“Jennette Evans McKay,” Friend, July 1987, 44
Heroes and Heroines:
Jennette Evans McKay
Nine-year-old David O. McKay sat cross-legged on the floor in front of a cozy fire in the front room of the McKay home in Huntsville, Utah. Sitting next to him on a handwoven rug was his seven-year-old brother, Thomas, and his sisters, Jennette, four, and Annie, two. The children were thrilled to have their father home for the first evening in over two years. David McKay, after whom David O. had been named, had just returned from serving a mission in Scotland—the land of his birth—and the children were anxious to hear of their father’s adventures in that far-off land. This was the first time that little Annie had even seen her father, because she had been born ten days after he left for his mission.
As David told the children about Scotland, describing the music of the bagpipes, the fields of heather, the castles, and the thousands of sheep dotting the hillsides, one of the children asked him if he had seen any miracles while he was on his mission. David’s eyes met those of his wife, Jennette, and he replied as he put his arm around her, “Your mother is the greatest miracle that I have ever seen on this earth.” The McKay children remembered those words the rest of their lives, and they were taught by their father to love their mother and to appreciate the many things that she did for them each day.
Jennette Evans McKay, mother of our ninth prophet, David Oman McKay, had sacrificed a great deal to make it possible for her husband to go on a mission. When the mission call arrived in the mail, Jennette and David had three living children, and a fourth—Annie—was to be born very soon. They owned a large farm that required a lot of work, and they had just saved up enough money to remodel their home and add on more bedrooms.
David was hesitant to leave his wife with so much responsibility, but Jennette said, “Of course you will go! David O. and I will manage quite nicely.”
After her husband left for Scotland, Jennette McKay had the ward priesthood quorums do her spring planting, and she spent a lot of time teaching her young children how to run the farm. They milked the cows, fed the chickens, gathered the eggs, and helped harvest their precious crops. And after swearing everyone who knew about it to secrecy, Jennette had their home remodeled without telling her husband in any of her letters to him. She made the kitchen and dining room larger and added several new bedrooms. She was especially proud of the new indoor staircase, which led to the children’s bedrooms upstairs. Now she would no longer have to wrap up warmly on cold winter nights, go outside, climb a ladder, and crawl through a window to tuck her children in bed at night.
When Jennette’s husband returned from his mission, he could not believe his eyes as he toured the home and saw the many improvements. The farm, the home, and, of course, the children had been well taken care of by Jennette McKay.
President David O. McKay remembered listening to his mother many times tell of growing up in Wales, where she was born in the village of Merthyr Tydfil on August 28, 1850. Jennette’s father, Thomas Evans, worked in the dark coal mines; her mother, Margaret, made their modest cottage a pleasant and cozy place. Jennette went with her mother many times to the Saturday markets, where they could buy anything from bacon and cheese to books and shoes at the outdoor stalls.
When Jennette was only six years old, she and her parents and brothers and sisters came to America on a large ship called the Horizon. They had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wanted very much to live with the Saints in Utah.
The Evans family settled in Ogden, Utah, and Jennette was attending school there when she first met David McKay. They were later married by Wilford Woodruff, who would soon become President of the Church.
David and Jennette became the parents of eleven children, eight of whom lived to adulthood. Jennette was a very kind and patient mother, and she taught her children the principles of the gospel each day by word and example. President McKay once said that his boyhood home was “the dearest, sweetest spot on earth.”
Jennette wanted to be sure that her children received a good education, and she sacrificed a great deal of time and money to send them to good schools. Each of her eight surviving children graduated from college!
When Church leaders from Salt Lake City visited the Huntsville area, they often stayed at the McKay home because the town had no restaurant or hotel. Sometimes when they had guests for dinner, Jennette had a special code—FHB—that meant “family hold back.” When she gave the code, the children knew to hold back from taking large helpings of food so that their guests had enough to eat.
Jennette Evans McKay died in 1905 at the young age of fifty-four. Many years later President David O. McKay went to Wales and dedicated a chapel in Merthyr Tydfil, the village where his mother was born. He also had a large commemorative plaque mounted on the front of the small cottage where his mother was born, and the plaque is still there today.