Every week many stakes and wards throughout the Church celebrate an anniversary. A few are a hundred or more years old; some are only ten years old; others were created yesterday. Each of these units is making history every day.
Recently the Salt Lake Stake, the oldest stake in the western United States, celebrated its 125th anniversary in a series of events that demonstrate how a stake can grow spiritually, stimulate activity for hundreds of its members, and provide a significant opportunity for missionary work. Perhaps a review of some of their activities will inspire others to similar achievement.
In order to make the most of his anniversary opportunities, Stake President J M. Heslop met with priesthood and auxiliary leaders and began making plans for the anniversary two years in advance. One year before the anniversary, he spoke in a tape recorded message, which was read to members of the stake (he was in Hong Kong on a Church assignment at the time), calling for special effort to make the anniversary year a success and challenging members to pay off the $30,000 owed on the stake welfare farm.
The anniversary year, 1972, was highlighted by many special activities and events, including:
—a stake music festival.
—participation in Salt Lake City’s Days of ’47 parade.
—an original musical play, The First Seventy-five Days.
—a gala stake reunion and reception in the Utah State Capitol rotunda.
—a 336-page stake history, written by stake members.
—the 500th quarterly stake conference, held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square.
And the debt on the stake welfare farm was completely paid even before the year was over.
Preparing the stake history book involved many members in researching the histories of their own wards as well as the stake. Beautifully bound, the book was offered at a reduced cost if ordered in advance of publication. Distribution of the book was handled by the stake and ward Sunday School officers and teachers.
“As a result, our stake now has a better sense of its heritage. Our research brought us into contact with some great lessons from our past,” according to Dr. Lynn Hilton, high councilor who edited the book.
On October 3, the 125th anniversary of the founding of the stake, more than 1700 present and former members of the stake, as well as many nonmembers, gathered for the impressive reception at the Utah State Capitol.
As visitors arrived they were greeted by an orchestra playing oldtime music. Present and former stake officials greeted them in the Gold Room, while the huge float from the Days of ’47 parade, in the shape of a birthday cake, was focal point for the decorations in the rotunda, where dancing was featured. Historic slides of Salt Lake Valley were shown in the Governor’s Board Room.
Stake missionaries, who had sent special invitations to every nonmember residing within the stake’s boundaries, had also prepared special displays on the teachings of the Church.
From October 11 to 14 the stake paid special honor to its heritage by presenting The First Seventy-five Days, the story of events in the Salt Lake Valley from July 24, 1847, when Brigham Young led the first pioneer party into the valley, to October 3, 1847, when the Salt Lake Stake was organized. The script was written by President Heslop; other stake members composed original music, wrote the lyrics, and directed the performance. More than 90 stake members were in the cast, orchestra, and stage crew, with performances given at the newly renovated Promised Valley Playhouse.
At a testimony meeting after the final performance, Karl Blackwelder, who portrayed Brigham Young, declared: “I prayed a great deal that I would be able to do the part well. I went to the Lion House and Brigham Young’s grave and found out all I could about him. Friday night, when I missed a line, I felt as if I had let him down; it really humbled me. That night I visited his grave again and prayed until I knew I could do my lines well for the next show. Portraying Brigham Young was a great spiritual experience for me.”
Diane Beesley, who played the role of Harriet Young, said, “The First Seventy-five Days has brought a great change into our lives, a change that came from the effort we put into the play. My husband has said I was often like Harriet in the play, so I must have changed. We have each personally grown.”
A special invitation to the anniversary stake conference, held October 15, was issued to every home member as well as nonmember—within the stake boundaries in the form of a miniature loaf of bread with the message, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” For less than the cost of the postage it would have taken to invite the stake membership to the conference, more than sixty Aaronic Priesthood youths delivered the loaves. And the message was effective: attendance at the conference was more than seven percent higher than at previous conferences.
President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency and Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Council of the Twelve were the conference visitors. Both joined the stake’s senior citizens at the Salt Lake Stake Home for lunch after conference.
From the stake’s original boundaries, 86 stakes have been created, and Salt Lake Stake now encompasses an area just north of Temple Square and including Capitol Hill and the hillsides to the west and south.
The anniversary year celebration had its inception in President Heslop’s mind almost as soon as he was sustained to that position five years ago. Actual planning and preparation took two years. “Not only did our work take planning, but it took the efforts of more than 300 persons—and that is just how we wanted it,” President Heslop said. “I am fully convinced that when people are involved, they are better people. We tried to get as many as possible involved—especially those who are not what we traditionally call active. We wanted as many as possible to be associated with this historic event.”
Now, is your ward or stake going to have a big anniversary coming up in the future? Why not start now to plan the celebration?