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Clara Jean Tidwell was born on September 1, 1926 to John Leslie Tidwell, the son of Mormon pioneers who had settled Carbon County, Utah, and Geraldine Jean Carson, the daughter of a western Idaho homesteader and sheep rancher. Her birth took place in the run-down house her family called home, attended by the town doctor, but she was delivered by her grandmother, Emma Clarissa Tidwell, who served as the village midwife. Somewhere early in life, she lost the “Clara” part of her name and was simply known to everyone as Jean (except her mother, who called her “Jeannie”). Jean had a hand-made childhood, growing up during the Depression and World War II in Homedale, a small farm town in western Idaho. When she was only three her older brother John came down with diphtheria. Before his death Jean would visit him, climbing up on the bedclothes to play as long as he was able. She attended elementary, junior high, and high school in Homedale, graduating in 1944. She went on to study at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, helping to support herself by working at the Simplot potato dehydrator plant, and by stripping hops off their vines to be shipped off to distilleries. She had to learn to drive to get back and forth to school, so her father took her out in a cow pasture to teach her the basics. She must have learned well, she says, as she never ran over any cows. After finishing the requisite two years of college to certify as a teacher, Jean taught her first class –...
Clara Jean Tidwell was born on September 1, 1926 to John Leslie Tidwell, the son of Mormon pioneers who had settled Carbon County, Utah, and Geraldine Jean Carson, the daughter of a western Idaho homesteader and sheep rancher. Her birth took place in the run-down house her family called home, attended by the town doctor, but she was delivered by her grandmother, Emma Clarissa Tidwell, who served as the village midwife. Somewhere early in life, she lost the “Clara” part of her name and was simply known to everyone as Jean (except her mother, who called her “Jeannie”). Jean had a hand-made childhood, growing up during the Depression and World War II in Homedale, a small farm town in western Idaho. When she was only three her older brother John came down with diphtheria. Before his death Jean would visit him, climbing up on the bedclothes to play as long as he was able.
She attended elementary, junior high, and high school in Homedale, graduating in 1944. She went on to study at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, helping to support herself by working at the Simplot potato dehydrator plant, and by stripping hops off their vines to be shipped off to distilleries. She had to learn to drive to get back and forth to school, so her father took her out in a cow pasture to teach her the basics. She must have learned well, she says, as she never ran over any cows.
After finishing the requisite two years of college to certify as a teacher, Jean taught her first class – a fifth grade in Marsing, Idaho, just down the road from Homedale. She also taught in Nyssa, Oregon, before moving on to Glenns Ferry, Idaho, where she taught for two years. In between teaching jobs, she tried selling books – a one volume encyclopedia which she would peddle around the small towns in southwestern Idaho.
One winter night she went to a dance in King Hill, a small town east of Glenns Ferry, where she met a dashing young Glenns Ferry man, fresh from WWII service with the Navy. Fred C “Cal” Smith would become the love of her life. She had gone to the dance to accompany a gaggle of high school girls. They got bored and went home on their own, leaving Jean behind. She returned to Glenns Ferry with Cal (and with his date, who graciously consented to the extra passenger).
Cal and Jean married on June 3, 1951 in Homedale. After Cal became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the two of them were sealed for time and eternity in the Salt Lake Temple on their second anniversary, June 3, 1953. Their first son Paul, who was born in Le Grande, Oregon in 1952, was a part of the ceremony.
Paul was joined by Kevin (in 1954), and Jeff (1955) while the family lived in Nyssa, Oregon where Cal was a teacher. In 1955, the growing family moved to moved to Boulder City, Nevada, lured by the promise of better-paying teaching jobs for Cal.
After a few months in various temporary accommodations on the west side of town, they found a small house for sale at 524 Sixth Street, where they lived for nearly ten years. Leslie (1956), David (1958), Sam (1960), Sharon (1961) and Clara Lynn (1963) were all born during the time the Smiths lived there. The pressures of eight growing kids motivated a move into a two-story, five-bedroom house the family built in 1964, located at 302 Navajo Court. They lived here until all the children had left home and Cal and Jean moved to Las Vegas in the 1980s.
Shortly after they moved into the Navajo Court house, a pre-school facility came available in northwest Las Vegas. They soon became the owners and operators of Pied Piper Pre-school. For the following twenty years, Jean was the CEO, headmistress, teacher, bookkeeper, bus driver, and nurse, while Cal and the kids became the handymen, landscapers, and janitors. At its high point, Pied Piper Pre School boasted three locations: the Las Vegas campus, and one each in Henderson and Boulder City. Jean’s school quickly developed a reputation as an excellent care and education facility for pre-schoolers, as well as before- and after-school elementary kids. Many competent pre-school teachers got their start under Jean’s experienced tutelage. Cal and Jean sold the school once, but after a year or so the new buyers defaulted on the purchase, so the Smith’s got it back. To recapture the disillusioned clientele, the school was renamed “Jean Smith’s Country School,” and it quickly regained its earlier reputation.
The mid-1980s saw the final sale of the school, and Jean returned to teaching in the public schools. She taught briefly in Henderson, then for a few years at Lincoln Elementary in Las Vegas.
Throughout her life, Jean was interested in creative pursuits in all manners of arts and crafts. She loved to make ceramic figures and holiday objects which she glazed and fired in craft facilities. The results are still treasured by her children. She was an inveterate photographer, setting up her own dark room under primitive conditions, and over her life taking tens of thousands of photos. She enjoyed calligraphy, as well as sewing, folk painting, and growing irises. Genealogy was important to her, as was music – she worked for years to develop both her piano playing and vocal skills. Jean was also a collector, with extensive assemblages of antique auto and railroad memorabilia, stamps, coins, dolls, and commemorative plates.
Perhaps one of the most significant of her pastimes was travel, where she could bring together her love for seeing new places, photography, and collecting. During her lifetime Jean visited Germany, France, Holland, England, Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, Taiwan, Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, and Mexico, several of these places multiple times. Her most recent trip outside the continental United States was her third trip to Hawaii, in May 2009, two years before her death. Just the year before she had made her fourth trip to Alaska.
Being active in her church was also of paramount importance to Jean. She served in many callings in the various wards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to which she belonged during her life. She was president of the Young Women organization, and served in Relief Society, Primary, Cub Scouts, Choir, as drama director, and as ward missionary, besides being a dedicated and much beloved visiting teacher. As the time of her passing approached, she was still trying to carry out her visiting teaching responsibilities and fulfilling her calling as ward bulletin specialist, one of the few assignments she was still physically able to complete.
Education was important to her as well, and she set the example for her children – both biological and those whom she taught. She had a bachelors degree in education from UNLV, and in 1986 she earned a masters of science degree in computer education from Nova University. Throughout her life to the best of her ability she encouraged those around her to learn and read.
One of her greatest legacies was the example she set of being the Good Samaritan. She and her husband were kind and generous neighbors, and many local residents can attest to the selflessness with which Jean and Cal gave of their own means to help those in need. If there were resources that could be shared (and there always were, even if it meant them sacrificing some earthly need or desire if it would help someone else less fortunate than they), no needy person that crossed their path went away without some assistance from Cal and Jean. Over the years they were unofficial foster parents to many teens going through difficult times at home.
Of course, her family was always her greatest joy. Besides her eight children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she maintained close ties with her extended family on both her mother’s and father’s side, as well as that of her husband. A frequent organizer and attender of a multitude of family reunions over the years, she was particularly beloved in her role as “Mrs. Claus,” where she would dress up as Santa’s wife and pass out white elephant gifts from a seemingly bottomless sack. Relatives of all ages found the ritual fun and entertaining.
Until recent years, Jean did her best to ensure that everyone of her children and their offspring received a gift at Christmas time, amounting to scores of packages sent every holiday season. As Jean’s health declined the presents became simpler and eventually stopped altogether. But everyone knew her good intentions were still there, if her ability no longer was.
When we’re in the middle of our lives, it’s easy to jump to the mistaken conclusion that our lives have somehow been sidetracked from their real purpose and potential. But, given a little time, it becomes clear that life, like water, finds its own level. For Jean T. Smith, her life was all about children, whether it was raising her own or teaching other people’s.
Over the last two years, Jean fought a protracted battle with deteriorating health. Two bouts with cancer, advanced – and excruciating – arthritis, advanced osteoporosis, blood clots, thyroid disease, congestive heart failure, pneumonia – these did not exhaust the catalog of all that was wrong with her health. On the bright, clear morning of April 27th, 2011, with her five oldest sons and her beloved husband at her side, her body slowed to a stop.
But this is not the end. Jean Smith has laid aside her mortal shell and now speeds homeward toward the eternal family waiting for her, to a time when she will once again greet the handsome young man she married 60 years ago, less one month.
by Leslie C. Smith and Paul H. Smith, 2011
After a long courtship, Dad was getting ready to propose to Mom. He said there wasn’t much dating; it just took a long time. Since Dad was in Lewiston, Idaho and Mom was in Nyssa, Oregon, Dad decided to reinforce his marriage proposal with a dozen roses, which he ordered from a local florist. The florist discovered that she didn’t have enough roses, so she sent what Mom described as a “washtub-full of snapdragons” instead. So Mom and the other teacher she was living with at the time ran around the house putting snapdragons into every available vessel in the house – jars, pitchers, bowls and basins. In spite of the floral petition, Mom didn’t answer Dad right away. So he did what any impetuous young man in love would’ve done – he went straight down to Nyssa to get his answer. She said yes.
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