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Women of Conviction

“So Blessed to Have This Beautiful Gospel”

The Life and Testimony of Edna Marie Skalitzky Decker, 1902–2012

R. Eric Smith

Biographical Sketch

When Edna Marie Skalitzky was born on December 29, 1902, the average life expectancy for white females born in the United States was about 51 years.1 When Edna died on April 21, 2012, at the age of 109, she had, in a sense, lived more than two lifetimes. She was a wise steward of the time on earth the Lord gave her.

Edna was born in Arnott, Wisconsin, to Bert Leonard Skalitzky and Ida May Andrews. She and her twin sister, Ethel Mae, were the youngest of the seven children born to this hardworking couple. Edna’s parents soon moved the family westward to Montana looking for better work. Edna married Elmer Jay Decker in Dillon, Montana, on May 28, 1921. Early in their marriage, Edna and Elmer lived in Montana; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Denver, Colorado. They then settled in Salt Lake City, Utah, where they lived the remainder of their lives.

Edna and Elmer had four children: Raymond, Donna, Leona, and Delores. They also raised a grandchild. Because Edna lived past the age of 100, she had the joy of knowing scores of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, and great-great-great-grandchildren. She was deeply attached to the many generations of her family and made strengthening her family a hallmark of her life.

Edna was raised as a Methodist, the religion of her mother. Elmer, a descendant of early Latter-day Saint pioneers Isaac Decker and Harriet Page Wheeler, was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but was not consistently active in the Church during their marriage. However, his membership brought Edna in contact with visiting teachers and other members, leading to her eventual conversion. She was baptized a member of the Church on November 6, 1943, and received her temple endowment on April 20, 1945. Edna remained a faithful member of the Church throughout her life.

Elmer died April 22, 1966, when Edna was 63. She lived the last 46 years of her life as a widow, alone in a small apartment. Her faith in God and virtues such as selflessness and optimism sustained her and helped her bless the lives of her large family, members of the wards where she lived, and many others. She was a happy, energetic woman who treasured her testimony of the gospel and her membership in the Church.2

Life Experiences

Conversion

Edna often recounted the circumstances of her conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She emphasized providential early interactions with Church members that prepared the way for her later conversion and the influence of good visiting teachers who persistently invited her to attend Relief Society meetings.

She shared the following account of her conversion in a sacrament meeting talk in about 1972:

“In May 1921 we [Elmer Decker and Edna Skalitzky] were married.
Naturally I wanted my Methodist minister to perform the ceremony.

But when we went to talk to him about the time and place, we learned he was going to be out of town at that time.

I knew no other minister from any other church, and since we had set the date, I didn’t know what to do.

Elmer said—Since your minister isn’t going to be able to marry us, do you have any objection if I get someone from my church to marry us?

What could I say? Do you get the feeling even that long ago God was guiding my footsteps to His true church?

Elder Hatfield [a Latter-day Saint priesthood leader] married us by the power and authority of Jesus Christ.

God moves in a mysterious way. . . .

In 1930 my husband’s business brought us to Salt Lake City. . . .

I took my children to Sunday School and I went in the Gospel Doctrine class.

There I heard so many things so contrary to what I had believed was right—I soon found myself staying home, but for some reason I kept getting my children over to Sunday School each Sunday. Then they went to Primary with their cousins.

Soon a missionary began calling on us. He and I didn’t get along very well and after a few heated discussions I asked him not to come back.

In 1932 we had our 4th child [Delores].

She grew up in the church, so to speak, for when she was older she was surely a faithful little churchgoer.

When she was 9, I gave my permission for her to be baptized.

Other missionaries came and they discussed the gospel in a way that I would listen.

By this time the Relief Society visiting teachers were visiting me regularly—after their 1st call I actually looked forward to their next call.

I soon realized they enjoyed something that was missing in my life.

And I began longing for this something they had. Although I was happy. I had a good husband and 4 lovely children.

I dearly loved the older sister. One day she said—“Sister Decker, you are a Mormon and you don’t know it.”

At that time I didn’t know whether that was a compliment, or not, as I later learned it was.

Each month these new friends of mine invited me to attend Relief Society with them.

Why I kept making so many excuses, I’ll never know.

One day to their surprise and mine I went with them.

How grateful I am for their persistent invitations.

After that 1st meeting, I just kept going. For 29 years I’ve been going.

My son [Raymond] married a Latter-day Saints girl [Grace Larsen] and they had their baby daughter blessed in the mother’s former ward.

My daughter Donna lived in Boise, Idaho. When her husband [Ace Vaughn] was ordered overseas in the 2nd World War, Donna and her baby came home.

She wanted to have her son blessed and join the church so her son would be raised in the church.

By this time I knew this was what I wanted too.

On November 6, 1943—Donna, Leona [another daughter] and I were baptized by our bishop, Junius Jackson.3

In late 1983, near the 40th anniversary of her baptism, Edna reflected in her journal on the significance of her membership in the Church:

Many good and some sad times have come and gone. In these times I have come to know my Savior even more as I have had to call on Him to give strength and faith, to see sad experiences through, and as always He was there to help me carry my cross and I love Him even more, for He must love me to answer my prayers and supply my needs for so many years. I have reflected back over the past 40 years many times the past few days as it was November 6th, 1943, I was baptized and on the 7th confirmed a member of Christ’s church. How blessed I am to hold a membership in His church. I have a strong testimony of this Gospel—it has brought me a better and happier way of life—if only all my dear ones could have experiences and help [as] I have over these 40 years they would forsake their present way of life and rededicate their life to righteous living.4

Service in the Relief Society

Edna found deep value in attending Relief Society meetings, serving as a visiting teacher, and fulfilling Relief Society callings. She served three times as a ward Relief Society counselor and twice as a ward Relief Society president. Edna was almost 67 when she began her second term of service as a ward Relief Society president and was 74 when she was released.5 She joked, “I finally had to get on my knees and beg to be released. I said they need somebody younger; they don’t need an old lady over there.”6

In a personal history she completed in 1959, Edna reflected on some of the Relief Society callings she had held up to that time:

In December of 1950 I was put in as Educational Counselor . . . in the Relief Society and served there for two years. On the 28th of December 1952 I was sustained as President of the Relief Society of that ward [the Webster Ward, Park Stake, Salt Lake City], serving there until we moved to another part of the city. I have many loyal and true friends in that ward and many happy memories. While there I had an operation, was in the hospital 10 days, and my loyal supporters and friends were very kind in donating blood that I needed.

I have enjoyed beyond words my work in the church. I go often to the Temple and am indeed grateful and proud that I am worthy of entering that sacred building and performing work there for the departed dead. I had the privilege of going on a Temple excursion with a busload of other members of the Webster Ward to the Manti [Utah] Temple. On the 19th of June, 1958, while visiting Donna and Ray [two of her children] in Los Angeles, I was happy to go to the Los Angeles Temple.

I attend the genealogical class in Bryan Second Ward [in the Sugarhouse Stake, Salt Lake City], where we have lived since 21 May 1956. Helen Blumhagen is the class leader. She is a devout convert in the church and a very able and capable teacher. She has got me started on my genealogy and because of her I am accomplishing quite a lot in this endeavor.

I am now serving and have, since November 1956, as Work Counselor in the Relief Society in this ward . . . and once again have made wonderful and lasting friends.

Year by year my testimony increases. I am very grateful to the ones who have made it possible for me to fill these various callings.7

In the fall of 1959, Edna received a calling to teach in ward Relief Society meetings. She wrote the following in her journal:

I was called to be teacher for the visiting teachers message. . . . Was set apart by the Bishop October 5, 1959. I taught the lesson the first time today. As usual God heard my prayers and blessed me so I could put the lesson over in a way that was satisfying to me. I bore my testimony in Relief Society and thanked Him for his goodness to me, my love for Him and desire to serve him.8

Two years later, Edna wrote the following in her journal:

October 11, 1961. Today is my day off [from work]. Had a spiritual feast at Teachers’ Report meeting and Theology meeting. [These were monthly Relief Society meetings.] Many lovely testimonies were shared. Surely the Lord is with us and His Spirit is so strong in our Theology meetings. I gave the opening prayer and also bore my testimony and expressed my love for the gospel, my dear family, and acknowledged the Lord’s goodness to me.9

Edna wrote in her journal on March 30, 1969:

I was put in as President of the Lincoln Ward Relief Society [in the Granite Stake, Salt Lake City]. . . . We are meeting Wednesday to go over our duties and outline our work for the month of April. . . . The Lord will bless us so we can do our best, I’m sure.10

Later that same year, she wrote:

Last night . . . we worked on our bazaar items. Didn’t get home until 11 P.M. We are going back tonight to finish up. Everyone is busy making things for our bazaar on December 11th. Busy time for everyone with Christmas just over a month away. Relief Society tomorrow and night too. Made some sick visits in the afternoon. Lots to do to keep track of the sick and shut-in sisters in the ward. But rewarding when we can bring a bit of happiness into people’s lives.11

Edna wrote the following in a personal history on March 21, 1976:

Time to go to Sacrament meeting. We will be released from Relief Society tonight after almost 7 years as President. Really feel sad and glad at the same time as I have enjoyed so much my close association with these wonderful sisters.12

Death of Her Husband

Edna’s husband, Elmer, died of cancer when Edna was 63. Though their marriage was a difficult one, Edna loved her husband, and his death left her bereft and lonely. Elmer’s death also left Edna in a poor position financially.13 Nevertheless, Edna was a strong and independent woman who thrived in the “second act” of her life. She sustained herself financially through work and thrift, built a large network of friends, and devoted much time to serving others. The key to her happiness was her absolute reliance on God, whom she knew to be her Father in Heaven, for both temporal and spiritual blessings. That faith is evident in the following journal excerpts:

April 19, 1966. . . . Elmer has not been good—cancer is spreading. . . . I had Donna [a daughter] call the doctor and she got some very shocking news. Cancer is in final stage, no help, but pain pills to give him relief. Doctor said 3 months, give or take a month either way. This was an awful blow to us. None of us dreamed he was so bad. . . . My heart aches for him, he looks awful. . . .

April 22, 1966. My darling slipped away from me quietly, without too much suffering, until about the last hour, at 10 to 4 P.M. . . . What a loss, such a loneliness struck me—“I’m alone, he is gone, I’m alone.” . . .

The funeral was Tuesday at 12:15 P.M., April 26, 1966. . . . I walk back and forth to work [at a bakery]. Am working more than usual, which is good and keeps me from feeling my loss so keenly. The girls [her three daughters] are so sweet and thoughtful of me, but no one can take Elmer’s place. 45 years together leaves a big imprint on my life. . . .

June 22, 1966. [A friend] and I just came home from the Temple. Seemed so good to be back again and there I can find peace. . . . I still feel very lonely and I do so much walking all over the Sugarhouse area [in Salt Lake City]. I try to keep my mind and body busy so I can sleep at night. Am getting a little better, but no one can do much for me. I have to make this big adjustment in my life pretty much by myself. [A friend] is very kind to me, finds me in tears many times and says—“Cry it out, Edna, I know just what you are going through.” Will go to Sunday School this morning and Sacrament meeting and another long Sunday will be behind me. Monday I start working 5 days a week. . . . I am glad to have the extra work and money. . . .

I was sustained as “Home Making” Counselor in Relief Society Sunday, September 18, 1966, in Lincoln Ward, Granite Stake. . . . I am so glad I am going to be busy in church work again. This is what I prayed for before I found my apartment—that the Lord would guide me to a ward where I was needed and could be busy. . . .

It is Sunday, Sept 25th, 7:40 A.M. Couldn’t sleep so I decided I’d get up and bring my journal up to date. Another lonely Sunday. But God is very good to me knowing that this loneliness will not last forever but someday in the future Elmer and I will be together again, sealed, where there will be no more separations. I know Elmer is being prepared for this reunion, wherever his soul rests. . . .

November 19, 1966. . . . Most days are lonely, but I try to keep busy so I don’t feel sorry for myself. I do miss Elmer very much. My family is wonderful, but they are busy and have their families and I don’t want them to feel Grandma always has to be included in their activities. I just have to make a new life for myself. I am making some wonderful friends in this ward, which helps so much. I know the day will come when I won’t be able to work and be on the go like I am now and then what? But God knows my needs and he understands my willing and humble heart, and I feel confident He will take care of me when that time comes. . . .

Sunday, June 23, 1968. This has been an exciting week. Father’s Day, June 16th, I went to Sunday School . . . then drove out to the cemetery and put flowers on Elmer’s grave. Cleaned the marker up as best I could. . . . Friday evening Donna [a daughter], John [Donna’s husband], Delores [a daughter], Eddie [Delores’s husband] and I went to the Temple on the 4:15 session. John did Elmer’s work for him and after the session John acted as Proxy for Elmer, and we were sealed for all eternity. I felt Elmer was there in spirit to accept and witness the sealing. Donna and Delores were then sealed to Elmer and me. I came home and later Delores and Eddie came by with ice cream and I had some cake so we sort of celebrated the occasion. I shed tears of joy and now hope to live to see the day Ray and Leona [a son and daughter] will see and accept the gospel and live so they too can go to the Temple and we can have them sealed to us and we will become a complete family in eternity.14

Temple Service

Edna served consistently in the temple from near the time of her conversion until after she was 100 years old. Because she was the only one of her parents’ family to join the Church, she had many opportunities to do genealogical research and temple work for her departed kin. Through her efforts and those of individuals who helped her, she submitted the names of hundreds of ancestors to the temple and amassed an impressive collection of family history files.15

In a personal history, Edna wrote the following:

I am most grateful for my good parents, and ancestors before them, who God brought together many years ago, and through them I had the privilege of coming into the world. I owe them very much. I loved them very much, and as the last gift I could give to my dear parents, on the 9th [of] October 1958—the anniversary of my father’s 100th birthday—Delores [a daughter], Eddie [Delores’s husband] and I went to the Temple and had my father Bert L. Skalitzky and Mother Ida May Andrews sealed for all eternity—and I was sealed to them, they having fulfilled their missions on earth, giving my brothers and sisters and myself a chance to be born into mortality through goodly parents. I honor their dear names, and call them blessed. May I ever live worthy of the heritage they passed onto me.16

Edna wrote the following in her journal on January 29, 1982:

[Two friends] and I went to the Temple on the 11:15 session—first time this new year. Had a good dinner there then went to the genealogical library and turned in my 4-generation sheets and sheets on Arthur, Elvin and Ethel [three of her deceased siblings] to have their work done. I feel so good getting that long overdue job done.17

Edna wrote the following in her journal four months later:

Went to first meeting of stake conference at 7 P.M. tonight. Very inspirational talks on Temple work and Histories—how important both are for ourselves and our posterity. I am so thankful for the Gospel in my life. I know God lives, that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer and loves us and blesses us with all we have and are. How happy I would be if all my family had this kind of a Testimony and how happy they would be also.18

On August 8, 2005, at the age of 103, Edna wrote the following in her journal:

Our Relief Society president made arrangements for the Bishop to come to my apartment and renew My Temple recommend. . . . I have gone to the temple three times with the Relief Society sisters, something I didn’t think I would ever do again. . . . It was not as hard as I thought it would be. We are going on the 18th of August to the Jordan River [Utah] temple.19

Optimism, Simplicity, and Industry

In a January 1970 journal entry, Edna gave a great key to understanding her character: “What a wonderful time to be living and enjoying so many marvelous things. Much wickedness and suffering also, but even so we must live to our full capacity every day of our lives, in so doing we grow and develop our own lives and testimonies. The Lord expects us to keep busy no matter what goes on about us.”20 Edna filled her life with worthwhile activity and service and lived each day with a sense of optimism, wonder, and gratitude. She deliberately observed a frugal lifestyle, giving her reserves of energy and money that she could use to help others.21

At the age of 58, Edna returned to the workplace for the first time since she had been a teenager in order to bring in extra income for her family. She recorded in her journal:

On June 7th, 1960, I went to work as a sales lady at Dunford’s bakery. . . . Such a day my first day to work on a job since before I was married. I would gladly have taken a beating rather than go back to work the next day—but I made up my mind I was going to work—so back I went. There were so many things and so many prices, I didn’t think I would ever learn them. But I’m trying and each day it gets a little less confusing. I am getting the big wage of 90 cents an hour and work from 11 to 4 Monday through Saturday with Tuesday off for Relief Society.22

The following representative journal entries from May and June 1982 give a sense of how she profitably spent her time:

Friday, [May] 14. Had just got out of bed and washed when Delores [a daughter] came. A pleasant surprise. I dressed and got breakfast. She had a 9:45 Doctor’s Appointment. Left at 9:30. Watched the rest of The Price is Right [a television show]. Made my bed. Did the dishes, and after [a] while 5 of us are going to the Temple. So it is another beautiful day. To be with loved ones and friends and doing the Lord’s work. How blessed I am.

Saturday, [May] 15. Beautiful warm day. I washed, washed sliding doors inside and out. Cleaned my apartment. Washed and pressed my Temple clothes. Called on [a neighbor]. Went to the store for her, then called on [another neighbor] in 803. [A friend] put up my hair and gave me 6 sweet rolls. I took 2 to [a neighbor]. After my dinner I called on [another neighbor] in 809 and spent 2 hours with [another neighbor] in 101—lovely friendly lady who goes over to the ward. . . .

Friday [June] 11th. . . . It is a beautiful day. Went to the Temple after making two visits upstairs to do my visiting teaching. Have one more to see yet to get 100 percent. It is 10 o’clock news time. Will read for a few minutes and turn in again. Same thing every morning and night. Go to bed and get up. But how blessed I am to be able to do that every day and have things to do to use my time. Thank you, dear God.23

In an interview late in life, Edna pointed out a connection between minimizing her own needs and serving others:

I have never been one that has wanted a lot, money or otherwise. I just want enough to live comfortably and share a little with those that are less fortunate, and I think that is why I have been blessed. For years I have given to the homeless and the food bank and Indian reservations where they are so deprived of so much, and I think I have been blessed that I have never had to do without; I have always had all I need and more. . . . My wants are very small, and I don’t want any more than what I have. So there is no place to spend money. You might as well give it to help somebody else. . . . I have everything I want, everything I need. So help somebody that doesn’t.24

Testimony

Edna bore the following testimony in a ward sacrament meeting address when she was about 70 years old and serving as a ward Relief Society president:

I have a sincere testimony this is the true church of Jesus Christ.

I love the gospel, it has changed my life completely.

I am a firm believer in prayer.

I could never have filled the positions I have, without the help of my Heavenly Father—

Which help came through prayer.

Why I was the only one in my family to have the opportunity to become a member of this church, I’ll never know—

But this I do know—that by living the gospel to the best of my ability—and keeping my Heavenly Father’s commandments—I have found blessings and happiness I never dreamed were possible.

It is my humble prayer I may live worthy of these many blessings and worthy of the trust the Bishopric has placed in me.

And may I give service to my God and fellowmen as long as He needs me.25

Edna wrote in her journal on November 17, 1981:

Had a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience this morning going to witness the 4th session of the dedication of the Jordan River [Utah] Temple. President Gordon B. Hinckley conducted and read the dedicatory prayer. President [Marion G.] Romney talked, Boyd K. Packer and another of the General Authorities. Music was furnished by a Sandy [Utah] stake. It was a wonderful event in my life. I am so blessed to have this beautiful Gospel and hope with all my heart I can live worthy of all my blessings a loving Father pours out upon me. I have a firm testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel and have felt my Father’s spirit on several occasions in direct answer to my prayers as a warm feeling covered my entire body and I knew and bear witness it was a direct answer to my prayer. How could I ever doubt it was anything else?26

Footnotes

[1] National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, vol. 54, no. 14 (Apr. 19, 2006; revised Mar. 28, 2007), 32.

[2] The key sources for the information in this life sketch are Edna S. Decker, “The History of My Family,” circa 1959, private possession; Edna S. Decker, “Personal Record Chronology—Female,” private possession; obituary for Elmer J. Decker, Salt Lake Tribune, Apr. 24, 1966; obituary for Edna S. Decker, Deseret News, Apr. 25, 2012; Edna S. Decker, oral interviews by Meg Brady, Mar. 2010 (transcribed by R. Eric Smith), 3 discs, private possession; and Delores Simons, address at funeral of Edna S. Decker, Apr. 28, 2012, private possession. The author of this article also studied Edna’s three journals—for 1950–76, 1976–2009, and 1982–83—and had conversations with several of Edna’s descendants. The information on Elmer Decker’s ancestry comes from his pedigree chart on FamilySearch.org. Throughout the quotations in this article, spelling and some punctuation have been silently standardized, and abbreviations have been silently expanded.

[3] Edna S. Decker, sacrament meeting address, circa 1972, Lincoln Ward, Granite Utah Stake, paragraphs 36–43, 51–73, private possession.

[4] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1976–2009, entry for Nov. 8, 1983, private possession.

[5] Edna S. Decker, “Personal Record Chronology—Female,” private possession; see also quotations from Edna below in this section of the article.

[6] Edna S. Decker, oral interviews by Meg Brady, Mar. 2010 (transcribed by R. Eric Smith), disc 2, 53:20, private possession.

[7] Edna S. Decker, “The History of My Family,” circa 1959, private possession, 8.

[8] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1950—1976, entry for Oct. 5, 1959, private possession.

[9] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1950–1976, entry for Oct. 11, 1961, private possession.

[10] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1950–1976, entry for Mar. 30, 1969, private possession.

[11] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1950–1976, entry for Nov. 18, 1969, private possession.

[12] Edna S. Decker, “Family History,” entry for Mar. 21, 1976, private possession.

[13] Edna S. Decker, oral interviews by Meg Brady, Mar. 2010 (transcribed by R. Eric Smith), disc 3, 9:35, private possession.

[14] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1950–1976, private possession.

[15] In a sacrament meeting address given in about 1972, Edna said that a friend of hers and a researcher had by that point been able to “obtain around 400 names of my ancestors from Germany, where my father was born. Those names are now in the Temple where the work is being done for them” (Edna S. Decker, sacrament meeting address, circa 1972, Lincoln Ward, Granite Utah Stake, paragraphs 82 and 83, private possession).

[16] Edna S. Decker, “The History of My Family,” circa 1959, private possession, 8.

[17] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1982–1983, entry for Jan. 29, 1982, private possession.

[18] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1982–1983, entry for May 29, 1982, private possession.

[19] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1976–2009, entry for Aug. 8, 2005, private possession.

[20] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1950–1976, entry for Jan. 16, 1970, private possession.

[21] At Edna’s funeral, her daughter Delores observed: “Throughout her life she maintained a simple, uncluttered lifestyle, never desiring more than she needed. As one looked in her closets or cupboards, you would be struck by her having only what was necessary, never an overabundance of anything. I have referred to her style as the ‘Economy of Edna’” (Delores Simons, address at funeral of Edna S. Decker, Apr. 28, 2012, private possession).

[22] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1950–1976, entry for June 7, 1960, private possession.

[23] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1982–1983, private possession.

[24] Edna S. Decker, oral interviews by Meg Brady, Mar. 2010 (transcribed by R. Eric Smith), disc 3, 15:25, private possession.

[25] Edna S. Decker, sacrament meeting address, circa 1972, Lincoln Ward, Granite Utah Stake, paragraphs 92–100, private possession.

[26] Edna S. Decker, journal, 1976–2009, entry for Nov. 17, 1981, private possession.