Sister Missionaries Reflect on Mission 75 Years Later
By Michael Ann McKinlay, Church News staff writer
- Irene Eldridge Barton and Arlette Hart Day served as companions in the Western States Mission from 1937 to 1939.
- The sisters enjoyed tracting and were the highest-tracting missionaries of their group.
- After their missions the companions kept in contact through mail and still treasure their time serving together.
“Through your devoted service and willing sacrifice, your mission will become holy ground to you.” —Elder W. Christopher Waddell of the Seventy
“Through your devoted service and willing sacrifice, your mission will become holy ground to you,” Elder W. Christopher Waddell of the Seventy said during the October 2011 general conference. For Sister Arlette Hart Day and Sister Irene Eldridge Barton, who were mission companions 75 years ago, this statement still holds true.
“We call each other by our first names now, but we didn’t for a long time,” said Sister Day of the Bernina Ward, Bennion Utah West Stake. “We were very compatible.”
“1938 was a wonderful year,” recalled Sister Barton of the Twin Falls 15th Ward, Twin Falls Idaho Stake. “She was a wonderful companion; I learned a lot from her.”
For both, it was their local leaders who gave the sisters the initial intent to serve a mission.
“My bishop asked me if I would go on a mission when I was 21, and I said yes,” Sister Hart, then from Logan, Utah, said. “He said, ‘You can think it over and talk to your parents,’ and I told him that they wanted me to go.”
Just three hours north in Carey, Idaho, a then Sister Eldridge was also asked to serve a mission. “My high school sweetheart gave me a ring but then left for his mission to the East Central States Mission,” she explained. “I was working for the stake president at the time, and they called me to go on a mission, and I gladly accepted.”
Both were called to serve in the Western States Mission from 1937 to 1939, at the height of the Great Depression. It wasn’t until a year in the field for Sister Hart when she and Sister Eldridge became companions in Pueblo, Colorado.
While serving together they were active in tracting and teaching the local Primary classes.
“We used to enjoy going tracting; most missionaries don’t, but our mission president said that we were the highest-tracting missionaries of the whole group,” Sister Day explained. “He was really pleased that we did that.”
As for the Primaries, the sister missionaries would teach the children songs and tell stories from the Bible and Book of Mormon. According to Sister Barton, her companion was very good at organizing the Primary activities.
“In the summer, we would gather the Primary children and teach them songs and give them as much missionary work as we could. The little kids were so excited that they played that they were missionaries. They would take our pamphlets and hand them out and made friends with the neighborhood for us,” Sister Day said.
After a year together, Sister Day said their mission president was inspired to have Sister Eldridge return to the same companionship from a year earlier.
“We went to the train to say our goodbyes,” she explained. “We put our arms around each other, and we wept. That was the last time I ever saw her.”
Sister Eldridge went to the Omaha, Nebraska, area, while Sister Hart stayed in Colorado and served in Colorado Springs and Aurora, an area which she helped open for the mission.
Sister Hart continued to serve in the Primary with her new companion, a Sister Evans. She explained how a Primary of two children in Aurora, Colorado, grew into a community of children and eventually had to relocate from a tiny house to a local park.
Meanwhile in Omaha, Sister Eldridge also continued to meet investigators through the Primary.
“We opened a lot of Primaries in Omaha,” she recalled. “Children of members of the Church would invite their friends from school, and we were able to get into homes of nonmembers. We essentially taught through their children.” Like the towns in Colorado, Omaha had very few active Latter-day Saints.
Sister Eldridge returned after her 18-month mission and married Owen J. Barton, her high school sweetheart. She has five children and 61 other posterity and has served in various callings within the Church.
The mission experience, Sister Barton explained, helped her in her Church callings and in her role as a mother and friend.
Sister Hart extended her mission for an additional four months, which, in her words, “were the most productive, peaceful, and memorable.”
When she returned home, she served two stake missions in Logan and then an additional two missions in Murray, Utah. She married John Day; they opened Day Murray Music, a retail music store located in Murray. She considered it a “gold mine” for additional missionary work.
In the mission field, Sister Irene Eldridge, left, and Sister Arlette Hart, right, with Primary children in Pueblo, Colorado. Photo courtesy of Arlette Hart Day.
“She’s not kidding; missionary work is her life,” her son, Klint Day, said. Sister Day has three children and 66 other posterity.
Sister Day and Sister Barton have kept in contact through mail. At a mission farewell in Bountiful, Utah, some 50 years after their mission, a woman who was the daughter of Sister Barton reached out to Sister Day; the two were then able to connect by telephone.
“Irene told me later, ‘Linda [her daughter] recognized your name because I talked to her about you a lot,’ ” Sister Day said.
“I treasure my companionship with Arlette,” Sister Barton said. “I’ve carried it throughout my life. The work we were able to accomplish together in Colorado was amazing.”