George Ellis Wakefield was born on November 26, 1909, a son of Milas Erastus and Annie Kimber Wakefield. He was raised in Grouse Creek, the 7th of the 11 children. Nearly all of the Wakefield Children played some kind of instrument and Milas played the banjo. Our dad, George Ellis, played the piano and the organ. He had never had any music lessons and played entirely by ear, and did not read music.
Ellis, Don, Elwood and Claude were especially close brothers. They all had great singing voices. His sister Loretta recalled how close she and Ellis were when they were young and how they used to sing duets. She remembers introducing the new song “I Get the Blues When it Rains” at a Fourth of July program.
Loretta Wakefield Smith recalls that in 1931 at the height of the depression when jobs were just not available, Ellis, his brother Claude, Harold Smith and his brother Ervin went to Stepto valley, south of Wendover, skinning sheep. The pelts were worth a few dollars. That winter was a bad one, lots of snow even on the southern winter sheep range and thousands of sheep died of starvation as there was no way to get food to them because of the deep snow. That was the days before the present day heavy snow moving equipment and airplanes to drop food. The fellows stayed there for about 3 weeks, living on very meager rations. Loretta doesn’t remember how much money they made but was sure it didn’t average out as $1.00 a day.
Loretta recalls that when Ellis was about 9 years old his mother made a Santa Claus suit for him. He played Santa Clause in a school play. Loretta was about 7 and still very much believing in Santa Clause so was sure that Ellis was Santa. “Finally one day Mother brought out the Santa suit for Ellis to have his picture taken and much to my broken heart I was convinced.”
George Ellis was known by “Ellis” by anyone who knew him from childhood days at Grouse Creek, anything later than that time, he was George.
George met Phyllis Ada Payne in 1933, Phyllis had gone to a dance and she and her date went to a café called “Ernies Place” just below the White City Ballroom in Ogden. George Wakefield was working there. George recalled in later years how beautiful mother was in her long blue evening gown with a pleated skirt with yards and yards of material. He asked her for a date for that Saturday, November 26, 1933 for a birthday party for him. In later years Dad would sing, “Alice Blue Gown” in remembering mother in that blue dress.
Times were still tough from the depression and everyone got work where and what they could. Mother started working at Ernies’s and George went to work as a cab driver. Phyllis was living with her sister Ione on Lincoln, and George was always concerned about Phyllis walking home after dark. George would arrange for a cab driver to pick mother up and take her home. George was very protective (and remained so throughout their married life). By April, 1934, they were married. Because jobs were all important, everything else in your life rotated around your job. Even a marriage. Dad drove the taxi all night and then went to get the marriage license. They then had the marriage ceremony and Phyllis went to work.
Red roses had a particular meaning to Mom and Dad, and Dad would always send red roses on their anniversary, one for each year.
George was working for the WPA and earning $50.00 a month at the time when Grandma Wakefield died at the Dee Hospital in January 1940. By this time they had two sons, Gary and Denny.
After Grandma Annie Kimber died in January of 1940, Claude and George and their families went to help Grandpa (Milas) at the store and the post office at Grouse Creek. There were not enough earnings from this to support all three families, so George and Phyllis went to manage Loretta (Wakefield) and Harold Smith’s grocery store at Montello in 1941. Montello is the first little town into Nevada, South and West of Grouse Creek. The grocery store had living quarters in the rear. It was at that time that George was nearly overcome by the fumes emitted by the walk-in ammonia refrigerator. Everyone had to be evacuated from the grocery store and the home until repairs were made. The family, consisting of George and Phyllis and sons, Gary and Denny. The family lived there for about a year and then moved to Ogden.
Memories of family reunions are very clear in all the children’s minds. Sometimes we would go to California to see Ellie and Ginny, or to Portland to see Don and his family, or to Grouse Creek. The Coast trip in 1955 was the favorite of all. We left Ogden in Mom and Dad’s Buick and Gary’s Plymouth. We went to Oakland, California to pick up Elly, Ginny and Julie. The caravan now included Elly and Ginny and Julie, Dad and Mom’s car and Gary’s Plymouth driving up the coast to Portland, Oregon to get Don and his family.
The pranks of the Wakefield brothers were notorious. Don had just bought a new home in Portland so Dad and Elly knew they had to do something special. Elly’s in-laws gave us enough time to get almost to Portland before they sent a telegram in Dad and Elly’s names. The telegram said: “Just left Oakland, see you in a few days”. Just a few hours after Don received the telegram, he got a phone call from George. “We just got into Portland, how do we find your house?” There was only a moment or two of silence before Don quipped, “Oh, that’s easy. We just painted our kitchen green”…and hung up! Another time a telegram was sent to Don saying “Disregard former telegram, and there really had not been a former telegram. The telegraph office then experienced a little mass confusion looking for that “lost” telegram. All bedlam instigated, courtesy of the Wakefield Brothers. We all traveled on to Moses Lake, Washington where Claude and his family lived. Then we all went to beautiful Priest River, Idaho to have a family reunion with Harold, Loretta and other members of the Wakefield clan.
The family reunions were full of music and laughter. Grandpa on the banjo, Leona or Loretta on the piano, Elly on the guitar, lots of music, everyone singing and laughter. One song would remind someone of another song and it would go on and on. Some of the words to the songs were different than what the composers had intended but we all had a grand time. Wire recorders were all over the floor to preserve the enjoyable nonsense.
George and Phyllis had moved to South Ogden April 1946, daughters Karen and Karlene had joined the family. They ran a café “George’s Coffee Stop” in downtown Ogden and then added another restaurant “The Big B Café” at 17th and Wall Avenue. Later the “Stop” was sold to concentrate on the larger “B”. The “B” was open 24 hours a day, (a real rarity in those days) because of the industry that surrounded the restaurant. It was originally opened as a partnership between George and Phyllis and mother’s brother Tommy and his wife Marcell. George and Phyllis soon bought out Tommy and Marcell’s interest in the business.
George’s specialty was his home made soups that were delicious as well as unique.. Mother would do the sweet rolls, parkerhouse rolls, and pies. Both mother and dad worked long, hard hours. They taught their children a good work ethic. All four children worked in the restaurant and all shared in the hard work. But we all have fond memories of the pranks and fun we had working together.
George and Phyllis worked the café together until George suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and in spite of intense efforts by the doctors and nurses at St. Benedict’s Hospital he died on October 21,1961 at the age of 52.
Mother became a widow and yet still needed to maintain a livelihood. Between the united efforts of especially Gary, Denny and Karlene who were still working at the restaurant, Mother was able to retain the “B” as a livelihood, even though it was a struggle. Karen was working for the Union Pacific by then. These were difficult and lonely years for mother. The time came when the Big B was sold and the building no longer exists.
Mother went to work at the Tiffin Room at ZCMI and later retired from there. This is evidence of a woman who had an inward strength to face any adversity. She continued in a profession that was physically demanding and mentally challenging at a time when most women were slowing down. Part of this was necessity and part was that mother really enjoyed doing what she was doing.
A real joy came into Mom’s life when she gained the companionship of her little poodle, Missy. Missy enjoyed dog treats and when we visited Mom we would hide the treats in our clothing and under the cushions of the furniture so we could watch Missy dig for them. Missy would sit at Mom’s feet and look up into her eyes as Mom would lovingly ask, “do I love you?”
Mom’s health deteriorated and she only rarely left her home because she was too weak to go anywhere. Doctor’s office visits and trips to the barber shop were very fatiguing and it would take her hours to recuperate from them.
She made two trips to Salt Lake City in the last six and a half years of her life. One was on January 29, 1997 for the funeral of her sister Mary (the last of her siblings) and the other one was on October 27, 2001 for the funeral of her daughterKarlene. Both occasions were exhausting both physically and emotionally.
Especially the last year had been increasingly difficult for her. She did not have the energy to do the things she wanted to do, and became more and more dependant on having others do things for her. She could not get around the way she wanted to, and had more difficulty seeing and her hearing was getting worse.
On the morning of August 22, 2003, Gary visited Mom’s home and found that she had passed away sometime during the night. She had collapsed next to her bed, but the bed showed no sign of her struggling to get up from where she was at on the floor. Because there was no sign of her struggling to get up and she had not hit the emergency alert button, this leads us to assume that the end came very rapidly. Gary states “I have regrets that I was not there when mother died, but I also am relieved that I wasn’t.” Mother died of congestive heart failure. While mother will always be missed, we are relieved that mother’s struggle to keep her independence has ended.
Phyllis died at 87 years of age and had lived 42 years after the death of George Ellis Wakefield.