Portraits in Miniature

By


Coby and Wim van Mastrigt

Wim and Coby van Mastrigt met in 1941 at a get-together of Dutch underground workers during the World War II Nazi occupation of Holland.

“Those were bitter days, and we were lucky to be alive,” says Wim, an electrical engineer by profession.

In 1945, after five years of German occupation, Coby’s family, like so many others in Rotterdam, was starving. The weekly ration of one pound of potatoes and one pound of bread had virtually stopped.

“I set out on a bicycle in a snowstorm,” says Coby, “to try to buy grain from the farmers and also to pick up forged ration cards from the Dutch underground.

“In the first two days I made seventy miles; then I pedaled for another ten days, going from farm to farm near the German border and begging wheat and rye from sympathetic farmers. As I headed toward Rotterdam, I became so ill I thumbed a ride on a truck convoy hiding from British planes in a grove of trees.

“After the convoy pulled out, the British planes returned and twenty persons were killed in the strafing. I was the sole survivor. I lay wounded in a hospital for two and a half months. Luckily, some friendly Dutch policemen recovered the precious grain and did not tell the Germans about the forged ration cards. That saved me from execution.”

Wim himself spent twenty months in prison camps during the war, doing mostly hard labor. Skilled in electronics, he eventually got out by agreeing to do volunteer work for the Germans, who at that time desperately needed skilled workers.

“I was given a week’s leave to get clothes,” says Wim, “and I arrived home from the prison camp ill. The Germans gave me time to recuperate. I remember that several days before I was to report to work in Amsterdam in September 1944, there was a day filled with rumors that the Americans were approaching to liberate the Dutch.

“The German occupation troops fled, and the Dutch underground burned most of the German records. So I didn’t have to go to work for the Germans after all. I suddenly regained my health.”

After the war, Wim and Coby settled down to raise a family. In 1950, on the same day their third child was born, the American company for which Wim worked invited him to go to the United States. Coincidentally, the van Mastrigts became eligible for a U.S. visa at the same time. (They had applied earlier.) They moved to Ohio.

In their newly adopted country, however, they worried about the moral conditions. They became convinced that teachers in the school their children attended were eroding the sanctity of the family and the home.

In 1956 they began investigating “just about every religion we heard of with the exception of the Latter-day Saint Church, which, for some strange reason, was never brought to our attention.”

Later they moved to California, where they continued their search.

In 1965, when Coby had hit “rock bottom,” she had an experience that changed her life. She was reading a book on the dangers facing America and suddenly felt “as though a film began to unroll before me.”

She understood that the evil in the world about which she and her husband had worried so much was not the work of men but of Satan. If this were so, it must follow that the Lord’s work was also going on today.

Coby continues: “I knew that somewhere upon this earth the true church of Jesus Christ existed. But I had not the faintest idea where to look for it. So, probably for the first time in my life, I started to pray seriously; and within two weeks members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints walked into our house. A young lady came with a friend, and I found out about her being a Latter-day Saint.”

Coby’s many questions about the Church prompted the woman, Nona West, to ask the missionaries in Orinda, California, to call on Coby. But the disillusionment of earlier experiences had made Wim skeptical. He refused to meet the missionaries.

“Right from the first lesson,” says Coby, “I knew that what the missionaries said was true.” Then they tried to set a date for baptism.

“But the scars were deep, and the idea that I would have to make a decision before I knew all there was to know frightened me. I told them I did not want to meet with them again. How disappointed they must have been! I no longer even remember their names, but I wish they could know that they did their work well, for what they told me never left me.

“Almost immediately I started doing my own reading on the gospel. It was not long before Wim also started reading with me, and every night we’d study and discuss the many exciting things we found.”

The Church seemed too good to be true, and Wim and Coby studied it for two years, always expecting to find, as Coby put it, “a snake in the grass.”

“It was a strange two years,” recalls Coby; “peace of mind had never been further from me. When I could not stand it any longer, I announced to Wim one day that whatever he did, I just had to be baptized.”

After Coby’s baptism date was set, Wim decided also to be baptized. The couple joined the Church on the same day in July 1967.

“Never for a moment have we regretted our decision,” Wim says.

Their teenage children—Pauline, Frits, and Margaret—didn’t join the Church then. Wim and Coby carefully avoided appearing to force them. But in October 1968 the van Mastrigts were sent to Ankara, Turkey. And there another Dutchman, Ludy van der Roeven, and his family gave the van Mastrigt youths a “cram course,” in the principles of the gospel.

“Without Wim or me interfering in any manner, the three children who were with us in Turkey decided in about a week’s time that they wanted to be baptized,” recalls Coby. The baptisms were performed in some Turkish baths, an hour’s drive from Ankara.

Today Wim and Coby and their three younger children are all active in the Church; they were sealed in the Swiss Temple in 1969. Their eldest son, who is married, is now investigating the Church.

Says Coby, speaking for her family:

“We do not believe that our church is the restored church of Jesus Christ. We know it is!”

[illustration] Illustrated by Howard Post

Dr. Haroldsen is chairman of the Communications Department at Brigham Young University.

The Conversion of Hollywood’s “Brigham Young”

“The Mormons seem to live their religion and study more than any people I know,” Dean Jagger, veteran of 44 years in motion pictures, told an interviewer in early 1972.

Those words had special meaning for Dean Jagger just a few months later when the world-famous actor joined the Church.

His association with the Church began long before his marriage in 1968 to his wife, Etta, a member of the Church. It started long before the patient and attentive work of home teachers began.

It began with the film role that brought Brother Jagger his first widespread recognition as a great actor. He was cast, after an exhaustive search, as Brigham Young, in the movie of the same name.

The film career of Dean Jagger began with his dramatic studies in the early 1920s at the Lyceum Arts Conservatory in Chicago. He worked as a bouncer in a dance hall and scrubbed floors to support himself. Although Brother Jagger made his first film in 1929, it was in a stage production, They Shall Not Die, that he was spotted by a Paramount Pictures talent scout. So from Broadway he went to Hollywood at a time when newcomers like Ray Milland, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope were also beginning their movie careers.

Throughout the 1930s, he went from picture to picture in minor roles until he was chosen in 1937 by Darryl F. Zanuck to portray Brigham Young.

“His voice is magnificent,” wrote one critic, “and when he speaks to his people it is almost as if he himself were as inspired as were the Mormon fathers.”

George D. Pyper, then general superintendent of the Sunday Schools, was assigned as technical adviser to Mr. Jagger during the production. As a young man, Superintendent Pyper had known Brigham Young. He told the Deseret News that during one scene, “There are resemblances in facial features and in voice. When I watched Mr. Jagger pleading in the courtroom scene, I thought I was listening again to Brigham Young.”

Brigham Young served as Dean Jagger’s first successful break into films. In succeeding years he made films in Hollywood, New York, and London. In 1949 he received the Academy Award for the best supporting actor for the film Twelve O’Clock High, starring Gregory Peck.

As television developed, Brother Jagger appeared many times, most notably as a fatherly high school principal in the series Mr. Novak.

Brother Jagger next came into close contact with the Church in 1968 when he married Etta Norton, a life-long member. He was impressed by the concern for him shown by his bishop and home teachers. Eventually, Dr. Rainy Frierson, his home teacher, arranged for Brother Jagger to meet with President Don Smith of the Los Angeles Temple Visitors Center. The visits soon led to the baptism of filmdom’s “Brigham Young.”

A veteran of more than 150 motion pictures, including White Christmas, The Robe, and Western Union, Brother Jagger has some definite feelings about the film industry today.

“I think it is sad when a father and mother can’t send their children to movies without knowing the content beforehand. There are beautiful moments in life, and I don’t think that some frustrated individuals should say, ‘I’ll put my frustrations up on the screen or paint a picture of my frustrations and that will be the greatest art ever produced.’”

In advising members of the Church whether or not to see “questionable” films, he urged, “Don’t pay money to see them. Don’t even consider patronizing them. I go to few movies myself these days. I’d rather read something interesting and solid.”

Brother D’Arc served in the Colorado-New Mexico Mission and is now a student at Brigham Young University. He is publications editor for the BYU 23rd Branch.