April 21, 2020 began with a blood red and orange sunrise at the home of Grace Brown’s daughter in Byers, Colorado where she was recently residing. This would be Grace’s final hours of her life journey to her eternal home.
Born on a spring day April 4, 1934 to Charles and Hester Vinnacombe of Philadelphia, PA, she started her 86 years on Earth. Her two sisters anxiously awaited her arrival where they would create such precious times together. Living in a row house in Philadelphia during her childhood would be such a contrast to where she would spend the rest of her life. The city provided limited opportunities for play so they utilized sidewalks, streets and parks. On hot summer days the fire hydrant spray cooled them off.
Sunday school and youth group were important to her and at age 13 she accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. A faith that she would rely on the rest of her life.
Sports was an integral part of her high school years. Attending John Barthram High School, she played Varsity Basketball, Varsity Softball (fielder), and Field Hockey (right inner). Grace excelled in Field Hockey earning numerous awards including placement on Philadelphia’s first city schools all-star hockey team. Her senior year she was voted captain. Newspaper articles commented: “Grace is the star.” “The firing spirit of the entire team is excellent especially the captain, Grace Vinnacombe. They had an undefeated season.” She was a role model to girls encouraging them to participate in sports. Her hockey team performed a demonstration at the 6th annual “Schools on Parade” in front of “thousands”. A couple of her other activities included membership in the student association and an American Junior Red Cross. At graduation on January 25, 1951, she was honored with the distinguished “Keys” award presented for outstanding student involvement in the school and Athlete of the Year.
July 11, 1952 Grace completed the course for Navy Correspondence Procedures and Office Deportment beginning her employment at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. She would work here for close to 5-years.
While she knew Norris Brown, Jr. and in fact, had attended school with him since elementary, they didn’t actually date until sometime after graduation. This lead to his proposal and acceptance by her the summer of 1953 from the top of a sand dune in Fenwick Island, MD by the lighthouse. They were married June 19, 1954 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. City life was not to be for them and they purchased a wooded lot clearing it for construction March 31, 1956 in the farm lands near West Chester, PA. She continued to work at the shipyard as they built their home themselves with completion June of 1957. She left her employment and was then very pregnant with their first child, Norris III, who came on July 3, 1957. Two more children came along, Patti in June of 1959 and Joyce in November of 1961. Their family was complete. Her husband had become a part-time taxidermist with a studio in the basement of their home. Grace did the office work and created a loving home. Relatives would visit quite often from the city creating chaos and fun which she would not have had it any other way.
Her father passed in 1964 and her mother remained in Philadelphia. Norris had been out hunting in Wyoming with his Dad and friends in 1965. He fell in love with the country and looking through a taxidermy magazine one day found a business for sale in Jackson Hole. He convinced Grace to fly out with him to see check it out. She trusted him but the thought of leaving her family, comfortable home, and bringing 3 small children to a small town out in what seemed like the middle of nowhere was a leap of faith.
The purchase of this taxidermy business would bring them to an unexpected turn. They moved to Jackson in August 28, 1967 to complete the handshake deal. The trip to Jackson was an adventure in itself traveling from Pennsylvania, camping along the way, 3 kids (age 5, 8, and 10), and bringing along Grace’s mother. Their first housing in Jackson was a converted garage on Simpson Street. Norris was to work for the taxidermist through the winter while the purchase transaction took place, but the owner decided to sell it to someone who had the money right then and there. Grace was a trooper and supported her husband as he worked for the new taxidermist. Given the lack of employment opportunities back then, he did what he had to keep the lights on and feed his family. They had also rented out their home in Pennsylvania so they couldn’t go home. Finding a cabin in northeast Jackson to rent, they did all they could to survive. Grace waited tables at Toppers Steak House. During this time the family found First Baptist Church on Kelly Avenue. There they met Jim and Patty Scott who became lifelong friends and the reason they were able to stay in Jackson. Jim had found work for Norris cutting poles and building fence in the summer with snowmobile trips into Granite Hot Springs in the winter. Grace kept the family going with minimal resources, yet never a complaint. She always knew that they would be provided for.
Their pastor, Roy Plummer and wife Gladys enjoyed the outdoors. A kinship and lifelong bond was formed through church and family excursions while hunting and fishing. Grace and Gladys just enjoyed time together regardless if they were on one of the excursions or not.
For several summers, Grace and Norris worked on the Bar Double R Ranch up the Gros Ventre for both Parthenia Stinnett and Senator Cliff Hansen building fence. Grace did some cleaning for them as well. Indoor plumbing was only a dream. Running water was the creek a small distance away and latrine the other direction. She had to learn to cook on a wood burning stove with many memories created baking meals and bread with her girls. The wild strawberries they picked were a special treat that they added to their cake icing. Her son helped his dad building fence. She truly had to become a pioneer. There was one fall when the family remained on the ranch and the school year had started. She drove her children every day to Kelly to catch the school bus over what was then a single lane, desolate, rutted and narrow road that scared her beyond words. She persevered as she always did squeezing the steering wheel and no doubt with much prayer.
At one time, they lived in a small trailer in a mosquito infested ranch land (now known as The Aspens).
It was so small that their daughter Joyce slept in the bathtub. Her patience and courage to endure whatever her situation is inspiring. Not sure too many women, especially from the city, would manage what she did.
As they worked to get their own taxidermy business up and running, Grace worked numerous jobs including custodian at First Baptist Church that she did for many year. Of course she was the office manager, bookkeeper, secretary and so forth for their taxidermy business as well. During the fall, hunters don’t keep to typical office hours so it was not unusual for her to be up very late taking information for a mounting. She sought out opportunities wherever she could to contribute financially yet be home with her children and involved in their lives. They had purchased a log home on East Kelly Avenue from Parthenia Stinnett converting the basement into a small taxidermy shop. Later, they moved the business to a building they rented just up the street. In 1974, they opened a museum south of town displaying Norris’ wildlife artistry and souvenirs. Grace operated the museum with her children helping. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the museum which was devastating to them financially and emotionally as it held most of their family mounts.
In 1972, Reverend Dan Abrams and wife Claire accepted the position of pastor of First Baptist Church. A deep, new friendship began that would last Grace and Norris’ lifetime. Though Dan and Claire would leave Jackson in 1993, they stayed connected returning for special family events. Both Dan and Claire along with Roy and Gladys returned to take part in Grace and Norris’ 50th wedding service and celebration.
In 1979, they decided to embark on building their own taxidermy building to be located on the premises next to their home. While Norris transported logs over Teton Pass, Grace would peal the bark from the logs making them ready for assembly. They built the shop together along with family and friends. This was the same year that her mother passed. Grace was close to her Mother (as she called her) and the distance between them was challenging. She flew her mother out to visit as often as she could.
Holidays were very important to Grace. Her mother would assemble a platform at Christmas with sand streets, small houses and a train. Grace so enjoyed all of the holiday traditions that she continued her love of decorating throughout her life. Her observance of the holiday could always be seen in her home, on her home, in her yard and on sometimes on herself. She and Norris would decorate their giant Spruce tree in the yard at their home making most of the ornaments themselves like large, wooden candy canes. If you dared to stop by on Halloween, you never knew what you might find inside the taxidermy shop.
She couldn’t let a parade go by without creating a very unique, award winning float. Patriotism ran red, white and blue through her. She and Norris so enjoyed participating in their political party with a highlight being attendance at a presidential inauguration and festivities in Washington DC.
Norris and Grace enjoyed their back porch and Jacuzzi. Family members would call to see how they were doing and got the reply from Grace, “Your dad just went skinny-dipping and I went chunky-dunking!” It always made us laugh out loud.
Grace did not have quite the same enthusiasm for hunting as most of her family. She preferred to be more like the camp cook and loved to read or do crossword puzzles while waiting. Whenever they returned from their hunt, no matter what time, she was there waiting to serve a hot meal. She was famous for her hearty vegetable soup. When she drew a mountain sheep permit, she needed to overcome her fear of riding a horse. She did just that and harvested her quarry on the Sleeping Indian. Her mountain goat hunt didn’t include horses but quite a bit of hiking at timberline. Her aim was steady and successful as well. She considered these among her accomplishments and rightfully so. Antelope hunting in the desert was a family event. Even if the party had only one permit, 20 people would go and run around the desert, chasing antelope and enjoying campfires. Days included sneaks through the sagebrush and laughing making awesome memories for everyone involved.
Whether it was a meal after a hunt, a scheduled meal invite or you just stopped by; her kitchen was always open. She would not let you leave until you had something to eat and if you didn’t have a place to stay, well there was a place for you. She loved for people to visit and stay at their home. She exemplified hospitality to the fullest. Her brother-in-law, Bob Brown, commented that when he thought of hospitality he thought of Grace along with her smile and laughter that lit up the room. Wherever she went, her interaction with people left a wonderful, lasting impression and usually new friendships. She had not only the gift of hospitality but also in knowing what someone needed. A trustworthy and kind hearted person whom you never heard her say anything negative about anyone.
Grace was a dedicated servant of God and active member of her beloved First Baptist Church since 1967. She was a deaconess and humbled to serve in many, many ways. A visitation, a meal, prayer, she was there. One of her favorites was coordinating the Easter Sunrise sourdough breakfast complete with handmade jelly bean trees. Nourishment for the soul and stomach! As part of the Masonic family, she cherished her 34-years with the Order of Eastern Star (OES). Traveling around the state and Tri-State area for events with her husband and other dear OES family was meaningful to her. She was Norris’ Lady Grace, (Norris being a Shriner) and devoted to their fundraising efforts to support the Shriner’s Crippled Children’s Hospitals. She organized the Cutter Race Calcutta every year alongside her husband with such zeal. She was adored by all.
Grace loved her children and believed in supporting their activities some of which included traveling to see her son Norris in motocross races, watching band concerts and gripping her binoculars as his snowmobile climbed Snow King at the World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb. Traveling for her daughter Patti’s choir competitions and cheering at Joyce’s volleyball games. Oh and don’t forget driving her girls all around town to deliver those mountains of Girl Scout cookies, to camp or cutting evergreen boughs for their annual production of Christmas Wreaths. Most meetings found her observing both daughters from the sidelines as they executed their parts in Job’s Daughters, part of the Masonic family for girls. She beamed at competitions for her 9 grandchildren with events ranging from wrestling matches to volleyball and soccer games to swim meets, fiddle contests and snow-cross racing to name a few. GG was an additional name given by her 15 great grandchildren who just thought the world of her and vice versa.
Grace and Norris joined Tom, Patti, and their daughters on a very special trip to the Holy Land and Egypt in 2006. Grace and Norris re-dedicated their lives by baptizing each other in the Jordan River and walked where Jesus walked. This was a lifetime highlight for them.
Her ability to make friends was something to behold and so many who will dearly miss her. Her sister-in-law, Janice McDonald, commented “Grace was like a sister to Joan and I”. Sister-in-law, Joan Riday, shared that she had “told many people that if she could have gone to a store and picked out a wife for her brother, there would be no one else that could have taken her place. She was a perfect mate for him, and a great addition to our family”.
For 54-years, Grace would get into her wedding dress and on every anniversary. No matter where they were or how it fit she managed to surprise him every time. It could be along a highway, boat dock, or in the kitchen. Even when very pregnant or time had molded her body differently, she managed to get at least some of the dress on. Grace and Norris’ unconditional love, trust and devotion for each other has shown us what a marriage should be.
We thank her sweet and numerous (too many to count for sure) friends that have written letters, sent cards and offered up prayers especially during her last few years. Your friendships were her treasures.
She never complained about any situation. Even when disease struck her body, her faith gave her the strength to endure with grace. As her earthly journey ended, she peacefully left this world knowing “It Is Well With My Soul” and I am home. Until we meet again, her love and sunshine will always dwell within us, our Amazing Grace.
The sun has set for her husband of 54-years Norris Brown Jr, parents Charles and Hester Vinnacombe, sisters Jean Otto and Doris Underwood, father-in-law Norris Brown Sr., and mother-in-laws Lillian Brown and Kay Brown.
April 22, 2020 started with a glorious golden yellow sunrise of joy and hope for her family still on their own journey; son Norris Brown III (spouse Layne), daughter Patti Patterson (spouse Tom), daughter Joyce Royer (spouse Greg) along with 8 grandchildren Shilah Dalebout, Colter Brown, Parker Brown, Tessa Pope, Morgan Patterson, Kyle Henderson, Kacee Timmons, Kieran Sensenich, Greysen Royer and 15 great grandchildren.
Donations may be made in her honor to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children, 1275 East Fairfax Road, Salt Lake City, UT 84103.