The quiet warrior – Harold Muhlestein
GIANTS OF SAN JUAN
by Buckley Jensen
Mortals do not seriously ponder the ramifications of poor health until old age or bad luck or both force them to confront it.
On the other hand, few of us are called upon to endure a lifetime of pain.
Harold Muhlestein started life with all the vigor necessary to be a hard worker and an excellent athlete.
Indeed, he played football shoulder to shoulder with LaVell Edwards at Provo High School. Harold was the right guard and Lavell was the Center.
Harold Muhlestein was born in Lehi, UT in February of l929, to George and Ella Clark Muhlestein. He did not see his father for 2 1/2 years because George was called on a mission to Germany for the LDS Church a few weeks after marrying Ella.
The Great Depression was in full swing when George returned. Jobs were scarce, and the little family moved into an old house that had neither water nor electricity.
George was blessed to find work at a dairy farm. He left for work before the sun rose, and did not get home until 10 p.m. Despite those conditions, George and his little family were more than grateful to have a roof over their heads and at least some income.
Harold started to school at the age of six. He attended the old Page school near the present BYU stadium. He had to walk to school, which was a mile and a half each way, and he had to do it whatever the weather.
When he was in the sixth grade, his Aunt and Father took him on a horseback trip over “Y” mountain. When they returned it was Harold’s job to take the horses up the mountain to their pasture. On the way up one of the horses kicked him in the leg and crushed the bone four inches above the ankle
He was all alone on the mountain. He yelled as loud as he could but no-one heard him. He was in great pain and scared, but he prayed that someone would come along.
Soon after his prayer, one of his father’s cousins came along the lonely, unused road and helped him pasture the horses and then took him to the hospital.
In seventh grade, Harold began milking cows for his grandfather. He would get up in the dark and walk half a mile to the milk barn. There he would milk until time to go home to get ready for school.
It was 14 blocks to Farrer Junior High School and 14 blocks back home in rain, sleet or snow.
As soon as he got home from school, he would have a bite to eat and then walk back up and milk cows until after dark.
On December 7, l941 two memorable things occurred. First, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and second Harold’s face became paralyzed.
He was taken to the doctor and received several treatments with a vibrator, but his face was never quite the same again and his beautiful smile was a little crooked for the rest of his life.
In l943, he became the proud owner of a l6-gauge shotgun, and thus began his love affair with guns. One of his favorite adventures was when his scout troop would go down near Santaquin, UT and surround an area of about 1,000 acres.
Then they would all start walking toward the center at the same time forcing the hoards of jackrabbits to run to the center. Sometimes they would have several hundred rabbits in a huge herd when they all got to the center of the field. No one was allowed to shoot until the rabbits bolted and ran outside the circle. This rule kept excited young boys from shooting each other.
In the spring of his sophomore year Harold had his first date with the girl he would eventually marry. They met in their biology class.
After his first date with Fay Lunceford, Harold said, “I fell in love with Fay that first night, and although I dated other girls, but my real interest was always with Fay.”
During Harold’s 16th summer, he had the first manifestations of the problems that would plague him for the rest of his life. He was jumping and catching a wire in his Grandfather’s barn, as he had done a hundred times before, but this time he felt a pain in his shoulders.
By the next morning his shoulders were so sore he could hardly get out of bed. A short time later, the balls of his feet started doing strange painful things, and he got his first taste of the arthritis that would plague him for the rest of his life.
During his junior year in school, he started going steady with Fay. “I was only 17, but really was in love, and I have loved her ever since.”
One Harold’s most spiritual experiences occurred in the spring of his Junior Year. In his own worlds, “Fay got her class ring and she let me put it on my little finger. I forgot to give it back to her.
“I went home after school and mowed the lawn, jumped the canal, chased the little kids around, milked the cow and other things before I noticed that the ring was gone.
“I had no idea where I might have lost it. She had paid a lot of money for that ring and I couldn’t stand the idea of telling her I had lost it.
“In despair I went up to my room and pleaded with the Lord to help me find it. I am not sure the Lord has time for things like lost rings. But, I was desperate. When I was through praying, I went out to the front sidewalk and my eyes fixed on a certain spot on the lawn.
“I walked to the spot, and didn’t see anything so I put my hand in the grass and forced my fingers to the ground. And when I felt that ring I was never so happy in my life. For me that was a miracle.”
Harold served a mission in the Western States from 1949 to 1951. Fay served a mission to the Eastern States. They returned home about the same time. Said Harold, “I was so happy to see Fay and to know she still loved me despite all those Elders in the Eastern States who tried to convince her to see different.”
They were engaged on Christmas Eve in l950 and married in the Salt Lake Temple September 14, l951.
Poor health dogged Harold throughout his mission and marriage. Shortly after they were married, Harold’s parents took him to Salt Lake City to a doctor who claimed to be able to heal people by putting metal plates over their naked bodies and running an electrical current through it.
“I went to this quack for three months and did not get any better. I was on crutches because my knee was so bad. I finally went to bed and stayed there.
“I felt so bad for my poor wife. We had only been married a little over a year and she was faced with these kinds of problems. Those were sad times. I often wondered if she felt she got a raw deal in me.”
Harold graduated from BYU in l956 and was hired to teach school in Monticello. The uranium boom was going strong that year, with 200 men working at the mill south of town. Housing was at a premium.
The Muhlesteins finally found a place to live in an old farmhouse owned by Ruel Randall east of town. They planned to live there year round, but the Randalls said that would not be possible because the road became impassible in winter. Housing remained a problem for years because of the uranium frenzy in Monticello at the time.
The first year Harold taught at Monticello High School, he taught Utah History to this writer and to those who would comprise the Class of l962. We were in the seventh grade that year and having Mr. Muhlestein for a teacher was a treat.
Despite having holes cut in his shoes for his some of his toes, (his arthritis had by this time crippled some of his fingers and toes) and despite having a slightly crooked smile, his students were captivated by his love of history in general and Utah history in particular.
With fire in his eyes he would act out the history of his beloved Utah.
Did he stand at the blackboard and lecture? No, Mr. Muhlestein would race around the room chasing Indians, or lead the Cavelry in a charge to save settlers from harm. He would hoop and holler if hooping and hollering were part of the lesson.
Needless to say, the l956 edition of MHS seventh graders loved their history teacher. He was warm and friendly and it was obvious he cared for his students in a way that we did not appreciate until we had teachers in high school and college that couldn’t hold a candle to Mr. Muhlestein.
The major assignment of the year was to write a major paper on our favorite aspect of Utah History.
We worked on our projects all year as our homework and in the spring of l957 there were seventh graders at Monticello High who had created mini Master’s thesises. And it was because of a teacher who so inspired us that it was not a chore, but an educational pleasure.
In the spring of l961, Harold rented land from Wilford Frost and tried to supplement his teaching salary by growing vegetables. That spring he had planted 5,000 tomato plants along with corn and cumumbers.
After a summer of back-breaking work, Harold cleared $600 not counting the cost of gas and the wear and tear on his truck. Monticello wasn’t big enough to eat that many tomatoes. Despite his disappointment in not being able to clear a reasonable profit, he reported he had seldom enjoyed a job more.
The next year, he talked Larry Bailey into going in business with him and they planted 2,000 raspberry bushes, and about the same number of strawberry plants.
They also had melons, cucumbers cantaloupe, sweet corn, and 15 acres of field corn. They worked all summer only to have school start about the same time their labors were ready to sell.
The engine in their old pickup failed and they had to have it overhauled with money they did not have. It was not a profitable enterprise, but they learned a lot about what would grow, how to irrigate properly and the vageries of selling produce out of a pickup in a small community.
Nevertheless, Harold loved the land, and he never tired of growing things… even if it meant a summer of brutal labor without a profit.
The Muhlestein family decided to stop farming and go into the egg business. Their first year they did not have a good coop and dogs broke in and killed their chickens. Never a quitter, Harold held a family meeting and suggested that they build a modern coop, raise chickens and sell the eggs.
His children thought that was a fine idea, having no idea what it takes to buy a thousand chickens and then take care of 800-900 eggs every day.
The chicken business was more profitable than truck farming in Montezuma had been, but when they children started off to college and the “cheap” help dwindled, even Harold had to admit he didn’t miss the chickens that much.
Through it all Harold’s health continued to decline. During the l975-76 school year, he could no long stand, and so he taught from a special (Young Buggy) custom built for him by Darrol Young. Harold used an overhead projector instead of a blackboard.
By Christmas, he simply could not go on. When he officially retired, the school honored him with a special assembly where he received several nice gifts and tributes from students, parents, and faculty.
Cooper Jones talked Harold into being the Justice of the Peace in l978, a position he held for several years.
The Muhlestein Family started a greenhouse business in l979, which grew into three large buildings and provided flowers and vegetable plants ready to plant in the short Monticello growing season. The Muhlestein Green houses were a successful enterprise, and stayed in the family until 2012.
By their fruits ye shall know them,” is how people who really knew Harold and Fay Muhlestein thought of them. Not only did they love their green growing things, but more importantly they planted countless seeds in the minds and hearts of thousands of students, friends and neighbors.
And finally, and most important of all, consider the Muhlestein progeny:
Son Randy: At the time of his graduation from Monticello High School, he had scored the highest ACT test the school ever recorded. Randy was awarded a coveted, full ride Presidential full ride scholarship to BYU and is today a successful corporate attorney in Los Angles.
Son Brent: One of the most well-known, successful heart surgeons in the Intermountain West. Teaches and practices at the University of Utah Medical Center.
Son James: Created an outstanding music program at Monticello High School. His bands and choruses were legendary in their day. More scholarship money was won through the music programs at MHS than all other departments and sports activities combined.
Son Dan: Master’s in English from BYU. Doctorate on a full ride scholarship from Rice University in Texas. Professor of English at BYU today.
Daughter Jani: Graduated from BYU in Russian and Middle Eastern History and has become a computer whiz.
Before Harold passed away in 2003, he had acquired Parkinson’s Disease. He also was afflicted with dementia and lost most of his eyesight and his ability to speak.
Why some of us have to “endure to the end” the way Harold Muhlestein did, and others of us simply die in our sleep is difficult to understand. There are few men who paid a dearer price to exit mortality than Harold Muhestein.
Yet he paid that price in his kind and gentle way, and in so doing, he set an example that will inspire throughout the ages.