Temple Moment: 70 Years of Faith and Growth in Memphis
Contributed By Roger Hiatt Jr., Church News contributor
In July of 1947, a 17-year-old farm boy from the small town of Mount Airy, North Carolina, stepped off a Greyhound bus in the big city of Memphis, Tennessee. Roger Lew Hiatt had traveled 600 miles to pursue his education at the Southern College of Optometry. Upon his arrival, Roger found the only LDS congregation of about 80 people meeting in a converted house, and the closest temple was 1,500 miles away in Mesa, Arizona.
When Roger returned to Memphis in 1955, after serving three years in the Navy and graduating from BYU, the congregation numbered over 200 people, now meeting in a converted Presbyterian Church. The next summer, while working as an optometrist, Roger fitted a young history teacher, Nancy Ann Beamer, with some new glasses. That appointment proved to be the beginning of something very special, as he was able to baptize her into the Church and later marry her.
Roger and Nancy lived in Virginia and Washington, D.C., for a time, during which they had to drive more than 2,000 miles to be sealed with their two daughters in the Manti Temple. Eventually, after the birth of a son, they felt the strong impression to return to Memphis, so, in July of 1964, their family rejoined that same solitary ward.
Over the next 20 years, the Church in the region grew from one ward to three stakes, with Roger presiding over the Memphis stake for a decade. Roger and his counselors set ambitious goals for the Church in their area, including construction of a temple. When the Washington D.C. Temple was dedicated in 1974, it was one step closer: “only” 1,000 miles from Memphis.
Nine years later, Roger had the privilege of offering the closing prayer at the dedication of the Atlanta Temple, a distance of about 400 miles. Later, while he was presiding over the Philippines Baguio Mission, the Nashville Tennessee Temple was announced, which seemed to eliminate the possibility of a temple in Memphis anytime soon.
President Gordon B. Hinckley’s 1997 announcement of the concept of building smaller temples changed all that. The planned Nashville Temple was downsized, and the Memphis Tennessee Temple was soon announced. It was dedicated in 2000, and Roger and Nancy later served in the Memphis Temple presidency. What was once a distant dream became a reality for all who have lived and served in Memphis, Tennessee.