Written History of Bert N. Whitney
When I used to attend Sunday School as a youth, probably my strongest motivation for doing so, was to be with my friends. On one particular Sunday our regular teacher was absent and a member of the bishopric came and gave the lesson. Apparently he was not prepared with the regular lesson, so he told us in great detail, from his memory, the story of the Jaredites. He told us that this account came from the “Book of Mormon”. Almost no one brought scriptures to the meetings in those days, in fact very few of the youth even owned them. Our substitute teacher, whose name was Harold Brinley, didn’t have the Book of Mormon with him as he told his story.
I was fascinated by the account as he, in a very interesting manner, presented the narrative. Although I had never read much, if any, from the scriptures, up to that time in my life, I thought to myself, “Nothing in that book could be that interesting.”
When I got home that day, I found my father’s old, “Three in One Combination”, and started checking to see if that story was really in there. I had no idea where in the book to look, so I spent the rest of the day scanning every page of the Book of Mormon, in search of the account I was told about that day in Sunday School. Finally, in the “Book of Ether”, I came across the story and read for myself, every word from beginning to end, and in so doing formed a bond with the “Book of Mormon “, which has continued from that day to now.
When I moved to town, away from home, my father, having noticed my interest in his book, gave it to me. I filled it full of notes and markings over the years of my Gospel study. It is now in possession of my son, Kenneth.
After about three months, (sometime in December), the county extension agent, John Whittwer, who had been my 4-H leader several years earlier, came to the bank, and told me that he had found an opportunity for me to attend a work-study program in San Diego, where all expenses including room and board would be furnished, and wanted to know if I was interested.
What 17-year-old wanderer-type wouldn’t jump at a chance to go to a far away legendary place such as southern California, especially when school had always been easy, and everything was arranged? Early in January 1942, late in the afternoon, I found myself emerging from the bus depot onto the busy streets of San Diego; street cars were clanging, traffic semaphores dinged as they changed from stop to go, the streets were crowded with people, and I became painfully aware of the small town boy that I was. I did muster the courage to ask a few people of the whereabouts of the address I had written on a piece of paper, but no one ever heard of “Belt St.,” not even a taxi driver.
Not knowing what else to do and realizing that I needed a quiet place to think things out, I took refuge in the lobby of a small hotel. There was no listing in the thick phone book that I recognized as the place I was seeking, besides the fact that I didn’t know how to use a dial telephone. I was accustomed to picking up the telephone and hearing the operator say, “Number please?” So I spent a good portion of my money for a room in the hotel. It was second nature at that time of my life to ask for and expect divine help when faced with problems in life, so I settled down to some serious prayer and meditation, followed by a good night’s rest.
The next morning the streets were nearly empty, my mind was clear, and I went about exploring the downtown area, not really knowing what I was looking for; a big department store sign, “WHITNEY CO.” did catch my eye, however. I came across some offices of various governmental agencies, and was impressed to wait until they opened and to inquire within, which I did and after being referred to others several times, I talked to someone who knew about the program in which I was enrolled, knew where it was located, and gave me detailed instructions on how to get there via city street cars and buses, involving several transfers. It was all as exciting as I knew it was going to be, and before noon that day I had a private room in what I considered to be a luxurious dormitory. It wasn’t long before I was enjoying my first meal in the dining hall of the facility.
One of the things that impressed me while I was enrolled in the school was the good food. It was served family style, with large metal pitchers of ice cold milk on each table, as well as an ample supply of many varieties of delicious food and desserts. The school itself was several miles from the dormitory on a hill in Balboa Park; it was a round structure called the “Ford” building. I studied mechanical drawing and other subjects from 8:00 A.M. until noon, at which time the group rode in the back of an army type truck to a sheet metal shop where we learned sheet metal work and actually produced items such as file cabinets. Some weeks later the cook asked me if I would like to work as his helper there in the kitchen each afternoon.