Elder Jensen Honored for Church History Work
By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer
Elder Marlin K. Jensen was “content, downright happy” to be working on his Huntsville, Utah, ranch and practicing law in nearby Ogden when, in 1989, the Lord called him at age 46 to serve as a General Authority. In October, he received emeritus status from the First Presidency and has “gone home.”
That observation was made by master of ceremonies Glenn Rawson at a November 14 dinner, during which the Junius F. Wells Award was presented by the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation to Elder Jensen, whose release as Church Historian and Recorder coincided with his release from the Seventy and being granted emeritus status at general conference in October.
Brother Rawson quoted this statement from Elder Jensen: “I really believe that you serve in whatever role the Lord needs you and, in that role, you have the opportunity to see the Spirit of the Lord and its power in people’s lives. That happens everywhere in any calling we have. And wherever the Spirit of the Lord is active and present, that’s where the spiritual action is.”
Named after the man who organized the YMMIA (forerunner to the Young Men organization of the Church) and who spearheaded the erection of the granite monument to Joseph Smith at the Prophet’s birthplace in Vermont, the award was given to Elder Jensen “for his leadership, his intense interest and integrity in preserving Church records and in honoring hallowed places across the land and always doing so with abounding love,” Brother Rawson said.
Previous recipients have included the late Church President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Friends and family of Elder Jensen—including many of his associates in the Church History Department—filled a banquet room in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the dinner and award program. They included Elders L. Tom Perry, Russell M. Nelson, and M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Presiding Bishop Gary Stevenson and Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy, Elder Jensen’s successor as Church Historian and Recorder.
“I feel so grateful for the Church, which has provided us with such tremendous opportunities to serve, to learn, to grow, and to have association with some of the finest people on earth,” Elder Jensen said in response to receiving the award from foundation chairman Kim R. Wilson.
“I really accept this on behalf of all my associates in the Church History Department whose creativity, hard work, and initiative taking and just all that has been done there through the years—especially during the time that I was blessed to pass through that portal—have done such great things for the Church,” Elder Jensen said.
Asking his wife, Kathy, to stand beside him, Elder Jensen praised her as “my best peer reviewer, best friend, best companion, best supporter.”
Earlier in the evening, Brother Rawson had described the Jensens as lovers of religious and symphonic music, “and especially the oldies-but-goodies.” In an interview in preparation for the program, the couple had identified their favorite song as “Wake Up Little Susie,” so program organizers engaged pianist Merrill Smith to perform that 1957 Everly Brothers tune at the award dinner.
Brother Rawson also related that the couple’s courtship had occurred while Sister Jensen was working at Lagoon, the amusement park in Farmington, Utah. He said that on one occasion they were watching the famous 1960s pop duo the Righteous Brothers perform on the main stage at Lagoon, and one of the two singers kept winking at Kathy.
“It went nowhere; she was not interested,” Brother Rawson quipped, “But Elder Jensen has never been willing to let that go and has joked and teased about it ever since.”
Taking a cue from that incident, Gabe Redondo and Danny Inkley performed two selections in a Righteous Brothers style at the dinner.
In a presentation of projected images with accompanying narration, Elder Jensen’s life and accomplishments were highlighted, including his ancestry and boyhood in Huntsville, which claims President David O. McKay as a favorite son.
“Because I’ve been able to stand on the strong shoulders of my father and grandfathers, I feel the strength of my roots,” Elder Jensen was quoted as saying.
His tender relationship with his older brother Gary, who was born developmentally disabled, was mentioned, as was his service as bishop at age 25 and stake president at age 35 in Huntsville.
“In his seven years as Church Historian and Recorder and as executive director of the Church History Department, he has left his imprint on every aspect of record keeping, archival processes, and historic site preservation,” said Brother Rawson in the narration.
Recorded tributes from some of Elder Jensen’s associates were given, including one from Assistant Church Historian and Recorder Richard E. Turley, Jr. He told of first meeting Elder Jensen in 1989, when he came to the Church Historical Department as part of General Authority training.
“I remember he asked probing questions that reflected wide reading and deep thinking,” Brother Turley said, “and I also remember thinking, ‘I hope I get a chance to work with that man someday.’ I got my wish. And after years at his side, I have come to know his strengths and his weaknesses, I have partially experienced his joys and his sorrows, and I have to conclude I have never met a better man.”
The Mormon Historic Sites Foundation originated in 1992 as the Ensign Peak Foundation. It raised funds for the present-day nature trail and other improvements to Ensign Peak, a pioneer landmark that overlooks Salt Lake City on the north. Since that origin, the foundation has been involved in numerous other projects, commemorations, publications, films, and exhibits to preserve Church history.