Hans and Della Jensen – short in stature, tall in life
Hans Jensen was 5’ 5” tall, and weighted about 125 pounds. Yet, for years he thought nothing of going out in the middle of a field after a long day of work at his meat market in Monticello, to set up a special tripod he had built near the beef or the hog he planned to butcher.
When finished, he would back his model-T Ford under the skinned carcass and lower it into a specially constructed container which Lynn Rogerson had built for him. Hans would then haul his night’s work to the store, usually in the dark, and single handedly wrestle it into the cooler.
Duke Edwards, who worked for Hans, said, “Pound for pound, Hans Jensen was the strongest man I ever knew. He could heft half a beef out of the back of a wagon and carry it into the cooler single-handed.”
Hans was born in 1887 and raised in Ephraim, UT, the son of Christian Jensen and Caroline Rasmussen Jensen. His father and brothers owned a meat market in Ephraim, and Hans learned the butchering trade growing up.
He traveled alone to Monticello in 1911. It took 18 days with a horse and wagon, which carried his meager earthly possessions. He filed for a homestead southeast of Monticello, and lived in a tent.
Every day he would attack his 160 acres of trees and brush with a grubbing hoe, a saw, a chain and a horse. It was slow backbreaking work but he was determined to have his own farm some day.
The Mayor’s daughter in Monticello caught his eye. Adella Adams was a beautiful, willowy, spirited girl. Having nothing to offer her but his love, Hans nevertheless pursued her until she agreed to marry him.
It must have been true love, because they spent their first year in Han’s tent at the farm. Della was used to the big house on the corner of Main and Second South that her father, George A. Adams, had built. There must have been some real “fire” in that marriage or they surely would have frozen to death the first winter in the tent.
It snowed a lot that year and the temperature fell below zero. But they survived and thrived. Della worked side by side with Hans using a grubbing hoe her father had lent her, and together, they cut their dream out of the sagebrush, pines and cedars.
The second year on the farm, Della gave birth to a daughter they named Fawn. Hans built a one room wood house on the farm that summer for his bride and tiny daughter. After a year in the tent, the one room board house was deeply appreciated. Their son Ned arrived the next year. The young couple borrowed a #10 wash tub, put the babies inside, rigged up a frame to keep the sun off, tied a rope to the handle and dragged the babies behind them as they cleared land.
When Fawn was six, the farm was producing crops and they were able to move to Monticello so Fawn could start school.
In l921 Hans built a tiny 20-foot square building next to his father-in-law’s big house on Main Street directly across the street from the Post Office, where Pioneer Park is located today.
There was no refrigeration in those days and so Hans built an insulated ice container on the roof of his little meat shop. In winter he would go to ponds around town and cut 100-pound cubes of ice, haul them to the back of the store on a sleigh and bury them deep in the ground and cover them with sawdust. When the weather got warm in the spring, he would heft a hundred pound chunk of ice out of his pit using a large pair of tongs, then climb a ladder with the ice in hand and put it in the container on the roof.
That kept his meat room cool enough that meat would last for a few days without spoiling. Depending on the temperature, he made his trips up and down that ladder every three to seven days for 20 years. Hans’ ice cache also made it possible for the less ambitious in town to make ice cream in the summertime.
An ad in the San Juan Record September 27, 1923, advertised the following cuts of meat: (all prices are per pound) hamburger .17 … t-bone steak .20 … prime rib roast .17 …boneless rump roast .11 …Dexter bacon .30 … Shield bacon .35… salt side .22 …rib boil .09 … and soap grease .05. These were the everyday prices but the ad reminded patrons that “special prices on larger quantities” was an option.
As he built his customer base, he added on to the original meat market three different times between l921 and l940. They added groceries and dry goods as space and finances allowed. Early on, freight was hauled from the railroad station at Thompson by tandem wagons pulled by a six-horse team. Deliveries arrived every week. Later freight came from Durango and eventually automobiles replaced the wagons.
Hans and Della had five children, Fawn (Sommerville – Dickerman), Ned, Betty (Sitton) and Dawn (Boyle). One child was Rex Buckley Jensen. He swallowed a marble on Christmas Day when he was about a year old and before Ned could run to the store to get Hans, the little brother choked to death.
Hans worked 12-14 hours a day, six days a week most of his life. His beloved Della was in the store as soon as the children were old enough to take care of things at home. Eventually a full line of groceries and dry goods were added. Hans ran the meat department, Della ran the dry goods and all the kids pitched in to help with the groceries and everything else.
Because of their work ethic and integrity, they prospered, but they never moved from their humble home at the corner of First East and 3rd South. Hans and Della owned one of the first motorcars in San Juan County. They spent many days driving sick or injured people in Monticello to the hospital in Moab. In those days, primative roads turned a round trip to Moab and a visit to the doctor into an all-day affair.
In l937 the City Meat Market became the City Mercantile. Dawn Boyle recalls, “It was really exciting when the store was enlarged and stocked with dry goods. It was fun to see all the dresses that the clothing salesmen would bring into the store for Mother to pick out and order. Della always kept her customers in mind by choosing things she knew they would like. She was always painting, repairing, cleaning or building something. Usually it had to do with the roof which always seemed to leak.”
Betty recalls, “I loved working at the store when I was young. Cleaning the candy case was my favorite job. I am sure I ate more candy than any kid in town. I can still remember how good it tasted when Dad would slice off a big hunk of cheese from a round of longhorn and open a box of salted crackers so we could have a feast.”
The children said they seldom got the choice cuts of meat at home. Hans brought whatever was left at night for supper and the kids claimed they ate more hamburger than any family in town. Sunday dinner was always special, however, because there would be a large beef or pork roast with all the trimmings.
Another memory, shared by many in Monticello, is that if someone forgot to come to the store during store hours, they would come to the Jensen home and either Della or Hans would always “cheerfully” go up and open the store so their customers would not go without.
Most local people charged their groceries in those days. When the crops were harvested in the fall, people would come in and pay their bills. Those who had experienced crop failure, or some other tragedy in their lives, were at the mercy of their family and friends. Hans often carried people in financial trouble for years.
During Prohibition, one of store’s most unique customers were a clan of bootleggers who operated somewhere in the Summit Point-Coal Bed area. Every two months they bought two tons of sugar from Hans and required that it be delivered to them outside the city limits, so as to avoid running into the sheriff.
Bill Gonzales grew up in a large family in Monticello. He was the first in his family to go to college. He later earned a PhD at the University of Utah and became a professor of languages at the “U”. He tells the following story, which allows us a glimpse into the way Hans and Della treated their customers, friends and anyone who needed help.
Recalls Dr. Gonzales, “When I was in grade school our class drew names for Christmas. I knew my family had no money for Christmas gifts, and I worried about it day and night. Finally I went to my father, J. P. Gonzales and told him of my problem. He had no money, but he told me to go down to the City Mercantile and talk to Della.
“It was a difficult thing for me to do. Mrs. Jensen listened carefully as I poured out my soul to her. When I finished, she looked me in the eye and said, ‘Billy, your father and mother are as honest as anyone I know. You pick out anything you want today. I will wrap it for you, and when you earn the money, I know you will come in and pay for it.’
Little Bill picked a doll for the girl whose name he had drawn. At the Christmas party, she literally screamed for joy when she opened her present. It was the only doll she had ever had, and it was the only present she got that year.
Fifty years later, Dr. Gonzales wrote, “ To this day that experience is one of the most vivid and meaningful of my life…It meant the world to me that the Jensen’s thought so highly of my parents and my family, and that they would trust me in my hour of need.”
A memorable event in Monticello occurred in 1940 when three businesses got the first neon signs in Monticello at the same time. The City Mercantile was one of them. People who had walked dark streets at night all their lives could not get over how cosmopolitan and “alive” Monticello became with three signs that lit up Main Street at night.
Hans had a stroke and passed away in l952. His son Ned, who had grown up in the business, and who had returned from two years in France and Germany during World War II, took over management of the store. Ned and Della were partners in the business and Della remained an anchor in the business for many years.
Ned was just like his parents. His work ethic was legendary. For most of his working life he got up at 5:00 in the morning and went to the store in the dark. He came home for lunch and a nap about 1 p.m. when the other employees had returned from lunch. He rarely got home before 8:00 at night, again in the dark during winter months.
In l956, Ned and Della built a much larger new store at its present location. (It is known as Blue Mountain Foods today.) It was known as the City Mercantile until l965 when Ned and his son Buckley remodeled the store, took out the dry goods and renamed it Jensen’s Food Center.
In l975, Jensen’s Food Center became Jensen’s Food Town and a member of the Associated Grocers. In 1982 the Jensens sold the store to Kent Beckstrom, of Brigham City, who owned several stores and wanted to expand into southern Utah.
During the summer of 2009, most of the 300 direct descendents of Hans and Della Jensen gathered at Buckboard campground on Blue Mountain for a three day reunion. From four surviving children, the descendents of Hans and Della Jensen are now scattered across the world.
The demise of strong families in this country, the weakening of the work ethic, the loss of honesty and integrity in society in general, all combine to make those who have descended from Hans and Della grateful for their exemplary lives and the powerful influence they will always be on their descendants, now into the sixth generation.
(Editor’s note: The writer of this piece is a grandson of Hans and Della Jensen)
(Writer’s note: The Editor and Publisher of the San Juan Record is also a grandson of Hans and Della)