When Elden Lott was two years old, his father backed over him with a milk truck.
Upon realizing his mistake, Elden’s father scooped him up and hauled him from their home in Ucon, Idaho to the doctor in Idaho Falls.
“They pushed all my intestines back inside me and my mother said, ‘They sent you home to die,’” Lott recalled 92 years later. “It plagued me for a while, but I guess I came out of it OK.”
That’s far from the only near-death experience Lott has had in his 94 years of life, but he’s still as active as ever.
“Nobody’s took a shot at me yet,” Lott said with a chuckle.
Lott works part-time at Custom Interiors Upholstery, a shop that he owned for about 30 years. He opened it in 1989 at age 60 after a Rexburg resident promised to keep him busy for his first couple of years.
Previous to opening the current shop, Lott owned and operated upholstery businesses in New Mexico and Ontario.
He got into the business during his time in Gallup, New Mexico in 1954 as a member of the U.S. Airforce.
Lott was known around the town as a hard worker, so despite his lack of upholstery experience, a local lady, Mrs. Gurley, asked him to re-upholster a chair for her.
He got to work, and when he needed help, he enlisted the help of an upholsterer named John “Big John” DeHines. Together, they turned out a piece of furniture that impressed the community.
A few others asked Lott to work on their furniture, so he bought a sewing machine and made a living out of it.
“And I’ve been at it ever since,” Lott said.
He’s worked on everything from classic cars to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s living room furniture. He’s even made his mark on almost every piece in the Rexburg temple.
“I won’t say that everything I’ve worked on, I’ve enjoyed,” Lott said. “But I get through with it, I let it sit over night, come back in and look at it and I think, ‘Did I really do that?’ Pretty nice. And then all the sweating and swearing goes by, doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
As a young man, Lott served a two-and-a-half-year mission in Sweden for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
With tears rolling down his face as he boarded the train to the mission field, he kissed Elaine Jernberg, his high school sweetheart, goodbye. Mary Konold, whom he had also previously courted, also ran up to the train.
“You haven’t kissed me yet!” Mary cried.
Elden kissed her goodbye and went on his way.
He spent the next two weeks journeying toward Northern Europe. He switched trains in Utah and Illinois before boarding a boat in New York.
In those days, the Church didn’t have the Missionary Training Centers that it has today. Lott had to learn the language in the field.
He recalls going for dinner with his mission president upon arrival.
“I couldn’t read the menu ‘cuz it was all in Swedish,” Lott said.
One of the missionaries who had been there for a while suggested that the newcomers try “svagdricka,” which translates to “weak drink.” Lott declined, opting for milk instead — The Swedish word, “mjölk,” was close enough to the English word that he could remember it.
But some of the other missionaries were brave enough to try svagdricka.
“One of them took a sip, looked at the other guy, and nodded his head,” Lott said. “The other kid took a sip and they exchanged these looks.”
“Is this stuff legal?” one of the missionaries asked. So Lott took a sip.
“It tastes just like beer,” Lott said.
They call it weak drink because it’s non-alcoholic beer.
“Whether it’s alcoholic or not, I don’t want to have anything to do with it,” Lott said.
It didn’t take Lott long to figure out the language. He appreciated that lots of the words are similar to the English words. Toward the end of his mission, people asked him on a number of occasions what part of Sweden he was from — perhaps the greatest compliment a language learner can receive.
The missionary work was difficult. Lott recalls that the people were always friendly, but they usually didn’t want to talk about religion. They had a phrase that translates to “Everyone is saved in his own faith.”
Lott didn’t baptize anyone himself, but several people he taught joined the Church shortly after he left, meaning he impacted people’s lives.
Shortly before returning home, Lott and his companion, along with another companionship, were tasked with renovating a house in Sandvicken to turn it into a church building.
Initially, the city rejected their proposal to change the house, but they didn’t state their reasoning. Lott suggested that they talk to the engineer who’d drawn the blueprints, but the branch president advised against it.
“That’s not the way we do things in Sweden,” the branch president told him.
But, with a little bit of convincing, the branch president conceded and allowed him to do what he thought was best.
Upon meeting the engineer, Lott and his companion were pleased to realize that he, a fellow named Sven, was not much older than they were.
“We had a blast,” Lott said. “We sat there and joked, had a good time. We pulled that blueprint and laid it on his coffee table. He says, ‘I can tell you what’s wrong with it right now.’”
Sven went on to explain that the blueprint had a 10-foot doorway on a load-bearing wall.
“What does that mean?” Lott asked.
“It means you can’t do it,” Sven responded.
Sven made some changes to the blueprint and instructed Lott and his companion to take it to the city in the morning. Everything went smoothly from there and they were able to finish the project.
Among Elden’s reasons for serving a mission was his uncertainty as to whether or not he should marry his high school girlfriend, Elaine Jernberg. Elden had already graduated from high school and Elaine was set to graduate that spring. Everyone expected them to get married shortly after Elaine finished school.
But Elden wanted to teach his kids the gospel and Elaine wasn’t a member of the Church. So Elden submitted his mission papers, hoping to figure everything out when he got back.
Despite Elaine’s pleas for him to stay, Elden left for Sweden — the country of his maternal ancestry. He and Elaine wrote to each other the majority of the time that he was gone, until one day near the end of his mission, she sent a letter saying she was getting married to a man named Glen Munns.
But all was well with Elden when he got home. He married Mary Konold, with whom he’d share 66 years.
Elden and Elaine lost contact for a while, but they reconnected at Elden’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Elden and Mary lived in New Mexico at the time, and Elaine and Glen lived in Southern Utah.
The Munns invited the Lotts to visit them, but Elden didn’t take the invitation seriously. When they met again a few years later at Elden’s father’s funeral, Elaine asked why they hadn’t visited yet.
So, Elden and Mary took them up on the offer and visited them in Southern Utah. A while later, both couples found themselves back in Rexburg, where they all became great friends.
“We played pinochle for 30 years,” Lott said.
Glen passed away in December 2017, followed by Mary in July 2018. In 2019, Elden and Elaine got married.
Shortly before marrying Mary, Elden went to enlist in the army. This was in 1953, during the Korean War.
The army wouldn’t take Lott because he had a hernia. The doctor told him to come see him at the hospital the next day, get it taken care of, and then re-apply in three months.
So, that’s what Elden did. He got the surgery, married Mary, and re-applied as soon as he could. But enlisting in the army still wasn’t as straightforward as he’d thought it would be.
“They wouldn’t take me because I was married,” Lott said. “So I walked across the street and enlisted in the Air Force.”
The next stop was Parks Air Force Base outside Oakland, California. One morning, the tactical instructor for Lott’s group didn’t show up. So Lott, the group leader, took charge and sent everyone to breakfast. He figured that the tactical instructor would be there by the time everyone got back.
Lott consulted with another member of the group. They considered going and getting a new tactical instructor, but they’d seen how some of them acted and they didn’t want to deal with a difficult supervisor.
“Why don’t we just fake it?” Lott suggested. “Maybe we can get by without one till maybe this afternoon when he shows up.”
They went outside, called the guys to attention and explained the situation. They presented their plan and put it to a vote. Everyone voted in favor of faking it, so that’s what they did.
Lott read the notes that the tactical instructor had left on a shelf and determined their schedule for the day. They attended several classes, then lunch. Still no tactical instructor. They went to their next classes, came home, went to bed, and woke up the next morning. Still no tactical instructor.
They proceeded without a leader the second day, intending to follow the instructions they’d been given to “rip-rap” a canal.
“Gee, us airmen out rip-rapping a canal?” Lott said. “What in the world does that mean, anyway?”
He went out and asked the group if any of them knew what that meant. No one did. They did know, however, where they were supposed to go, so they headed in that direction, hoping to figure it out along the way.
They got to the canal, beside which was a massive pile of rocks. A few other crews were already rip-rapping — laying rocks down in the canal to keep the water from washing the soil away.
The guys weren’t excited when they learned of their chore for the day.
One of the guys piped up and suggested that they form a bucket brigade — an assembly line, where they’d form a line and pass rocks from one person to the next to until the last person, who laid the rocks down. So that’s what they did.
They worked right through lunch and finished pretty fast. As they were getting ready to head out, a car pulled up and a lieutenant jumped out.
“What’s going on here?” the lieutenant demanded.
The guys motioned Lott over. He saluted the lieutenant and answered all his questions — name, rank, etc.
“What’s going on?” the lieutenant repeated.
“Sir, we’re all finished,” Lott replied.
“Well these other guys aren’t — Look at the rock pile they’ve got.”
“Well, one of the guys said we needed to form a bucket brigade, and that’s what we did,” Lott said. “We got it all done. We’re ready to go in.”
“Well, you go on in, have some dinner and take the rest of the day off,” the lieutenant replied.
The guys went in, relaxed, played pool and had a good time.
The next morning, the tactical instructor was there. He called Lott into his office immediately.
“Where’s your TI?” the tactical instructor asked.
“Well, we don’t have one,” Lott replied.
“What’cha been doing? Who’s been handling this?”
“Well, you’re looking at him,” Lott declared.
“No kidding,” the tactical instructor mused.
They found out that the tactical instructor had been sick in the hospital those two days and hadn’t had the chance to assign anyone to take his place.
A while later, it was time for Lott and his crew to sew the first stripes onto their uniforms. Lott was the only one there that knew how to sew — He came from a big family where everyone had to do a little bit of everything.
He helped several others with their chore and they paid him well for it.
“I used the money to call my wife on the phone and had a good time,” Lott recalls.
Lott spent the next few years bouncing from Mississippi to Ontario to New Mexico. He earned his second stripe and became a sergeant at the military’s radio school after being kicked out of the electronic technician school because he was color-blind.
“They called us ‘digi-daw-daw-dummies’ because we had to learn the Morse code,” Lott recalls.
They eventually sent him back to Gallup. While there, he got an intriguing letter from the Air Force Department in Washington, D.C.
The letter included a check for $10,000, which he could deposit if he accepted their request to go to Türkiye and monitor radio transmissions coming out of the Soviet Union. They also promised to promote him to his next rank.
“I was tempted,” Lott recalls. “$10,000 was two years’ pay for me.”
But Lott decided against it.
“I didn’t join the service to make it a career,” he said.
All in all, Lott was satisfied with his military service.
“I have no regrets about my time in the service,” Lott said. “They treated me very well.”
Living the Life
Abel Garmon, who introduced Scroll to Lott, described him using Newton’s First Law. “A body in motion stays in motion.”
Lott has never been one to slack off. He’s worked hard his entire life. Now, at age 94, he works “as much as (he wants),” without the responsibility of owning the upholstery shop.
He enjoys life as a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, and he plans to keep living life to the fullest.
“And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.” – 2 Nephi 5:27.