Pioneering Members of Washington D.C. Stake Honored
Contributed By Page Johnson, Church News contributor
- The Washington D.C. Stake celebrated its 75th anniversary.
- President Ezra Taft Benson was called as the first stake president.
- The Washington D.C. Stake has since branched into 24 other stakes.
At a devotional celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Washington D.C. Stake, President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy joined with stake members and friends on November 20 to honor pioneering Latter-day Saints who helped establish the Church in the nation’s capital. Other featured speakers were past stake presidents L. Ralph Mecham, J. W. Marriott Jr., Ralph W. Hardy Jr., and Nolan D. Archibald, plus the current stake president, Ronald T. Harrison.
As the first stake in the mid-Atlantic region, the Washington D.C. Stake became the tree from which 24 other stakes have branched. President Ezra Taft Benson was called as the first stake president. At the time, the stake ranged from Fairview, Pennsylvania, to Richmond, Virginia, and from Maryland’s Chesapeake to Virginia’s Blue Ridge. More than 93,000 Church members now live within these stakes.
Invited guests for the evening included presidents of each of these stakes and three Area Seventies: Elders Milan F. Kunz, Jack Gerard, and Gordon H. Smith.
Noting that Latter-day Saints in Washington today “stand tall on the shoulders of giants who have gone before,” President Nelson reminisced about his experiences in Washington as a young captain stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and as a member of the Washington Ward bishopric. He also recalled the powerful influence of being mentored and fellowshipped by older members, like J. W. Marriott Sr. and Ralph Hardy Sr.
He likened the way each generation of Washington D.C. Saints has helped pave the way for the next to the scripture in John 4:36 that reminds “both he that soweth and he that reapeth … rejoice together.”
In thanking the Latter-day Saints for their faithfulness and goodness, Elder Hallstrom observed that “one of the most significant reasons we honor this past is so we can look to the future.” He said that growth is measured not only in the number of stakes created but also in doing those things that “bring about conversion and draw us closer to God.”
President Harrison noted that President Nelson spoke at the 50th anniversary of the stake. He urged stake members to carry the torch of faith forward because they are builders of the Lord’s kingdom today.
“God’s designs cannot be frustrated,” he said. “Take the torch and be faithful.”
Ralph Mecham praised the devoted spirituality of women and their “pivotal role” in the Church. He referenced President Nelson’s October general conference address, “A Plea to My Sisters,” and thanked the many women leaders he has served with, including his wife.
J. W. Marriott Jr. recalled being baptized in the Washington Chapel, a historic LDS meetinghouse in Washington, and attending the meeting when the Washington D.C. Stake was organized. He praised Senator Reed Smoot’s efforts to “bring the Church out of obscurity” despite the prejudice he faced in Congress after his election. Brother Marriott pointed out that his widowed grandmother married Senator Smoot, who had also lost his spouse, and they spent their honeymoon in the White House.
Ralph W. Hardy Jr., whose family came to the area in 1949, grew up with Church leaders who understood the “importance of living gospel standards.” He said that the gathering the Lord promised “upon the land of Zion and upon her stakes may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm,” adding that the Washington D.C. Stake has been that refuge. By keeping the commandments and following the counsel of the prophets and leaders, Brother Hardy believes the Saints will continue to find true safety.
The devotional was part of the Washington D.C. Stake conference, and Nolan Archibald briefly discussed the process of selecting a new stake president. “For the Lord seeing not as man seeth,” he reminded.
The evening’s commemoration featured a short video, “Wherefore by Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them,” which highlighted the gathering and growth of the Saints in Washington, beginning in the early 1900s. By remaining steadfast in their faith and exemplifying gospel principles in action, they became a respected and integral part of Washington society, particularly in government, law, education, the military, the media, and the interfaith community.