Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy 121st Birthday, Eulalia Sorensen Welch (1890-1968)

John Welch's mother

I've always felt a kinship with my redheaded great-grandmother, but probably need to apologize to her someday for using her name for my ebay identity.  Plus she hated having a birthday on April Fool's, so it's not ideal to be celebrating it today either!  She had an amazing adventure as a young mother serving a mission in New Zealand.

I think Eulalia looks like Anne of Green Gables here--her husband kept this one in his wallet
Eulalia was the daughter of Danish pioneers Isaac and Mary Sorensen.
Sorensen family c. 1900
Eulalia is right in the middle in a sailor dress--
as a child I used to look at this portrait on my grandmother's wall and
feel such a connection with that other young redhead
The following account was written for a young audience by my mother, Eulalia's granddaughter:

Imagine being the 10th baby born into a family!  Little red-headed Eulalia had four older brothers (the oldest one was already 20 years old) and five older sisters when she was born.  They were a very close-knit, happy family.  Her big sister Minnie sewed beautiful dresses for her and the two other little girls in the family, so they called her their “fairy godmother.”

          Eulalia wasn’t the last baby, though.  Another little sister, Olive, completed the family.  They were very good friends and loved playing outdoor games like “fox and geese” and toboganning in Mendon, Utah.  They lived on a farm, and even the young children had chores to do, like carrying wood for the kitchen stove and taking the cows out to pasture after they had been milked.  Eulalia (called “Lalia” by her family) didn’t care for that job and much preferred to read.  She was a whiz at school and won prizes for spelling.  But she didn’t like how the other kids called her “fire-top” or played tricks on her birthday, which was on April Fool’s Day.  In the winter evenings, it was dark and there was no electricity yet in their strong rock house.  So the six younger children would sit around the long kitchen table and do their homework by the light of kerosene lamps.  Her father was the choir director and practices were held in their home.  The whole family learned to sing and play instruments, and some played in the town band.

            Lalia’s parents had come across the plains as pioneers; her father Isaac was 17 and her mother Mary was 12 when they left Denmark.  They were true to the gospel and worked hard to make a good life in Utah.  Many of their neighbors were also from Denmark and celebrated May Day with a special Maypole dance and party.

            Lalia went to the Brigham Young College in Logan and became a grade school teacher.  Not many girls went to college in those days.  She taught school for two years, then she married John Shaw Welch.  They were happy newlyweds in Idaho, and before long had a baby girl named Edith.

passport picture for New Zealand--John, Edith, Eulalia
            When Edith was only 2 years old, Eulalia and her husband were called by the church to go to far-away New Zealand for a  mission.  John went to teach the native Maori people how to farm better, and both of them taught the gospel.  Lalia also taught English lessons, child care and cooking, and played the piano for church and the school orchestra. How different it was to be where Christmas came in the summer!   It was hard work in a strange place, and they didn’t see their families for three long years.  But she loved the people there, and saw many miracles, including the healing of her husband.

            When Edith was almost four, Lalia gave birth to a fine little boy.  Sadly, he developed breathing problems and died only four days later.   He was buried in New Zealand, but when the family returned to Utah, they brought the baby’s little casket with them on the long ship voyage and buried him near their home.

            Eulalia had two more sons and a daughter: John, Bob, and Julie.  She loved her own children as she had loved her siblings.  She especially adored her grandchildren, and always asked them to play the piano or read for her.  Sometimes one of her grandchildren would get to come and stay for a week alone with her.  They played “Old Maid” and “I Doubt It” (Lalia was a pretty good “liar” in that card game) and watched TV programs together.  She sewed on an old treadle sewing machine and made new flannel pajamas for the grandchildren for Christmas.  And every year, when their birthdays came, they would get a card with a $1 bill inside. 

            Her husband died when she was only 58 years old, so Eulalia lived almost 20 years as a widow in Logan.  Her happiest times were when her children and grandchildren would come to visit in the summer.  She would cook nice meals and let the kids play old records on the Victrola.  She never stopped loving to read and write poetry, go to the temple, and write letters.

            It was sad for Lalia that her husband and ten siblings all died before she did.  They had all been best friends.  She even wrote a poem after her last sister, Olive, died:

Eulalia Welch
The Last Leaf

A family of eleven
We were close---
We stayed together
Down through all the years
And shared the others’
 worries, joys and fears.
From seven girls we
Dwindled down to two
And although we were saddened
Left to do—
The many things that
Only loved ones do.
I didn’t mind so much
When there were two.

When she died at 77 years of age, there was certainly a happy reunion in the spirit world. At last all the Sorensen clan was back together.  Won’t she be pleased someday to meet her great- and great-great-grand-children, including a few redheads!

Here's a recipe of Eulalia's for Danish Dumplings:
Scald 1 pint milk and put in 2 slices stale bread, 4 t. butter. 1 t. salt.  Stir in 1 c. flour, remove from heat and stir in 2 eggs.

No tricks for you on this April Fool's Day, Lalia, only love and sunscreen (for the New Zealand climate) from your redheaded descendant.

remembering her at the Cathedral of St. Eulalia in Barcelona, Spain, 2005


  1. I miss you, Gram Welch! Funny to think you would be 121 years old. It's a beautiful day in Utah today, so I'll be remembering you.

    Love, Barbie

  2. I'd give her Skype, to talk to her remaining relatives when they were far away.

  3. love it! sounds like you have more in common than just red hair :)

  4. A couple years ago, I spent the late evening practicing at the Tabernacle for my upcoming recital. I got the registrations worked out for the Vierne 1st Symphony. I had the distinct impression that my grandmother Eulalia was there with me. She loved organ music and used to listen to me as a young student. I think I got my musical talent from her. I enjoyed the "visit." Had to tear myself away.

  5. Wonderful stories and pictures!!!!