Iris Swensen (1906-2008)

Funeral Address Delivered by Dorthea Swensen Kendall

Courtesy Marjorie Swensen Whitchurch

My dear brothers and sisters and family: I pray you will bear with me as I attempt to condense 101 years of a righteous life into 15 minutes of just a few glimpses into the life of Iris Swensen Hancock.

My brother, Paul, spoke at Jay's funeral in 1999, and I hoped he would give this Lie History at Iris' funeral as well, but he has gone on ahead to welcome her, with Jay and the rest of her family. I didn't know any of you then, but I played the organ and my daughter and sister-in-law sang at that funeral. Now you have become my dear and close friends as well as Iris'.


Iris was born "of goodly parents" on 23 July 1906, the 9th of 10 children in the family of Ole and Mary Jane Hogensen Swensen, in Montpelier, Bear Lake County, Idaho. My father was the oldest child; Iris, the youngest girl. Married to Alton Jay Hancock in 1952 in the Idaho Falls Temple, he preceded her in death in 1999. She is survived by one sister-in-law, Velma Swensen, of Provo, Utah, seven nephews, seven nieces, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, friends and neighbors here in Mesa and throughout the country.

1906 will be remembered as the year of the great San Francisco earthquake and fire.

Iris' first recollection is when she was about 4 yrs old. The older children were in school and she and her baby brother were home with Mother. She remembers standing in the hall and looking up at the coats hanging on the hooks above her. She noticed pickets in the coats and began feeling in those pockets. In one, she found a piece or pieces of candy and took one. Her mother discovered this and immediately gave her a lesson in honesty. She explained that she must never take something that did not belong to her. And she never did again.

Before Iris was to be baptized in Montpelier Creek, her mother explained to her the importance of baptism and that after her baptism she must never do anything wrong. And I don't believe she ever did.

Because of her cheery nature she had any friends during her school years and many opportunities to use her talents. How many of you know that she was very artistically inclined?

Iris had five paying jobs during her life, only one of which she asked for. Right out of high school, she was asked to be a substitute teacher. That lasted one day and that was enough for her. three of her siblings were studying to be teachers and were honor students, and she felt she could never be as smart as they were, so didn't want to be a teacher. She worked in a grocery/ice cream store, a furniture store, part-time Christmas employment at a department store (the only one she asked for), Mutual Creamery, and Idaho Typewriter Exchange. She actually worked for ITEX twice. In 1939, she transferred with Mutual Creamery to Pocatello, Idaho.

In 1946, she took a break to go on a mission to Eastern Canada in Toronto. ITEX wanted to hold her job for her until she got back, but she said "ho knew how either of them would feel by the time she got back? She was in the mission office when a young Elder, Neal A. Maxwell, came into the mission. She is in the group picture included in his biography, A Disciple's Life. The sister Elder Maxwell mentions, Laura Merrill, who wrote to his parents, was Iris' first companion. On the back of his picture [I held up his missionary picture] he wrote to Iris, I've enjoyed immensely my association with you recently and admire your 'efficiency plus'." (Oct. 1947) [Even at 19 he was very articulate.]

When she was released from her mission in May 1948, there was a letter waiting for her in the mission office, asking her to return to ITEX to work. However, she wanted to take some time off to write her mother's life history, and so ITEX said they would hold the position for her. While at home in Montpelier, she received another letter from ITEX, asking if she was ready to come back to work. That speaks much for her integrity and work ethic. And she did go back to Pocatello to work for them until her retirement in May of 1969.

While still on her mission, she had asked her mother, Mary Jane, to write down some notes to be included in her life history. When Iris arrived in Montpelier to begin writing this life history, she asked her mother for her notes. Mary Jane brought out an envelope which she had opened out and written on the clean inside of the envelope. She believed that pretty much summed up her life. With Iris's prodding, that one envelope turned into many pages of a typewritten history, rich with experiences and service.

Iris met Jay Hancock in MIA activities in Pocatello in 1950-51, and they were married 16 May 1952 in the Idaho Falls Temple. Iris said they really didn't have to "get used" to each other - they just blended. After marriage, they lived in the apartment in which Iris was living.

Jay had been in the service during World War II and never had the opportunity to go on a mission. Iris felt a mission would be a good experience for him and so she went to their bishop and suggested it, and she supported him while he was sent to Western Canada in 1954. In 1956, while Jay was gone, Iris was called to be the ward Young Women President. After Jay returned in March 1957, they had an opportunity to purchase the apartment building in which they lived and managed those apartments until deciding to move down to the warmer climate of Arizona in 1972.

Together they served i the Genealogical Library (now Family History Center), in the Arizona Mesa Temple from 1975 to 1982, and in 1982 were called to serve a mission in the Texas Houston Mission, serving in Jasper, Texas. They returned in 1983.

• Sunday School Chorister at age 15
• MIA Chorister
• Teacher in Sunday School at a young age
• Young Women President in Pocatello
• Gospel Doctrine Teacher
• Relief Society President, Pocatello
• Ward, Stake and Texas missions with Jay
• Visiting Teaching Supervisor
• Visiting Teacher until her death

Accomplishments: She and Jay added on to their little house here and she made curtains for all windows. She learned from Ida Watkins how to make a suit and afterward made all Jay's suits, as well as most of her own clothes.

She compiled genealogies and life histories for herself and Jay, using a manual Royal typewriter or wrote in long-hand.

She took care of herself and Jay until Jay's death in 1999 - then took care of herself until a slight stroke just before her 96th birthday made it impossible for her to live alone. Even then, she figured out how to get herself in and out of a wheelchair and has done so right up until this year.

She kept up her love of reading and has a collection of books right by her living room chair which she has read and reread often; a little in the first; then it would go to the back, and so forth. Church News and The Ensign were read completely every week and month. She would get concerned if the Church News didn’t arrive on Tuesday when it was supposed to arrive. She couldn’t imagine how “they” print and put a newspaper together, or how the Church operates like it does all over the world.

As you know, Iris was always cheerful. She would wake up and start singing many mornings. She would do exercises on her bed and say, “Well, I’ve been out to the lamp post and back.” Many of you have heard her tell you a little rhyme that helped her laugh at old age:
I’m fully aware that my youth has been spent,
That my get up and go has got up and went,
But I really don’t mind, when I think with a grin
Of the many fine places my get up has been!”

She also loved a little saying a friend sent her: “Wrinkles don’t hurt, but everything else does!”

When Iris was no longer able to take care of the irrigation herself, Dan Branch would come over and do it for her, no matter the time of day or night. However, she still wanted to know and see how the irrigation went and so would check with Dan on how it was going. She was so grateful for Dan’s help, as am I. Also, “Thank You, Dan”, for the many times you loaded the wheel chair into the trunk of my car so Iris could come to church on Sunday. (Sorry he ‘s out of town and can’t hear these thanks, but he called me from Mexico to express his feelings.)

One morning, as we were getting ready for the day, out of the blue, Iris started reciting a poem she remembered from somewhere. We tried to find out the title of the poem and when she may have learned it, but to no avail. She did not remember. We think it was likely sometime before high school. On July 5, 2005, she recited it again. I should have had a tape recorder going, but didn’t. Later in the day she recited it again and I did get it n tape. How many of you will be able to do that at the age of 99? Not me! I was still curious about the origin of the poem and finally, in 2005, I stopped at the City Library to ask how I might learn about it. The wonderful helper at the desk typed in something on her computer, and in a minute, INDEPENDENCE BELL appeared on her screen. She made a copy for me. Iris was delighted when I presented this “surprise” to her when I arrived back home. It is actually a longer poem than she quoted, so we don’t know whether she has forgotten some parts, or whether she learned only the parts she quoted. [A copy of the poem is on the back of the program.]

[SALLY] This cute doll has a story of its own. Iris has a large suitcase full of dolls collected over the many years of her life. On 30 March 2006, we were preparing to send her sister, Edna’s china-head doll with a friend [Norinne Teuscher Kunz] up to Montpelier, Idaho to be added to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum where we hope it will be taken care of. I couldn’t find the original dress for the doll and we finally gave up and sent it without the dress. When my friend left, Iris wanted to look in the suitcase – she was sure the dress was in there. When I opened up the suitcase, she spotted the dress; then she saw this doll and immediately fell in love with it and exclaimed, “Where in the world did she come from?” I was surprised because I’m sure she told me a long time ago that she made it in Relief Society sometime. She wanted it put in the living room where she could see it every day and began calling her “Sally”. I brought it today, wondering if any of you sisters who have known Iris since 1972 might remember having a class in doll0making [dip-and-drape] and might have seen her make this doll. If not, perhaps it was made when she lived in Pocatello. We may never know. Anyway, Sally is part of my family now.

On 23 July 2006, Iris reached 100 years, so we had to celebrate that event. Many of you were here to help her family honor her. At that time, Beverly Dawson, a niece, brought Iris a precious gift: an old doll we assume belonged to the sister just two years older than Iris. Beverly had salvaged it from the belongings of Aunt Lillas and restored the doll and made beautiful new clothes for her. Her name is “Karin” – good, old Norwegian name.

She loved every one of you in the wars she has lived in here in Mesa. Even though she had no children of her own, she spoke often of the good times she and Jay had with the Burhans next door and how much they enjoyed Nathan, Alex and Gaby. Some of your children were treated to fresh carrots out of their garden. She loved to see all the little babies and children at church and watch them learn to crawl and walk and talk. She loved being the “official listener” for choir practice and hearing the choir singing. Sometimes, they would see her singing along with us.

What, in a few words, would sum up the life of a righteous person? As I read and reread the Book of Mormon, I am struck with this passage again and again: “...yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” That was Iris Swensen Hancock.

I hope I can be worthy to meet her again.

[Closing notes for you Barbara and Mary Lou: after the funeral service, family members traveled out to Mountain View Memorial Gardens, where Iris was interred next to Jay in her own vault. They allowed us to stay and watch them lift her casket into the vault and seal it – very efficient and interesting. They wanted the top row so there would be no noisy neighbors above to stomp on the ceiling! Then back to our house for a lovely luncheon, provided by the sisters in Relief Society. Wayne had to catch a flight back to Salt Lake, so he didn’t stay for lunch, but Velma, Dean, Garth and his children, Dean’s son and wife and 2 children who live in Tempe did. Velma is doing very well for her age and was glad she could be here.]