Ethel Sarah Porter

Daughter of Aaron Benjamin Porter Sr., and Rebecca Margaret Poole

By her daughter, LuJean Johnson Walz Bench


(“I wrote this history many years ago, just from stories my mother told me.”  Jean, May 2002)

(Editorial note: A few minor corrections were made to this narrative, and historical notes added in parentheses. Roger Porter)


Ethel Sarah was born December 27, 1881 in Centerville, Utah. Her parents were Aaron Benjamin Porter and Rebecca Margaret Poole. They were also born in Utah and their families came from the Eastern states and from England and Ireland.


Sarah was the fourth child of twelve children. She learned to care for and to help others at an early age. She was washing dishes while she was still so small that she had to stand upon a chair to do so. Her mother would leave the lunch dishes for Ethel to do after school.  Her mother was a very neat person and everything had to be just right. When the girls would hang out the socks, and there would be many of them, they would hang them on a fence. Every stocking had to be mated and evenly placed on the fence, or they went back and placed them right.


Ethel helped keep the home clean and neat. However, the children were never allowed to go into their parents’ bedroom.


On Saturday night before bath time, it was the time to shine the shoes. All shoes were shined with vasoline or shoe polish and lined up in a row for Sunday morning. Her mother would remind them that even though they were somewhat poor, and did not have new shoes, there was no excuse for not being clean.


At an early age, Ethel contacted the terrible disease of polio and her foot was left turned. She was a beautiful girl, but never pushed her way to the front, but always helped others who wanted to be first. However, she did feel sad when her father could not afford to purchase her a bicycle for therapy for her foot, but a few weeks later bought one for her sister Sue.


A sense of humor was one of her trademarks and she enjoyed Halloween, especially when her brothers would play pranks and put the machinery on top of the machine sheds or barns and sometimes the cows were up there too. She had fun sneaking into the neighbor’s watermelon patch, selecting a ripe one, and then eating it in a secluded place. A favorite pass-time was taking some eggs to Mr. Smith’s store and exchanging them for a few gingersnap cookies.


One time she was ironing her brother’s white shirt for a dance. She played a joke on him and starched the entire shirt really stiff. When Will came into his room to dress for the dance, his shirt was standing waiting for him.


Her father owned a small farm and raised fruit. The children worked on the farm and sold fruit in a fruit stand, or took the produce into Salt Lake City. He was also the Bishop of the Centerville Ward. On Sunday, Ethel would set the table before going to Sunday school.  It was always set for thirteen because her father would always bring home an extra person for dinner, someone who may have been lonely that day.


When Ethel was eighteen, a beautiful girl, only 5 feet tall and weighed ninety pounds.  She had dark hair, brown eyes, and an olive complexion, which she was always trying to bleach, so her skin would be fair; they had to leave their lovely home by the foot of the mountains and the lovely flowers and trees. Her father, being the Bishop, and desiring to help others, had signed a note with a lady who worked in the Post Office. When the note came due, she could not pay it and so Ethel’s father had to assume the debt. He had to give up his home and so decided to move to Rexburg, (Burton, actually, west of Rexburg) Idaho, where his oldest daughter and husband were living.


On New Year’s Eve they were packed and ready to leave. Ethel’s father was heard to remark when his wife asked if they had everything: “Everything, Dear, except the little fingerprints on the wall that we must leave behind.”  All the family and friends gathered at the train depot to bid them farewell. Ethel had to leave her boyfriend and friends and the place she loved more than anywhere in the world, Centerville, and she never got over loving the memories of it, or of crying on New Year’s Eve.  The band played “Farewell to Thee,” and the train started off with the Porter family to the wilds of Idaho.


Ethel, being one of the oldest children, had to help her mother with all the little ones. What a trip it must have been.  They arrived in Rexburg at dusk and Nettie’s husband was waiting with a sleigh. They went to Burton and had to live in a dugout all that winter until her father could get a house for them. (Two photos of this home are on this web site.)


Her Grandfather Poole was living in Menan, Idaho, (south of Burton) at the time. He was the Stake President and also one of the founders of Ricks College and Rexburg. He helped them by giving them cattle and starting them with their farming.


Her father contracted pneumonia and died at an early age of fifth two. He was a small man and could not adjust to the cold and rugged life in Idaho.


Ethel helped her mother raise the children and to farm the land and also try to obtain some land on the Rexburg bench. They soon started to fix up their home and plant flowers and trees, trying to pattern it after their lovely home in Centerville. When a strong wind would blow, Ethel could be heard to remark: “I’ll bet there is an East wind blowing this morning in Centerville.”


Ethel met her husband to be, James A. Johnson, while she was president of the YWMIA and he was president of the YMMIA.  They fell in love and their courting was usually swinging in the Porter swing or at a church function ad James did not have much money.  He would walk to see her and was passed by Sue’s boyfriend in his fancy buggy and snappy team of horses; or take Ethel some hand picked roses from his yard, while Sue would get something more dazzling. However their love was more than what material things money could buy and lasted all through their 63 years of married life with blessings given them from the Lord and money could never buy.


They were married in Logan, Utah on July 1, 1903. They lived in a little house on the Johnson ranch with the other Johnson brothers and families as their neighbors.  Her daughters Elva and Opal were born there, and this is where they lived while her husband served a mission in Denmark for 31 months.


Later she had a new home, which is told about in her husband’s history. She made the house into a home and was always a charming lady, hostess and wife. Three more girls were born to Jim and her: Wanda, Doris, and LuJean. Their five daughters were their pride and joy.


Ethel played the organ in Sunday school and Sacrament meeting and also gave piano lessons in her home. She was a devoted Bishop’s wife and spent many hours waiting for her husband to attend to his church duties.  She always loved the gospel and had a testimony of its truthfulness.


She enjoyed being in her home. Cooking chicken, making gravy, pies, biscuits, and just about any baking was her specialty: making bread…that wonderful smell was always a delightful experience. Also, the clean fresh-air smelling sheets on the beds were another luxury.


She helped her husband with the fieldwork the best that she could.  Chores that she would never do were: learn to drive the car or a team or horses, or milk the cows or do barn work; nor would she allow her daughters to do the chores.


Her best enjoyment after the dishes were finished and kitchen cleaned up was to sit in her rocking chair and enjoy the twilight. Another enjoyment was to call someone to come and see the beautiful sunsets with her.


She was promised in her blessing that she would never taste death. During her married life she never had a death of a loved one, such as her husband, children, sons-in-law, or grandchildren.


After the terrible ordeal of Polio that Ethel suffered she seemed to be blessed with good health from then on. Her blessing promised her that she would go in a twinkling of an eye. Since she was so dependent upon her husband, she was always in fear of losing him to death before she went. But at the age of 88, after living in the Rexburg Rest Center for one year, she died quickly in the Rexburg Memorial Hospital of her lungs filling with water and she was gone soon without any suffering. She passed away on February 13, 1969, one month before her husband was to join her. Many friends and family members came to her funeral, which was held in the Burton Chapel, and she was buried in the Burton cemetery, bordering her and her husband’s farm and not far from their lovely home.