“One day you will look back & see that all along you were blooming!” This quote is very fitting as our May Women of Wool feature, Nellie Aagard Stephensen shares her heritage with us!
Nellie was born and raised in Fountain Green, Utah to a 3rd generation sheep rancher. Her parents are the late John Howarth and Mary Fox Aagard. Nellie is the 5th of 7 children. She has been involved with sheep her entire life. It all began in the year of 1880 when her great, great, Grandfather Andrew James Aagard engaged in the sheep business. He started out by trading a watch for a black ewe. The watch was a peculiar timepiece of that day because it showed the day as well as the hour of each day. The (old) black ewe had twins nearly every year. He also sold window glass that was brought from Denmark and traveled across the plains to buy more sheep. His wife Annie had a heifer, which her father had given her. The heifer was also traded for sheep. Even at that early date Andrew could see the great possibilities in the sheep industry, so when he had a chance to trade cattle or horses for sheep, he would do it. Andrew helped nearly every sheep man in Fountain Green to get started in the industry by letting them take his sheep on shares and backing them with his own money.
Nellie’s father continued the family tradition of raising sheep. There were times he was gone with the sheep herd nearly all winter. Her spring, summer, and fall were spent at Soldier Summit and Strawberry. Because her parents wanted their family to be together, they took them to the herd as soon as school was out for the summer and stayed there until school began again in the fall. They always had fresh mutton and sourdough biscuits, which was the staple for lunch every day. To do laundry her mother had a gas powered washing machine with rollers on top that clothes were run through to wring the water out with a hand crank. They had a tree house (her brothers built), a tent on a wooden platform, tire swing and swing set, a two-hole outhouse and a tin tub for sharing the bath. They piped water from the spring that was located above the camp instead of carrying water cans on horses. They hollowed out trees for salt troughs. While at the herd she learned to sew on a Singer treadle sewing machine. Using wool products is a cherished family tradition. Throughout the years Nellie has designed and made various wool wreaths using sheep pelts. They had an all-girl trail crew from Soldier Summit to Strawberry for several years which was a change from the years when she was the only girl trailing. Before they trailed each day, Dad would have breakfast cooked. While they were eating breakfast, Dad would catch the horses and saddle them and have them ready to go.
She was teen council advisor and served on the State 4-H Advisory Council. She was selected as Ambassador for the Oddfellows and Rebecca’s tour of the United Nations, FFA Sweetheart, and Sanpete County Royalty. She volunteered as a 4-H leader for over 40 years and mentored children as they developed skills with horses, sheep, swine, knitting, and cooking. In the early years her parents didn’t own a horse trailer to transport the 4-H members and their horses so her dad pulled the deck boards out of the 2-ton truck so they could haul the horses. All of the saddles were cinched to the top rack. They all piled into the cab to get there. A stock chute was used to load the horses. They could only go to shows that had a stock chute or a ditch to back into so they could unload the horses. Those parents were pretty brave to send their children with her because she was only 16 years old at that time. She graduated from Utah State University College of Eastern Utah.
Nellie and her husband Jim have 4 children; Kevin, Kory, Aaron and Hailey. When they were young they took them to the herd. The family spent many summers on the mountain working with the sheep. They experienced the way Nellie was brought up and each child gained their own love for agriculture. They learned the value of hard work and this continues today with their own families. Nellie’s family was honored to receive an award for 4-H Family of the Year. She has 12 grandchildren and loves to support them in various activities. She is active in church, civic, and school organizations and served as the Utah Wool Growers Auxiliary Treasurer.
Nellie is always there to help her family from getting in the dusty corral to push sheep, load and haul horses, pull sheep camps, trail sheep, drive a water truck, or just babysit…grandkids or lambs!
NELLIE, THANK YOU for your love, passion and commitment to the sheep industry. We are all blessed to call you a friend!