Whenever life handed lemons to Beverly Jean Rieske Watts, she not only stirred up some lemonade, but she also baked a lemon meringue pie.
For example, her first lemon arrived seven months after her birth on Jan. 4, 1927, when her father, Samuel Rieske, Jr., died in a ranch accident in Provo Canyon where they lived, leaving her mother, Zina Ann Muhlestein Rieske, a widow with three young children. At that terrible time, Beverly was a great comfort to her mother. Zina said that she wouldn’t have survived without Beverly.
The next lemon arrived only four years later when Zina married a widowed farmer with seven children, George Selman. Zina was eager to care for his motherless children, and she sacrificed time that could have been devoted to her own.
Zina also donated the compensation that had come from Samuel’s death to save her new husband’s farm from foreclosure. And, of course, Beverly and her two siblings were immediately put to work on the farm. Without a hint of resentfulness, however, Beverly developed close relationships with her stepsiblings, and then turned for her closest relationship to her older sister, Dorothy, who remained her best friend throughout her life.
Ninth grade was formative for Beverly: during her sewing class, she discovered her talent. With a small inheritance, Beverly bought her first sewing machine and soon became expert in sewing men’s suits, women’s wedding dresses, all manner of household furnishings and more.
Beverly also tried out for cheerleader and surprised herself by securing a spot. She never felt as capable as the other girls, but she was grateful that cheerleading brought into her life a tall, red-haired basketball player, Richard Kent Watts, whom she married four years later.
The early years of Kent and Beverly’s marriage were filled with college, part-time jobs and rearing their first two children, Susan and Nicholas. They were happy years filled with plans for Kent to teach high school English and for the family to settle in the Provo-Orem area.
Soon after Kent began teaching, two more children joined the family, Wendy and Lisa. Kent built a cozy home in his spare time, and the family settled in. However, Kent’s teaching job was frustrating and paid less than his summer work in construction. He wondered if teaching at the college level might be the answer. So he matriculated into a graduate program at Stanford University. The couple sold their home and moved to the San Francisco area.
Not long into the graduate program, Kent concluded that construction in the San Francisco area would be more satisfying and pay better than teaching. So while Kent qualified to become a licensed building contractor, the family again subsisted on modest wages. In addition, Kent devoted many unpaid hours helping to build church meetinghouses in the area.
Resourceful Beverly resumed her magic with lemons: helping to build a lovely home in Los Altos on a shoestring, refashioning others’ discarded furniture, sewing clothes, cooking from scratch and gardening, literally growing a lemon tree and making lemon meringue pie that became a family favorite.
In 1959, Beverly gave birth to their fifth and final child, Lori. Eagerly the family moved into the home that they had been building for three years and that would be theirs for 40 years. During those years, the family thrived, and Kent and Beverly became stalwarts in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among their sweetest experiences was their 23 years serving as ordinance workers in the Oakland temple.
As the children left home, Kent and Beverly traveled: New Zealand, Hawaii, Alaska, the east coast of the U.S., the Intermountain West, and the California coast that they now loved. Their relationship grew more tender, and life was good.
When Kent reached his late 60s, however, more lemons came in the form of health problems. For nearly a decade, Beverly tended Kent and the house and garden. Finally, Kent’s needs became too great, and the couple headed to St. George, Utah.
The move was bittersweet, but Beverly made the best of it. Every day she gathered a stitching project and traveled to the assisted living center where she would sit beside Kent and work her magic with thread, cloth and yarn.
On Sunday, April 6, 2008, Kent passed away peacefully.
Beverly stayed in St. George for five more years, helped by Susan and her husband. When Susan could no longer care for Beverly because of her own illnesses, Beverly relocated to a retirement center, Summerfield Manor, in Orem, Utah, near Nick and his wife.
From the start, Beverly sought to be of good cheer during her five years at Summerfield, in spite of her challenges with breast cancer, heart failure and dementia. Her laughter became a familiar sound in the dining hall. She made a point of reaching out to new residents and several friendships began. Her efforts to spread good cheer continued until just days before her passing. Several residents added their tears to those of Beverly’s family and friends as they embraced her one last time before her passing.
No doubt, there were lemon meringue pies in abundance at her jubilant welcome party on the other side of the veil.
All are invited to share in the celebration of Beverly’s life at funeral services on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3 and 4.
- Visitations will be held Friday, Aug. 3, from 6-8 p.m., and Saturday, Aug. 4, from 9-9:45 a.m., in the LDS meetinghouse at 80 W. 900 South, Orem, Utah. Fittingly, this is the church building that Kent helped build during the family’s early years in Provo.
- The funeral will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. in the same meetinghouse.
- The graveside service will be held Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Tonaquint Cemetery at 1777 South Dixie Drive, St. George, Utah.
All will be welcomed by Beverly’s survivors that include five children (Susan Kay Watts Martin, Nicholas Kent Watts, Wendy Lee Watts Hill, Lisa Watts Salmon and Lori Jean Watts Pedersen), 17 grandchildren, and 37 great-grandchildren, as well as Beverly’s “big sister,” Zina Dorothy Rieske Hancock.
Arrangements have been entrusted to the care of Metcalf Mortuary, 435-673-4221.
For condolences, full obituary and funeral listings please visit Metcalf Mortuary online.