Orita Ellen Richins Lee

Orita Ellen Richins was born on November 12, 1899 at Grouse Creek, Box Elder county, Utah. She was the twelfth child and fifth daughter of Albert Francis Richins and Mary Jane Jones Richins, who were among the first settlers of Grouse Creek.

For two months before and for several months after her birth, her family was besieged with many trials. Their seventeen-year-old daughter, Louisa, became ill with typhoid fever and passed away one month before Orita was born. On the day she was buried, a younger brother, Ether, became ill with the same disease and lay at death’s door for many weeks before finally recovering. Orita’s 19-year-old sister, Annie, took over the care of the new baby while their mother cared for Ether. Orita was almost four years old when her younger sister Nola was born. Their father was called on a two-year mission to England when Nola was only two months old. It was quite a trial and a test for the mother, Jane, to keep things going while her husband was gone, but through her faith and courage and the kindness of others, she was able to do it.

At a young age, Orita was required to work and to help with the many responsibilities which families shared in those days. She and Nola worked side by side with their mother in many of those tasks.

Orita was baptized on August 12, 1908 by Charles C. Toyn and confirmed the next day by James William Betteridge.

She remembered that there were quite a few Indians in the area, and one of them named Captain Jim delighted in scaring the younger children. Orita was always glad when some of her brothers were around to protect them.

Her oldest sister Eliza was married to Henry Blackburn and living in Ogden when Orita, then eleven years old, went to spend a summer with them and began taking music lessons from a Mrs. Hunter. For several years thereafter, she went back to Ogden for a few months at a time to take music lessons again. She received her formal schooling at the Grouse Creek school, her first teacher being Elizabeth Sutton from Grantsville. After she completed the eighth grade (which was then the extent of education offered at Grouse Creek) her father gave her a choice of going on to school elsewhere or continuing her study of music in Ogden. She chose the latter.

Orita was about nineteen when she returned to Grouse Creek after her years of studying music. She once said, “I remember a Sunday when I was late for sacrament meeting. They were singing the first song without an organist, and when the second song was announced, I went up to the organ without being asked and played for them. Bishop Barlow was so pleased that he asked me to be the ward organist.”  She played often for dances with Alma Toyn’s orchestra and with Mark Warburton, who played the violin.

Orita had known Frank Lee all her life and they began keeping company in the fall of 1919. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple on September 1, 1920. They moved to Yost, Utah and shortly thereafter to Malta, Idaho. LaVerne was born there on July 23, 1921. They moved back to Grouse Creek in July 1922, where Evva was born on February 15, 1923. Merla was born on February 6, 1925 on the Hales place in Etna which they had leased, and that fall they moved back to Grouse Creek to live in a small house Frank had built on property they had acquired from Orita’s brother Wilford. It was near to both the church and the school.

Frank worked at sheep herding off and on, and also went with the hay contractors to Nevada in the Summertime. For several years each fall, he worked in the Burley area picking up potatoes and harvesting sugar beets, bringing home their winter’s supply of potatoes and flour. He hauled their winter’s wood each fall, also hauling for Orita’s parents. Orita carried on during Frank’s many absences, doing the many chores which had to be done, caring for her family and being active in the church and community.

Irene was born on February 2, 1927 at their home in Grouse Creek. Juanita, the fifth daughter, arrived on March 10, 1929 at Eliza’s home in Ogden, Utah. Mary Hadfield and Ellen Blanthorn, who were sisters, had been the Grouse Creek midwives for many years, but were not practicing any more, and many of the Grouse Creek women then went to Eliza’s for their confinements. Their first son, Ray, was also born in Ogden on April 21, 1934 at Eliza’s home. He was a welcome addition to their family of five girls.

Frank applied for a homestead above Etna, and the family spent their Summers there for three years, while he fenced and made other improvements. During one of those Summers, all the girls came down with smallpox. Frank had been exposed while visiting family members in Idaho and had subsequently had the disease, exposing the girls. Orita had already had smallpox at an early age so she was able to take care of the rest of the family during this time and subsequent times when the girls were sick with other contagious diseases. There was a period of eighteen months when the family members were not all well enough to sit down together for a meal.

Ray was not yet two years old, and they had again leased the Hales place. Late in October, their daughter Merla accidently stepped on a rusty nail. As her leg and foot began to swell they first took her to the Montello doctor and then to Ogden. Gangrene poisoning set in and spread rapidly, and her leg had to be amputated just above the knee. She died on November 16, 1935, less than a month after she had stepped on the nail. It was a sad and dreary winter that followed. Orita was carrying their seventh child at the time. Russell was born on May 26, 1936 at Eliza’s home in Ogden.

With LaVerne’s graduation from the Grouse Creek school in 1937, the family began its inevitable scattering, as each of the girls left home to continue their education. As the years went on, each of them married and established homes and began raising their families elsewhere. The two boys were at home with Frank and Orita for several more years.

In 1943, Frank and Orita became the custodians of the Grouse Creek school. Later, they also took care of the custodial duties of the church, both of which were very close to their home. Frank also worked for the BLM on fencing jobs in that area. In January 1947, Irene’s baby boy (Dale) became very ill while she was visiting with them in Grouse Creek. He was taken to the Brigham Hospital with pneumonia but died on January 8th. For a year or so, Orita and Nola helped to take care of their aging mother, who eventually suffered a stroke which left her speechless and unable to walk alone. On March 21, 1947, she passed away at the age of eighty-nine. Their father had died fifteen years before at the age of seventy-seven.

Ray and Russell each graduated from the Grouse Creek school and went to Ogden to finish high school, living with Irene and family. Ray eventually joined the air force and Russ went on a mission, then each of them also married and lived elsewhere.

Frank and Orita always raised a big garden each summer, and they were very generous with friends and family as they shared their garden produce. Like most other families, they had their own milk cows, pigs and chickens, and a few sheep. They were very frugal and resourceful, avoiding debt whenever they could. Their children were taught how to work, the girls as well as the boys assuming both indoor and outdoor chores. There was never much money. For a year or two, Orita did washing and ironing for Mrs. Vincenti in Lucin. She sewed most of the clothes for her family and frequently did sewing for some of the women in the valley. She was often called upon to help in homes where there was sickness.

Her church service was phenomenal. She was the Grouse Creek ward organist for a total of about fifty years, and also played for the auxiliaries most of that time as well as for funerals and special occasions. The Grouse Creek ward choir, with Orita as the organist and Don and Mide Wakefield as choristers, was well known throughout northern Utah. At one time she made a list of the funerals she had played for and the count was well over 100. Twice during those years, the ward members honored her for her service. She also served in the ward Relief Society presidency for many years and was a teacher of the nursery class in the Sunday School. At various times she taught music lessons to some of the young people.

In the spring of 1959, after much mental anxiety, Orita finally sought medical advice and was diagnosed as having cervical cancer. She spent most of that summer in Ogden with Irene and DeLance taking deep therapy and radium treatments. She was so grateful to them for their many kindnesses, and was grateful too for all the prayers and administrations in her behalf. She returned home feeling that all was well with her again.

In August 1965, she and Frank purchased the big Jesse Barlow home and enjoyed the accommodations the bigger home provided, especially whenever family members would come, which was quite often. Many are the grandchildren who remember the times spent with Grandpa and Grandma, and all are proud of their heritage.

But then, in January 1968, having been plagued with severe headaches for a long time, Orita was diagnosed this time as having a brain tumor. Several specialists were consulted and an operation was inevitable. Orita had a strong testimony and a lot of faith. She received administrations before going to the hospital. Her husband and all her family came to be with her, and many prayers were offered in her behalf. The entire Grouse Creek community, including the school children, fasted and prayed for her the day before the operation. The surgery did not prove successful. She remained in a coma for several days and passed away on February 23, 1968. Had she lived, there would undoubtedly have been complications which would have greatly limited her enjoyment of life. She is buried in the Grouse Creek Cemetery.

Many fine tributes were expressed during her funeral services. Bishop Reese Warburton said in his talk:  “I know of no other person in the Grouse Creek valley who would be missed more than we will miss Sister Orita Lee.”  Her influence will long be felt in the lives of her children and grandchildren as well as the many others whose lives she touched.