98-year-old Service Missionary Still Giving Tours
Contributed By Valerie Johnson, Church News staff writer
- Fern Nichols, age 98, has volunteered as a hostess at the Church Office Building for 10 years.
“I know my children and my grandchildren are tickled to death that I’m not sitting at home in a rocking chair.” —Fern Nichols, Church-service missionary
For the last 10 years, Fern Nichols has guided visitors on tours of the Church Office Building from the first floor to the 26th. Her warm and inviting personality has touched many who have come to see a Church landmark and experience a wide view of the Salt Lake Valley. At 98 years old and 4 feet 8 inches, she is one of the oldest—and shortest—service missionaries at Temple Square.
Sister Nichols, who is a member of the East Mill Creek 15th Ward, Salt Lake East Mill Creek Stake, recently began her 11th year of service as a hostess at the Church Office Building. She spoke with the Church News about her experiences while serving in the Church.
After her husband passed away in 2002, Sister Nichols began looking for ways to spend her time. “One day in Relief Society,” she said, “a lady in our ward, who was a hostess down there, said, ‘We need volunteers down at the Church Office Building.’ I said, ‘Am I too old?’ She said, ‘Oh, we would love to have you.’ And so I started down there.”
“I know my children and my grandchildren are tickled to death that I’m not sitting at home in a rocking chair,” Sister Nichols said.
Once a week, Sister Nichols drives downtown to volunteer at the Church Office Building. One of about 15 volunteers, she spends an hour at each of four stations, working to assist visitors with whatever they need, whether it’s directions, a visitor’s pass, or simply a tour.
The biggest draw for visitors to the Church Office Building is the 26th floor, where they can view the entire Salt Lake Valley. “We’re down there to give our visitors just a view of the city and to hope that we have left them with a good impression,” she said.
“She’s just a people person,” her daughter Jolynn Miles said. “She wants to talk and wants to meet people. She can usually find a connection with someone. I think that’s why she’s such a good hostess. She draws people in.”
“If you talk to someone long enough, you find that you’ve got some connection somewhere along the line,” Sister Nichols added.
Some visitors have been so impressed with the “cleanliness and friendliness of the people,” as Sister Nichols puts it, that they have wanted to leave donations. They become even more impressed when they discover that all the tours the Church offers are free.
“If you like what you’re doing, I think it just radiates out,” she said. “People feel that love that you have for them.”
Before serving at the Church Office Building, Sister Nichols and her husband, Russell, had served three other missions. In 1986, she and her husband served in the Independence Missouri Visitors’ Center. They served a second mission in the Inner City Mission in Salt Lake City. Through their service, they helped individuals “learn to help themselves,” Sister Nichols said.
They served a third mission on Temple Square, at which time Brother Nichols was on oxygen.
In addition to connecting with visitors at Church sites, Sister Nichols and her family have used music to give service. Sister Nichols leads the music in Relief Society and has sung with many ward choirs. For her 95th birthday, she had the opportunity to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at one of their Thursday night rehearsals.
Each of her five daughters has become involved in music, from teaching piano to performing at weddings, funerals, and sacrament meetings. During the open house for the Church Office Building in 1972, four of her five daughters played music as visitors toured the newly built offices.
“I’ve seen a lot of growth in myself,” Sister Nichols said of the blessings she has seen from giving service.
Sister Nichols has 19 grandchildren and 45 great-grandchildren.