Investigative Story

Alvin Sandgren Edward Harris: Full Circle
Sheer panic overflowed the room: the kind that twists in your stomach and pierces it with a sense of nausea. The question that had been haunting their minds had instantly become a question that turned into reality: was this the end?

A relatively warm day took over Salt Lake City, Utah on October 15, 1955. The sun was shining with a slight overcast. Harris’ family was in the cold waiting room, anxious to hear any news.

Ambulance sirens were louder than anything they’d heard before; the night was colder than normal. Alvin Edward Sandgren Harris was dying, and his children were about to find out the life of their father and the reason for his hard work.

“Let me tell you the story of your father,” said Ida, Harris’ little sister, to his kids. “He lived his life for you, your mother and your education.”

A beautiful, snow-covered day filled the Salem, Idaho streets on February 22, 1893. The sun was far behind the clouds, nowhere to be found. It was almost as if the world had turned into a snow globe and the people were its citizens. There were no chirping birds or animals in sight, but inside of the 308 East 2nd South home was a pregnant mother[1].

“It’s time! It’s time!” George, Geneva, Cyrus and Ida Harris all yelled with excitement, as their mother was about to give birth to their baby brother[2].

They all crowded around the Harris ranch, waiting for the birth of the third son of Victoria Josephine Sandgren from Sweden and George Henry Burraston Harris from Utah[3].

They named him Alvin Edward Sandgren Harris.

His beautiful eyes, shaped just like his mother’s; his chin in the oval shape of his father’s; he was everything they had dreamt he would be.

Harris spent his childhood helping his father around the farm, along with his eight siblings: George, Cyrus, Ida, Annie, Shorland, Effie, Lydia and Norma[4].

The Catholic family spent their time outdoors, working with their animals. Harris’ job was to work around the house and the farm, and his father would pay him $10 for every day he worked.

“Dad, who are those people at the door?” Harris asked, as he saw his father speaking with two men who were dressed in suits and ties.

“They’re missionaries from the Mormon Church.”

Days, weeks and months went by that the Harris family received lessons from the missionaries, later being baptized.

It was something none of them had ever felt or seen: the building was spiritual; they were all dressed in white; the people were nice.

It was 3 p.m. The music started playing, the invocation had been said and it was time for Harris to be baptized by immersion.

“Alvin Edward Sandgren Harris: Welcome to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

August 3, 1901 in Madison, Idaho[5] now had a new meaning for this 6-year-old boy.

Harris maintained his activity in the church, as well as in school. As a student at Sugar Salem Elementary School, he played sports every day after school, allowing himself to maintain good grades and leadership. This led to his presidential status of the student body when he attended Rick’s Academy[6].

Upon graduation from Rick’s in 1913, Harris enrolled in the University of Utah to study engineering. Unbeknownst to him, this was the beginning of the rest of his life; the time when he would find his passion and take off for success.

He made the decision to continue his education after graduating from the University of Utah, but this time he wanted something more challenging: the army.

Harris enlisted into World War I and worked with the army engineers in France, where he built bridges and railroads for incoming troops[7].

Harris proved to be more than worthy to hold the title of an engineer, so much so that he was one of five chosen by the United States government to expand his engineering education at Sorbonne University in Paris, which was the largest engineering university in the world at that time[8]. This gave Harris the opportunity to explore different fields of engineering of which he didn’t get to explore before – and from the best engineering school in the world.

He dedicated his time and energy to his engineering craft, which solidified him as one of the best in the army. As a reward for all of his hard work, the United States military awarded him with the Victory Medal[9], which recognizes exceptional effort.

Harris went on to graduate from Sorbonne University and returned to America, but what was there to do now that he was finished with school? This was a question only one person was able to answer.

Apostle Anthony W. Ivins – Latter-day Saint apostle in 1923 – advised Harris to go into mining, which would provide stability and traveling to Mexico, Nevada and Los Angeles, California.

After critical thinking, Harris agreed to follow Apostle Ivins’ advice and moved to Los Angeles.

While out on the town one night, 30-year-old Harris focused his eyes on a woman who caught his attention without hesitation.

Olena Smith was her name.

“I’m going to marry her one day,” he told himself.

And that he did.

Harris married Smith in the Salt Lake City temple on August 21, 1924, where they were also endowed. They remained in Los Angeles, while Harris continued his work as a miner.

Shortly thereafter, Harris and his wife welcomed their first son: Alvin Edward Sandgren Harris Jr. on June 19, 1925[10]. Little did they know they would soon be expecting another child.

Overton Smith Harris was born in 1928 as the second son of the newlywed couple[11].

After years of stable work and a good family life, the demand for engineers for the government and World War II grew rapidly, and Harris fell into the category of draft requirements. He joined the army as a design engineer at the Farragut Naval Base. He worked at the base for one year and then transferred to the associated shipyards in Seattle as an inspecting engineer[12].

At the end of the war, he moved to Bremerton, Washington, where he worked on “designing floating dry docks and machinery to service battle ships.”[13] Once he completed his time in Bremerton, he transferred to Richmond, Washington in 1943 and designed new atomic laboratories for the army for 10 years.

It was during this time that he faced the grief of the death of his mother on October 29, 1949.[14]

Harris continued his work, later transferring back to Bremerton in 1953 to design piping systems for the new aircraft carriers. During the first year of his transfer, his father died on December 14, 1953[15].

During his last year of service, Harris developed severe anemia and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma with massive involvement of spine and pelvis sternum and ribs.

Six weeks after his diagnosis, Harris died at 62 years old on October 15, 1955 at 4:40 p.m. at the veteran’s hospital in Salt Lake City[16].

“His main objective was – in the last years of his life – to give his sons, Quinton and Alvin Jr., an education,” said Ida in her letter about Alvin’s biography. “He put all his interests aside until that was accomplished. His sons are physicians, practicing in Salt Lake City.”

Harris achieved his goal of providing an education for his children. “His family will always remember him that he passed on to them a noble heritage.”












Works Cited

“Ancestry.” Ancestry. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1910. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

“Death and Military Death Certificates, 1904-1961.” Death and Military Death Certificates, 1904-1961. Ancestry, n.d. Web. 17 Jan 2016.

“Ancestry.” Ancestry. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

“Ancestry.” 1940 United States Federal Census. Ancestry, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

“Alvin Edward Sandgren Harris (1893 – 1955) – Find A Grave Memorial.” Alvin Edward Sandgren Harris (1893 – 1955) – Find A Grave Memorial. Find A Grave, n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.

“U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963.” U.S. Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 192-1963. Ancestry, n.d. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

“U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942.” U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942. Ancestry, n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

Harris, Peck, Ida. “Harris, Alvin, Edward.” (1969(: n. pag. Brigham Young University-Idaho. Brigham Young University-Idaho, 27 Oct. 1969. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.
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1910 Census Records:


Alvin Harris Death Record:

Alvin Harris 1940 Census Records:


Alvin Harris Military Headstone:


Alvin Harris World War II Draft Card:







Alvin Harris’ sister’s, Ida Harris Peck, note about Alvin:













Alvin Harris’ gravestone with his wife next to his and his kids on the other side:

[1] Details taken from 1910 Census records, which listed Alvin Harris’ mother’s name and street address. I took a walk around the home and gathered predictions from what Rexburg looks like in February.

[2] Names of older siblings are taken from 1910 Census records, where their full names and ages were recorded.

[3] A letter from Alvin’s sister written October 27, 1969 said that he was born on their ranch; Alvin’s parents’ names and origins are taken from 1910 Census records.

[4] Harris helping around the farm is a detail taken from Ida’s letter about Alvin; a total count of Alvin’s siblings’ names is taken from Find a Grave.

[5] Taken from Ancestry records that detailed Alvin’s life.

6 & 7  Taken from Ida’s letter about Alvin.

[8] Details taken from Ida’s letter.

[9] Listed in Alvin’s World War I military records.

[10] Taken from Ancestry, which only listed Alvin Harris Jr. as the son.

[11] Taken from 1940 Census records. Overton Harris was not listed on Alvin’s ancestry records, but his birth and age were listed in this Census record.

[12] Taken from Ida’s letter.

[13] Taken from Ida’s letter.

[14] Taken from Ancestry, which listed details about Alvin’s mother: birth, birth location, death, death location and Swedish heritage.

[15] Taken from Ancestry, which detailed the same information about Alvin’s father that it did about his mother.

[16] Detail taken from death records from Ancestry. This record showed all of the details about Alvin’s hospital trip, how long he stayed in the hospital, the time he died and the cause of death.