by Maggie Boyle Judi
On a shelf in my kitchen sits a small glass bluebird called, “The bluebird of happiness.”
It is a gift given by Tauna DeGraw Larsen and her mother, Maxine Himmelberger to the graduates, newlyweds, and the newborns of Monticello for many years.
I got mine in May of 1997 and have set it on a shelf in every house I have lived in for the past 18 years. It reminds me of home, and the kindness of the people that live there.
In Indian folklore, and popular culture, the blue bird is a symbol of good cheer. The irony of the glass blue bird is not lost on the DeGraw children, who view it as a symbol of their Mother and the giving and joyful spirit she embodied as she singlehandedly raised them under the Blues.
Since the inception of this column, I have wanted to feature a successful mother. The prevalence of mothers seems to relegate this most important of careers to the mundane, the run of the mill, a somewhat humdrum occupation.
Oh, but nothing could be further from the truth. Especially for Tauna, who enveloped her calling with a sense of joy and purpose, embracing her task instead of bearing it.
Motherhood is the only 24/7 job. It is the “every job” requiring of its employee a set of skills including, but not limited to, cooking, loving, teaching, listening, driving, scrubbing, organizing, encouraging, coaching, nursing, …and on and on.
Tauna DeGraw Larsen is such a mother. Her six children – Vint, Tobyn, Kandee, Larque, Kimberli, and Brooke – grew up in a home inhabited by a capable mother.
Tauna was fiercely dedicated to teaching her children the values instilled in her by their grandmother, the late Maxine Himmelberger.
Service to all and a happy attitude, was chief among the requirements of life in the DeGraw household, and raking leaves for widows, baking and delivering cookies to neighbors, and shoveling snow all over town were normal weekly activities.
Each Thanksgiving, Tauna and the kids would travel to the Greek Orthodox Church in Salt Lake City to serve Thanksgiving to the homeless. The family spent the holiday peeling potatoes, washing dishes, waiting tables, and sharing kind words accompanied, I am sure, by the unique giggle, characteristic of Tauna, a delightful sound that also manifests itself in the lilt of all her girls.
When asked how she managed to get teenage kids to help her with all these acts of service, Tauna giggles and says, “I’d kick their butt if they weren’t willing.”
Or as Kandee jokingly puts it, “It was a gentle tyranny.”
But in reality, says, Tauna, “It comes from my Mom, That’s just how it was. You serve other people.”
It seems to have penetrated the souls of her children and proliferated into their worlds in many ways.
Says Kandee, “Even though we grew up pretty darn poor, there was always room for an extra or two for Thanksgiving. She couldn’t shut the door on anybody. When we all grew up and went our separate ways, we sort of took that spirit of generosity with us.”
All six of the DeGraw children have made careers out of service to others and the creativity that permeated the air growing up.
Kandee started an AIDS benefit in Telluride Colorado 25 years ago. It has grown into the largest benefit of its kind in the West.
Vint, the eldest, suffers from Allports disease. It is a kidney ailment that has required him to have two transplants. One kidney was given to him by his sister Kimberli.
It is a disease that is genetically passed on. Vint has had a hand in creating a foundation that has raised more than one million dollars for research into a disease that has gone largely unnoticed by the medical field, bringing awareness and hope to many fellow sufferers.
Larque works at the visitors center in Arches National Park, greeting and directing thousands of visitors with that trademark laugh every year.
Tobyn is a pilot for SkyWest and himself a father of five children.
Kimberli worked as the retail director for Wabi Sabi, a charitable thrift store in Moab, for ten years and youngest sister Brooke, spent several years as the director of the Homeless Shelter and Battered Women’s Shelter in Moab.
This work ethic was has its roots in Tauna’s efforts to provide for her kids, first as the PE teacher at Monticello Elementary School, as well as running the swimming pool.
Have you ever heard the story about Tobyn doing a double backflip from the rafters 25 feet above the old pool as a young lifeguard? It was once legend among lifeguards when I worked there.
Tauna accomplished this while going to night school and still managing to help her kids with chores and homework.
After earning her degree, Tauna worked at Monticello High School. She led the Hispanic Club, where Tauna’s efforts were focused on helping to integrate the Latino population into the community of Monticello.
She helped create the SAVY Club (Student Association of Volunteer Youth) and taught many 4H classes over the years. Many hours were spent on the Live Nativity at Pioneer Park, and Angel Bags for Christmas for 14 years.
She spent ten years advocating for and developing the skate park in Monticello, as well as serving on the City Beautification Committee. She certainly qualifies as a devoted member of the community.
Daughter Kandee says it best, “She wasn’t a big fan of sitting around the house. Whenever we had free time, we were helping…”
Tauna has managed to turn a less than ideal situation into a warm home full of love, kindness and joy. With her six children and 15 grandchildren to carry on the tradition, there should never be a lack of kindness emanating from the DeGraw Family.
Brooke says, “She gave 100 percent of herself to us every time she was in our space. The beauty and the magic of my mom is that she is genuinely a really, really good person.”
It’s a true statement that Kandee echoes this way, “I think Monticello would be a very different place without her.”
And it would be. It would be a little less cheerful, a little less kind. I guess you could say it would be like Zippity Do Dah, without the “bluebird on my shoulder.” And that would be a song that is just not as much fun to sing.