Contributed by James Lavar Hinton
Sarah Leora Tolman Hinton
Mom, like Dad, was known throughout her life by her middle name, Leora. She was a city girl who, in married life, left the city and her immediate family for a life in a tiny rural town among strangers. It took a while for her to be accepted into the social circles of her new community. She commented to me a time or two about the difficulty of her first year or two in Hurricane. She was a stay-at-home Mom, spending the first twenty years of married life in the home, giving birth to and rearing us kids. It wasn’t until I, her oldest, entered the mission field and the youngest were in elementary school, that she emerged from the home to enter the world of work. For my growing-up years she was always in the home. Each day, as I entered the front door coming home from school, I would call out, “Hi Mom, I’m home.” And from somewhere in the house would come her answering reply that let me know she was there and all was well.
Mom was organized, active, demanding but patient. She was in charge at home and we kids knew that. She was even tempered, rarely showing emotion, always instructing and directing. There was bread to bake, meals to prepare, dishes to be washed, laundry to be done, clothes to be sewn and mended and a house to clean. She organized us children to assist her with the household duties, and Saturday was the big day for that. She was bothered by the fact that other women seemed to have their housework done by mid-morning when hers was never done. We children were the reason; her misfortune was that she was raising a family of boys.
Mom encouraged us in whatever we did. She was always there to help—to assist with a talk, explain school assignments, work on a merit badge or demonstrate how to make a bed. As I would practice the piano she was listening somewhere in the house. When I struck a wrong note the words “play it again” would ring out. When I reached a part I couldn’t figure out, she would drop what she was doing and come show me how it was to go.
Mom was a take-charge, push-on and do-it person. She had great confidence that any task could be done; one just needed to find a way. Repetition, toil and hard work was usually the solution. She thrived on challenges, and, though she did her share of worrying and verbalized feelings of inadequacy, she persevered and succeeded.
Mom wasn’t afraid to express herself. She had definite ideas about things, possessed a well-defined philosophy of life and was not intimidated by others. She would step on people’s toes if she felt it necessary. Not only us children but most of the grandchildren have been called to task by “Grandma” and received unsolicited lectures about life, work and the means to achieve happiness.
Mom ran the home; Dad brought in the income. There were never cross words between them. If they ever differed over finances, politics, religion or disciplining children, we never knew it. They were always on the same page and backed one another in whatever the other said or did. I knew my parents cared for me and I didn’t want to do anything to disappoint or embarrass them. We weren’t a hugging family and the word “love” was rarely used, but I felt safe, secure and loved. The showing of affection was not a common thing, but I recall times when Dad would come home, walk into the kitchen where Mom was working, take her in his arms and give her a kiss. Then he would say something like, “I want you to know how lucky I am to have your Mother for my wife. She is the best woman a man could ever hope for.”
When Mom went into the world of work it was first to teach seminary; then she moved to the high school where she created a remedial learning program. She had no college credentials or professional training. She was self-taught and used unconventional methods, but she got results and that was what mattered. For a time she taught speed reading for the renowned Evelyn Wood. At Church she saw a need for teenagers to expand their music talents and undertook a training program to teach them how to play, follow and conduct music. In this process she perfected a system of music conducting/directing that she used for many years with scores of youth. Her efforts blessed the North Ward congregation and the lives of a great number of young men and women who went through her program. Her work in this regard, as well as the work she did in the remedial program at Hurricane High School stand as examples of her ingenuity and creative ability. After observing deficiencies in both those areas, she studied, pondered and evaluated various methods before finally developing techniques that proved novel and affective, astounding experts in each field.
Mom was a perfectionist. She struggled diligently to develop lesson plans that would stimulate and involve the most irreverent and unengaged of seminary students. She prepared her material such that each lesson, talk, event was like a major production vying for some grand prize. She wasn’t afraid to ask for help in such tasks either. She would turn to any listening ear for ideas.
In her fifties Mom developed diabetes and for the rest of her life had to monitor her blood sugar daily and take insulin injections. She was troubled most of her adult life with foot pain. In her later years getting around proved difficult and she was unable to walk without a foot brace. Still she served family and others. She served several periods in Hurricane as stake Relief Society president, the last time when she was approaching eighty years. Dad’s struggle with cancer from 1998 through March of 2000 necessitated that Mom assert herself in his care in ways she had not had to do before. Dad’s death in March of 2000 came as terrible blow to Mom. She had expected to go first, but now at eighty years of age she had to face life without her companion and best friend.
Mom continued on for six more years. She was helped by children who lived close by. For a time Mark and Lorene lived in the homestead with her and Dave and Gerri lived next door. Don and Ada dropped by regularly and Ken oversaw her finances. During these years she usually took a month or six weeks each year to come to Arizona where she spent a week or two in the homes of each of us four siblings who lived here. In her final year or two her memory began to go and she suffered from dementia. She was moved to a nursing home in St. George, and the old homestead in Hurricane was sold to provide for her financial support. It was a repeat, in a way, of what her mother, Cecelia Durfee Tolman Clark went through in her final days. In the mid-1970s Grandma Tolman had come to live in our home under Mom’s watchful care, but for her final days Grandma was moved to a full care facility better equipped to deal with her needs. The Meadows in St. George provided that for Leora in her final 18 months.
In June 2006 the Lavar/Leora Hinton reunion was held in St. George and Mom attended in a wheelchair. She seemed pleased to have family around, but she was unable to recognize and identify many. I was saddened by the thought that the only memory the young ones, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, would have of Mom was of the wheelchair-bound white-haired old lady with the vacant look in the eye. They would never know the Leora Tolman Hinton that I knew. She passed away a month later, three days after her 86th birthday, July 30, 2006.
She blessed the lives of countless people through her family, church, school and community service. Her influence has spread far and wide through her eight children, forty-eight grandchildren and, at her passing, forty-two great grandchildren. She has left a noble heritage.
Comment by DT Hinton:
Thank you older brother, for this wonderful life sketch of mom. You remember her very much the way I do. Gerri and I spent much of her last 6 years helping her as her memory began to fail. She usually had dinner with us every day, and many times she took lunch with us as well. She always enjoyed coming over, but wanted to get home before too long. She loved her own home, and didn’t want to be gone very long. When you said that mom was a perfectionist, there couldn’t have been truer words spoken. She wanted to make sure that everything she did was done well. Those music students she trained have been a blessing to more than the old North Ward in Hurricane. Many of those same students have gone on to be music leaders in their own wards as adults, and have often given credit to mom for what they have done. One such young man was Donald Blackburn. He went on to become a music teacher. He taught in a Jr. High School in Orem, Utah. Shortly after dad passed away, he decided that he wanted to honor mom for what she had taught him, so he spent his entire year training those middle school students on form and meter, discipline, hard work and persistence, then put an article in the Spectrum in St. George tell everyone what he was going to do. He invited Mom, and her children to come and be honored. The program was masterfully done, and the students, many of them came to tell us of the stories Donald would tell of mom and her goodness. It was a fun night, and mom was truly honored. There is one thing about the life sketch that needs to be corrected. Mom’s birthday was January 28th, and her wedding day was July 27th, so she passed away 3 days after her wedding anniversary.