I suppose I must confess that this tribute to my Mother-in-law was conceived because of an article I read called Turning Mother-in-law into Mothers-in-love. After reading the article memories of my Mother-in-law flooded my mind. My relationship with my MIL was tentative at best for most of my married life. I suppose I could say it was all her fault, but as the article explains, “Life is often a series of epiphanies, little revelations that can change lives and relationships if we apply those new interpretations to our life experiences. The Apostle Paul said in Corinthians: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11). For me, putting away my childish attitudes regarding my MIL came as I began to know her better by studying her life. A beautiful sense of understanding filled my heart and, at last, I was at peace with my relationship with her, unfortunately this only came shortly before she passed away.
Upon her passing I was privileged to be the one chosen to compose and deliver the eulogy at her funeral. If you ever have feelings of unkindness towards someone, attempt to write only good things about them. It is a healing process I recommend to all.
As Mother’s Day approaches I felt compelled to share the story of my Mother-in-law, and take joy in the wonderful woman she truly was.
Phyllis Margaret Bjorkman Dowden was born at home, on a Wednesday morning in Logan, Cache County, Utah, on February 21, 1917 to Cyril Oscar Bjorkman and Arlene Eliza Checketts. Her mother said she had a full head of black hair with bangs that looked as if someone had taken scissors and cut them.
Phyllis was the middle of three children born into the Bjorkman family. Her brother Lloyd was born two years before her, and her sister Berenice came two years after her.
While a small child, Phyllis lived the first five years of her life in Utah. Both sets of her grandparents lived very close to her and played an important part in her life. Her Grandma and Grandpa Checketts lived on a farm in Providence, near Logan, a place she loved to visit. Her grandmother had a beautiful flower garden to which she attributed her great love of flowers. Her Grandma and Grandpa Bjorkman were also near to her. Her Grandpa was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he joined the church and immigrated to America. He was a fun loving man with a thick Danish brogue; he taught her a Danish song that she never forgot. Her Grandmother was a young woman, just in her forties when Phyllis’ mom and dad made her a grandmother. Consequently, she thought she was too young to carry the title and insisted that the grandchildren call her “mother”. Phyllis said this was quite confusing to such a small child. Many a time, Phyllis would go to meet her grandmother as she came walking home from a session in the Temple.
When Phyllis was five years old her family left Utah and went to live in Bend, Oregon. Her Grandfather managed the Knitting Mills in Utah and her father worked as a traveling salesman for him. When the company built a new mill in Oregon the family moved there to work. This did not prove to be a promising venture and they “lost everything.” They stayed only a short time there and moved on to California.
As a child Phyllis was shy. She spent many a time hiding in the broom closet when anyone came to visit. She was also very strong willed. One time at her own birthday party her mother did something to displease her and she wouldn’t join her guests for a long time.
In California the Bjorkmans lived for a year in Venice. Phyllis’ mother would take the children down to the beach almost every afternoon to play. Here she developed her love for the ocean. The year was 1923 and the beaches were clear and uncongested.
This was the beginning of her long established residence in California. From Venice they moved to a cleaning establishment on San Fernando Road that her father’s Uncle George had purchased. Her mother and father ran the business and lived with the children in the rear of the plant until the “law said they couldn’t live there anymore.” They moved across the street and rented an apartment in the back of a store. It was while living here that her brother Lloyd was hit by a teenage driver while crossing the street and was nearly killed. The rear wheels of the vehicle narrowly missing running over his head. He was left with a scar on his upper lip from the accident. Soon the laundry business failed and they moved to Eagle Rock.
In Eagle Rock they lived in the back of a restaurant that her Grandma Bjorkman was running. Her mother and grandmother did the cooking, while her Aunts Alta, Portia, and Mary waited on tables and did the cashiering. One day her mother had had enough and took the children and started walking towards Glendale to meet dad who was driving home from an errand he was on. When they all met up they drove to Glendale and rented a house on Elk Street, and this is where they stayed.
In Glendale, Phyllis’ mother went to work for a laundry and her father became a salesman for them also. It was here that Phyllis started school at Pacific Grove Elementary School and continued on in the Glendale school system until she graduated from Glendale High School. While in high school she took a sewing class and loved it. In sewing class she finished her project first before anyone else so she was given a pattern and material to make a white pleated skirt. The skirt was so wonderful it was sent to the Pomona Fair and won first prize. This started her long grand adventure as an accomplished seamstress. Phyllis was very artistic and creative. She designed and sewed all her own clothes and hats.
After graduation from High School she went to work as a salesperson in a sports shop called the Dotty Lee Shop on Brand Blvd. This was during the depression and jobs were hard to find. Phyllis made her mind up to get a job and she did. She worked in this shop for about eight years and made $16.00 a week including working all day Saturday from 9 to 9. Here Phyllis was in the height of fashion. She designed clothes and sewed for many people. She was never seen in anything but the best attire, everything matching from her hat to her gloves, from her purse to her shoes. She even made clothes for her sister Berenice. At this time in her life she continued her education by attending night school.
While working and going to school Phyllis was also very active in her church. When Phyllis and her family moved to Glendale, they attended church in an office above a drug store on Brand and Chevy Chase Drive, the office was a meeting place for a Carpenters Union during the week. At that time there were no chapels in the area and very few members of the church. Phyllis was baptized in the old Adams ward in Los Angeles. Because her family moved around so much when they came to California, she did not get baptized until she was 10 years old. She and her sister Berenice were baptized at the same time and have never been separated in any endeavor since.
After meeting above the Drug store, the church services were moved to the Steppers Auditorium on Broadway, it was here she attended Mutual in her teen years and also went to church dances. Then the church moved to meet in the Masonic Hall on Brand Blvd., they met there until the first official chapel in Glendale was built.
While attending the Glendale West Ward Phyllis' Bishop, Reid Callister, introduced her to a dapper young man who had just moved here from Utah to attend The University of Southern California, Lynn Jensen Dowden. In September 1945, she married Lynn at the Wee Kirk of The Heather Chapel, in Forest Lawn Glendale. They were then given a reception in their honor at the home of her bishop Reid Callister and his wife Norinne. Lynn and Phyllis wasted no time in sealing their union for eternity and set immediately out for the Salt Lake Temple to be sealed there. President George Albert Smith, the Prophet of the church performed the ceremony. After the ceremony, Lynn's parents had an open house for them in Salt Lake. When the celebration was over they jumped in Lynn's Plymouth Coupe and headed for Yosemite National Park for their honeymoon.
Next Lynn and Phyllis lived in an apartment in Glendale on Stocker Street while Lynn worked for Bendix Aircraft Corporation. They spent many happy years together enjoying the company of one another in such hobbies as golf, badminton, and "doing the town." During this time Lynn moved into a couple different job situations until he met his long time business partner Bob Garrett, and started Paco Plastics and Engineering.
The year of 1957 was an eventful one for Phyllis. It was in this year that they started their business, built their first home in Arcadia on Fifth Avenue, and were blessed with their first child, Deedra Lynnai. Dee Dee was the joy of their life. Within the next twenty months their lives would change again and their precious son, Gregory Kevin, would join their family. Such happiness could never have even been imagined.
For Phyllis her husband and her children were the light of her life. She prided herself as being an immaculate housekeeper and blessed mother. Many loving hours were spent in the care of her family. She lived to serve them with her whole heart. One of her many great homemaking skills included the art of cooking and entertaining. She was an incredible cook, always trying to please the palate. She would slave for hours in the kitchen making her family's favorite meals with nothing more in mind than pleasing them and expecting nothing of them but a hardy appetite. Her table, when set, was a masterpiece, and her manners impeccable, as well as her children's. She was always the last to be seated at the table and the last one to leave as she took her time to "Enjoy Her Food!"
Being a wife and mother left Phyllis completely fulfilled. She knew the importance of her children and the great responsibility she had to teach them of our Heavenly Fathers Plan for them and how to Choose the Right. She spent many hours reading to her children, making sure they were practicing their piano, dressing them in the finest clothing, (many of which she made) and taking them to primary and church. She was ever steadfast in the everyday practices of the Gospel. They never missed prayers or family night. She was a true Christlike servant to her family and was a genuine follower of the prophet as he advised us to put our family first.
Phyllis was always an active member of the church, holding many different callings, from Relief Society to one of her favorites as a Primary Teacher, with President James Corrigan and Elder Doug Callister being two of her prized students. One of the highlights of Phyllis' life was her experience of being a worker in the Los Angeles Temple. She and Lynn were called to work together there and she recalled those times as some of the most joyous times in her life. She was so contented doing the Father's work and helping others to be able to accept his plan.
The year of 1984 was the beginning of one of Phyllis' favorite adventures, the joy of being a Grandma. Gregory was the first grandchild to enter her life and the "Sun rose and set in him." She experienced this joy again with Andrea, Molly, Emma, Hanna, and Bailey. There were never six more perfect children in the world in her eyes. As she cherished the title of mother she lived for the one of Grandmother.
Phyllis was a woman who was very private, but classic. She spoke her mind, but always held fast to her beliefs. She loved her country and upheld the constitution. If she didn't like you, you knew it, but if she did, you felt it. She loved the gospel and shared it with everyone. She served her God as she served others.
Her goal in life was sketched in one of her journals. It was quoted by one of her favorite speakers, Cleon Skousen;
"Live to Learn-from all that is good and uplifting,
Pause to Pray- asking for help and acknowledging our dependence on the Lord,
Strive to serve- be our brothers keeper, possess charity, the Pure Love of Christ
Think to Thank- Morning and night to our Father in Heaven and to all others for any kindness given to you."
Mom you did truly strive to live your goals and with that as an example at this time, we too wish to Live to Learn, Pause to Pray, Strive to Serve, and lastly, Think to Thank You for the love and example you gave to us.
Remembering you on Mother's Day and always.... Daughter, Wife, Mother and Grandmother.