Pennsylvania Members Celebrate Pioneer History
By Lucy Schouten, Church News staff writer
BUCK VALLEY, PENNSYLVANIA
Members in Pennsylvania’s Buck Valley celebrated the sacrifices of their pioneer ancestors July 20–21 with an event that revitalized the present by preserving the past.
A senior missionary couple, Elder David Dittman and Sister Terry Dittman, were inspired to plan this recognition event after visiting with older members of the Hancock Ward in the Martinsburg Stake where they served. The members told stories of their ancestors, the first Buck Valley members, and produced newspaper articles and artifacts.
“As I was meeting these people, we realized, ‘There’s a story to be told here,’ ” Elder Dittman said.
The Dittmans learned from an 1887 Deseret News article that the first missionary, an Elder Brown, came to the area in 1837. He was tarred and feathered by a local mob, but “he must have been a good man, for he did not say a bad word all the time they had him in their possession.” They carried him out on a rail, but one man, impressed by his meekness, “took off his overcoat and gave it to the prisoner for a saddle.”
The Dittmans asked permission from the bishop to hold a two-day event, “Buck Valley and Beyond—Pioneer Saints Recognition Days.” Elderly members, less-active descendants of the first Saints, and even investigators came out to help.
“Just talking about the recognition has had a strong effect within the ward—last Sunday, we had 16 less-active members attend,” Elder Dittman wrote during the planning process.
Roughly 250 people attended festivities on Saturday and came to a special Church meeting on Sunday, including stake and mission leadership.
On Saturday, July 20, the ward hosted a festive open house. Elders among the missionaries manned a grill, and attendees could see family heirlooms, histories, and baptismal records while children did crafts. Members discovered connections and saw how a small but committed group of Saints had patiently waited; the Buck Valley Branch was organized in 1896 but did not become a ward until 1995.
“People can say, ‘They’re my ancestors and they were strong members of the Church,’ ” Sister Dittman said.
One highlight was a dedication ceremony for a foundation stone in the churchyard. The stone was all that remained from the area’s first LDS building, which was almost finished in 1916 when, according to a Deseret News article, it was dynamited by a mob. In honor of the recognition days, Billy Ward, 83, referenced an old photograph of the 1916 building to locate the site and recover the stone.
During a special Sunday program, bishopric member Ralph Schriever spoke. As the first missionary from the Buck Valley area, he served in the years before all young men were encouraged to serve missions and baptized 63 people. “We are all pioneers for those that follow us,” Brother Shriever said. “Let us make sure good, clear guideposts are along the way.”
Jerry Hendershot, a former branch president, spoke of the branch’s struggle to raise funds for a building in 1978. They made and sold gallons of apple butter, peanut brittle, and hoagies, and mission president Glenn Nielsen offered to match every dollar the members could raise. “We hit him hard, and he was true to his word,” he reported.
Younger Latter-day Saints in Buck Valley came to recognize the sacrifices of their pioneer ancestors. Each family at the event received a copy of a documentary produced for the Saturday event with interviews from the older members. Sister Dittman noted that her husband, because of his career in advertising, had the skills to create the video history.
“Heavenly Father knows exactly what He’s doing,” she said. “He put us right here with these wonderful people who need to have their stories told.”