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Idonna Callister - Funeral Life Sketch
Alice Idonna Callister was born into the Oviatt family on January 21, 1913. She often shared happy memories of the accomplishments, fun and even the mischief of her youth with members of her family, though her early years also had their challenges. Her mother died of complications from Idonna’s birth and her father, who already had several children, felt that he could not raise a little girl alone. His good friend, Aaron Milton Porter and his wife, Sylvia, had not been blessed with children, so Idonna’s father offered to let them adopt Idonna.
This was a time when being adopted carried some stigma and the Porters did not discuss the adoption with Idonna as she grew up. One day, during her early school years, one of Idonna’s classmates teased her about being adopted. As soon as Idonna arrived home that day she asked her mother if what the girl had said was true. Sylvia told her no, but Idonna could tell by the way she said it that she was not telling the truth. Even after she discovered the circumstances of her adoption she continued to feel troubled and self-conscious about this experience.
Sylvia Porter was 54 years old when she adopted Idonna and there were no other children in the home, so Idonna spent much of her time alone. She loved to climb trees where she would read. Later in her life she loved to paint trees.
As Idonna grew up she had a close relationship with her Aunt Lottie who lived across the street. Lottie’s daughter and Idonna were good friends and got in to a lot of fun and mischief together.
In high school Idonna participated in school plays, sang and did drawings for the school newspaper and yearbook. She and a girlfriend were always ready with the very latest popular songs for assemblies and shows at school.
During her years at Bear River High school, the first IQ tests came out. Idonna took the tests along with the other students at the school. Later, after graduation, one of her teachers asked her where she was going to college. When Idonna answered that she would be working, her teacher was astounded. She told Idonna that she had the highest score in the school on the IQ test and that there were scholarships and counselors to help her if she wanted to go to college. But, in those days, most people, including Idonna’s parents, felt there was no reason to send a girl to college.
Idonna did not go to school. Instead, she got a job at the phone company in Blackfoot, Idaho. She worked there for some time and saved her money until she was able to buy her mother a set of china. It pleased her to be able to buy such a meaningful gift. Her mother prized the china until she died after which Idonna brought the set to her own home.
One day Idonna was watching a football game with her friend in Blackfoot, when she noticed a cute, dark-haired guy playing on the field. She thought she would like to go out with him. The fellow was Thomas Hyrum Callister, one in a family of eight children from Groveland. Hy and Idonna met, and went out. Hy tells about going dancing with Idonna at the out door Pavilion in Blackfoot. He needed fifty cents to get in and have enough left over to get a root beer afterward.
Hy and Donna were married January 31, 1938. In the fall, they moved down to Utah so Hy could attend the University of Utah. They were very poor college students. Idonna said that many times when they had people over for dinner she had to make something out of nothing to feed them. She was always good at casseroles. Visits from Orsen and Edna, Hy’s brother and his wife, provided many fond memories. Edna was always one of Idonna’s favorite people. Sometimes, for a date the couple would go downtown window shopping and buy an ice cream cone. These “cheap dates” were some of their happiest times.
After Hy graduated from college, he got a fellowship to UCLA, so the couple moved to southern California. While there Idonna was able to take her first formal art classes and continue to develop her artistic talents.
After UCLA, they went to Coronado, California, where Hy taught history and coached at the high school. He and Idonna made many lifelong friends there. They went to the beach and went dancing. Idonna made some of her dancing dresses. One was a beautiful gingham to wear to a dance at the Hotel Del Coronado. Some of Idonna’s happiest memories were of Coronado in these early days.
World War II was building up. Hy’s tin ear kept him out of the service, but he decided that he would like to go into the FBI. In the FBI, agents are transferred all over the country so Hy and Donna soon found themselves in Philadelphia where their first child, a son, was born in 1942. It was in New York less than two years later on in 1944 that twin girls were born to them. There were complications during the birth of the twins, and Idonna was very sick for some time.
The next move was to Salt Lake City, where they lived in a rented house in Holladay. They still had little money. When spring came, people started calling the house to inquire about buying peonies for Memorial Day. Idonna went out and saw rows of little shoots coming out of the ground. By Memorial Day, she had sold enough peonies to earn $50-75, a large amount for the forties. She loved that house with its fruit trees and flowers.
Their next move was to Ely, Nevada, not Idonna’s style. She dreamed of being a city girl. The family was still poor, but Idonna was able to put her artistic talents to good use. She became involved in a ladies club and spent time with the children. She made great costumes. The girls remember being firecrackers for a Fourth of July Parade and wearing angel wings for a Christmas program at the school. Another time the twins were two peas in a pod, pulled in a wagon by their brother.
After several years in Ely, the family moved to Reno. Idonna again used her artistic talents, making drapes for the living room windows with canvas and painting a rose pattern on them. She and Hy made chairs out of barrels, and Idonna painted the covers for those. Here, with the children in school, Idonna began to paint again. The girls remember posing for their mother for ½ hour to an hour for a dime. When the family went camping in the Sierras, Idonna would paint and make charcoal drawings. In Reno she designed and made dresses for the girls to wear and taught them to iron. She also made beautiful, realistic paper dolls. At night, after she put the children to bed, she would sit with them in their room and tell them that she loved them.
In 1955 the family moved to Salt Lake City again. Here Idonna’s father came to visit and died while he was with the family.
After one year in Salt Lake City the family was finally transferred to Hy and Donna’s preferred place, Coronado. They bought a beautiful house, which had been the summer home of the Duchess of Windsor. It was just one block from the beach and about ½ mile down from the Hotel Del Coronado.
While in Coronado this second time Idonna painted and showed her works in local galleries and competitions. She won prizes and sold paintings. She studied with artists who came to San Diego and even traveled to Guatemala to study and paint with a group from the States. Idonna’s paintings provided her with a valuable outlet and through them she made an important contribution to the arts in her community. “She became a prominent painter in the San Diego area, winning numerous awards . . .. She was granted her own personal show by the San Diego Art Institute, and sold eight of” the thirteen paintings she displayed (Red Book pg. 143). In addition, her paintings have become an important legacy for her family.
In Coronado Idonna developed lasting friendships with a group of ladies who got together weekly for bridge and conversation. She also enjoyed the time she spent there with her son and daughter in law who visited regularly to play games, go to dinner and talk.
Cats were always drawn to Idonna. She and Hy had one cat in particular who would come around when they were playing bridge with Craig and Margarette. The cat would prowl around the table until she found Idonna’s lap and settle in for the evening. Sometimes the cat would jump on the table in front of Idonna and sit in her way until someone shooed her off.
Hy and Idonna spent the rest of their lives in Coronado until failing health made it necessary for them to move to Utah. It was in American Fork Utah that Idonna died at 5:45 pm on May 29, 2000.
Life was not always easy for her. She had many health problems, which were an ongoing challenge—shingles on one or two occasions, the birth of the twins, an undefined disease in Reno which put her in the hospital for some time, and diabetes in her forties that took most of her sight, ruined much of the circulation in her legs and caused problems for her the rest of her life. She had cancer, a heart attack, and a stroke. She rarely complained about all of these problems-partly because she didn’t want to go to the doctor-and partly because she wasn’t a complainer.
Hy was a very good caretaker for Idonna for at least twenty years. She didn’t want to have strangers around, or even friends and family some of the time. Caring for her needs fell primarily to him. He never complained about all he had to do. He often talked about how hard it must have been for her to have all of these problems. He stayed at home a lot and did not invite friends and family to the home, respecting Idonna’s preference.
Idonna Callister was a very sensitive, intelligent, and talented person. She was a wonderful mother to her three children and they have been blessed to have her for their mother. She appreciated music, art and nature. From her, her children learned to appreciate many things of nature and of beauty that some people miss in this life. She was timid in some ways but very supportive of what her children were doing, which gave them confidence to try anything.