Mecheltje Dufrenne-Lether

1884 - 1979

BIOGRAPHY

by

James Warr

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As I spoke with her in her 92 year, she was a small frail woman with an ever ready smile and positive comment. Her radiant white hair was as a crown to her pleasant face and quiet dignity. Her English was spoke with a heavy Dutch accent, and her mind was alert in spite of the fact that she was becoming slightly forgettul and confused over the last several years.

She lived alone in Grandmother Warr's old home where my parents had moved her when Uncle Stanley had felt that it was my mothers turn to take care of her. There she spent most of her time sitting waiting her turn to die. She did not often admit this, but would always respond positively when we inquired about her well-being. However, on occasion she would intimate how lonely she really was. Her beloved companion Anthony Dufrenne had died 16 years earlier, and she was never quite the same after that. She had outlived her friends and family and her present friends were the children of her old friends.

She frequently spoke to me of her conviction that she had been right in joining the church 72 years before, immigrating to Utah and being married in the Temple. In spite of the fact that she rarely attended church meetings, and had difficulty with tithing and the Word of Wisdom, she would always defend the church. Her testimony had been weakened by years of neglect, but she still knew of its surety. She was also loyal to her adopted country, and when anyone would disparage America and long for the old country, she would promptly remind them of the realities of their blessings in the United States.

Mecheltje was born on February 2, 1884, in Arnhem, province of Gelderland, The Netherlands. Her parents were Johan Lether and Maria van Soest. She was the fourth child of nine children.
She remembers a pleasant, happy childhood during which she played dolls, sewed, played house with her brothers and sisters, and went ice skating with her family in the winter. The family lived in an apartment, which was customary in Holland as it was difficult to purchase property or buy a home. Their apartment was on the second floor, and the buildings did not have yards due to the shortage of land. However, they lived only a short distance from the school and some woods where they would often go to play.

The children were expected to help with the work around the home. Mecheltje's usual jobs were shaking the carpets and cleaning the stairway. This had to be done before she left for school around 8 a.m. She also assisted with the other house work, such as washing the dishes.

The family was quite close and most of their recreation was together as a family. Grandmother particularly remembers ice skating together on the Dutch Rhine River in the winter, and walking the five miles to her grandmother Morren's home. This would take 1 to 2 hours walking, but Mecheltje always enjoyed these visits to the country. They would usually go once a week, and her grandmother Antje would always give them fresh vegetables and food before they left. Mecheltje was very close to her grandmother Antje, and described her as one of the sweetest people in the world. She didn't know her grandfather, as he had died of cancer before her mother was married.
However, she was not as close to her father's parents. They lived farther away and it was necessary to travel by bus or train to visit them. She can't remember her paternal grandfather Chris Lether. Gerritje Ligtenbeld, her father's mother, was quite worldly and fill of life. She drank and tended to be happy go lucky. Mecheltje didn't like her and felt that their personalities were too dissimilar.

At age 16, grandmother's life changed dramatically.Two Mormon Missionaries came by their home passing out tracts. They were invited to come back, and they began teaching the family about this strange new religion. They came for a number of weeks, teaching a lesson and then eating dinner with the family. After they became more aquatinted, they would even bring their damaged clothing to have mended. The missionaries were well liked, and grandmother remembers one, an Elder Weston in particular. However, in spite of the fact that they were well liked, her father and the older brothers were not as receptive to their message as the mother and two daughters.
After studying the gospel for sometime, Grandmother, her mother, and a sister agreed to be baptized. This was arranged to be done after dark to avoid persecution which was quite strong at that time. Therefore, on May 4, 1900, they went to the Rhine River which was near their home, and were baptized. Before this they had belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church, that dominate religion in Holland. This brought upon them the wrath of the community and friends and relatives turned against them. They were called "dirty Mormons", and were generally hated by the people of Holland.
The branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Arnhem held their meetings in a large room above a horse stable. This was not too satisfactory a meeting place because it was smelly and the horses underneath made a lot of noise. Also, there was a bar across the street that was always playing loud honky tonk music during the meetings. But they had to be content with this as no one else would rent the "dirty Mormons" a building.
There were about 50 members of the church at this time in Arnhem. They were composed of the poor and middle class people. Grandmother indicates that she always enjoyed the meetings in spite of the undesirable circumstances. Following her baptism she rarely ever missed a meeting. At this time she was appointed secretary of the Sunday School. She says that she has never regretted this decision to join the church.

When she was 17 grandmother graduated from school. She was given a wrist watch for this accomplishment. Shortly following her graduation, she went to work as a maid. Later she obtained work as a cashier in the first move house in Arnhem. She worked at this job until she was 28 and emigrated to America.

For a long time she had known a young man by the name of Anthony Dufrenne. They were attracted to each other, but there was one problem. He was a Catholic, and she a Mormon. His parents, when they learned of their mutual interest, forbade him to see her. As a result they never were able to formally date each other, but would meet on street corners to talk.
Anthony was a handsome, athletic young man who was planning a career in the Army. He got in the habit of walking grandmother to church on Sundays, and although she encouraged him, he would never go in with her. They would often discuss religion, with her arguments usually prevailing. After several years of this, with grandmother never compromising her beliefs, Anthony decided to attend one of the church meetings. He was immediately impressed, and began studying with the missionaries. After several years he was baptized. When he started observing the Word of Wisdom around his home, his family discovered that he had joined the hated Mormons, and they asked him to leave home.

Grandmother and Anthony wanted to get married, after all they had been courting for some time. But his parents wouldn't give their permission, which according to Dutch Law -at that time- meant that they could never get married. So they decided that the only other alternative was to emigrate to the United States. Two of grandmothers sisters and a brother had already emigrated, so they wrote to them for the necessary papers. This took some time accumulating the necessary money and getting the papers, and they had to wait an additional three years. Finally, everything was ready and the papers were on their way. However, they didn't arrive before the boat left, so they had to wait until the next departure. When the papers did come, only grandmothers were included. So it was decided that she would go ahead anyway and Anthony would come later. She left Holland in October of 1911. Anthony was able to come six weeks later. Grandmother was 28 at this time.

The boat she was traveling on was a luxury liner, but she was unable to enjoy the facilities, let alone the food, because she immediately became seasick. This lasted the entire trip which took 6 weeks. Not only was she seasick, but she couldn't speak English, and no one on the boat could speak Dutch. As a result she had a very miserable trip, and has never wanted to go back to her homeland for a visit, which would repeat this experience. After she landed in New York, she boarded a train to Salt Lake. This took another week with the same problem with the language. By the time she reached Salt Lake where her brother and sisters were living, she was extremely weary, but very glad to talk to someone who could understand her.

(edited by Frank D.P.M. Lether 1997)

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