Rhoda Kay Sorensen
Our mother has been gone from us for twenty-five years now, but the memory of her is so strongly imprinted on my heart that I feel her presence in a real sense. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think of something she did or said, or some belief she held. I feel it is my duty and privilege to record all I can remember or find out about her life.
Mother was the second child and second daughter of Thomas Kay and Sarah Riley Kay; both parents had always lived in North Central England. Thomas and Sarah Kay were the parents of eleven children. Grandfather was a carpenter and wheelwright, and also ran a small farm. He raised sugar beets, corn, clover, oats, potatoes and a large vegetable garden. After grandfather’s death, Uncle Benjamin Kay lived there and took care of his mother as long as she lived, then he married and continued to live there as long as he was able to run the farm. Grandfather had a very sudden death. He was riding his pony, apparently in good health, and just fell off the horse dead of a heart seizure.
Mother always said she had wonderful parents and was reared in a genteel home. Grandmother Kay was a very pretty and aristocratic lady. Grandfather was an affectionate man proud of his wife and devoted his life to her and his family. They were stanch members of the Wesleyan Methodists. Grandfather had their own family pew, a small enclosure, with a small gate and each Sunday it was filled with his family. Out of their family of eleven, two of them died, a girl nine months old and a son twenty-four years old. Mother said her parents told her it was harder on them having her join the Mormon Faith and leaving England than to bury the other two.
There was a very close bond between mother and Grandfather Kay, closer it seemed than between mother and daughter. Grandfather always wrote such sweet loving letters to mother and we children, I still have some of the letters he wrote to me when I was a little girl. Their home was not far from the seashore. There was a resort called Hull where they would go each year for a vacation. Mother used to tell us of a childhood incident in which she set a straw stack afire and it spread to the barn. Grandfather was so distraught he told her to go upstairs and wait until he had time to kill her. She waited and waited hidden under the bed, of course when the fire was out, he cooled down and gave her a good scolding.
Their home was a large two-story rock house, with plenty of room for a large family. Grandfather’s shop was just at the back of the house. I do remember mother telling about visits to her mother’s parents, but I can’t remember any details.
At the age of five, mother started school in a girls’ private school and was kept there until age thirteen. She was taught reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, grammar and geography, music, sewing, knitting, all kinds of fancy work including tatting, crocheting and embroidering. She also had private piano lessons. At fourteen she was bound apprentice for six months in a dress making establishment, then she served three months improver, and three months shirt hand, sleeve and bodice hand, also trimmer, at the end of a year she was considered worth three shillings or seventy-five cents a week. She had a very long walk to and from work, and one day she heard her father say it wasn’t worth her shoe leather at those wages, so she began carrying her shoes and walking barefoot. She had a natural gift for design and style and wanted so badly to learn more, however, at that small wage she didn’t stay long, but at the age of eighteen she went back as forewoman at a salary of thirty shillings a week which was considered good wages. After three years she went to a business house in Harrogate (1892). While working there she was sent to London once or twice a year to get the latest styles, then she would have to draft the patterns and supervise having them made up. There were no commercial patterns in those days.
While at Harrogate she met her dear friend Hannah Acomb (Aunt Nancy Larsen). Mother was very successful in her career. Walkingtons’ had the misfortune of having their place of business burn down, and she had to makeshift in their dwelling house. Aunt Nancy was living at the same house helping to take care of the children and keep house. They became fast friends and that love lasted throughout their lives and is still continuing in their children’s lives.
One-day mother heard the girls talking about a strange new religion, which was being preached in that area. She decided that just out of curiosity she would like to go to one of their cottage meetings. She mentioned this to Aunt Nancy, and found that Mormons were no strangers to her. She had been to their meetings and knew all about Utah and the Mormons. Her father’s people had accepted the gospel and came to Utah.
They attended the meetings and became very interested. Mother said it took a long time and much study and prayer before she gained a testimony and understood the gospel. On February 11th, 1893, Elder Joseph Salisbury baptized her and confirmed her a member of the church the following day. She received much opposition from her parents. They could not understand why she would join such an unpopular religion. Their friends and fellow churchmen thought it terrible. Grandfather told her if she persisted in her belief, she could not come home anymore. They could not stand the tension and heartbreak of parting. She also had a gentleman friend William Pollard with whom she was in love; that broke up also.
She began getting ready to come to Utah. She said everything in her business went so well that it wasn’t long until she had everything she needed and quite a lot of money to spare. She sailed from Glasgam, Scotland on the steamship Furnisia April 30th, 1896. She hoped against hope that her father would relent and come and see her off, but he did not. She watched the shoreline as long as she could see, then fainted away falling against some hot object on the deck. When she opened her eyes, a young Mormon Elder was standing by her. He had lain her down. It was my father, returning from a mission to Denmark. She did not see him again on the crossing because she had been transferred to sick cabin, and he was traveling second class. Father was never in England, but had crossed the North Sea from Denmark to Scotland. She saw him once more when he changed cars at Ogden and not again until the following August.
In Glasgam, Scotland she had met Brother and Sister Jenkins and their daughter Lena, also a sister Moor, Brother Jenkins had filled a mission in Wales and Scotland and his wife and daughter had made a visit and were returning home with him. Sister Moor had been on a visit to her parents in Denmark. They were all a great comfort to mother who was very ill most of the crossing. They arrived in New York May 11th, spent one day in New York City sightseeing, then took another boat to Norfolk, West Virginia. From there they took a train for St. Lewis. They spent part of a day sightseeing then left by train for Salt Lake City arriving there May 18th.
In the meantime, Aunt Nancy and her parents had joined the church and come to Utah and settled in Granger. They had invited mother to make her home with them until she got settled. While living with the Acombs she formed attachments, which lasted, throughout her life. Their relatives in Salt Lake City received her as a daughter. These folks were Uncle John and Aunt Lucy Acomb, Auntie Elizabeth Buttle, Aunt Liz and Uncle Will Martin, and the Snaars’. Mother made periodic visits to them and when they came to visit Aunt Nancy, mother and her family were always included, we loved them dearly. I remember thinking when I was little that Auntie Buttle was our Grandma Kay. It was so much fun to go to her home. Mother always referred to Aunt Nancy’s parents as Dad and Mother Acomb. She loved them dearly and said they were wonderful sweet people.
Aunt Nancy had a brother Jack. He and my mother fell in love and were to be married until an accident claimed his life. He was bringing in the cows from pasture one evening when his pony stepped in a gopher hole throwing him off and causing a head injury. When it grew late and he didn’t return, they got out a searching party. During that tragic night, his mother’s hair turned grey with worry.
While mother was living in Granger, she came to Cache Valley on the train to visit Brother and Sister Joseph Salisbury in Wellsville. At that time the tracks turned east at Mendon and went to Logan. The station was way down east of Mendon with not another building in sight. I often wonder what her reactions were, coming to the end of the line with no one to meet her, a stranger in a strange town. Fortunately, Brother M. D. Bird went down to pick up the mail to take to Wellsville and he kindly offered her a ride to the Salisbury’s. He told my father he had taken an English convert to Wellsville so father drove up there to see her.
Brother Jenkins persuaded mother to come to Logan and open a business, which she did in October 1896. She rented a room in the second story of one of the business houses on First North in the First Ward. She had a very good dressmaking business and had quite a few young ladies as apprentices. She made good friends with many of the elite of Logan. All the ladies who could afford it were eager to have a designer make their dresses. Many of these people were friends throughout her life. The Eliason Family in particular. Mother named her second little girl after Hilda Eliason. At the little girl’s death at age four, Hilda E. provided a sweet little silk dress for her burial. There were three Eliason sisters and they owned a store in Logan. I remember as a child going into their store with mother to see them each time we went to Logan. They all kissed her and were so happy to see her, and I was proud to have a much-loved mother.
My mother and father continued their friendship and were married February 16th, 1898. Father worked for the Sydney Steven’s Implement Company. Grandfather Sorensen was called on a work mission to help build the Logan Temple so in August of that year, they had to come to Mendon to live, so father could help the other boys take care of grandpa’s farm. Dave Muir went to fight in the Spanish American War so they were able to rent his house while their own was being built. That is the home that Orval and Roberta Bird live in. My sister Alice was born in that house.
When dad first brought mother to meet his folks, it was love at first sight between mother and grandma. Mother said she knew she had found her home. They had a perfect relationship throughout their lives. Mother loved and was loved by the whole family. She had a very good relationship with grandpa and those two spent a lot of time together doing research work for genealogy.
Mother lavished all the love she couldn’t give her own parents and brothers and sisters on her husband’s family. Aunt Olive was just a little baby then. She was born while dad was on his mission. Mother and father were blessed with six children, three girls and three boys, two of whom died; Hilda at four years old and Isaac shortly after birth.
Their new home had three rooms and to help make ends meet, they rented out the large front room. Aunt Nan and Uncle Bert Whitney started their married lives there. Their first child Glen was born there. Aunt Nancy and Uncle Pete also started their lives together in that room. Mother had sewing classes going almost all the time. I guess all the girls in Mendon at that time, learned sewing in her classes. I can remember all those girls at our home.
Mother was always anxious and willing to do anything she could to further God’s work. She held many positions in the Ward. She enjoyed working with Sadie Baker in the M.I.A., with Uncle Peter Larsen in religion class and genealogy. She enjoyed the Relief Society Visiting Teacher Program and was magazine representative for over twenty years. She was the first one called to direct the Cradle Roll, the forerunner of Junior Sunday school. She did a great deal of temple work. She helped to lay out scores of dead women in the days before undertakers did it. She was always interested and ready to help with anything in a civic capacity during World War I. She had charge of knitting for the soldiers. I remember seeing the stacks of yarn, which came to our house, then the finished articles which were brought in to be shipped away. While mother was at Walkingtons’, the girls gave her a pet name (Dearie) and that name was used throughout her life. Many people didn’t know her name was Rhoda. She had an especially warm spot in her heart for the old, the sick, and poor, and would go out of her way to make their lives a little easier. Uncle Jim Hill’s second wife was an English woman who used to come to our home every morning to get milk. Mother gave her milk and any other thing she had available. This old lady didn’t have a pleasant life and she poured out her troubles on mother. I think the only money she had of her own was when she would bring some little thing she had brought from England and mother would buy it. We children were taught to treat old folks with respect. An old man whom we knew as Brother Emil used to make periodic visits to our house. Our folks would find little jobs for him. He would come early in the morning and have three good meals. The first thing mother would do is put him in the bathtub and shampoo his hair herself. He had long white curly hair, which was beautiful when it was clean. Then she would wash and iron his clothes. She loved her neighbors Brother and Sister Peter Larsen and Sister Sadie Bird, and one could make her a confidante and be sure it would go no further. Our folks had one of the few telephones in town and every day someone would come and ask her to talk to the Dr. or do some other business on the phone. She knew how to do those things.
A very happy time in all our lives was when her brother Fred Kay came to visit us. We all loved him so much and he made himself so agreeable to everyone that we all wished he would spend the rest of his life here. He stayed with us four months and was the only one of mother’s family she ever saw. There was so much sociability in Grandma Sorensen’s family and mother was right in the middle of it. They could have a little social going at a moment’s notice. Aunt Nan would come and sometimes bring one of her good native currant pies. Aunt Nancy would bring her famous lemon tarts. Grandma would bring gingersnaps or good homemade bread and butter, and mother made wonderful cinnamon buns. They would talk and visit and have such a good time together.
When Bernard and I married mother helped us so very much. Our first baby Louise was born in her home, and I feel sure if it hadn’t of been for the care mother and Aunt Nancy gave that baby, she wouldn’t have lived. She was so tiny and delicate and her skin seemed burned. Aunt Nancy came every morning for three weeks and bathed her in oil. Our second baby Beverly was born at mother’s home also and my mother and Sister Alice took care of Louise and nursed myself and baby. I could never forget my mother’s kindness and love to me. She did so very much. Bernard and mother had a great deal of love for one another. He loved her dearly and would do anything for her. We never went anywhere that we thought mother would enjoy that she wasn’t invited and she usually went. She knew we wanted her and she felt comfortable, and we enjoyed her company. She was a good sport and fun to be with. If we wanted to go to a show or any other entertainment, she was all for it. She never wanted to be a baby sitter, so it was seldom we asked her to tend the children when we went anywhere. Mother had so much courage. She was confronted with obstacles that would be enough to discourage most people, but she hung in there and struggled through. When she went from sea level to our high climate, it affected her heart. She took terrible fainting spells. It almost frightened we children to death. It seemed like she would take so long to come out of them. One child would run to get Aunt Nancy and another to get dad. Aunt Nancy would come as fast as she could. It didn’t matter what she was doing and never once before she died did she ever appear to resent it. She always knew just what to do for mother. She was so good to our family. I could never say enough in praise of her. She was surely a second mother to me. I often think how pleased she would be with the beautiful nursing home opened by her children, full of old folks where lives are made better by being there. She was a natural born nurse and loved to help people.
Mother always enjoyed her birthday so much and we always observed it with a very nice meal and an afternoon of visiting so many dear friends came bringing gifts and something nice for the lunch. It was always a special day.
Father died in November 1938, and mother was left alone. Kay and Maxine came to live in part of her home. Due to their being close, she was able to spend the rest of her life in her own home. She had very poor health quite a few years before her death. Her faith in administration was very great and it sustained her all her life in any sickness or crises. She always knew she had done right to come to Utah, and her family in England came to realize it also.
Mother took care of dad through his last long illness. He was only in the hospital two or three days before he died. They had a good life together, although a little stormy at times. They both had strong temperaments. They enjoyed many things together each loving music and cultural activities. She had favorite songs, which she loved to have dad sing. “Asleep in the Deep”, and “The Lost Chord”, were two of them. Some of her favorite hymns were “Nay Speak No Ill” and “Should You Feel Inclined to Censure”. She had a strong dislike of backing and slander and never took part in anything of that nature. When she passed away she left a host of loved ones and friends.
Born: 29 May, 1870, at Rawcliffe, Yorkshire, England. Died: 25 February, 1949, at Mendon, Utah.
Children of W. I. and Rhoda Kay Sorensen:
Alice Kay born November 23rd, 1898, died October13th, 1967.
Hilda Mary born April 14th, 1901, died May 5th, 1905.
Rhoda Louise born January 31st, 1904, died January 31st, 1985.
Isaac William born January 24th, 1906, died 24th January 1906.
Thomas Kay born October 17th, 1909, died December 12th, 1994.
Frederick William born August 10th, 1915, died July 26th, 1986.