A typical day at “Camp Boone,” home of the Boone family in Jacksonville, Florida, many years ago, began with Dad singing, almost on pitch, “The worst part of all is to hear the bugle call, ‘I can’t get them up, I can’t get them up, I can’t get them up in the morning.’” But feet hit the floor, signaling the expected amount of confused scrambling in a family of 13 children:
“Fred’s got my socks on.”
“No, I haven’t—these are my socks.”
“I can’t find my shoes.”
“Maybe that’s what Coley threw at the dog last night.”
But their arguments were short-lived; no one wanted to be the last downstairs. The milkers got their buckets and headed out to the cows; sons Joseph and George were assigned to the chickens. Flake, the oldest, made sandwiches for sack lunches, while Mom fixed breakfast.
Meals required a lot of food in a family of 15, but Mom enjoyed her role. “At no time did we ever feel burdened because of having a large family, but blessed at being trusted with Heavenly Father’s spirit children,” she says. “Our sons and daughters have been loving and obedient.” Each of the children expresses gratitude that the family was large enough to include him.
A look at the family’s lifestyle shows the reason for such attitudes. As soon as the “livestock people” were back from their chores it was time for family prayer. Dad would call, “All in.” When everyone had assembled, he counted, “Flakey, Coley, Frederick, Dan; Joseph, George, and Hyrum Man; Melinda, Martha, David, John; Ruth Elaine, and Tiny One.” (“Tiny One” is Michael, who is now over six feet tall.)
“Now we add, ‘Sammy Lambie,’” reminds Mom. Samuel was adopted in 1971 as number 14.
“Dad never forgot family prayer, and never forgot to ask our Father in heaven for blessings,” says Melinda. “He always asked the Lord to bless people who had wronged us, like someone who had stolen a car from Dad’s used car lot. He never showed bitterness for what we did not have or what we had lost—only gratitude for what we did have.
“One morning when we were leaving for school we found our dog poisoned. Father just sent us on to school, but that evening he asked a special blessing for the people who had killed our dog. I have appreciated Dad’s example of praying for those who had hurt us.”
After prayers, it was time to go to school. Flake would take the youngest to grade school in the car, then return for those who went to junior and senior high schools. Dad received his high school diploma when he already had 11 children, and the children were strongly encouraged in school.
When school was over, the group split into the “house help” and the “car lot help”; each had assigned chores. “We soon found that pea shelling, corn husking, apple peeling, and even dishwashing could be more pleasant if one read aloud while the others worked,” says Mother Boone. “We were not plagued with television for many years, and when one was given to us it was only used for special programs after all the homework and chores were done.”
Other evening activities included softball games and making ice cream. Hyrum relates, “Several evenings each summer we went to a lake resort where we would swim until dark and then have a picnic. This was the favorite home evening activity for all but the cow milkers. We would get home around 11 P.M. and Father would say, ‘Time to milk the heifers.’”
Brother and Sister Boone started having family home evening when they were first married. Minutes kept from 1959 reveal that each family member had an assigned part. Activities ranged from turning a somersault to giving a book review, singing, or telling a joke. When the Church encouraged wider use of the family home evening program, the Boone’s family night was so well-known that they were called to demonstrate techniques to their ward and stake.
Such recognition makes the Boones a model family in many ways, yet they still are very real people, responding to life’s challenges. Martha, for example, remembers one growing experience: “Every evening after family prayer we kissed Mom and Dad. One evening as Dad bent down to kiss one of my younger brothers, he noticed that someone had cut his hair. When Dad asked who, no one answered, but I ran outside to hide among the orange trees. One of my older brothers came to take me back to ‘face the music.’ Everyone had scattered by then and Dad took me into his bedroom where, after learning details of the haircut, he gave me a good spanking. It really wasn’t that bad, but I remember it well, because afterwards he knelt in prayer, with me kneeling facing him, crying, my folded arms and bowed head resting on his legs, while he prayed for me and for himself as my father. He explained the punishment was as much for running out as for the haircut.”
Flake remembers that punishment came in varied methods: “Once when I wrecked a car all Dad said was, ‘That should teach you that you can’t beat the law of averages.’ On the other hand, I got my pants well warmed for hitting Coley on the head with a button. Now the fact that it was a big button and I threw it as hard as I could (as Coley said, which was probably true) at point-blank range may have entered into the punishment somewhat.”
Hyrum also remembers some effective discipline: “Once we were playing in the living room when ‘direct disputations’ arose in loud tones. ‘Direct disputations’ were forbidden. Dad came in from the bathroom where he was shaving. His face was covered with lather and there were tear furrows down each cheek. He sobbingly asked if he had failed to teach us any better. I was appalled to be a part of such a quarrel and never received a reprimand so severe or so effective in my entire life.”
The discipline, obedience, and sacrifice that James R. and Ruth Boone taught their children have been evidenced in many successes within the family. The children averaged less than one day per year absence from school, several going 12 years without missing one day. One hundred percent Church attendance records were rarely broken. Scouting activity gave rise to the name Camp Boone, with nine sons achieving the Eagle Rank. Including parents, the family has served a total of 28 years on missions.
This heritage of service is rooted in the lives of their parents. It was toward the end of his four years’ service in the Southern States Mission that James R. Boone met Ruth Flake, also a missionary. He had a leadership responsibility, and she remembers that Elder Boone was very strict.
But after their missions the two corresponded and met on September 30, 1937, to be married in the Salt Lake Temple. They had been together only one day before their wedding. Thinking of love as a prerequisite for marriage, their son Hyrum once asked his mother if she loved her husband then. She answered, “Certainly not as I later did, but I understood that any righteous woman could learn to love any righteous man. I was convinced of your father’s qualifications, and knew my own desires were to live the commandments, so went ahead.” Son James relates, “I never heard a cross word pass between them.”
They made their home in Jacksonville and Ruth has served in several Church responsibilities, eventually being called as president of the stake Relief Society.
When their income was small and the large family had many needs, Sister Boone offered to get a job, but the decision was always, “We’ll try another week.” She says, “Though I was sorely tempted, I never went out of the home to work. How thankful I am now that I was able to stay close to the children. How grateful for a noble companion who helped me see where my treasures were. We didn’t have all the material things that sometimes seem so urgent, but we did and do have the things that really count.”
Their home is still heated by a fireplace and she cooked on a wood stove for years. For many years they had no electricity.
A model of gentleness, generosity, and temperance, Brother Boone has also been active in serving the Lord. Sister Boone has supported her husband in as many as seven Church callings at one time: At the time of their marriage he was district president; he served in this calling for 10 years. When the Florida Stake was organized he was called as stake patriarch. Only 35 years old, he was one of the youngest in the Church at the time.
His number one responsibility, however, has always been to preside as a patriarch over his family. Daughter Melinda says, “Dad, to me, represents the most worthy priesthood bearer I ever knew. Dad and Mom’s attitude of love and respect to each other made it a very natural thing to honor the priesthood. I remember a father’s blessing given so many times, the prayers of faith, and the healings. I remember the fast Sundays when Dad gave one of us a patriarchal blessing. Before breaking our fast we would each say something good about the particular brother or sister who was to receive the blessing. To me, the offices and callings of the priesthood were just as natural as eating. I thought it was something every home was blessed to have.”
On Sunday mornings the day began with scripture study. Mom remembers that for years they all could get on one big bed, where they would talk about the scriptures and have prayer together before doing necessary chores.
After attending all their meetings, the family often spent Sunday evenings around the fire, with Dad peeling and cutting oranges or cold sugar cane and handing the pieces around to each child.
The story of the Boone family may sound like a fairy tale, but actually it is a story of struggle and hard work. “I don’t know if I will ever fully know what it was that kept them striving and trying through all the days of financial worries and times we were ill and cares were almost unbearable, but I do know that they were blessed because they never faltered,” says Melinda.
Daniel adds, “The only reason there is any story to tell is because of our parents and their principles and goals. Without them there wouldn’t be anything.”