On 23 October 1881, John Taylor was presiding over the Church, which was facing persecution and prosecution from the federal government. Orson Pratt, last of the original Quorum of the Twelve, had recently died; and missionaries in the Southern States had been bearing the brunt of anti-Mormon sentiment leading to injuries and even death.
On that day, half a world away in the small town of Hojslev, Denmark, Anna Elisabeth Nielsen was born, the eighth child in the family of a brickyard foreman. One hundred years later, in 1981, more than 120 of her direct descendants came from as far away as Venezuela to help her celebrate her birthday at a family reunion in Lorenzo, Idaho.
Annie’s story is a celebration of devotion to gospel living, enlivened by a century of Danish spunkiness.
She grew up in a peaceful, prosperous Denmark where nearly everyone rode bicycles, where children attended school eleven months out of the year (parents were fined for truancy), and where careers were chosen for life. Annie’s career was cooking. She took her first position in Copenhagen with a retired general who did a great deal of entertaining.
One Sunday evening she was visiting an older brother—a “Mormon”—who invited her to go to church with him. As Annie tells the story, “I told him that I had already been to church that day, and so I thought I would go home. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘it won’t hurt you to go again.’ He and his friends pressed me to go, so I said, ‘You don’t need to think you are going to make me a Mormon!’ ‘Why no,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t think of doing that. You’ll do it yourself!’ I answered rather crossly, ‘That’s what you think!’ But I still went with him, mostly out of curiosity.”
Annie found herself enjoying the meeting. Later, she was taught the gospel by the mission president, Lars Peter Larsen of Ephraim, Utah, and his counselors. She was baptized 11 October 1904; one of the witnesses was Andrew Jenson, future assistant Church historian.
She emigrated to the United States via England in July 1905, first by steamer and then by railroad. When the group arrived in Ogden, Utah, Annie and part of the company went north to the end of the line—Preston, Idaho. She was employed there first by a local farmer, then by the A. B. C. Jensen Knitting Factory.
In June 1908, she went to Salt Lake City to attend a conference held for Mutual workers and stayed with her old friend, Andrew Jenson. When the Jenson family planned a picnic after one of the weekday sessions, Annie volunteered to stay home with Sister Jenson’s mother. She was astonished a few minutes later when Julina Lamb Smith, the wife of neighbor Joseph F. Smith, appeared at the door and announced that Annie was coming on their picnic. She recalls riding the streetcar to one of the city parks where many of the General Authorities had gathered, being introduced to President Smith, and having a cheerful chat with Anthon H. Lund, a counselor in the First Presidency and a Dane himself.
Annie at twenty-seven was, by her own description, enjoying the adventures of independence. Then she met a young Preston farmer, Elmer Jensen. After a period of courtship, they were married in the Logan Temple on 3 November 1909 and moved to a farm in the Rexburg, Idaho, area, where they spent the rest of their lives and raised their seven children. Elmer’s vigorous life ended in 1976 at age eighty-seven.
Annie’s spunky approach to life made her a welcome addition to any ward, and she magnified her callings with zest. She served thirteen years as a counselor in the Burton Ward Relief Society, then an additional eighteen years as president of the Lorenzo Ward Relief Society. During the depression years when the general Relief Society called for quilts, Annie’s ward donated more than a hundred. That experience deepened Annie’s affection for quilting: since then she has made dozens for family and friends. Even now, at age 100, she keeps several in various stages of progress.
She has also worked in the Primary program and, whenever possible, in the temple. Her personal history lists hundreds of names of individuals for whom she has done temple work.
Her relentless energy is a family legend. She was in her forties when she dashed two miles across plowed fields to get assistance for an injured niece. And at age ninety-nine, in the temple for a family sealing, she became impatient with the group of family members and temple workers who stood at the bottom of the staircase discussing whether it would be easier for her to climb the stairs or take the elevator up and then climb a few steps down. Ignoring the debate, she grabbed the handrail and hauled herself up.
In November 1980 she accompanied her son Leonard to the Idaho Falls Temple, where he was to be set apart as a sealer by President Spencer W. Kimball and President Marion G. Romney. The former temple president introduced Annie, then ninety-nine, to President Kimball. He took her hand, gazed into her eyes for a moment, and then asked if she would like a special blessing. She speaks with joy of receiving that blessing of strength and comfort at the hands of a prophet, assisted by President Romney and three of her sons.
Missionaries cannot always predict the processes they set in motion by teaching a single person the gospel. But thanks to Annie’s brother, her own resolute honoring of the truth, and the missionaries who shared it with her, almost 120 direct descendants have become members of the Church. Two sons have served as stake presidents. Two grandsons have been bishops. And Annie Jensen has returned the compliment of those original missionaries by sending at least eight of her own descendants back into the mission fields of the world to share the gospel with others.