use my time well. Another trait which my father emphasized all through my childhood was punctuality. If we were not early to our appointments, we were late according to him. My father also showed great faith in God. He firmly believed that miracles can be worked through faith and prayers. My father continues to be an example to me of faith in the future and endurance to the end. I am truly grateful that I was born of “goodly parents” and that I had a chance to know and love my father.