I was born in my Aunt Josephine and Uncle Alec's home in Walsenburg, Colorado, in 1923. I was premature and weighed three pounds. I was not cleaned and my umbilical cord was untied when the midwife placed me face-down in a pan and said I would not survive.
My very ill mother, Frances Ferkovich Shubert Butkovich, told the midwife to clean me and tie my cord. My frail, 32-year-old mother, who had given birth to six children in six years, died when I was eleven-months-old. I went on to live for ninety years.
My father, John Butkovich, was mostly an unemployed coal miner and railroad worker during the Great Depression. He raised six children by himself. A family from Chicago, Illinois, pleaded with my father to let them adopt me. He said, "No, I will keep our family together."
My parents immigrated from Croatia, Yugoslavia, to America through Ellis Island, New York. America had been called "The Land of Milk and Honey" and they were deeply embarrassed when they were unable to find jobs and send money back home.
We had little to eat. When we visited relatives my sister ate all of the sugar in the sugar bowl. I think that's why she lost all of her teeth and had to have full dentures in her thirties. We were so hungry we both ate entire cubes of butter. Surprisingly, our relatives re-invited us to dinner!
Every fall my father dressed me and put me on the school bus with my older brothers and sisters. Each time, I returned home wearing a note, which said, "Too young for school". My father said, "Well, at least I tried!" Consequently, I was left alone all day, in bed, in a very hot or cold house while my father looked for work and my siblings were in school. One time I fell out of bed and was too small to get back in bed. I laid on the floor crying until a neighbor heard me and came in to help.
When we lived in Taltec, Colorado, I went to school in Pictou, which was just over the hill. I had a friend whose name was Shoney. I told my father her name and he couldn't get over it. He made me laugh when he called her "Shoney Baloney".
My father heard there was railroad and coalmine work in Helper, Utah. We packed only what fit in the car. My father sold the house, which we did not own, for 35 dollars and we left in the middle of the night so no one saw us leave. My sister and I sat outside in the rumble seat all the way to Carbon County, Utah. In Castle Gate, Utah, I cried and said I wanted to go back home. My brother, Johnny, who had driven us without a drivers license said, "We do not have a home to go back to".
I was the first of father's children to graduate from high school. I received a Commercial Degree from Carbon High School and worked as a legal secretary/stenographer for Thorit Hatch Law Offices and a receptionist for Ace Miner-Thorit Hatch Helper Insurance and Loan Company. Over three years I helped re-write all of Helper's Civil Codes.
I met my husband-to-be, Irvan James "Jim" Wilcox, when he came into the office to apply for a loan to buy a uranium mine. Our marriage was blessed by the Roman Catholic Church.
My children were the greatest achievement of my life. When asked how my children were when they were growing up, I always answered, "Perfect, just perfect. They never gave me any problems". My children always said they were very happy I had such a poor memory. My husband and I taught our children early on the importance of working hard. Each morning before school we required them to read the entire newspaper to increase their awareness of local and world events. It became a life-long love for them. My son loved my spaghetti and everyone loved my banana, walnut, and semi-sweet chocolate chip bread.
Our family moved back-and-forth from Helper to Leadville, and Granite, CO, in search of coal and hard rock mining work. In 1954 we moved to Pleasant Grove, UT, where I was a court reporter/clerk in the juvenile courts. In Roosevelt, UT, from 1960-1970, we established, owned and operated The DAY-NITE Laundercenter and Drycleaning, Banana Palace and farmed 240 acres for crops. I worked for LeVoy's in Salt Lake City for eighteen years and retired early to care for my ailing husband. After years of searching, I located my husband's father, John Oscar Willcox, who had been missing for 67 years. He was 92-years-old and living in the state of Washington. My children then traveled to meet their grandfather for the first time.
When my beloved grandson, Christopher, was born I was so happy and proud, I asked everyone to call me "Grandma". I taught Chris to scramble eggs and together we baked Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies from a recipe Chris found. We spent a whole day making poticia and stayed up until it finished baking at 2:00AM and we ate the whole thing! I loved getting Eddie Bauer jeans, "No Fear" t-shirts, and athletic shoes for Chris. It was the best money I ever spent. Grandpa and I were fortunate to have Chris with us every Friday afternoon through Sunday, from his birth until he was several years old.
Anyone who knew me well knew I wore lavender and pink, craved chocolates, and loved any greeting card with an adorable animal.
My daughter and I traveled to Croatia several times to visit relatives and to see where my parents were born and lived. I had a deep and lasting love for my family, "The Old Country" and the Adriatic Sea. In 1997, my daughter and I traveled to Brazil and Argentina to search for our uncle, Tomas Butkovic, who went missing from Croatia during World War II. We did not find him. We never had answers to his disappearance.
I can honestly say the best part of traveling with my daughter to 49 states and 40 countries was asking, "When do we eat?"
I appreciated the genuine love and concern for my welfare given to me by Christy Johnson and her St. Joseph Villa Assisted Living staff: Bill, Brenda, Conner, Danielle, Darlene, Jessy, Joy, Kiya, Lola, Marica, Popua, Ruby, Soileti and Sephanie. Also, Villa employees, Andrea, Anesa, Boushna, and Julie who were always good to me. In addition, Dr. Mark Cacciamani, Caitlyn, Libby, Nicole and staff gave me excellent on-going health care.
I had complications from surgery and was in the hospital and skilled nursing for sixty-six days. My children repeatedly told me how proud they were I was their mother and how much they loved me. With my son and daughter holding each of my hands, I died on December 20, 2013, from respiratory failure due to a stroke.
The family thanks Dr. Holly Ledyard, other doctors, nurses and staff at the University of Utah Hospital Neurological Critical Care Unit who were outstanding in every way.
Surviving Irene are her son, James Warren "Jim" (Carol) Wilcox; daughter, Reba Ann "Becky" Wilcox; adored grandson, Christopher James (Amy) Wilcox; all of Salt Lake City, UT; 99-year- old sister, Ann Shubert Sudar; of Walsenburg, CO; nieces; nephews; cousins; dear friends, Alice Tomsic Magann; Ado, Kamela, Nina and Minya Alisa; Julia Ando; Gay Middlemas; Jeannine Gordon and Rita Klonizos; and canine best friends, Coco Chanel and Stella. Preceding Irene in death are her parents; husband; daughter, Camille Wilcox; sister, Eleanor Butkovich Yakovich; brother, John Butkovich; both of Price, UT; brother, Albert Shubert; of Santa Ana, CA; and brother, Rudy Shubat; of Durango, CO.
Irene is remembered for her amazing smile that lit up people's hearts and the warmth she extended to all. She made everyone feel like they had a Grandma. We will keep her in our hearts and fond memories forever. Our family is grateful for her love and always doing her best for us. She is dearly missed.
Funeral and Mass Services for our precious mother, grandmother and sister will be celebrated on Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 11:00 o'clock in the morning at St. Joseph Villa Chapel, 451 East Bishop Federal Lane (1940 South 500 East), Salt Lake City, Utah. A reception will follow the services. A private family graveside service will be held at Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemetery, Salt Lake City, Utah. Irene's family commends Starks Funeral Parlor for its professionalism and assistance during our time of need. Online condolences may be offered at www.starksfuneral.com.