Joseph Ellis "Buck" Holbrook

1911 - 2001

From a talk given at Buck's funeral by his granddaughter, 
Darlene Holbrook Siriani

            I am very honored and proud to be speaking to you today.  I grew up seeing my Grandpa Buck through the adoring eyes of his oldest grandchild.  In the past three years I have had the opportunity to talk many times with Grandpa Buck about the lives of his grandparents, parents and especially his life. The last visit where we talked at length was this past January where I had planned on just staying a little while and asking him questions that I felt most important on my long list.  I explained that I didn’t want to tire him and I would only stay for 15 minutes.  Carefully, watching my watch after fifteen minutes I told him I would go and let him rest.  He replied, “No Dar, stay a while longer, I’m enjoying our visit.”  Each fifteen minutes I told him I would go and he asked me to stay.  Finally, three and a half hours later he gave me a big hug and told me he was tired.  I am so thankful for these times, as I enjoyed them so much.

Joseph Ellis ‘Buck’ Holbrook was born just after midnight on July 30, 1911 to Joseph and Rubie Hazel Ellis Holbrook in Syracuse, Utah.  The day before, both his parents were struck terribly ill with food poisoning from fifteen cents worth of sliced corn beef, his father purchased at a butcher shop in Ogden.  The doctor told his dad the only thing that saved him was the poison from the nicotine in his body from smoking and the poison from the meat seemed to counteract each other.   Writing about this event in her life history his mother says, “On July 30, 1911 we were blessed with a fine son, but we all came very near not any of us surviving the happy event….. Joe’s mother had our little girl, Alice, in her baby buggy on the front lawn having convulsions, Joe was in the front room having convulsions, I was in the bedroom so sick it didn’t matter what happened, but our baby son was safe and sound. We all survived and were so happy with our son, he was blessed by his Grandfather Joseph Jones Holbrook and given the name Joseph Ellis Holbrook, being named after his father, his two grandfathers, Joseph Jones Holbrook, and Joseph Ellis and one great-grandfather, Joseph Holbrook.” End quote.  His great-grandfather, Joseph Holbrook, was a Mormon pioneer that came to Utah with Brigham Young’s company of 1848 and settled in Sessions Settlement, later known as Bountiful. It was his grandfather, Joseph Jones Holbrook who bought the Holbrook farm in Syracuse from the Walker family where four generations of Holbrook’s farmed. 

He got the nickname ‘Buck’ from his Uncle Les Ellis when he was about 18 months old, as he would pretend to be a bucking horse around on the front room floor.  He called him ‘Bucky’ then it got shortened to ‘Buck’ when he was about three years old.  Yet he was also a big kid so it fit, (when he was 14 years old he weighed 200 pounds and was over 6’ tall) but his mother always called him Ellis.

While he was a child almost every year all of Syracuse would take their horses and wagons and go up Weber Canyon.  All the families would ford the river, to a place called Thorn Hedge Grove (that is just up past where the rest area is today by Mountain Green), and stay for ten days to two weeks.  They would camp, get their water from the Weber River, have big camp fires, where they would sing, tell stories and jokes until all hours of the night.

He remembered, “Us kids and mother and dad would go on trips with Aunt Zel, and Uncle Joe, and Uncle Lov and Aunt Eve.  I remember going to Strawberry and going up Daniel’s Canyon, the rattlesnakes were thicker than hogs up Daniel’s Canyon.  My two Uncle’s got stranded on the other side of the lake they had to walk clear back around.  The wind was blowing so hard that they didn’t go in the boat.

When Grandpa was about twelve years old he got in their Model A, instead of pushing on reverse he pushed on low and pushed the end of the garage out about three feet.  At the time cars had the pedals on the bottom, they had reverse, and low and high, you had to use your feet, and he pushed the wrong one. 

Grandpa remembered when his mother learned to drive quote, “I can remember my mother, I think Alice was with me in the back seat, and dad had bought this Model T, and he was going to show her how to drive.  She went through a ditch about two feet deep, and threw us, we were in the bottom of the car, and were bawling, and they were trying to get it stopped.  Eventually, she got to where she drove a little bit, but not very much.”

Christmas memories included, “We went out to the Ellis’ for Christmas and Christmas Eve two or three times.  One Christmas there was a big Indian Chief that came out to the house there with the Christmas tree and everything, in his full garb, full feathers and all.  They use to tell a story about me getting around the Christmas tree and they threw candy and stuff all over the floor, and I guess I went bizzerk. I couldn’t imagine all the fun things I could have.  I could remember the trip down there, it was so cold, they would put flat irons and bricks and heat them in the stove, and put them in the bottom of the sleigh, and the heat would come up through.  I can remember that old horse trotting down the highway, and every once in awhile dad would tap it on the butt with the whip and away we would go faster.  We’d go up through the old road by Farmington and Centerville and through that country there, over to West Bountiful.” 

 Memories about his grandparents he said, “They had a big place there, mostly pasture, my Grand-dad Ellis, they had a dairy, they had a nice place down there.  As a kid I helped haul hay down where the J.C. Penney store is, that belonged to my Grand-dad, bought the ground in there at one time.  When I was a kid we’d go down to Bountiful drive the wagon and haul hay, just an ordinary day.”

            “Grandma Holbrook always had cookies in her cookie jar, she never disappointed us.  She was always really active in the church and it upset her that we weren’t, although she was understanding, and she would give me a dollar each time I would go to church with her.”

            “My Grandpa Holbrook came home sick from the Spanish American War, but he always came down here to help us pick our tomato crops, even when he was 75 years old.  He would always joke around and do tricks on us.” End quote.

When Grandpa Buck was 14 he was helping lift a beet rack off a wagon, when he stepped onto an icy place, slipping, and it fell on his knee.  It ran the bones into the ice through his foot.  After missing months of school to heal and the doctor telling him he was done with athletics (football, basketball and baseball) he decided not to go back to school. His father put him in charge of the farm and in a few years ran for Sheriff of Davis County, an office that he held for 16 years.  After Grandpa was 20 his dad made him a Deputy Sheriff, he has some great stories of how he assisted on all the cases, he loved the excitement.  But his athletic days weren’t over, he went on to play baseball for more than 25 years in Syracuse and Davis County.

On February 25, 1931 he married the beautiful and popular Mildred Burton from Kaysville, in the Salt Lake Temple, after he stole her heart away from another guy.  They met at a dance in Syracuse.  Grandma had graduated from Weber State and was teaching school there and living in a boarding house. They moved into a little white frame house up the street from his parents on the farm where he would be close to run it.   They had 4 children; Joseph Val, Larry Brent, Lanny Burnell, and Janet Kay.  In 1940 his parents built a new home then Grandpa Buck and Grandma moved back into the house where Grandpa was born and raised where he passed away.

One of Grandpa’s favorite Deputy Sheriff stories happened in 1936 when he accompanied his dad to Santa Monica, California to bring a prisoner back. Some of the policemen took him to MGM studios where he met Clark Gable and Merna Loy as one of the officers knew them. He remembered Clark Gable was a nice, carefree guy, but Merna Loy was the one that he liked, as she was really pretty. They also met Robert Montgomery, he was there making the movie, ‘Night Must Fall’. They spent quite awhile watching the Marx Brothers making a show.  They were asked us to leave the Marx Brothers because they were making to much noise, laughing, and they just finally said that it would be better if they left.  But, the Marx Brothers were hilarious, they were crazy, Grandpa said, and he never could figure out how they kept the movie making crews from laughing while they were filming. 

Grandpa remembered the only time he was fingerprinted in the Los Angeles County Jail, where he spent time in solitary confinement.  Quote, “They locked dad and me in there and said they forgot the key. They were outside saying, “I could have sworn I had that key with me.”   They made out like they didn’t know if they had another one down there or not, and they said, “We better do something fast, this is really embarrassing to lock these people in solitary confinement.”    They had the key all the time, but left us there for quite awhile.” End quote.  Grandpa starting laughing so hard telling me these two stories of his trip.

Grandpa, also, spent an afternoon visiting with actor Leo Curilo, at his home. Mr. Curilo planned for Grandpa to have a tailored hunting suit with all the accessories necessary to go boar hunting on Santa Cruz Island with him and his friends. They wanted to show Grandpa a good time, especially after they found out he was a fisherman and hunted in the mountains of Utah.  But, it poured down rain the three they were there, and they had to get the prisoner back to Utah. He always kept his autographed picture that Leo Curilo gave him that he signed, “To Buck Holbrook, the old salt from Salt Lake”.  

One evening a party was given for Grandpa Buck and Great-grandpa, during which a police call to a party at Betty Davis' came in.  Grandpa was having a good time at this party being the center of attention and decided not to go, but Great-grandpa did.  She was throwing a million dollar party, and needed some help with some unruly guests.  Grandpa said he had so much fun on the way back to Utah with Great-grandpa telling him the details about this party, meeting her and her home. They had a ball down there with those people. They got to see things there that people who lived there never get to see, Grandpa said. 

Some of his other duties as Deputy Sheriff was helping to plan two executions at the state prison, one of which he served on the firing squad.  When I asked him how difficult it was he said he just had to keep thinking to himself that it was his duty and that there was a reason that the guy had been convicted of taking another’s life.  It was the only time he ever had to point a gun at a person.  When a United Airlines plane crashed on the mountain above Centerville he helped police that and was paid eight dollars a day.  He also helped recover a plane from the Great Salt Lake when it crashed west of Brigham City.  During World War 2 when all the Japanese people were being taken to concentration camps Great-grandpa talked to the Governor and FBI taking responsibility for the Japanese farmers and their family in Davis County so they wouldn’t have to go.  Grandpa buck helped in cataloging all their weapons that had to be confiscated until the war ended, and he did whatever he could to help the Japanese people during this time.

In January 1950 his father passed away.  This was a very difficult time in his life as the two of them were so close.  Grandpa described their relationship as being best friends rather than father and son.  At this time he filled his father’s place on the Syracuse City Council which continued his service to the community.  He decided not to run for Sheriff himself as he would get busier than he was as deputy and he didn’t want to be gone away from home that much, and Grandma didn’t want him gone either.  He served as President of the Mosquito Abatement for 30 years, he finally gave it up when he was 75.  He was one of the original members of the Lion’s Club in Syracuse.  He was the MIA President for 2 years and held other church positions.

 He had the privilege of baptizing his mother in 1954 and being proxy for his father’s temple work in the Salt Lake Temple, along with being sealed to his parents.

Grandpa’s attitude with life had always been to have fun and enjoy life to the fullest. He had an amazing sense of humor and had since he was a child. He remembered, quote, “ when I got going to school I was kind of a cut up, I kept everybody in stitches. I remember in the forth grade Elsie Hansen was my teacher, we were carrying on in this class, she took me out in the hallway and was giving me a good talking to.  I said something that was real funny, and she couldn’t hold any longer, she started laughing, and she couldn’t hold a straight face.  She finally told me to go back in the room and try to behave. I remember her trying to hold a straight face and all of a sudden she just blurted out, and starting laughing right out in the hallway with me.”

His warm, friendly personality would draw people to him.  Because of this he was asked to serve as MC for countless weddings, church banquets, and Farm Bureau banquets, where all remember his jokes, singing and entertaining.  One of the wedding receptions he MC’d for was his sister Elma’s.  He had the band play the Prisoner’s song for the bride and groom’s first dance which all attending got a good laugh from.  He was also the favorite for Christmas parties around the state as he played a perfect Santa, having so much fun doing it.  He was taught growing up by his parents and also encouraged by Mildred that you could do anything you set your mind to, and you could educate yourself about anything you needed to.  He attributes this state of mind to his successes.

                 On Nov. 3, 1972 Grandpa Buck suddenly lost his beloved Mildred to a heart attack.  This time in his life was even darker than when he lost his father. Then adding to his broken heart he lost a grandson, Craig David Sanders a short four years later.  Grandpa was a very strong person, but was thankful to his family and friends who rallied around him during these difficult times.

All his life he loved to camp and fish.  He passed this passion onto his children and grandchildren.  He spent some wonderful family times on the Woodruff and East Canyon Creeks and also made life long friends.  Fish was one of his favorite foods, especially Val’s smoked salmon. Arthritis was the culprit in him giving up fishing a few years ago.

At the age of 60 he took up golf. Grandpa became very good and was a regular almost daily at Davis Golf Course.  In 1972 he became an Assistant Golf Coach at Davis High School for 23 years, he was 84 when he retired.  He finally got his picture in a yearbook when he was 75 years old.  Up until about 5 years ago he walked his 18 holes, as a way for him to keep in good shape.  During the years of golfing he earned himself a place in the Golf Hall of Fame for making 4 hole in ones; 2 left handed, and 2 right.  One of his favorite courses to golf is Morgan Golf Course, and the last few years would drive his truck up then stay in his camper for 2 to 3 days at time.  The owner put up a sign on his favorite parking place that reads, “The Buck Stops Here!”  On his 85th birthday an annual tournament was started in his honor. Due to ailing health he was forced to give up golf this last spring, yet, he still found the energy and time for bowling until May.

            When I was little we would visit with Grandpa Buck and Grandma at least every Sunday evening.  A couple times a year I would have the greatest opportunity afforded to a child; that was a sleepover at their home.  Grandma would always fix me macaroni and cheese, a favorite treat that only she made for me.  She used a recipe passed down from Grandmother Charlotte Joslin, Great Grandma Rubie Holbrook’s  great grandmother, that many of our cousin’s use today.  Then Grandpa would hold me on his lap with his big, strong arms around me watching t.v..  I always felt safe in his arms.  They both would tuck me in bed, and in the morning we would have waffles and a big breakfast.  Not liking the crust of my toast Grandpa would tell me that my permanent teeth would come in crooked if I didn’t eat it.

I think the most frustrating time during his golfing years was the time that he tried to teach me to golf.  I didn’t share the passion he had, but I did have some skill, and I loved to be out on the golf course spending time with him, so I tried really hard.  It would never fail, no matter how well I was doing, or how poorly, water was like a magnet to my balls.  It finally got to the point that Grandpa wouldn’t let me tee off on any holes that had water, as quote, “My balls don’t do me any good sitting at the bottom of a pond, and I spend good money for them.”  A very proud day for him was when I actually shot 18 holes in under 100 strokes.

In 1983 I bowled on a  league with Aunt JoAnn and Rochelle Hamblin.  That winter Grandpa gave me a bowling ball with my name engraved on it, that I still have and use.  The winter of 1984 & 85 I would meet him on my lunch break at Davis Lanes, and some Friday afternoons we would bowl together, and he would give me pointers. 

Grandpa always enjoyed a big hamburger and fries at either the bowling alley or the golf course.  Having French Fries as a favorite food must be something that is in our family genes.  Not only did Grandpa like them, I do, and Aunt Nora loved them.  Although her favorites were McDonald’s, and Grandpa preferred golf course and bowling alley fries.

Grandpa wanted to make it to his 90th birthday, of which he did.  He celebrated more quietly with his family than he would have liked as his health was so poor. He was a person with a strong will, that he inherited from his pioneer grandparents, 

            In the course of Grandpa’s 90 years he saw so many things change.  He went from horse and buggy travel and using horses to farm with to cars and tractors.  From the first airplanes to men on the moon and the space shuttle being able to take off to outer space and come back to earth unharmed.  He lived through World War 2, the Korean War, Vietnam War, the Gulf War, seeing how through the advancement of technologies how different these wars were fought, and feeling so blessed as not to have himself or his sons fight in them. He saw the Berlin Wall go up and come down. He lived when the word computer didn’t exist to having computers in all his grandchildren’s homes, the internet, and now handheld computers, and having his great-grandchildren computer literate very young. He saw the amazing technology of communication, with party lines where several families shared a phone line to cellular phones.  He went to having a Saturday night bath in a big tin tub to indoor plumbing, and candles to electricity. He lived to see the population of the earth top 6 Billion.  He lived when there were only four temples to seeing over 100 dot the earth, and many of his grandsons serving missions. It makes us wonder what changes we will see in our lifetimes.

Grandpa wanted to make it to his 90th birthday, of which he did.  He celebrated more quietly with his family than he would have liked as his health was so poor. In asking him if he would have done anything differently in his life replied, “I wish I had got more schooling, and gone to college.”  

    Grandpa Buck, in your 90 years you have touched so many lives for the better all across the country.  We love you, and you will be greatly missed by your family and friends.  We pray that we will be able to look at your life, remember all that you have taught us, and emulate those teachings in our own lives.  The Buck stops here, but his life will always be celebrated, he will always be remembered and greatly loved.

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