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The Life of Fern Stoddard Woodbury Part IV: Frank and Fern’s Courtship

Again, it has been a few months since I last posted, but I hope my posts will be more regular from here on out (we will see if I can meet my New Year’s resolution).

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Growing up, I remember that my parents would make Valentine’s Day into a sort of second Christmas. We would wake up (often late since they wouldn’t wake us up for school and seminary like they usually did) and we would come into the kitchen to an array of foil balloons, pink pancakes shaped like hearts, a few gifts at each of our places at the breakfast table, a bouquet for mom, and we would spend the morning talking about why we loved one another. I remember one year when it was Dad’s turn to tell what he loved amount mom, he gave her a really long, mushy kiss – the kind that kids groan about to choruses of “EWWW.” These days, I try and recreate at least a portion of the same feeling and tradition in my own family, and I am grateful for the tradition that my parents started on Valentine’s Day. I am grateful for the love they demonstrated for each other and the choices they made to communicate their love for one another openly and sincerely.

Those choices were, perhaps, an extension of my own paternal grandparents’ expressions and communications of love to one another. Frank and Fern were deeply in love. I have previously written a little about their courtship from the perspective of Fern’s benefactor, Maude Dee Porter, but here is a little more about their courtship in their own words: [1]

“During the time I was in the service I occasionally prayed the Lord to bless and protect the girl I would one day marry. I didn’t know who she was, but I knew the Lord knew. While on my mission I was often asked, “Do you have someone waiting for you?” To which I would reply, “Yes, but I don’t know who it is.” While at University of Utah I had dated many girls looking for the right one. It wasn’t until the later part of my Senior year that I finally found “the one.”

Fern had attended Weber College on a scholarship that paid tuition and books awarded as a result of being chosen as an aide to the Pioneer Sweetheart of the 1946 Ogden Pioneer Days celebration. Later while attending Brigham Young University she was chosen to be the Dream Girl of Delta Phi (returned missionary fraternity) in 1950. After graduating from BYU, she taught kindergarten at the Grant School in Ogden, Utah for one year and then enrolled in the University of Utah to study music and art.

On Easter Sunday, April 13, 1952, a study group consisting mainly of Elders from the Stratford Ward and their partners was held at the home of Sheryl and Bonnie Wakefield. Fern knew very few of the people there, but later remembered that I had capably directed the music and that my partner and I had left early. Fern participated in some of the scripture reading. It was at this point that I was impressed by Fern’s spirituality, beauty and charm. I noticed that she was with Dick Thompson and inquired of Dick at school, learning that he had dated her for the evening with no future plans. I was further impressed on questioning him to learn that she played the piano and that she was of a sufficiently religious nature that she had been to the temple to receive her endowment.

At a rehearsal at the Assembly Hall for the Judas Maccabeaus oratorio on Wednesday, April 16th, 1952, I was displaying some 8 mm. movies on a hand cranked viewer which interested several, including Fern. This gave me an opportunity to ask, “How did the fireside end, or did you leave early too?” At this point, Fern remembered that this must have been the person who was with the girl with the corsage, because she noted that she had left early. Being curious she asked one of the others in the chorus, Nan Bullen, if I were going steady (an innocent and logical question). On an assumption, Nan replied, “No, you can work on him.”

I called Fern the next morning (April 17th) and asked her for a date to go to the opera after the Saturday night practice. She was usually dated ahead of time but had not committed herself at this time because of the practice. Since we would both be there together she would not be able to find a convenient reason to say no. She was the type of girl who had been very desirable to the young men and had usually been dated up several weeks ahead while at Brigham Young University. It was our first date and arranged on short notice. We both enjoyed that evening together. I got her to sing “Blue Skies” with me while I sang harmony. I furnished transportation for her between Salt Lake and Ogden and at first thought I was the only one who had done so. Our association began at a time when Fern was reducing the frequency of her dates. I was a little proud and perhaps if it had been difficult getting dates with her I might not have persisted, but her availability allowed a mutual interest to develop.

Our first full date was April 19, 1952 to go to the Utah opera production of “The Consul” at East High School, following the recording session of the Judas Maccabeaus oratorio performed by the combined choruses of the University of Utah and the Utah Symphony. That evening we made plans for the following day to attend sacrament meeting in Stratford Ward and a fireside in the East 27th Ward. This was the beginning of many enjoyable associations that followed through the spring and summer. These included the spring Delta Phi formal, Elder’s Quorum dances, picnics, church, musical productions, etc.

May 1 Postcard from Frank: I’m home again. Frank and Fern Family Archives

In the spring of that year there was a flood in Salt Lake. Thirteenth South had been made into a river. Parts of the lower part of the city had water three feet deep. On May 5, we drove down to see the effects of the flood, then stopped at the Museum of the Daughters of the Pioneers and at the Capitol to enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms. Our times together were always looked forward to with anticipation and enjoyed with satisfaction.

Flooding in the Salt Lake area 1 May 1952, image courtesy of Deseret News

On the occasion of a Delta Phi picnic in a canyon I took my jacket, torn while delivering mail at Christmas, with me for Fern to mend while we traveled. Her comments made in jest prompted me to write the poem, “The Wrap.”

The Wrap

‘Twas hard he worked the busy town, a mailman’s helper true;

With satchel tramped he up and down, on feet both black and blue.

The cold perturbed his husky toes till pang and pain were nil,

And wind bit past his rosy nose to shake his frame with chill.

But courage kept and without flaw for found him firm and tight

He felt his trusty mackinaw to warm him in his plight.

Then suddenly on ice he listed, slipped, and took a flip!

His coat, it strained and twisted, then was heard a roaring rip!

“O, sad, sad day,” he said, said he, “I cannot work the more,

For cold will in and freeze me at the place my coat is tore (n)”

So home he went and quit his work; Ah wretched, pity, poor,

His coat, a ragged shambles of undisciplined contour.

While daily begged he for repairs from plant, life, beast and man,

His wrap was doomed to uselessness, and dubbed as “also ran.”

He knew it ne’er would mend itself; twould die in unrepair.

But, lo! His hopes, they upward shot; For came a damsel fair.

Her sweetness breathed a fragrance deep To one who whiles and lingers;

And one glance at her tender hands revealed her sewing fingers.

They quickly mended, quickly stitched the sleeve so neat and pretty.

Now I esteem her most of all the sweetest in the city.

I do implore thee, Fern of “S” By all that’s good in life;

You’ve won my heartfelt gratitude; I want you for my friend.

 June 7, 1952, Fern enjoyed being with my parents as they attended my graduation from the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. After the graduation exercises we attended the dance. Fern says, “I was embarrassed when I discovered that the seam in my dress, purchased for the occasion, had come out. Frank was very considerate and protective about the whole thing but I was humiliated.”

Chuckle Correspondence, 18 June 1952, Frank and Fern Family Archives

I helped Fern move to Ogden where she lived with Maude Dee Porter, a wonderful friend and confidante. Fern relates that, “She took an interest in our relationship and appreciated the unusual ideas and talents Frank displayed in pursuing romance. Her rendition of “The Wrap” was performed with enjoyment and feeling.

That summer Fern taught a six weeks session of kindergarten in Roy, Utah and then was employed at the Dee hospital. I worked for the City of Salt Lake as an electrical inspector in the interim between graduation and going to work with Westinghouse. We continued dating, enjoying such events as dancing at Lagoon and attending performances of “Kiss Me Kate,” “All Faces West,” and “Samson and Delilah.”

Correspondence regarding show tickets, Frank and Fern Family Archive

About midsummer, I made the statement, “Fern, I want you for my wife!” She couldn’t answer because I hadn’t asked. she stated, “There was some indecision – Bishop Harrison had spoken to me earlier in the summer about serving a mission, but after counseling together we felt it best to wait until the end of summer.”

On the delightful summer evening of July 28th, 1952 we had gone dancing at Lagoon near Farmington. At this dance she seemed to like me, yet during an intermission walk beneath the trees between concession stands she told me she couldn’t see me any more. Later I realized I had previously put her in an awkward position my making the “I want you for my wife” statement.

On August 2nd after an Elders quorum party in Mill Creek canyon, I proposed. On August 13th, the proposal was apparently accepted. I asked “When shall we get married, Fern?” Her responsive question which I interpreted as an answer was “before you go to Pittsburgh?” I replied, “Yes” and kissed her. I later joked that I had accepted a leap-year proposal. This is said in jest for she is adamant that she did not propose to me. It would never have entered her mind to do so. When I looked into the mirror to remove the lipstick I noticed that in my pre-occupancy I had buttoned my collar but had forgotten to put my bow tie on. Fern admitted she thought that this was a new style and that I was being sporty. On August 14th I presented Fern with a diamond ring and we notified our friends and relatives. I had purchased the diamond as an investment some years before, knowing it might be useful. This was an eventful week for me. In addition to becoming engaged, I changed jobs, flew to Denver and purchased a car…

From the Frank and Fern family archives, we find several love letters during the weeks that ensued. More on that next time!

[1] Frank Woodbury and Fern Stoddard, “Family History of Frank Alan Woodbury and Fern Laurine Stoddard,” 1991.


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