“Grandma Esther,” Ensign, Aug. 1993, 68–69
Fourteen little heads are bowed, twenty-eight eyes squeezed tightly shut, dozens of tiny fingers folded and still, and—what is most remarkable—all fourteen mouths are closed at the same time. One small child sits on the gray-haired leader’s lap. Another is encircled in her arm, and two more stand beside her, as four children at a time help set the atmosphere for the prayer.
A nursery class in the Sigurd [Utah] Ward Primary had this spirit about it for the five years that 95-year-old Esther Thalman served as nursery leader. During this time, she created a relaxed but controlled reverent atmosphere for her young charges. The loving enthusiasm Sister Thalman brought to the nursery was the same as she brought to her entire life.
One week they would get a chance to go “fishing” with a real fishing pole and take home the paper fish that they caught. Another week, they might get to hold the baby rabbit that was the lesson’s visual aid or closely examine a real bird’s nest, saved just for this lesson by Sister Thalman when the nest blew out of a tree.
Later, as a rest exercise, she would play Ring around the Rosies with the adoring youngsters. She would fall to the floor on cue, and when she claimed, to the delight of her small students, that she couldn’t get up alone, many tiny hands would “help” her to her feet. Next she would lead her charges on an obstacle course over chairs, under tables, and around the room.
Esther was the youngest of ten children born to Ole Christian Jensen and Else Marie Mortensen Jensen in Ephraim, Utah. “I can never remember when I did not have chores to do,” she says. “There was some time for play, but chores had to be done first. All of the clothes and ‘kid jobs’—like hunting eggs—were handed down until they got to me, and I kept them forever.
“Family prayers were held morning and night, and I grew up with the knowledge of the goodness of God and our need of him.”
Esther graduated from Snow College in 1917, earning a teaching certificate. She married Albert Verg Thalman a year later. Within two years, just after his return from Germany, where he was stationed during World War I, Verg was called to be bishop. “It was really a great responsibility for two young kids to shoulder. Three of our children were born while he was a bishop. We were really busy raising a family, making a living, and guiding a ward. But I’ve been thankful for that experience; life took on a whole new meaning.”
The mother of five children, including a daughter who died at the age of six months, she taught her children honesty, faith, hard work, and that when she said no, she meant it. After her husband died in 1957, Sister Thalman served a full-time mission for the Church in the Central Atlantic States Mission.
Upon returning home, she worked as an instructional aide at the Indian dormitory in Richfield, Utah, for eight years. After she retired, she had more time for hobbies like crocheting, sewing, and making quilts for her children, her twenty-four grandchildren, her seventy-two great-grandchildren, and her five great-great-grandchildren.
Although Esther Thalman, at ninety-five, no longer teaches the nursery, she hasn’t slowed down. The children still love her, and many of her former nursery class members seek her out each Sunday to give her a special hug. She attends all of her meetings, including Relief Society homemaking meetings, which are held in the evening. She never misses the socials or other special ward events.
Esther goes visiting teaching each month, as has been her custom through all her years of teaching. People still go to her for advice and comfort. She is always visiting someone, and walks daily to see neighbors and family members.
In true pioneer spirit, Esther is enduring to the end in all she does, including serving as lesson leader for the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, of which she is a charter member. Admired by all who know her for her endurance, Esther keeps up her house and yard by herself and cares generously for those around her. The lessons she has taught are the same as those she lives.—Darthell Torgersen, Sigurd, Utah