by Richard N. Bates, 2005
Susanna Smart Parkinson was born 8 March, 1882 in Franklin, Idaho, the twenty-fourth child of Samuel Rose Parkinson and the eighth of her mother, Maria Smart. She was the namesake of her father’s sister, who had died as a child. Throughout this history I refer to her by her given name, although she was known as Susie, Susa, or Sue (Aunt Sue to many nieces and nephews) by most of her family, friends, and associates. Her mother was the third of Samuel’s polygamous wives, and she was raised in a polygamous family where the family members were taught to refer to their half-siblings as their brothers and sisters. Samuel never wanted his children to differentiate between themselves as being from different families. Implementing this policy was somewhat difficult because Samuel’s children with his first wife, Arabella, were all born prior to Samuel’s second and third marriages to wives who were sisters. However, the children of Charlotte and Maria Smart really were raised for a good part of their childhood as brothers and sisters, living for quite a few years as members of a single household.
The Franklin school housed the first through the eighth grade. Susanna completed the first through the seventh grade there. She attended the eighth grade at Preston Academy. Preston, Idaho was the home of a number of the Parkinson family members and was only a few miles from Franklin. One of her vivid recollections of those growing up years was getting into some distress while swimming in the river and being rescued and pulled from the water by Joseph F. Smith, who was visiting one of his wives who lived in Franklin. She also recalled her first trip to Salt Lake City going with her father on the train to the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, which was held 6 April, 1893. Samuel reported that there were twenty-four members of the family at the dedication.
Within a year or two after finishing the eighth grade, Susanna went to Logan, Utah to continue her schooling at the Brigham Young College, as was the custom in the Parkinson family. At various times, either Charlotte or Maria lived in Logan to provide a home for the Parkinson children who were attending school. However, Susanna recalled living with a family who had a spare room to rent to students. It was while she was attending school in Logan that she met Niels Peter Nielson, Jr. of Pocatello, Idaho. Niels (who will hereafter be referred to as “Niel” since that was the name by which he was addressed by his wife, children, and grandchildren) was the son of Niels Peder Nielson and Harriet Jackson. Niel finished the three-year course at Brigham Young College in two years and then took a job about 1903 with the Oregon Short Line Railroad, working in Nampa, Idaho.
Samuel had spent a number of years “on the underground” trying to avoid arrest and prosecution as a polygamist. Ultimately, he was tried and convicted, and he served a term as a “prisoner of conscience” in the Idaho State Penitentiary. Afterward, although he had been released, he had to be very careful to avoid further persecution and prosecution as a polygamist. Even after the Manifesto, there was confusion in the Church about plural marriage. A prophet had said it would never be taken from the earth. Some members of the Church felt and said that the Manifesto was “window dressing” to satisfy the government in Washington. Everyone knew there were plural marriages that had been solemnized after the Manifesto in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, including some involving members of the Parkinson family.
Susanna said that she had an opportunity to enter into a plural marriage. Because of her home experience, she knew it was an honorable and uplifting way of life when properly lived. She sought her father’s counsel and reported that he told her, “I would counsel you not to enter into any marriage that cannot be sanctioned nor recognized by the authorities of the Church.” Susanna followed that counsel, always believed it was correct, and was glad she had accepted it..
Within about one year after leaving Logan, Niel returned to marry Susanna. They were married in the Logan Temple on 8 June, 1904 and settled in Pocatello, where Niel entered the family business as a partner with his father in Nielson & Sons, a grocery and dry goods store.
St. Louis hosted a huge world’s fair in 1904, which inspired the popular song, Meet Me in St. Louie, Louie. (I believe Samuel, who visited in St. Louis quite often, may have attended that fair.) The following year, in 1905, another world’s fair and the centennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition was held in Portland. Susanna traveled with Samuel and Maria to the fair in a trip that was always one of the high points of her memories of her early years.
Niel and Susanna’s first child, Faris, was born in Franklin (where Susanna went for the late stages of her pregnancy) on 11 June, 1906. Faris was named for one of Niel’s professors at the Brigham Young College. As soon as Faris became old enough to enforce his own wishes, he forever forsook the name Faris and became “Bob.”
Susanna regretted the fact that Niel had not served a mission for the Church prior to their marriage. In a move Niel might have opposed had he known of it, Susanna went to the bishop and encouraged him to issue a mission call to her husband. She was gratified when the call came and encouraged Niel to accept the two-year mission call to the Scandinavian Mission. Niel left in 1906, so Faris was still a baby. Niel was supported by the store. Susanna lived with various family members while Niel was gone. She had the rent from their Pocatello home and took in needle work to support herself and their baby. Niel ended up laboring in Denmark, serving nearly three years rather than two. Susanna also managed to save enough while Niel was on his mission to join him at its end and travel with him in Europe for several months in 1909.
Their second child, Unita, was born in Preston on 23 March, 1910. Susanna contracted uremic poisoning, either in the late stages of pregnancy or just after Unita was born. The doctors believed that she would die and said she was close to going into convulsions, which would be fatal. She was healed and regained her health after being administered to and prayed over by a group of family members including her father. The group was presided over by her brother, George, who was then the Stake President. She described the physical sensation as being almost like an electric shock and said that from that time on she began to regain her strength. She always believed that her health was restored by the priesthood when the medical profession had given up. Unita apparently contracted the disease from nursing and died on 1 May, 1910.
Niel’s brother-in-law, Carl Valentine, was a banker. He helped Niel obtain a position as the cashier at the McCammon State Bank. Niel was later appointed to the same position at the Gem Valley State Bank at Grace, Idaho, and the family lived there for a time. Later, Niel served as cashier, then manager of the State Bank at Park City, Utah. Finally, in the last stage of his banking career, Niel accepted a position with the Federal Reserve Bank of the Twelfth District in Salt Lake City, and the family moved there.
In the meantime, LaRue was born on 1 August, 1911 in Pocatello, Reed was born on 10 July, 1914 in Logan, and Mary was born on 20 February, 1917 in Pocatello. Reed was named after Reed Smoot, an apostle of the Church and a United States Senator, much admired by both Niel and Susanna. Reed duplicated his brother Bob’s performance by changing his name to “Wayne” as soon as he could have his way.
By the time of Mary’s birth, there was a hospital in Pocatello, and the elder Nielsons had a family doctor and friend, so reservations were made at the hospital for Susanna to deliver her baby. Mary came early, and there was no room available at the hospital, so she was delivered at the home of Niel’s sister, Mary Miltenberger. That was the source of the new baby’s name.
Susanna’s mother, Maria, passed away on 15 July, 1915 at Logan, Utah and was interred in Franklin. Her father, Samuel Rose Parkinson, died 23 May, 1919 at Preston, Idaho and was also interred in Franklin..
Niel worked at the Federal Reserve Bank for seven years. Then his health failed, and he was forced to resign. Among other ailments, he had double pneumonia, which nearly caused his death. For a time during Niel’s illness and recovery, Susanna took in boarders to help with family support and finances. Niel’s recovery was slow, but he eventually was employed by ZCMI in a number of mercantile positions, managing the store in Smithfield, Utah for a time, during which the family lived there. After living in Smithfield for a short period, they moved back to Salt Lake.
While the family was living in Salt Lake, Susanna developed an unsightly rash on her face that caused her no pain but a great deal of distress. She sought medical help and opinions, and eventually it was decided that the roots of some of her teeth were infected. On the advice of doctors, she had all of her teeth pulled (not as uncommon then as it would be now), and she had false teeth the rest of her life. Pulling her teeth did nothing to cure or even reduce the problem. She sought further medical opinion and finally found a doctor who was able to treat and eliminate the rash. While she did not dwell on it, she did greatly regret having had all her teeth pulled for no reason. When she told me the story, she said that she had been proud of her “lovely” teeth.
LaRue had married Vane Bates, had their first child, Quentin, and was living in Salt Lake City in 1931. Within a few years, Vane and LaRue found work very difficult to obtain, and LaRue and her family moved to Los Angeles. Mary accompanied them to take care of Quentin while LaRue was at work. Niel’s father had serious dementia, and Niel was needed in Pocatello to help care for his father. Jobs were more plentiful in Southern California than in Utah or Idaho, so Susanna and Wayne relocated to Los Angeles. Susanna found work as a live-in maid with a family in Beverly Hills. Later, she found work with a furrier, and she, Wayne, and Mary got an apartment in the same complex as LaRue and her family.
Both Wayne and Mary graduated from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, Wayne in 1933 or 1934 and Mary in 1935. Niel visited as often as he could, but he was still needed in Pocatello. Finally, he was able to move to Los Angeles, and the family was reunited. Niel looked for work in Los Angeles while living there, but, although he worked at a number of jobs, he was unsuccessful in finding anything permanent and satisfactory. Eventually, he and Susanna moved back to Pocatello after Wayne and Mary were both working and on their own.
At the beginning of World War II, LaRue’s husband, Vane, took a job with Morrison-Knudsen and was working in Needles, California. Neither Vane nor LaRue felt that Needles was a good place for a family, so LaRue and her two boys moved to Pocatello and lived with Susanna and Niel starting in 1942. The following year, Niel accepted a job with the Idaho State Highway Department, and they all moved to Boise, Idaho. When Vane’s job in Needles ended, he joined them in Boise, and the two families lived together for nearly ten years.
During the years in Boise Niel and Susanna’s home welcomed not only LaRue and her family, but also each of Susanna’s other children at various times and for various periods. Niel came to the attention of the Republican Party, and they asked him to run for the position of State Auditor to which he was elected in the state election of 1946. He was inaugurated and took office in January, 1947. Thereafter, he was re-elected twice, in 1950 and again in 1954, to successive terms. At least during the years in Boise, Niel and Susanna never owned a car. Niel would pick a rose bud from the garden for his lapel, then walk the ten or eleven blocks to the State Capitol for work. When he needed transportation, he would call a taxi; he always said he could pay a lot of taxi fares for what it would cost to own an automobile.
Susanna was not completely comfortable as one of the “leading ladies” of Idaho’s political scene, but she was at her best when helping to organize a Republican social event or fund-raiser. Elections were important events in the Nielson household. The whole family would stay up until the wee hours on election night, listening to the returns reported on the radio.
In spite of Niel’s position, Susanna remained a pioneer wife. She cooked, sewed, quilted, made dish towels out of flour sacks, and made her own curtains. She “put up” large quantities of fruit and vegetables in season, she baked bread weekly, and she was renowned for her mince meat pies, which Niel would line up on the window sill of his office during the holiday season to be distributed to some of his favorites. When she would bake pies, cakes, or cookies she always would make a plate for a friend or neighbor. Sometimes she would sell some of her pies during the holiday season, and that money was always given to the Church. I remember her saving large quantities of fat, soaking ashes from the furnace to make lye, and making her own soap in the backyard. She would cut the harsh, brown soap into rectangles. Mostly it was utility soap, used for laundry and cleaning chores. Occasionally, though, one of the boys would get extra dirty, and we learned first-hand about Grandma’s lye soap.
Susanna had always been active in the Church and had served in various capacities in its auxiliary organizations, but in Boise she came into her own. She served as Primary President, as MIA Stake Board member, and as a Stake Missionary. She was a stalwart in the Boise Second Ward, and she served two bishops as Relief Society President. Bishop Willis Peterson said of her:
No bishop in the Church was ever privileged to serve with a finer Relief Society President than Sister Susa P. Nielson. She was mature, kindly, and considerate, filled with love, and stood as the very embodiment of the gospel of Jesus Christ applied.
By mid-1952, Wayne and Bob were back in Southern California, LaRue and her family had just moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Mary was in Hawaii. Niel and Susanna had the house to themselves, except during the summers, when many of the grandchildren descended en masse.
In June, 1952, the entire family gathered at Wayne’s home in Burbank, California for Niel and Susanna’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. Susanna loved family occasions, and this one was particularly memorable for her, in part because of the effort many of the family made to be there to celebrate with her and Niel.
On 30 April, 1957 Niel died while serving the next to last year of his third term as State Auditor. Idaho was one of the few states in the nation that had no indebtedness or budget deficits while this tough fiscal conservative was in office. The tributes, from both political and Church figures, were many and varied. Niel lay in state in the capital rotunda prior to his funeral, which was held at the Boise Stake Tabernacle, with Governor Robert E. Smylie as one of the featured speakers. Niel was a life-long baseball fan, and attended many of the games of the Boise Pilots, then the Boise Yankees, as the local farm team was variously known. He was such a fixture at the park that when he died, it was announced at the game, and the stands stood and observed a minute of silence in his memory. Niel was interred in the Nielson family plot in Pocatello.
Until the last few years of Niel’s life, Susanna had always been surrounded by family. So she sold the family home in Boise and moved in with LaRue and her family in Van Nuys, California, where she lived until her death. She worked in the temple for some portion of this period of her life and enjoyed the company of her children and grandchildren. Of her temple service, she said that it “enriched my life as much as anything I have done.”
On 11 March, 1972 her children, in a celebration reminiscent of her fiftieth wedding anniversary, hosted a ninetieth birthday celebration for her at LaRue’s home in Van Nuys which was attended by most of her surviving family. The Parkinson family had made something of a fuss over longevity. Samuel’s children who lived to be at least ninety years old had their portraits taken and included in a large framed display. Susanna was proud to be counted as one of the “Parkinson Nonagenarians.” On the occasion of her ninetieth birthday, she wrote the following testimony to her family:
I am grateful for the gospel with all its gifts and blessings. Life is eternal. Our family is forever. I know the Lord hears and answers prayers. I know that if we live right, the way is opened up for the righteous desires of our hearts. I have been greatly blessed all the days of my life.
In 1973, during a visit to various family members in Salt Lake City, Susanna was interviewed for the Oral History Program of the Church. The transcript of that interview is a part of the Church Archives, together with other records of pioneer life as compiled through interviews of those who remembered the period.
Just over a month after her ninety-fourth birthday, Susanna passed away in Van Nuys, California on 17 April 1976. After her funeral service in Van Nuys she was transported to Pocatello and interred in the Nielson family plot with Niel.
For Susanna, family was always the center of her life. She was proud of her pioneer parents and their heritage as well as enjoying the accomplishments of her children and grandchildren. She told me on many occasions to always remember that I came “from good stock.” Niel was active in the community as well as the Church; Susanna was busy with her family first and the Church second. She had a good heart, full of charity for others, and was a close friend to her neighbors and to her Church associates. She was capable of hard physical labor most of her life, and she always stayed occupied with work at home and involved in Church matters. She made it a point to stay close to her brothers and sisters and their families, visiting with them often and having them visit with her. She died, having outlived any detractors there might ever have been, loved and honored by all who knew her.
1. BAIRD, Robert W., Historic Genealogy of the Nielson Family, 1975.
2. NIELSON, Don, The Nielson Family Heritage, 1990.
3. NIELSON, Susanna Smart Parkinson. Oral History Interview by William G. Hartley. Salt Lake City, Utah, 1973. Typescript. Oral History Program, Archives, Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.
4. PARKINSON, Preston W., Roots & Branches, c. 2001.
5. TAYLOR, Lester Parkinson, Samuel Rose Parkinson, Portrait of a Pioneer, c. 1977.
6. I am indebted to Ben Parkinson, webmaster, for the information gleaned online from the Parkinson Family Website, www.srp.parkinsonfamily.org. I have also used various online sources to verify dates, etc.
7. For the information of genealogists, I was confused in consulting many Parkinson family records over references to Franklin and Preston as being variously in Oneida County or Franklin County. After some research, I learned that both Franklin and Preston, Idaho are in Franklin County today. In 1895, they were both in Oneida County. Franklin County was formed in 1913. Today, the county seat of Oneida County is Malad City. That was also true in 1895. The county seat of Franklin County today is Preston.