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Rich pioneer legacy continues in Pomerene

Descendants of early settlers make up majority of ward

POMERENE, Ariz. — Drought in the San Pedro Valley has taken Pomerene, Ariz., back in time. Fields, once farmed, now stand fallow; tumbleweeds blown three or four feet high cover fence posts. The riverbed that runs through the valley is dry. So are many of the wells dug by early Latter-day Saint settlers.

Louise F. Larson, who wrote Pomerene's history, has been a member of the Pomerene Ward for 72 years.
Louise F. Larson, who wrote Pomerene's history, has been a member of the Pomerene Ward for 72 years. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

Like Pomerene's fields, the rest of the town is also quiet. With the exception of the school and the Church's stake center, the post office is the town's busiest building.

Standing in center of this quiet town, with a population of fewer than 1,000, it isn't hard for visitors to imagine what members of the Mormon Battalion might have seen when they made their historic march through the valley in 1846. (The Battle of the Bulls occurred just 20 miles south of Pomerene.) Or what Pomerene settlers found just more than 50 years later, when they came to the area.

Back then, settlers supplied vegetables to Benson, Ariz., a railroad town. Today, Pomerene supplies a different commodity to nearby Benson; Fort Huachuca, Ariz., 30 miles away; and Tucson, Ariz., located more than 50 miles west: ground to build homes.

"The only thing in Pomerene now is the post office, the school, the fire department and the water department. It is not like it used to be when we had a lot of water," said Louise Fenn Larson, who has been a member of the Pomerene Ward for the past 72 years and wrote the town's history.

Once a farming community of predominately Latter-day Saints, Pomerene is now a growing suburb, said Sister Larson.

Her parents, Alvah and Carmen Fenn, fled Mexico during the Mexican Revolution in 1912, leaving everything that would not fit in their wagon. On their journey, the couple's 8-month-old baby took sick. Desperate to get their child help, the couple left their wagon and boarded a train to Benson, Ariz. However, before they reached their destination the baby died.

When Pomerene's founder, James M. Cosby, learned their story, he met the couple and took them into his home. With his son, Branch President Millard P. Cosby, he helped the couple make funeral arrangements for their baby.

From that point forward, Pomerene — then called Robinson — became the Fenns' home. Alvah Fenn drove the first horse-drawn school bus in town. Although Alvah followed employment opportunities outside Pomerene for a few years, he returned. He bought a farm and raised cattle. He dug the city's first irrigation well.

St. David Arizona Stake Patriarch Neil Carruthers and his wife, Marguerite Fenn Carruthers, moved to Pomerene, her hometown, in 1981.
St. David Arizona Stake Patriarch Neil Carruthers and his wife, Marguerite Fenn Carruthers, moved to Pomerene, her hometown, in 1981. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

Alvah Fenn also became Pomerene's first missionary. While he was away, his son, Karl R. Fenn, was born in Pomerene.

Just down the street from Sister Larson's home, a rock wall her father built still stands today; Karl and his wife, Thelma, live on the property behind the familiar rock wall.

"As many as six generations are still here in this community," said Sister Larson of the descendants of the town's early settlers. In fact, she added, the town's pioneer roots run so deep that a majority of the members of the current Pomerene Ward are descendants of the original settlers of 1910-1912.

Those early settlers started a branch in the area in 1911. The school house was built in 1913, and the cemetery was started a year later. In 1915, the post office in town was established. The U.S. Postal Department rejected the original town name of Robinson, as there were other post offices by that name. So, in order to establish the post office, the town of Robinson was renamed Pomerene, in honor of U.S. Senator Atlee Pomerene.

Sister Larson, also the secretary and treasurer for the Pomerene Cemetery Association, knows much of Pomerene's history by heart.

Each year she looks forward to a town breakfast, followed by a cleanup in the cemetery. She is grateful for her pioneer heritage.

"I am impressed with these early settlers that came here," said Sister Larson. "I don't know these people personally, but I just feel close to them. I have read their stories and I take care of them in the cemetery."

From those first settlers the Church has grown in the area, she said. The Church building on Pomerene Road is the St. David Arizona Stake Center.

The people who settled the area "were what you call pioneers," said Stake Patriarch Neil Carruthers. "You don't see that type of pioneer anymore."

Brother Carruthers and his wife, Marguerite Fenn Carruthers, left California in 1981 and moved to her hometown. They speak of the strength of Church members who are raised in the community.

"They are faithful people," said Brother Carruthers.

Brother Carruthers is also impressed by the large number of missionaries that come from the area.

Following in his fathers' footsteps, Karl Fenn, for example, served nine full-time missions, including as president of the Mexico Missionary Training Center and as president of the Venezuela Maracaibo Mission.

Karl Fenn made a living in Pomerene doing masonry work and constructing buildings; he designed and built a rock monument to the Mormon Battalion at the stake center as well as rock fireplaces and other structures in town. Across the street from his home, new houses are being constructed by Karl's son, Mark Fenn, a third generation builder in Pomerene. Church members hope those new houses and others will bring in new and younger Church members to strengthen their already strong ward.

View of San Pedro Valley in southern Arizona from Benson, Ariz., includes Pomerene, a town founded by early Latter-day Saint settlers.
View of San Pedro Valley in southern Arizona from Benson, Ariz., includes Pomerene, a town founded by early Latter-day Saint settlers. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

It is already happening, notes Brother Fenn. Sitting in his yard, in the shade of an unusually large tree for this area, he reminisces about the years he has spent in Pomerene, and talks about the future of his town.

As a rabbit hops into the yard — seeking refuge from the hot temperatures in this drought-stricken region — Brother Fenn and his wife, talk about rain.

Flash floods, they say, bring water across the entire town. The dry river bed has been full to overflowing, they add. It's approaching monsoon season, or "non-soon season," these days, said Sister Fenn. Since October, there has been no measurable rain in Pomerene.

They don't worry, however. Pomerene, they say, attracts strong people, ones who can subsist on whatever they can get. New residents of the town are new-age pioneers; they work hard, many endure long commutes to work.

Drought or not, said Brother Fenn, the houses they are building stand on soil rich in pioneer history.

Mormon Battalion monument, designed and built by Karl Fenn, stands in front of St. David Arizona Stake Center.
Mormon Battalion monument, designed and built by Karl Fenn, stands in front of St. David Arizona Stake Center. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver
Louise Fenn Larson stands in Pomerene Cemetery near headstone marking her parents' graves. They came to Pomerene in 1912.
Louise Fenn Larson stands in Pomerene Cemetery near headstone marking her parents' graves. They came to Pomerene in 1912. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver
The landscape includes varying types of cactus, pictured in decorative planter.
The landscape includes varying types of cactus, pictured in decorative planter. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver
Karl and Thelma Fenn have spent much of their life in Pomerene, Ariz. -- carrying on a pioneer legacy in the town that began in 1910. Early Latter-day Saint settlers, like Brother Fenn's parents, Alvah and Carmen Fenn, planted fields, dug wells and built homes and other structures, including the decorative rock well pictured on the cover.
Karl and Thelma Fenn have spent much of their life in Pomerene, Ariz. -- carrying on a pioneer legacy in the town that began in 1910. Early Latter-day Saint settlers, like Brother Fenn's parents, Alvah and Carmen Fenn, planted fields, dug wells and built homes and other structures, including the decorative rock well pictured on the cover. Photo: Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver

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