This small-town girl headed to New York in 1937 to earn her master’s degree at Columbia University, where the legendary educator John Dewey was her teacher. She helped establish the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City, exhibiting the work of local artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and entertaining them in her apartment.
She talked about how she served on the church’s general Sunday School board with a “kid” named Gordon Hinckley. She married and had her first child at 41 and her second at 46. She taught elementary education at Brigham Young University for 35 years, creating a course that continues today. She served full-time missions in Texas, Peru and Guatemala and worked in the Provo Utah Temple until she was past 100.
At age 102, she received the Mormon History Association’s Best International History Award for co-authoring a biography of her father.
Staggering as Lorna’s experiences were, it was when I came to the end of writing her biography that I was most moved by her life. I gathered remembrances of Lorna written by her descendants, friends, siblings and countless nieces and nephews. Lorna was such a humble person, I don’t know whether many of them were fully aware of all the amazing things she had done in her life of a century.
What mattered to them, and what mattered to her, was what she had meant in their lives.
She had mothered her younger siblings after her mother died and had helped them obtain their own college degrees. She nursed one of her sons back to health from polio. She talked about how she hid chocolate cakes or watermelons along the back wall of the MTC for her missionary sons to find.
She served up delicious food for family parties at her home on University Avenue each year while Provo’s Fourth of July parade rolled by. She left her bottled fruit and flowers on the doorsteps of neighbors and always paid her nephews an extra 10 percent for working in her yard, telling them to use it to pay their tithing.
She somehow managed to make each of her loved ones feel that they were her absolute favorite.
I used to wish I could be as grand a soul as Lorna Call Alder, but I’ve given that up. I’m just not that good. Few people are. Instead, I’m just grateful to be the ordinary woman who got to tell her extraordinary story.
Barbara Jones Brown earned a master’s degree in American history from the University of Utah. She is currently working on a book about the aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
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