“Stay in the Boat”: The 60th Anniversary Commemoration of Church's First Single Adult Stake

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • PROVO, UT

Elder M. Russell Ballard engages in banter with members of the Provo Utah YSA 1st Stake after posing with them for a photo during a dinner prior to the 60th anniversary commemoration on January 5, 2016.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • Elder Ballard encourages young adults to “stay in the boat.”
  • Be strong in order to answer criticisms aimed at the Church.
  • Prepare yourself in order to serve and lead in the Church.

“We need leaders who are in the boat and are so committed they will never fall out to continue to move the work of the Lord forward.” —Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of Twelve

Sixty years ago, an event occurred on the campus of Brigham Young University that would influence many thousands of young Latter-day Saints in far-flung areas for generations to come. That event on January 8, 1956, was the organization of the first student stake in the Church.

Today, 1,313 young single adult units in the Church bear the historical legacy of that first BYU student stake. They range widely over 43 states in the United States and four Canadian provinces and are found in New Zealand, Botswana, Australia, Paraguay, England, Tonga, and the Philippines, said Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, BYU professor of Church history and doctrine. President Holzapfel is the latest in a line of 13 men who have presided over that original stake, today known as the Provo Utah YSA 1st Stake. He said 75 YSA stakes are in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Hawaii, and Virginia.

Student units of the Church were discontinued five years ago as YSA units were organized in the Church. Some of these absorbed the existing student stakes, and what since 1974 had been called the BYU 1st Stake became the Provo Utah YSA 1st Stake. It is largely composed of students enrolled at BYU and nearby Utah Valley University and in local Church Educational System institute courses.

With his counselors and other stake leaders, President Holzapfel organized a commemorative devotional attended by more than 1,000 stake members, followed by socializing and refreshments. It was held January 5 in the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse on the BYU campus, the very facility where Elder Henry D. Moyle and Elder Adam S. Bennion of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1956 organized more than 8,000 students, including BYU married students, into the first student stake and divided it into 12 wards.

Presiding over the devotional was Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who delivered timely counsel to his young listeners about courtship, marriage, and what has become a recurring theme in his recent addresses, staying in the boat and holding on with both hands, what President Brigham Young referred to as “the Old Ship Zion,” a metaphor for the Church of Jesus Christ.

“I can’t tell you in words how much the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve pray for you,” Elder Ballard told the assembled stake members. “We see in you the future of the Church. We see the need for you to be the very best-prepared leaders that the Church, perhaps, has ever had, because the days ahead are very challenging.

“We see so many different directions, issues that are going on in the world. Basic, fundamental principles of decency, basic doctrines of Christ are being pushed to the side. It’s going to take the best leadership in the history of the Church to continue to move the Church forward in preparation for that day when the Savior will finally say, ‘It is enough,’ and He will come to lead the Church Himself.”

Elder Ballard told the young stake members they have an “energetic stake presidency, perhaps as energetic a stake presidency as has ever lived anywhere in the world.” Noting the frequency with which the stake leadership and bishops of the ward visit members of the stake, he urged them to keep their apartments clean in case a leader should drop in on them.

Referring to the 60th anniversary of the creation of the first young single adult stake of the Church, Elder Ballard said, “It has been a good thing to have an opportunity for you young men and young women to go to school together and worship together and have your meetings together, to get acquainted.”

One of the objectives over the past 60 years, he said, is that young people would get to know each other “and hopefully you would find your companions so you can continue on this great journey of mortality with your companion at your side.”

To a large degree, the single adult units have fulfilled that purpose, Elder Ballard said.

“My counsel to you tonight, young men, … is that you learn, if you haven’t already figured it out, how to ask a young woman for a date. I don’t know where this ‘hanging out’ idea came from. It didn’t come from the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve, I can tell you that!”

He said, “You may think we are old and don’t quite ‘get it,’” then added wryly, “We really don’t quite get ‘hanging out.’”

He said the Church leaders do understand a young man inviting a young woman on a date, “and we understand that as you visit with each other you come to know one another, and in the process of that you will accelerate the next main responsibility that lies ahead of you in your lives.”

That next great quest, he said, is to find a companion.

He spoke of his courtship of Barbara Bowen, “to tell you that I practiced what I’m trying to preach.” He became aware of her at a university dance he attended three days after he came home from his mission. He told of having to wait in a line of suitors, but he persisted in asking her for dates.

“But I hung in there,” he said, “and that’s what you do if you sense that you’ve found somebody that’s really special.”

After they both fasted and prayed, he said, he picked her up at her home on a Sunday. “I took hold of her hand, and she said, ‘I love you.’ Those were the greatest words I could ever hear. Now, seven children later, 43 grandchildren, we just had our 74th great-grandchild. But it did not happen ‘hanging out!’”

He declared that had he been alone in life, he could not have accomplished what he has with Sister Ballard at his side.

“Don’t let your studies, don’t let anything deter you from seeking your eternal companion,” he urged. “You hear this a lot, and the reason we are anxious about it is because we are going to need you. We have 3,174 stakes in the Church. We have 558 districts. We have 30,018 wards and branches. We need leaders who have devotion and affection and a commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. We need leaders who are in the boat and are so committed they will never fall out to continue to move the work of the Lord forward.”

Elder Ballard asked President Holzapfel, who is known for taking selfies (photos taken of oneself and others with a small, digital camera), to send him a selfie of each stake member who finds an eternal companion.

He closed by saying the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are concerned about world conditions and morals. “You have to be strengthened to know how to answer some of the criticisms that people are thrusting at the Church. You need to know your Church history well enough that you can answer any questions that anybody asks you about the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, or the Restoration of the priesthood or any other basic doctrinal, plan-of-salvation question. Why? Because you lead the way. We need to not hesitate preparing ourselves to face the world and anyone in it that might like to criticize the leadership of the Church.”

He admonished, “Do not get swept away by some of those who try to destroy your faith and your testimony by raising things that are insignificant in comparison to the realities of the life and ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

Prior to Elder Ballard’s address, the congregation sang “Happy Birthday” to Sister Ballard in remembrance of her special day, as she was seated beside her husband.

Elder R. Scott Runia, Area Seventy, spoke to the congregation, recalling his freshman year at BYU when he heard Elder Ballard in a devotional address admonish the students to prepare to be future leaders in the Church.

“Now, as I sit here, I think, ‘His prophecy was true!’” he said. “Brothers and sisters, you are the future leaders of this Church. The Lord has saved and preserved you to come forth in these latter days. You are good. You’re phenomenal. Your talents are many. He is counting on you. I encourage you to prepare yourselves and be ready, because He needs you.”

President Holzapfel in an opening address said, “The great inspiration of our Church leaders in 1956 was to create a unit so that young single adults could serve in major positions. Some have said that you are the future leaders of the Church. While that is true, in one way you are the leaders of the Church now as you serve in elders quorum presidencies, Relief Society presidencies, and other assignments in your wards.”

A choir composed of members of the Provo Utah YSA 4th Ward performed an anthem, inspired by the title of Elder Ballard’s October 2014 general conference address, “Stay in the Boat and Hold On!

On the stand with their wives were five of the former stake presidents: Raymond E. Beckham (1965–69), J. Duane Dudley (1972–78), Merrill J. Bateman (1978–80), Mark James Howard (1989–94), and Noel B. Reynolds (1994–99).

In a conversation after the meeting, Brother Beckham, who was one of the original bishops when the stake was organized in 1956 said the student body was small back then, about 8,000. He served a combined total of 17 years as bishop and stake president and saw the 12 wards multiply and the stakes be divided first into three and later six stakes.

Brother Beckham’s father-in-law, Wayne B. Hales (1960–64) was his predecessor as stake president. His daughter—Brother Beckham’s wife—is Janette Hales Beckham, former Young Women general president.

Brother Reynolds reflected, “We came in in ’94, so it was a well-established pattern by then. The things we wrestled with mostly were the size of wards. We learned how much better we did when we kept the ward size small. UVU was starting to go, and the students from the two institutions were starting to live together in the same apartments, so there were a lot of things we learned in that process to make that work well.”

Elder M. Russell Ballard, third from right, and his wife, Sister Barbara Ballard, pose with the current president and five former presidents and their wives of what is now the Provo Utah YSA 1st Stake. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

The congregation sings “Happy Birthday” to Sister Barbara Ballard, wife of Elder M. Russell Ballard, at the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Provo Utah YSA 1st Stake on January 5, 2016. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Elder M. Russell Ballard addresses the congregation at a program commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Provo Utah YSA 1st Stake, organized in 1956 as the Brigham Young University Stake. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Elder M. Russell Ballard addresses the congregation at a program commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Provo Utah YSA 1st Stake, organized in 1956 as the Brigham Young University Stake. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Elder M. Russell Ballard addresses the congregation at a program commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Provo Utah YSA 1st Stake, organized in 1956 as the Brigham Young University Stake. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Elder M. Russell Ballard, during his address at the program commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Provo Utah YSA 1st Stake, gives commendation and encouragement to Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, stake president, seated on the stand with his wife, Sister Jeni Holzapfel. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Elder M. Russell Ballard addresses the congregation at a program commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Provo Utah YSA 1st Stake, organized in 1956 as the Brigham Young University Stake. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Elder M. Russell Ballard, third from right, poses with the current president and five former presidents of what is now the Provo Utah YSA 1st Stake: J. Duane Dudley, left, Merrill J. Bateman, Mark James Howard, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Raymond E. Beckham, and Noel B. Reynolds. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

A choir from the Provo Utah YSA 4th Ward performs a composition inspired by the exhortation of Elder M. Russell Ballard at the October 2014 general conference to “Stay in the Boat and Hold On!” Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.