News of the Church


Church’s 150th Birthday Plans Announced

As birthday celebrations go, the Church’s 150th promises to be a cultural feast.

Wards, stakes, and regions throughout the Church will have the option of producing varied cultural presentations to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the organization of the Church on April 6, 1830.

Wards and stakes have been sent guidelines for planning sesquicentennial cultural activities. Cultural arts and physical activities fairs will provide a showcase for talents and traditions of local cultures.

The “centerpiece” optional activity will be production of a musical, Within These Walls, written by Margaret Smoot and Robert Bruner. The production tells of three families who live, at different times, in the same stone house. The families are colonists, immigrants, and contemporaries. The musical will be produced in Salt Lake City; and the script, set, and tape recordings of the music will be made available at cost to wards, stakes, and regions.

Other sesquicentennial activities include—

—A “musical retrospective” telling the story of the Restoration of the gospel through hymns woven into a narrative production. The program will be presented in Salt Lake City in September 1980 and made available worldwide for local productions.

—A series of concerts in the Assembly Hall featuring Latter-day Saint musicians from throughout the world.

—Packets of art, available through Church magazines, featuring both historical and current art which tells the story of the history of the Church. One packet will include paintings of existing art. A second packet will include newly commissioned paintings by contemporary artists.

—Sesquicentennial balls, an optional activity for wards and stakes. These formal functions would be similar in nature to the balls encouraged by the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Historical Buildings Planned on Whitmer Farm

Restoration work will begin soon on the western New York farm where the Church was formally organized 149 years ago.

A complex of buildings is planned, including a replica of the log house in which Joseph Smith organized the Church on April 6, 1830. Restoration work will be completed during 1980, the Church’s sesquicentennial year. In addition to the log house replica, the following projects have been announced:

  • —Construction of a new chapel and meetinghouse for the Fayette New York Branch, designed to match Greek Revival architecture prominent in the northeastern United States during the early nineteenth century;

  • —Construction of a visitors’ center to accommodate the thousands of tourists who visit the site each year;

  • —Relocation and remodeling of an existing early nineteenth century house on the Whitmer farm.

Crews have cleared the land to prepare for the complex of buildings. The existing house, built during the 1840s, has been moved east a short distance to make room for the meetinghouse. The house will be remodeled to serve as a residence for visitors’ center guides.

The 100-acre farm was owned by Peter Whitmer, Sr., at the time the Church was organized. It was part of a larger parcel of land that had been deeded earlier to a Jeremiah Bennet for his services with the Second New York Regiment in the Revolutionary War.

When members of the newly organized church moved from New York to Ohio in 1831, the old house was sold with the farm. Ownership of the farm changed through the years, and the log house was eventually torn down. It had been built between 1809 and the mid-1820s.

The farm property was purchased by the Church in 1926. In 1969, a wing was added to the existing house for a visitors’ center. That wing was removed recently to restore the original appearance of the structure.

A farmer partially unearthed the rock foundation of the old Whitmer log house in the 1940s. Subsequent archaeological diggings by Brigham Young University showed that the old house was approximately twenty by thirty feet in size.

The Historic Arts and Sites Committee of the Church is working with the architects and the contractor, Sisson Construction Corporation of Albany, New York, to ensure that the log house and its furnishings are as exact replicas as is possible. Architect is John Harvey Associates of Geneva, New York. Steven T. Baird of Salt Lake City is historical consulting architect for the reconstruction of the old log house and the exterior detail work on the new meetinghouse.

Logs from a nearby Romulus, New York, house built during the early 1800s will be used in the reconstructed log house in the Whitmer property.

Joseph Smith translated part of the Book of Mormon in an upper attic loft in the old log house.

Peter Whitmer Farm(click to view larger)

Peter Whitmer Farm

[photo] The Peter Whitmer home, located in New York.

Thousands Find Roots through Missouri Project

When it started, the project was just a good idea. But by the time it was done, nearly six thousand families in the Kansas City and Independence, Missouri, area knew more about their genealogy and more about the Church.

Bill Slamin of Kansas City, Public Communications council director, first got the idea not long before “Roots II” was shown on television nationally this winter. He realized that the genealogy-oriented TV program, telling of a black family’s history, would give the Church an opportunity to tell nonmembers about the genealogy program.

Brother Slamin, who produces media advertisements professionally, produced announcements for local radio and television stations to air while “Roots” interest was high.

Although he did the production work and made the contacts with the media, he didn’t work alone. President Edward A. Johnson of the Missouri Independence Mission helped plan and produce an information packet on genealogy Missionaries also helped. The presidents of the Kansas City and Independence stakes also supported the project and enlisted the help of stake members.

It worked simply enough: the announcement told listeners and viewers that if they wanted to learn more about how to trace their family tree, they could call a certain number. That number connected them to a bank of thirty telephones set up in the Independence Visitors’ Center and the Independence stake center. Manning those phones from 6 A.M. to midnight for three weeks were volunteers from the Independence and Kansas City stakes.

Some 5,900 persons within broadcasting range called the number and requested information. The information—the packets prepared by stake members and missionaries—came hand-delivered. Nonmembers living in the mission boundaries received the packet from missionaries working with members. Those living outside the mission either received it by mail or from missionaries serving in their locale.

“The first visit was strictly public-service,” says President Johnson. Missionaries and members delivering the packets explained genealogy work and answered questions. Those nonmembers interested in a second visit—and eighty percent were—had an opportunity to learn about the plan of salvation.

Every telephone call received a follow-up visit or packet from missionaries or members.

Several people who first learned about the Church through the genealogy approach have been baptized. “There are large numbers of people being taught,” President Johnson says. “There was a dual thrust—planting seeds of the gospel and establishing good will.” Many of those who called requesting information on genealogy work have actually done genealogy work now. Some also attend sacrament meetings and firesides and genealogy miniclasses conducted by members.

“As the program continues,” says President Johnson, “we have found that the Spirit of Elijah is in the hearts of a lot of people. Now rather than us asking if we can tell them about the gospel, they’re asking us.”

Winning on the Homefront

We hear a phone ringing. “Hello,” says a man’s voice. A girl’s voice somewhat hesitantly replies, “Hi, daddy. I just, uh, called you to tell you I love you and appreciate everything you do.” There is a silence. Then comes the man’s stunned question: “Who is this?”

It’s his teenage daughter. And the message, clearly, is about family communication. This spot “Love Calls,” is one of the Homefront series, produced by Bonneville Productions for the Church’s Public Communications Department. These public service announcements air on up to fifty-two percent of America’s more than seven thousand radio stations, and appear on an incredible ninety percent of the nation’s more than seven hundred commercial television stations.

Homefronts may well be the Church’s most successful public relations effort ever, with their warmly upbeat messages about the importance of the family. Fan mail ranges from grandmothers to network officials. NBC called them “some of the most beautifully produced PSA’s [public service announcements] on television.” CBS aired sixty-five announcements on network time—not counting affiliate station time—at an estimated value of $89,000 in 1977. They were seen by an estimated 40,365,000 viewers. During the first quarter alone of 1978, the time contributed to these public service announcements by CBS was a whopping $272,594.

A woman living in Baltimore was so impressed by one of the Homefront spots that she contacted the missionaries and was baptized.

A woman in Indiana wrote exuberantly, “Who would have believed that after so many years my first fan letter would be to a T.V. commercial!” She added, “Whenever I am privileged to see one of your delightful messages I am moved to go to my daughter and give her a hug, or to go into the kitchen to prepare a special dinner.” John G. Kinnear, Church director of broadcasting and films, recalls seeing “literally only one negative letter in the last three years.”

It’s not only the public and the broadcasters who like Homefronts. Professionals, eyeing the technique at least as much as the message, have stopped by to learn how it’s done.

And Homefronts have won just about every professional honor available: over 160 state, national, and international awards since 1972, including thirteen prestigious International Broadcasting Awards (“Love Calls” won first place), forty-two Clio Awards, five Clio statuettes for best public service spots, thirteen Gabriel awards—eight of them for first place—from the National Association of Catholic Broadcasters, two Freedom Foundation Awards, nineteen Andy Awards from the Advertising Club of New York, twenty-five Utah Advertising Federation Awards, twenty-one American Advertising Federation Awards, a first-place award from the Chicago International Film Festival, and awards from Advertising Age Magazine; the Ohio State Award for 1978, and two awards from the U.S. Television Commercials Festival.

Educators use the Homefront spots to train teachers and counselors; a sociologist sent a personal note congratulating these “religious commercials” on being “neither insultingly tendentious … or ecumenical to the point of banality.” A Catholic archdiocese in the East uses them in a television awareness training class to show “that it is possible to do good things with television.”

What accounts for Homefront’s success? “Quality,” says John Kinnear simply—but quickly, in his clipped Rhodesian accent. He replaced Heber G. Wolsey in January 1978 as overseer of the Homefront project when Brother Wolsey moved into the managing director’s spot after four successful years of developing the Homefront series.

“We go for professionalism every time,” says Brother Kinnear. “We have ultimate control, but we use the best editors, writers, and actors available.”

The second success factor is packaging. “When broadcasters get our material, it’s attractive, it’s appealing, and it’s lively. That’s part of being professional too.”

Third is its skill at meeting audience needs. “One of the greatest illusions we could have as religious broadcasters is that our job is done if we get it on the air,” says Brother Kinnear. “Just because it’s on the air is no guarantee that anybody’s listening. We need to meet the listener’s need—not just our own need to teach.” The importance of family communication is obviously one of those needs. So is the Roots-oriented interest in genealogy. “Climbing Your Family Tree” is still on the air after a year—“and the average life of a public service announcement is eight weeks.” Over 85,000 requests have come in for the innovative, Bonneville-designed how-to-do genealogy booklet.

Fourth is the momentum of success. Broadcasters welcome Church-produced material now and want more. Brother Kinnear feels that the Homefront series’ indirect approach is a real factor in their success. “The second greatest illusion of religious broadcasting is that a strong doctrinal or denominational message—even on purchased time—is effective. It’s not. Comparatively few will listen to a sermon. Some broadcasters won’t accept ‘recruiting.’ In some countries, even identifying a church by name on the air is illegal.”

In New Zealand, for instance, Public Communications provided broadcasters with Homefront spots for three years even though the Church was not identified with them on the air. “It was bread upon the waters,” says Brother Kinnear. “At the end of those three years, they gave us—free—a complete hour of prime time on Sunday night for our television special ‘The Family … and Other Living Things.’ And with Church identification.”

Homefront is also exporting its success. It’s been making spots on location in Buenos Aires since 1978 for Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking audiences—and they’ve been winning awards too. This year production begins in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Approval for Italian and French series have been given. Test spots in Australian English have been completed.

Homefront has no intention of resting on its laurels. Spots released in January 1979 have moved into a new area—husband-wife relationships. They’re looking toward a new audience too—young people. A survey of converts in two California missions shows that seventy-six percent of all converts are under thirty-four; fifty percent are between twelve and twenty-four. Approximately half of all U.S. radio stations see this age group as their target.

Another potential audience is ethnic groups. Many radio stations are programming for Spanish, Indian, Black, Chinese, Korean, and other minorities.

“We’ve got the hardware,” says Brother Kinnear. “The technology is there to deliver any message. Our challenge is packaging the message.” He looks hopefully toward the increasing numbers of “professional young Latter-day Saints” in acting, editing, directing, writing, and composing. “They’re creative. They’re innovative. And they have testimonies. We need to give them a stewardship and let them develop it without too many rules and restraints, even if they sometimes stumble. We can trust them not to fail their Heavenly Father. They can, will and are producing some great works.”

[photo] A scene from the Homefront spot “He’s My Grandfather,” released in 1978.

LDS Scene

Frances D. Burtenshaw of Logan, Utah, is the kind of neighbor who is so welcome that the neighbors take down their fence. Sister Burtenshaw, Utah’s 1979 Mother of the Year, was named American Mother of the Year in May. The mother of eight was selected from fifty-one other contestants.

She was surprised by the honor, and her neighbors applauded it. “She always has time for people,” says a woman who lives next-door, “and yet she gets so much done.” Sister Burtenshaw, a former drama and speech teacher, has written and published a history of her mother, taught drama classes in her home, and written children’s stories for her children and grandchildren. Despite an active interest in community and church, “she takes time to call when I miss a meeting, to see if I’m ill or need help with the children,” the neighbor says. “And when another neighbor was ill, the woman’s husband took down their back fence just so Sister Burtenshaw could have easy access when she came to help.”

When a sniper fired into a parade crowd in San Antonio, Texas, April 27, a member of the Church was one of two fatally injured victims. Amalio Castillo, a widowed mother of thirteen children, was killed in the incident. Three daughters and a granddaughter were injured. Nine of her children were living at home with her, and four are married. The Castillos were among some 300,000 watching the Battle of the Flowers Parade.

Two new Deseret Industries stores were opened in April. Grand openings were held at the new stores in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Portland, Oregon, April 12 and 14. They are among thirty DI stores. Five more are planned to be opened later this year.

Claire S. Poelman, 51, wife of Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy, died May 5 of a heart attack. The funeral was held May 8 in Menlo Park, California, where the Poelmans lived before his call as a General Authority.

Joe J. Christensen has been called as president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. He has served as first counselor in the Sunday School general presidency and as associate commissioner of the Church Educational System. He succeeds Max L. Pinegar.

Ground for a Mormon Trek Handcart Historical Site on the University of Iowa campus was broken May 12. The ceremony came on the 123rd anniversary of the Mormon Pioneers’ first expedition from Iowa City, the site of the university, to the Salt Lake Valley. The site commemorates the starting point for the Mormon handcart pioneers’ expeditions in 1856–57.

News of Brigham Young University

For musicians, this summer at BYU is one of competitions and classes. The fourth#annual Summer Piano Festival and international competition was held there June 23–30, and the Seventh Annual International Viola Congress plans their meeting at BYU July 12–14.

Three BYU-produced motion pictures have been honored by the Association of Media Educators in Religion. The award-winning films are “John Baker’s Last Race,” education category; “The Mail Box,” social issues category; and “The Bridge,” open category.

Six BYU—Hawaii art students have had their works included in a prestigious Honolulu exhibition. Two of the students, Ken Coffey of Auckland, New Zealand, and Leakona Malolo of Vava’u, Tonga, had their artwork included among the state of Hawaii’s official art collection.