“Eva Woolstenhulme: Grandma and Friend,” Ensign, July 1985, 53–54
Eva Hortin Woolstenhulme has a reputation as a “doer”—whether she is making the special sauce and overseeing the serving for the community’s annual rodeo barbecue, teaching a Primary class, or teaching her granddaughters to quilt.
Beneath her involvement lies a lifelong desire to serve. “When you get involved with the people around you, you get to know their needs,” she says. “And then you have a chance to help.”
Still substitute teaching in local schools at age seventy-five, Sister Woolstenhulme invited one sixth grader who was having trouble with reading to come to her home for help. The girl came by often—until she had finished all the books on her reading list.
Sister Woolstenhulme’s grandchildren also stop by frequently for help with their schoolwork. For though she is involved in Church and community service, her primary concern is still her family—eleven children, thirty-nine grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren (the count keeps changing upward).
Born to Ella Smith Malin and John William Wilkinson Hortin in Oakley, Utah, on 25 September 1909, Sister Woolstenhulme learned the value of service early. “We were never allowed to take money for helping others,” she says. Once a couple she had worked for offered her a quarter as pay. She took the quarter home, only to have her father send her back to return it the next day. The lesson stuck with her, along with a commitment to serve others.
Sister Woolstenhulme met and dated Wallace Elmo Woolstenhulme during high school. He stayed in the picturesque Kamas Valley to farm while she went to Brigham Young University and then on to Peoa, Utah, and Lyman, Wyoming, to teach. “But we always got back together,” she says. They were married in Randolph, Utah, on 5 February 1930. They were sealed in the Manti Temple on 9 October 1962.
Eleven children were born to the Woolstenhulmes. They are a close family.
What kept them that way? “When they were little, they had to share. They had to help each other,” Sister Woolstenhulme replies. Of necessity, the children learned responsibility early. “They knew what it was like to get up in the morning and milk a herd of cows before going to school,” she says. Those were the lean years. There were often barely enough clothes to go around for all the growing children. Son Ken remembers that when there was not enough food, his mother would make an excuse for not wanting to eat. “Of course, the food went to the kids,” he says. Such “on-the-job” training gave the children a healthy dose of their parents’ values.
Elmo Woolstenhulme set his own example of service. When not working logging jobs out of town, he helped Sister Woolstenhulme bathe the children and put them to bed. As they got older, the boys worked with their father on the farm, where they learned to work hard and “stay until the job was finished, even if it was officially quitting time,” Sister Woolstenhulme says.
The Woolstenhulmes have had their share of trials—six-year-old Jack’s sudden death in May 1943, daughter Gwen’s death in a 1955 car accident, and daughter Ann’s death of pneumonia in December 1975. “I’ve often wondered how I could have taken what I’ve been through without the gospel,” Sister Woolstenhulme reflects. “How could anyone part with a child, a mother, or a father, without knowing he will see them again?”
The Woolstenhulmes sacrificed to send three sons on missions. Brother Woolstenhulme farmed, and Sister Woolstenhulme worked—first as a cook at a cafe, and then for the school lunch program. She later became custodian of the ward chapel, a job she kept until retirement at age sixty-seven. Here, her attention to detail earned her a good reputation. “From the way she dusted, wiped, and polished everything from the blackboards to the windowsills to the hardwood floors every week, I learned to take pride in the things I do and go the extra mile to see that they are done right,” says granddaughter Jackie W. Blazzard.
Recently released after three years as workers in the Salt Lake Temple, Brother and Sister Woolstenhulme agree that it was the most enjoyable Church calling they have ever had. “It’s wonderful to know you’re doing something for people that they can’t do for themselves,” Sister Woolstenhulme says of service in the temple. She also enjoys doing research at the Genealogical Library in Salt Lake City.
Recurring phlebitis and a surgically replaced knee joint have not prevented Eva Woolstenhulme from being active. She nearly always has a quilt set up in her “needlework corner,” and when she is not quilting, she is crocheting afghans for various grandchildren. She has passed on these skills to her numerous posterity.
The white frame house the Woolstenhulmes bought and remodeled in 1949 sits just across the street from their son Ken’s general store and the gas station run by another son, Wendell (“Dutch”). Six of the children live in Oakley with their families. Sister Woolstenhulme enjoys having her family close. She gets involved in her grandchildren’s lives. Son Darwin says: “She doesn’t hesitate to let the grandchildren know what’s expected of them, by their family and the Lord.”
But family members know she has their best interests at heart. Debra Van Tassell, who married the Woolstenhulmes’ grandson Larry during her third year at BYU, says, “I remember Grandma sitting us down and advising us that it would be very important for me to have that degree. Three years and almost two children later, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work.” Husband Larry will receive a Ph.D. this summer.
Sister Woolstenhulme also acknowledges her children’s and grandchildren’s influence on her life. “My kids are a good example,” she says. “And I’m as close to my grandchildren as I am to my children.”
“She’d do anything to help anybody,” says her seventeen-year-old granddaughter Kena—including baking one of her famous blueberry pies for a granddaughter to give to a boyfriend.
Another granddaughter, Kaelyne W. Leavitt, agrees. “Grandma doesn’t try to be a grandma,” she says. “She tries to be a friend.”