Elder Holland Shares Family Pioneer Stories with Sons and Daughters of Utah Pioneers

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 18 July 2017

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks to members of Sons of Utah Pioneers and Daughters of Utah Pioneers during the annual SUPer DUPer Day at This Is the Place Heritage Park July 17, 2017.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • Never let ancestors’ stories, documents, photographs, and memories die.
  • Live so your posterity will want to remember you and tell your stories.

“I need to live a life as exemplary in its own way as those pioneer ancestors’ lives were in theirs. I need to live so my children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren will want to remember me and tell stories of my faith, just as we tell these stories of our earlier generations.” —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Though he is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s Mormon and Utah heritage is about diverse as it can get for one person, he said.

Elder Holland’s comment came in a July 17 address in the bowery at This Is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City to a joint gathering of the Sons of Utah Pioneers and Daughters of Utah Pioneers and family members. It was during the second annual SUPer DUPer Day, an occasion for the two groups to join together with their families for park activities and picnicking.

“First, a comment about my Holland family, who clearly were not Utah pioneers,” he said. “They were a rowdy bunch of Roman Catholic miners born in Ireland who made their way to Montana and Colorado, ending up in Park City at the turn of the 20th century.”

Widowed at the age of 26, his grandmother with two little boys, Elder Holland’s father being the youngest, eventually made her way to Salt Lake City, where she was helped by a John Fetzer, the kindly bishop of the original Salt Lake City 8th Ward.

“The rest, as they say, is history,” Elder Holland said. “She, my grandmother, and my father, he by then a 14-year-old boy, joined the Church in 1924.

Stricken by smallpox, he was taken out of school by his stepfather, “a loss of opportunity and a blow to his self-esteem that he never fully overcame,” Elder Holland related.

“But heaven had its hand on him when, as a Civilian Conservation Corps recruit, he found himself in southern Utah in the early 1930s, during the Depression, where he met and married my mother.

Heritage Singers at This Is the Place Heritage Park perform for the audience at the SUPer DUPer Day prior to an address from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland July 17, 2017. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

“What a union! A wild, Irish dance hall piano-playing convert from Roman Catholicism who went through life with a smile on his face and a shine on his shoes marrying a very proper, stay-at-home, quilting-and-canning and canning-and-cooking, especially genuine, and thoroughly good domestic daughter of Utah pioneers.

“I am the product of that union!”

He said he has one-half of one generation in the Church on his father’s side (“a half that barely ‘took’”) and “four full generations of dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue, rock-ribbed Latter-day Saints” on his mother’s side.

“This will help you all understand the many peculiarities and various peccadilloes in me; if I seem to be on any given day or in any given general conference sort of a wild Irish, hale, well-met fellow, the-world-is-my-oyster sort of chap and a rock-ribbed, no-nonsense, it-is-the-kingdom-of-God-or-nothing Latter-day Saint the next day, it is because I come by that mix rightly with blood coursing through my veins as I stand here.”

In contrast to his father’s side, he said his mother’s family were “truly the stock of which the early Mormon Church and the beginnings of the state of Utah were made, in our case the southern Utah branch of that state.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks to members of Sons of Utah Pioneers and Daughters of Utah Pioneers and family members during the annual SUPer DUPer Day at This Is the Place Heritage Park July 17, 2017. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

They were members of the Cotton Mission in St. George, Utah’s “Dixie,” which is a vacation mecca today but wasn’t much back then, he said.

He shared the words of a poem written by Charles Walker, the poet laureate of Dixie, one verse of which reads:

“’Twas said the land it was no good
And water was no gudder,
The bare idea of living here
Was enough to make one shudder.”

Against that backdrop, Elder Holland shared a glimpse of his Dixie-settling grandparents.

Among the stories he told was that of Robert and Leonora Cannon Gardner, his second-great-grandparents who lived in both St. George and Pine Valley, Utah. He recounted a story that “represents the spunk and character of Utah pioneer women.”

“Living in Pine Valley and expecting her first child, and with Robert away on a Church assignment, Leonora felt the need for a proper bed for the delivery of this new baby,” he recounted.

Members of Sons of Utah Pioneers and Daughters of Utah Pioneers and family members listen to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland during the annual SUPer DUPer Day at This Is the Place Heritage Park July 17, 2017. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Using aspen poles she had gathered and with hammer, auger, and saws, she went to work. By nightfall, the bed was finished: boards fastened to the wall on one side and to aspen poles on the other. The straw tick she had been using to sleep on the floor was hoisted on the boards to be her mattress.

Just after midnight, Elder Holland’s great-grandmother Mary Alice was born on that bed.

Elder Holland remarked: “I’m not so brazen as to think I will have much to talk to my pioneer grandfathers about. … But if the setting is right and I can summon my courage, I might one day inquire of Robert why before leaving on that Church assignment that week, he did he not at least make a bed for his wife who was 24 hours away from delivery. But on second thought, I probably won’t ask.”

Earlier in his talk, Elder Holland paid tribute to the two organizations sponsoring the event, held in connection with Salt Lake City’s annual Days of ’47 celebration. He said they “do such a marvelous job of keeping the stories, traditions, values, and contributions of such valiant ancestors fresh in our memories.”

He added, “We owe it to those pioneers to do that, but we owe it every bit as much to ourselves and to our children. It isn’t just who those people were back in the middle of the 19th century, but it is who we are—here, now, moving well into the 21st century and beyond. The meaning of their pioneering contribution is timeless, as important today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow. We must never let those stories, documents, photographs, and memories die, lest we wake up some morning and don’t have an answer to the questions of eternity: ‘Who are you?’ and ‘What do you stand for?’”

Concluding his speech, Elder Holland said, “If I have one caution for all of us … it is that the honor and glory of those courageous lives belong to them. I am in no way exalted in my character simply because they were exalted in theirs. When I stand before God to account for my life, it won’t help me much to pull out my family history … and then ask for admittance to those grand, celestial realms on the basis of a pedigree chart. …

“I need to live a life as exemplary in its own way as those pioneer ancestors’ lives were in theirs. I need to live so my children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren will want to remember me and tell stories of my faith, just as we tell these stories of our earlier generations.”

From Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, he quoted, “What from your father’s heritage is lent, earn it anew to really possess it.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks to members of Sons of Utah Pioneers and Daughters of Utah Pioneers during the annual SUPer DUPer Day at This Is the Place Heritage Park July 17, 2017. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.