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William E. Gee

By Ivin L. Gee, son

(from R. M. Kerr Family News Letter)

William Erastus Gee was born October 17, 1875 on a farm near Tooele, Utah, the oldest child of Erastus Rowe Gee and Geneva Eleanor Telford Gee.

When he was 8 years old the family moved to Lewiston, Idaho. It was here that he started school. The family lived about 3 miles from school and he usually walked. However, one year the school teacher lived beyond the Gee farm and he often picked father up in the cutter where there was a genuine buffalo robe to wrap up in. Father readily enjoyed this.

Schools were held only in the winter when there was a minimum of farm work to be done. The schools were ungraded. Pupils were either in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th reader. Father learned more from listening to the other classes recite than from his own class. Sometime during his 12th year he asked his father for a new suit of clothes. He was informed, "Son, I have bought you your last suit of clothes."

Father was interested in school all his life. In his youth he saw the cadets of the A.C. at Logan in their fancy dress uniforms and determined that he was going to Logan to school, first to get the fancy clothes and second to get something in his head. He went to Logan for parts of two years before the family moved to Ora, Idaho. At Ora, father took up a homestead and taught a tuition school. He was given fence posts, side meat, eggs, milk, butter or whatever was of value. Some of those posts were still standing after 50 years. After a year at Ora he went back to Lewiston for a visit. He attended a dance. Apostle John W. Taylor was at the same dance and during the course of the evening asked father if he would like to go on a mission. When father said "yes", he was told to go home, get his affairs in order and he would receive a call in the fall. Father was called to help open the Western States Mission with headquarters in Denver, Colorado.

Missionaries at that time went without purse or script. When father left he had one suit. The folks in ora gave him enough money to buy his ticket to Denver. After his orientation in Denver he was assigned to work in grand junction with an older man, son of apostle Orson Hyde. The son did not follow the example or the teachings of his father, so the first part of father's mission was neither fruitful or a happy experience. However, during the latter part of his mission he had many rewarding experiences. When his suit became worn and threadbare he asked to be released long enough to earn a new suit. This was granted and he worked in the timber and in the harvest fields until he had money to buy new clothes. Then he resumed his mission.

He had a couple of experiences that he always remembered. One time he and his companion moved into a new area. They went for five days with only a loaf of bread to eat. They were not allowed in any home and were denied the privilege of holding meetings in any of the public buildings. They left that area heartsick and discouraged. Another time after tracting in a rural area all day they caught a ride with a farmer in his wagon. Just at sundown they opened the gate to his yard. The aroma of supper filled the air, they were tired, dusty and hungry. As the farmer drove through the gate he pointed down the road and said, "Colorado Springs is just 25 miles down the road and it is all down hill." They walked all night.

After his mission father wanted more schooling, so he went to ricks academy for a year and completed requirements for a teaching certificate. He was given the job of principal and teacher at Marysville, Idaho for $50.00 per month. After a year there he took the job of principal in Salem, Idaho for $65.00 per month.

After a year in Salem he married Mary Ellen Kerr on September 10, 1902. To this union five sons were born: Marion, Professor Emeritus at Idaho State University; Ivin, Meteorologist with the US Weather Service; Dr. Lynn L., Head of the Department of Microbiology at Oklahoma State University; Merrill, Attorney in Pocatello, Idaho; Dr. Vernon Ray, Radiologist in Redding, California.

The day after their marriage in the Salt Lake Temple, mother took the train to her school in Grant, Idaho. Father remained in Salt Lake City to be with her brother Jody Kerr who was critically sick and shortly afterwards died. Father spent a term at the A.C. in Logan. He then finished mother's term of school at Grant because mother was sick and unable to complete her contract.

Father secured the Singer Sewing Machine Agency and moved to Rexburg. He became the tithing clerk of the Rexburg wards when tithing was paid in kind, so he had to receive and disburse all the produce. He was also the clerk of the ricks academy when they built their first building on the hill. This is now known as the Spori building. He was also town clerk of Rexburg and a clerk in the real estate firm of Bassett and Beckstead.

In 1910 he became Clerk, Auditor and Recorder of the Sixth Judicial Court in St. Anthony, Idaho. While in St. Anthony he served on the town council. He was a sunday school teacher and was counselor in both ward and stake MIA. When Madison and Fremont counties were divided he bought the abstract for Madison County and set up an abstract office in Rexburg. After several years in the abstract business twelve men organized the Farmers and Merchants Bank and asked father to be the cashier. He had no previous banking experience. He had no idea how to set up the books or keep the records or how a bank should be run, but after a week of study and prayer he was able to set up the books in a most satisfactory manner.

In 1926 Emogene Manwaring was elected Madison County Treasurer with the understanding that father would be her deputy, would take her salary and do her work. She would take the deputy salary and learn the work. He had that position until 1929.

In Rexburg he was counselor to Bishop Robert G. Archibald and to Bishop L. V. Merrill. He became the Stake Superintendent of Sunday Schools and had many happy times visiting with David O. McKay who was the General Superintendent of Sunday School.

During World War I he was chairman of the Madison County Red Cross and received national recognition for the great work that was accomplished. The sweaters and mittens that were knit as well as the bandages that were rolled and the packages that were prepared for the soldiers were outstanding. He was interested in cultural things and was a member of the Chautauqua and Lyceum boards, and was a charter member of Rotary Club.

In 1929 he moved to Pocatello with the Idaho Loan and Investment Company. In 1933 he became deputy county assessor under Mark Manley. From 1941 to 1943 he was city clerk of Pocatello. In 1944 he became bookkeeper for Jesse M. Chase. Later he was affiliated with Grant Stowell part time. In 1950 he was elected to the office of county assessor which position he held for eight years. He retired at the age of eighty.

He was active and interested in the progress of the church in Pocatello. He was a teacher in the MIA, and then counselor to Bishop Horsefall. He succeeded Bishop Horsefall as bishop of the Third Ward. At the time he became bishop there was a $30,000.00 debt on the cultural hall and nothing had been done about it because of trying times. He was prompted and encouraged by brother George Cox when he contributed $100.00 to the debt. Father and his counselors made arrangements to clear the debt and it was done within a year. This was one of the greatest thrills of father's life.

He served as chairman of the bishop's welfare committee and then a welfare coordinator for six stakes. He served as high counselor in the Pocatello stake. When released, he was asked to teach the parent and youth class in the Pocatello tenth ward. He studied and prayed constantly to make the class meaningful, and he had the largest class in the stake. In one lesson on obedience he said, "when parents make a request, they should see that the task is completed." he used the example of Ivin getting his sons up after they were asleep to do the dishes they had been assigned. One mother protested that it was cruel and wouldn't work, but a couple of weeks later she confessed, "you know, it really works."

William E. Gee believed in and practiced industry and thrift and honesty. He was wise beyond his time. He loved to study the scripture and other good literature. He appreciated the finest in art, music and drama. He had two great unfilled longings: to hear Enrico Caruso in person, and to watch a world series from the grandstand. He loved people, the youth in particular, and worked tirelessly to help them catch the vision of what great heights they could achieve. Many have thanked him for his inspiration and help.

Click here to read excerpts from his Missionary Journal