As the wind whipped snow against the windshield of his cab, a truck driver passing by the huge Cleveland Coliseum halfway between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, shook his head and spoke into the microphone of his citizens band radio: “That must be the biggest rock concert around!”
But the thousands of cars the trucker saw had been attracted not by the lure of a high-priced rock star, but by the opportunity of hearing the free counsel of a prophet of God.
Following extensive nationwide recognition that Mormons enjoy a startlingly lower incidence of several forms of cancer and other serious diseases, the Church decided to hold a program in the Cleveland area to commemorate the revelation of the Word of Wisdom in nearby Kirtland, Ohio, on February 27, 1833. It was scheduled for January 30, and a number of prominent Mormons were invited to take part.
The Ohio Saints received the news joyously, especially when they learned that President Spencer W. Kimball was to attend. Their first thought was to share the experience with their non-Mormon neighbors.
Families all over the mission met and prayerfully discussed which of their nonmember friends would benefit most from the experience. A missionwide fast was held on January 17 for the success of the event.
The Laurels, Mia Maids, priests, and teachers in the Cleveland Ohio Stake were given the opportunity to usher at the event. The young men were informed that they would have to come with missionary haircuts if they wished to participate. They complied, although it was a sacrifice for some of them.
As Kenny Moore of Tri-City Second Ward said, “It’s an honor to get your hair cut for the prophet.”
The night of the meeting, foul weather made it a challenge just getting to the coliseum, but more than 17,000 came, over 12,000 of them investigators.
The missionaries had been informed by the mission president that they could come only if they caught a ride with investigators. They all came.
The young ushers arrived early while musical numbers for the program were still being rehearsed. The last of the young people were receiving their usher’s ribbons and instructions when the guests started arriving. For the next hour and a half the young men and women worked passing out programs and helping people find seats. They took the job seriously.
Karen Parker, 16, a Laurel from the Cleveland Second Ward, explained, “The people look at you, and if you’re happy and smiling, and you’ve got something special within you, they’re going to realize that, and they’re going to see that what we have is important. The Lord’s Spirit is going to be here tonight. The Church is true, and people are going to realize it if they are open. At one of our family home evenings, my family talked about the program, and we listed all the families we thought we should invite, and then we prayed about it.”
Loren Sharp added, “We were promised that if we brought families and fellowshiped them, there would be baptisms as a result. I’ve prepared myself by praying and trying to strengthen my testimony and learning more about the Church. Our family prayed before deciding which friends to invite here.”
The program was all that it had promised to be. Elder Paul H. Dunn, member of the First Council of the Seventy, and Elder Marion D. Hanks, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, narrated the program, asking questions and talking to each of the special guests. Here is a little of what was said:
Harmon Killebrew—fourth leading home-run hitter in baseball history
“We play a lot of baseball games during the regular season. We play about 30 games during spring training and about 162 during the regular season, plus post-season games, and that’s nearly 200 ball games per year. I’ve had the opportunity to play nearly 22 years of professional baseball and 19 1/2 in the major leagues, and I know that if it wasn’t for these things that I know to be true, particularly the Word of Wisdom, I wouldn’t have been able to play that many years.”
Vernon Law—former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher
“I feel that the athlete owes it to the fans, and especially to the youngsters, to project the right kind of image. I see athletes today endorsing products that have no part in an athlete’s life, and it can’t help but have a very great influence in the lives of these young people. So where are the heroes today? I’d like them to step forward.”
Kimberly Ann Jensen—1975 Miss National Teenager, USA
“I think it’s important—I know it is for me—that I stay close to my Heavenly Father. I have always known that the Lord is there, and he still is. I always could converse with him openly and talk to him about anything and everything, and I hope that the young people of today, my peer group, will also.”
“I think some of the truths that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave us have clarified the relationship between religion and science. I think it’s much easier for me as a Mormon and a space scientist to make these two things match, and I’ve never had any real problem. In the work I’ve done in space physics, I can see the hand of the Lord. I don’t think I know yet how he created the earth, but I’m hoping to learn that someday. It’s been very easy for me to see that the Lord had a purpose in the way he did these things with the scientific laws that we are now discovering.”
Johnny Miller—Pro-Golfer of the Year, 1974 (Brother Miller’s message was videotaped since he couldn’t attend.)
“My philosophy in life is quite simple really. Golf is a separable item in my life, and my Church and family are inseparable. I feel that I can live without golf. It’s not something that I’m going to take with me when I die. But my relationship here on earth with my wife and children is something that is eternal and is something that I try to work on.”
Kieth Merrill—Academy Award-winning movie producer
“My commitment to the building of the kingdom of God on earth is really number one. And with all my own weaknesses, I’m quite committed to using the talents that I feel God has given me in the areas of communication and motion pictures to make a great stride forward in improving the quality of family entertainment and in improving the level of morality in the motion picture industry. I’m committed to that as a first principle of my business, but above that I am committed to the Church and family.”
Diana Lynn MacDonald—1974 Miss Teen Canada
“All through high school and straight through the Miss Teen Canada experience, my one goal has always been to be happily married and that’s not just off the top of my head. It means so much today. We’re all here for a reason, and family unity is so strong within the Church. Hopefully I can find someone who is worthy to be married in the temple. That in itself is a commitment and a career to work toward, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Alice W. Buehner—former Mrs. America
“Our Church feels that women should excel, that they should develop their God-given abilities and talents. It encourages us to. But we also realize that our first responsibility is with our families. We are going to have them throughout eternity if we live the laws that are given to us through Christ. This gives me purpose in my life. I’m not just raising these children to lose them in a few years; they’re going to be with me forever.”
Jean Saubert—Olympic medal winner
“I think that people too often look at the Word of Wisdom as a restricting thing—something that says, ‘Don’t do this; don’t do that.’ It’s really a freeing thing that allows you to be what you want to be. These people here tonight were able to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish because they obeyed the Word of Wisdom. It’s a freeing thing, not a limiting thing.”
Marvin Bateman—punter for the New York Buffalo Bills
“Avoiding drugs and getting in shape helps your career quite a bit. Athletes who smoke or drink don’t last; they work twice as hard as those who do not, and their career is shortened quite a bit. The Word of Wisdom and other things that the gospel teaches have really helped my career.”
George W. Romney—former Governor of Michigan and U.S. Cabinet member
“We started preparing to raise our children before we met. I know that before I met my wife I was looking for someone I could look up to and love so completely that I would want to live with her forever. And we both wanted to be married in the temple for eternity. And I think we both recognized that our supreme responsibility was as parents. Consequently, we kept Sundays for Church and family. My wife was always there when the children came home from school and up late at night when they came home from dates. We had family nights, and we did things that were fun with the children during the week, and we did the things that we thought would be a good example for them. We didn’t do anything that we didn’t want them to do. And we taught them to pray, and we instructed them in the principles that would enable them to make the right decisions when they left home.”
Lenore L. Romney—former actress and U.S. Senate candidate
“Some of the women libbers who are so mixed up feel that they want to be on an equal footing with men. We’ve always had that in the Church. We’ve always been equal with men because we have felt that the man and the woman are one in the Church. They’ve had the same standard. Men are to be as pure before marriage as the women are. And then they both have the responsibility for raising the children. But today the women go down to the lowest level. They want to use profanity; they want to practice promiscuity. If we become equally rotten, then we’re all down the drain; it’s only if we become equally fine that equality means anything. I was on a program recently on TV, and the interviewer said to one of the women, ‘Are you married?’ She said, ‘That’s completely irrelevant.’ The interviewer asked, ‘Do you have any children?’ She said, ‘That too is irrelevant.’ I took the microphone, and I said, ‘Those are the two most relevant things in my life. If my husband, whom I chose to live with the rest of my life, is irrelevant to my identity, then what is relevant? And if the children, the fruits of our love, are not relevant to my identity, then what am I?”
Although the Word of Wisdom was the official theme of the conference, it turned out that the LDS concept of the eternal family unit received equal emphasis.
In addition to the guests mentioned above, the Lamanite Generation, a group of Indian performers from BYU, presented a patriotic program. Rosanne Nielsen, a former runner-up to Miss America, also sang a medley of LDS children’s songs with her three daughters.
Toward the end of the program came the moment that most of the people present had come for, some from as far south as Florida and as far north as Canada. President Kimball rose to address the assembly. He reviewed the calling and some of the revelations of Joseph Smith, testifying of their authenticity. He also spoke of the important part that Ohio played in the early Church.
“This area in Ohio has special significance to us,” he said, “for here the hills and valleys are made sacred by the treading of the ground by prophets. Here … prophets of God lived and labored and reared their families, and received divine revelations.”
Speaking of the Word of Wisdom he said, “The human body is God-created. It was created for a solemn purpose. It was not to abuse, or weaken, or destroy. God gave grass, herbs, fruit trees, and seeds of all kinds to give man’s body growth and strength and power. Among the direct commandments he gave unto man was ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ In this directive he meant man should not kill himself either by violent means or by gradual means, and the use of these forbidden things are the cause of death and the shortening of life.
“It is hard for us to understand why men will destroy their bodies when they could increase their lives and their health and their happiness. We’re told that about half of all the automobile accidents are alcohol-related. Why, oh why, will men drink and drive when their own lives are at stake as well as the lives of innocent, unsuspecting people? We’re told that great numbers of people die of cancer, and we ask again, ‘Why will men destroy themselves when it is an indisputable fact that these forbidden things are a menace to their lives?’ It has now been 143 years since that day when this revelation was given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in this very area. At that day neither the Surgeon General of the United States, nor any of the numerous scientists, students, researchers, or public health experts, had made any such declarations, as far as we know, to warn the people against these vicious things in their lives.
“This revelation, termed section 89, is only one of hundreds of revelations given to man through the prophets of the Lord for their edification and welfare. As we bring this matter to your attention here in this sacred land trodden by the feet of prophets, we invite you to think of these things seriously and to make these truths a working part of your lives. All of the hundreds of revelations that have been and are given for your welfare, your well-being mentally and spiritually, we recommend to you, together with the voice of the prophet, and urge you, our beloved brothers and sisters, not to ignore these warnings. We wish for you the blessings of eternal life and the happiness of these whom you have heard this night. And we witness again that God lives, and Jesus is the very Christ, and he lives, and man will live, and his eternal life is dependent upon his works while here in the flesh, as well as the atonement of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. And of this I bear solemn testimony to you. Because a little boy went into the woods of New York to pray, numerous things have happened, and the kingdom of God is promised, and prophets and apostles are available to give us light and direction to our lives.”
When President Kimball had finished speaking, the audience rose and sang “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” Many of the 12,000 investigators sang along, following the words on two large, overhead screens, and it was fortunate they did, because more than one of the Saints had to stop to wipe away the tears.
After the program there was a fireside where Elders Dunn and Hanks spoke to the young people.
Around midnight many of the area youth met in the Cleveland Second Ward chapel where they spent the night sorting the 17,000-plus tickets into the appropriate geographical areas to expedite missionary work. Another below-freezing Ohio dawn was approaching before they had finished the task.
What did the program accomplish? Some of it can never be measured because it went on inside people’s hearts, but there have been a couple of encouraging signs already. One pair of missionaries report that a family of investigators, whose smoking had kept them from baptism, gave up the habit in anticipation of the coliseum program. Another pair of missionaries are now teaching the gospel to a waitress whom they met at a truck stop on the way to the coliseum. She was impressed that neither the elders, nor any of their investigators, would drink coffee.
The 12-year-old daughter of Cleveland Stake President Karl Anderson had invited her school teacher to attend the program (as many of the young people did). Her teacher attended with her and enjoyed the program. The next Monday morning at school, President Anderson’s daughter worked up her courage and asked the teacher if she would like to learn more about the Church. The teacher smilingly replied, “I don’t see why not!”
The young men and women all report that they were deeply moved at being able to see and hear President Kimball. Now, more than ever, they are committed to missions, temple marriages, and righteous lives.