Mary Dawson

Last month’s article mentioned that a church is more than stone and mortar. With that in mind, this month’s article will focus on an early pioneer and influential member of Idaho Falls and Trinity United Methodist. Have you stopped to look at the picture of Mary Dawson located at the entrance to the hall named in her memory? She was 74 years old when this picture was taken. So, who was Mary Dawson? 

She was born February 22, 1867 in Terre Haute, Indiana to William and Ellen Penny Finch. She graduated from Gettings Seminary in LaHarpe, IL and Illinois State Normal, Normal, IL. After graduation she taught at three different schools in Illinois.

August 27, 1890 she married Lemoine Painter Dawson in LaHarpe. After spending some time in South Dakota, the couple moved to Idaho Falls in 1910 where they operated the Dr. Wilson ranch north of the city until 1914 when they moved into Idaho Falls. Her husband preceded her in death in 1948. At the time of Mary’s passing February 13, 1957 it was reported that she had three surviving sons and two daughters. Three other children preceded her in death. She also had nine grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren at the time.

Mary was a very active member of Trinity having served as a teacher and church school counselor for some 36 years. From Jeannine Beckman’s recollection she was a “very small and gentle lady and she always wore her hat.” Jeannine who was about 10 at the time she had Mary for her teacher is a 66 year member of Trinity. Word was that children who missed Sunday school would get a Sunday afternoon visit from Mary. This was the 1930s and 40s before the education wing had been added to the church. At that time Holmes was still a gravel road and Idaho Falls had less than 10,000 people. 

Helen Reed remembers that Mary also taught Sunday school at Shelley Methodist church for at least two years either at the same time or before teaching at Trinity. Madge Jeffery recalls that Mary took in boarders in a large house located on Water Avenue about a block from the church.  She also remembers that Mary provided lunch to out of town children attending grade school nearby. Madge, who grew up on a farm near Ucon would take the train to Idaho Falls for the school week and return home on weekends, so she regularly had lunch at the Dawson’s. Each child who attended these lunches had their own personalized napkin ring. Apparently Mrs. Dawson was a woman of decorum with a warm personal touch. These lunches were somewhat formal. 

Mary had four sons who served in World War I and one son Wendell who was in both World War II and the Korean Conflict. This obviously made an impact on Mary as she became a charter member of American War Mothers and organization that began in 1925. This women’s only organization was founded by mothers of war veterans to keep alive and develop the spirit that promoted world service. They worked for the welfare of the Army and Navy; to assist in any way in their power men and women who served and were wounded or incapacitated in the World War (WWI).

Obviously Mary had a significant impact in the community of Idaho Falls. Her obituary with a picture was front page coverage on the Post-Register, the headline stating “Mary Dawson, Church, Civic Worker, Dies”.

Sources for this article: Idaho Falls Post Register, 2/14/1957; internet site ETEXT Archives, founded 1992 by Paul Southworth, University of Michigan listing “PATRIOTIC SOCIETIES AND OBSERVANCES”;  an interview with Jeannine Beckman with inputs from Helen Reed, Madge Jeffery, Bev Kemp and Steve and Ruth Farkas. A special thanks to Jeannine Beckman who interviewed Madge and Helen.

Submitted by: Les Miller

     Trinity United Methodist Church; 237 N. Water Ave. Idaho Falls, ID 83402                   208-522-7921