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Wanda Belle (Nilson) Johnson peacefully passed away of natural causes at her American Fork, Utah home in the early morning of her 100th birthday on September 14, 2022. Wanda, born September 14, 1922 was preceded in death by her husband Brian Clair Johnson in 2009 at age 91, her parents: Amos Carl Nilson and Violet Stirland Nilson, her brothers: Claude and Major, and her sister Marjorie. Wanda is survived by her sister Carole, her daughter Trudy Ann (Douglas Meacham), her seven sons: Gregory Clair (Edda), Brian Carl (Myra) Jerold Christian (Sheri), Richard Hans (Melanie), Edward Nilson (Monica), Robert Nilson (Memselle), and Barry Nilson (Tania), 42 Grandchildren, 105 Great Grandchildren and one Great Great Grandchild.
Wanda was born in Providence, Utah. She attended her first 2 years of school in McCammon, Idaho, where her father was operating a dry farm. Wanda remembered the cold winters in McCammon, riding a sleigh to school, and at night heating and wrapping irons in cloths to take to bed for warming her feet!
In 1930, the family moved to Smithfield, Utah. Wanda attended Summit Elementary School, where she recalled learning to love to read. She then attended Smithfield Junior High, where her Principal recognized her talent for "readings"-Wanda fondly remembered her first "public appearance" (a story/reading presentation) at her 9th-grade graduation exercises.
Wanda then graduated at the top of her class from North Cache High School in Richmond, Utah-at graduation, she addressed her Class of 1940 on the subject of "Education for More Successful Living Through Participation in Solving Community Problems." This was an early sign of how Wanda's life would be defined-by her selfless service to her family, church, and community.
In the fall of 1940, Wanda enrolled in the Salt Lake Business School. After a few years of working in the finance field, Wanda determined that she had missed out by not going to college, so started her college career at the University of Utah in the fall of 1943, and then a year later moved back to her home in Smithfield to attend Utah State (USAC). As part of her drama studies at USAC, she performed in two plays, including "The Nobel Outcast" where she met Clair-Clair was the hero and Wanda the little maid-so as Wanda declared, "Clair fell in love with the "little maid." Wanda graduated from USAC on June 7, 1947 with a Bachelor of Science in Arts and Sciences and with a General Secondary School Certificate.
She was then married to Clair in the LDS Logan Temple on June 12, 1947. Her temple marriage was the beginning of a life-long love of temples and temple work.
The day after their wedding, the young couple headed to San Francisco via Portland as their honeymoon trip. After a short summer on a military assignment, they moved to San Jose, where Clair was to launch his life insurance career with Business Men's Assurance Co. After the birth of their first son, Gregory Clair on March 12, 1948, Wanda developed severe allergies living on the coast. The best medicine was to move away-and so in December 1948 packed up and moved to Boise, Idaho, to work with BMA's Boise office and to go to work building their family-seven more children to be born in Boise: Trudy Ann (1950); Brian Carl (1952) Jerold Christion (1954); Richard Hans (1957); Edward and Robert (1960); and Barry ((1964). Doctors Hulme and West were Wanda's doctors whose families became life-long friends-to this day Wanda has been adored by all our family friends as a first class wife and mother in every respect.
The year was 1956 that Wanda and Clair moved into their dream home in Boise at 418 Mobley Drive, which was built by Al Sorenson-the Sorenson family as well were wonderful family friends who lived next door for the more than 40 years that the Johnson family lived in Boise. Mother transformed the beautiful Victorian ranch home into a safe haven and refuge, with the front room serving as her "piano teaching station." In Boise, she took piano lessons so that she could in turn teach her children to play. Mother Wanda insisted the children continue with piano lessons until they could play the church hymns at home or on their missions. 418 Mobley Drive was her family's musical homeland with Mother as devoted Matriarch and Musical Director in one. Wanda would later challenge and support her children in more than the piano--she delighted listening to Trudy on her violin, Brian and Robert on the cello, Richard on his clarinet and Barry and Edward on the organ at church. She especially was happy to see her boys join Clair in the tenor section of the church ward choir. Their Mobley Dr. home was such a treasure to Wanda and Clair that Clair wrote a song titled "418 Mobley Drive," which the family still sings today-the last few lines read :
With the knowledge of a family love
That can only come from God above.
Dad and Mother's wish for my success
Gave me courage all my life to bless
Me and mine as through the years we roam
Far from Mobley Drive which is my HOME!
In 1965 Wanda's world was changed forever with Clair's calling as Boise, Idaho Stake President. She loved the General Authority visits during Stake Conference weekends. Over the years, she received numerous thank you letters from the Brethren who had stayed in her home-thanking and complimenting Wanda on the beautiful spirit that they felt in her home, and for her delicious meals, including her amazing home-baked whole wheat bread (which her family, of course, enjoyed on, a regular basis)! All her children knew their mother as a most loving, kind and caring "home maker" - they knew that their mother was profoundly impressed about (in her words) "how important and what a responsibility we as parents, especially as mothers, have in creating and maintaining a heavenly atmosphere in the home so that our children will always want to say 'I went home' to share my joys or sorrows." (Wanda here is quoting the words of the boy Joseph following the anguish and excitement he felt after experiencing one of the greatest visions in the history of mankind.)
Wanda's spiritual and religious convictions were based on the words of prophets of old and modern-day prophets, but she was always thrilled to embrace what other marvelous books or great minds might offer up on a subject dear to her heart-so quoting Goethe: "He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home." Wanda was the quintessential home-maker--peace-maker.
Service to her community was Wanda's way of life. She would serve as a Cub Scout Den Leader for 8 years, inviting all the cub scouts into her home. And what an epic story of scouting she would one day write: under Wanda's patient leadership and loving and mindful "micro-management," each of her 7 boys would earn the rank of Eagle Scout. And mother notes as well that their sister Trudy looked sharp in her own scouting uniform. The family watched Wanda live and breathe the Scout Oath, Law, and Motto-duty to God and country, trustworthy, loyal, courteous, kind, and yes, "Be Prepared."
Regarding her family's "preparedness" plan, Wanda's basement food storage room was filled with the most delicious home-canned peaches, pears, apricots, cherries (which she would pick with the children on drives out to the cherry orchards in Emmett, Idaho), and other canned and dry foods, including 50-pound cans of whole wheat, which she would grind up for her whole wheat bread and cook up for her hot whole wheat cereal.
Wanda was the world's best "sports mom" as well. She cheered her kids on in football, basketball, baseball, swimming, snow skiing, water skiing, wrestling, and track competitions. Together the family enjoyed fishing at Priest Lake (mother was always thrilled to cook up the catch) and riding horses (family horses Rex, Jokie, and Alfie) --- Wanda even cheered her twins on to "belt buckle" victories at the Little Buckaroo Rodeos!
For 30 of the years that the family lived in Boise, Wanda was a top manager for the local newspaper-the Idaho Statesman! In Wanda's words: "From the age of 12, each boy has provided for himself his own spending money, bought most of his clothes, and each one has built up a savings account and paid a full tithing." In 1981, the Idaho Statesman visited their manager Wanda's home and snapped a group picture of the brothers. In an article published: "The seven Johnson brothers of Boise all carried and all maintained routes for seven years." Indeed, their dad would wake the boys up every morning at 5:30 am rain or shine-and like Helaman's warriors they would fight [carry and deliver] with faith, for "they had been taught by their mother[s]...." And their monthly collections also were faithfully delivered by the 10th of every month thanks to their mother's kind and patient pushing out the door-"go and get your route money collected early this month!"
Wanda's multiple roles were strengthened and supported all her life by her tireless service and activity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Relief Society, the world's largest women's service organization-where Wanda came (in her words) "to appreciate more the great blessing of being a woman, sister, wife, mother, and grandmother in the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Wanda was a voracious reader-for her reading was yet another way of life. A day would not pass without scripture reading, another good book, a history, biography or novel, and of course, the daily local newspaper to stay abreast of current political, cultural, and social happenings. The most prominent and beautiful room in the 418 Mobley Dr. home was the family library with wall-to-wall bookshelves. Wanda did everything in her power to instill in her children that same love for reading. Wanda and Clair were both significantly influenced by Wanda's cousin Evelyn Wood, founder of the Reading Dynamics Program. Wanda was determined with all the love, compassion and patience to give to her children what she believed to be one of the greatest gifts-a passion for reading. For her children, this meant reading together even into junior high school participating in the Junior Great Books program. If any of the children might be sitting around the house doing nothing, their mother would kindly remind them to "do something constructive-do some homework or read a good book! "
In 1970, Wanda orchestrated yet another "crowning achievement" for her family. The family would pack up in their station wagon and camper truck and drive cross country to Lehigh Acres, Florida to represent the State of Idaho in the All American Family Pageant. This "All American Family Search Contest'' was produced by the All American Family Institute in association with the U.S. Department of Treasury's Savings Bond Division. In connection with the final selection process and after interviewing Wanda for the "Mrs. U.S. Savings Bonds'' title, in his congratulatory letter announcing the Idaho winner, the Idaho State Director simply stated: "If we had more families and mothers like this, the future of America would be assured!" In the end, the family won First Runner Up-according to the children, it was an experience of a lifetime and according to Wanda: "The entire family came home with an increased testimony of the Gospel and a greater understanding of the basic principles of unity among America's families everywhere."
Wanda was a global-minded missionary mother whose influence was felt across the world: Greg served in France, Brian in the Northeastern States, Jerry in Virginia, Richard in Arkansas, Bob and Ed in Japan, and Barry in Sweden. Each of her missionaries would attest that their mother never (not once) missed sending her weekly beautifully handwritten letter, which was savored and then answered faithfully with care. Their mother's letters were faith-promoting "love letters" to her sons and to the people her sons were teaching.
Upon release as Stake President and another release as Regional Representative, Clair and Wanda were called to serve in the Temple Presidency of the new Boise, Idaho temple. From 1982 to 1987 Wanda served as Assistant Temple Matron (Clair as the second counselor and later first counselor), and then served as Temple Matron (Clair as Temple President) from August 1987 to June 1990. In a letter to the First Presidency, Wanda and Clair together expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to serve and noted that "the unspeakable beauty and inspiration of the last seven years have been a blessing 'far above rubies.'"
After living 40 years in Boise, Idaho, and with many of their children living in Utah, with more than a few tears shed about saying goodbye to 418 Mobley Drive and all their long-time Boise friends, in September 1990 Wanda and Clair moved to Salt Lake City.
Wanda went straight to work--volunteering at the Family church Library and Church History Museum, and substitute teaching in the local school district. Wanda would never stop serving!
On June 18, 1992, in a letter from President Ezra T. Benson, Wanda and Clair were called as senior couple missionaries to serve in the Spokane, Washington Mission. During their 18-month mission, they served in Hepner, Oregon, Troy, Montana and Davenport, Washington. In their letter of release, their Mission President observed that "the members and missionaries...feel the love that Sister Johnson extends to all. We have marveled at their extraordinary service and their courage and stamina."
After their mission, in September 1994, Wanda and Clair moved into what would be their final earthly home together, which would be strategically set right behind (sharing backyards) Trudy and Doug's home in American Fork. Wanda was thrilled to work with Clair in the new Mount Timpanogos Temple. Mother loved their new home and the sunflowers that Clair planted in the yard. All her family came to know this beautiful flower through Wanda and why she loved the flower so-Wanda would announce to all her family as often as she could: "As the sunflower follows the light of the sun, we are reminded to follow the light of Christ." And again, nearly every day during the spring, summer and fall, mother loved to care for her flower and vegetable gardens.
Wanda's love extended to ALL her family-she was a bona-fide genealogist-she loved researching and finding names to fill the empty spaces in her family group records. Wanda prepared thousands of family names and family members performed sacred temple work on behalf of deceased ancestors. Wanda embraced every opportunity to organize or attend a family reunion for the purpose of celebrating her family's ancestry-the Thomas Stirland, Corbett, Christian and Christina Johnson, and Nilson families. Quoting Alex Haley, "In all of us there is a hunger, bone-marrow deep, to know who we are and where we have come from." In June 2007, Wanda organized a grand family reunion in Logan, Utah to celebrate Clair and Wanda's 60th wedding anniversary. Wanda wanted to "share the memories" of Utah State and the Logan temple, where they met and graduated from college, and were married. Unfortunately, two years after their 60th wedding anniversary, Clair passed away on August 4, 2009. The then President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Thomas S. Monson, wrote to Wanda in a letter dated August 10, 2009: "We gratefully acknowledge your influence and long support in all [Clair] accomplished, particularly as you served by his side as a temple matron and in the Spokane Washington Mission."
All of the personal history included in this writing are but brief summaries of details of Wanda and Clair's history that are included in a 250-page hard-bound book, a family treasure and yet another monumental achievement by Wanda. Her Personal History book is titled "Lest We Forget-Remember Oh Remember." Wanda was essentially a professional and prolific writer. (On top of the scouting and other achievements, Wanda wrote the most compelling talks for church, for graduation ceremonies, and for public speaking contests-and for the contests, the boys would memorize and deliver, usually finishing in first place, especially if they followed Wanda's coaching on the delivery.) Wanda's Personal History speaks volumes about her character and about what she valued most-her family.
From the date of Clair's death in 2009 to the date of her passing, Wanda would preside as Matriarch over a fast-growing family that has grown to revere and adore her in every way. She would be honored at every family gathering and reunion. And her birthday every year was celebrated with much enthusiasm and cheer as she grew closer to achieving "centenarian status." All the family was excited to witness their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother turn 100 years old! And, this past summer, on July 23, 2022, her 8 children and most members of their families (comprised now of 42 grandchildren, 105 great-grandchildren and one great great grandchild) gathered for a family reunion-a grand "Centennial Belle" celebration. Each of the 8 families paid tribute by recounting the many sweet memories of Grandma Wanda-memories mostly of how Grandma Wanda made each grandchild feel like they were her "favorite." And in truth, each one truly was her favorite! It was a beautiful occasion and in a short address to all the family, Wanda quietly and profoundly spoke: "My only words are my love for you, and how grateful I am that we could have this gathering-it might be the last. I express my love for you-all of you -Thank you."
One of Wanda's favorite authors (she loved his fantastical stories) was the world-renowned Danish children's book author Hans Christian Anderson, who declared: "Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale." As we look back on Wanda's life, she surely authored a most fantastical life-tale. Considering all that she accomplished, all that she was, all who she loved so unconditionally, and all who so dearly loved her-her life, her mission, her heart, her spirit, her style, her compassion for her family and fellowman-considering all, we might very well say, "what a most beautiful fairy tale-but yet so so real a tale for all who knew her."
Wanda was a visionary, and indeed envisioned her final years in her American Fork home with her daughter Trudy (and her husband Doug) close by, and then living with and caring for her in her final years. She envisioned passing peacefully with no pain with her loved ones at her side. And it appears she also envisioned reaching 100 years old and giving her family a most memorable birthday celebration. With Trudy at her side, Wanda passed away peacefully at approximately 3 am on the morning of her 100th birthday.
Services for Wanda will be held Monday, October 3rd at the LDS Ward Chapel, 680 N 350 W in American Fork, UT. There will be a viewing from 9:00-9:45am followed by a memorial service at 10:00am. Internment is at the Logan Cemetery, 1000 N 1200 E, Logan, UT.
Please click on the link below to view the service via live stream:
Monday, October 3, 2022
9:00 - 9:45am (Mountain time)
Monday, October 3, 2022
Starts at 10:00am (Mountain time)
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