Ardeth Greene Kapp: A Prairie Girl, a Young Woman Still


Finally, after seven long years of dreaming, planning, and sacrificing, the home Ardeth and Heber Kapp had dreamed of and built was a reality. The day the carpet was laid, “Ardie” (as she is affectionately known) sat down in the heap of scraps that had been left in the living room and hugged them to her, not so much because there was carpet on the floor (a luxury neither she nor her husband had known before), but because a dream had been realized. “As I sat there, I wondered what other dreams we could dream,” Sister Kapp remembers. “If the two of us, young as we were, beginning with no money and no experience, but with help from the Lord, could build with our own hands something like this house, what else could we do?”

With the help of the Lord, Ardeth Greene Kapp, now the Church’s Young Women general president, has faced many new experiences in her life—developments she could not have anticipated as a young girl living in the rural prairie town of Glenwood, Alberta. Born 19 March 1931 to Edwin (Ted) and Julia (June) Greene, Ardeth thrived on the open, flat prairie. Canadians say you can look over the prairie and see for two days before running into the Rocky Mountains. There were blue skies and billowy clouds. For Ardeth, there were “animals to care for and people to serve.”

Sister Kapp learned about serving people from her parents. Her father raised turkeys and often gave them to families in need. Twice he gave cows to Australian immigrants who needed milk. Her mother, who owned a small store, was often called on at odd hours to help people. When customers faced financial difficulties—when Indians of the area were between treaty payments, for example—June Greene accepted a buckskin jacket or other collateral until they received the next check. “Neither of my parents ever said no,” Sister Kapp remembers. “They never asked if it was convenient. They just served.”

Ardeth’s father became one of her greatest teachers. He was devoted to his children and found lessons in everything they did together. Putting up a fence became a lesson on eternal perspective. “Keep your eye on the horizon,” he’d say, “and don’t get too discouraged by looking just at the here and now.” A school bell’s certain ring became an admonition to be dependable and to listen to the reminder of an inner bell—the conscience.

“Dad was also a strong disciplinarian. He felt that I had a strong will which must be directed. If I was supposed to be home by four and I was late, I was disciplined. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with not being home, but there was something seriously wrong with not being obedient. He never disciplined me in anger. He never raised his voice at me. His intention was to help me be a better person, and I always knew it.”

Although living on the prairie had its joys—“getting on a horse and just riding to feel the wind blowing in your face”—it also had its disadvantages. Yet even these became lessons. “Going to school in forty-below weather teaches you that life isn’t always easy, but that it can be rewarding. I learned to live with a degree of inconvenience. It wasn’t always convenient to be home at a certain time to milk the cows, and it wasn’t convenient to travel twenty miles in a blizzard to attend meetings, but I learned to make whatever effort was required for a given task.”

One day when she was in her late teens, Ardie’s father asked her to stay home from a dance to fix dinner for the missionaries. Dances were the social event in town, and she was not particularly happy about missing one. But she obeyed.

One of the missionaries who ate with the family that day was Elder Heber Kapp. “There was something about his countenance,” Sister Kapp remembers, “that made me feel he was just good. And I had a yearning to be the kind of person someone like him would want to be with. He inspired me to be my best self.”

Elder Kapp felt the same way. “She had such an optimism and enthusiasm about her,” he recalls. “It just felt good being around her.” The impressions remained, and later, when he and Ardeth were both at Brigham Young University, they began dating. Because neither of them had much money, their dates were simple—trips to a small ice-cream store where they ordered a malt and two straws, drives in the canyon, picnics, water fights in the creek, and long talks in a corner of the library.

Their initial courtship ended and their eternal one began on 28 June 1950 when they were married in the Alberta Temple. Their marriage has been one of commitment to the Lord and to each other. Heber’s favorite memories with Ardeth, he says, are always “yesterday. My favorite times with Ardie are always the most recent ones. We enjoy being together, serving, playing, and working together.”

Through the years, they have continued their long talks—precious moments of sharing and support, now held late at night. “We always wait up for each other,” Sister Kapp explains, “often catching a fifteen-minute nap during the day so we can stay awake.” Each speaks of the support he or she has received from the other, both in times of individual growth and in times of personal struggle.

Their commitment to the Lord was tested early in their marriage. They had just bought a piece of land overlooking Centerville, Utah, a few miles north of Salt Lake City; on it they planned to build the home they had spent some time planning and saving for. But shortly before they were ready to start building the house, Heber was called to be a high councilor in their Bountiful, Utah, stake. He explained to Elder Spencer W. Kimball, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, who issued the call that they would soon be moving out of the stake. Elder Kimball replied, “Accept this call, and everything will work out.”

Ardeth and Heber interpreted this to mean that when their house was finished, Heber would be released. But when they were ready to build, the stake president, Stanford Smith, told them that there were no plans for Heber’s release, that the Lord had called him, and that they should see what the Lord had to say. “I remember feeling,” Sister Kapp says, “that I didn’t really want to ask the Lord, because I thought I knew what the answer would be. But we knew what we had to do, and we wanted to be obedient. So we prayed, and sold the property.

“It seemed a hard thing to ask at the time,” Sister Kapp smiles, “a sort of test for my young faith. When we sold the lot, we thought we were saying good-bye to our dream. Land within our stake boundaries was too expensive. But within weeks we heard of some property in our stake that we could buy for a similar price. We bought the lot and soon had our home finished. The whole experience reminded me that we receive no witness until after the trial of our faith.”

This commitment to the Lord’s will has remained strong through the years and through a variety of callings—speech director, Primary in-service leader, stake Relief Society board member, Young Women teacher, Young Adult Sunday School teacher, and now Young Women general president, to name just a few.

Some of the Kapps’ challenges have been more difficult to face.

“When I was growing up,” Sister Kapp says, “I envisioned living in a small white house with a picket fence. I thought I would just take care of the flowers, be active in the Church, friendly with my neighbors—and have lots of children.” But as the years passed, no children came to their home, and their prayers about adoption were answered with a stupor of thought instead of the desired confirmation. She had to face the fact that the dream she cherished of raising children would not become a reality in this life.

The questions she asked herself were agonizing: “Weren’t we commanded to bear children?” “Aren’t children to bring us joy in our posterity?” “Why, when we are willing—even longing—for children, are we denied this blessing?”

Answers did not come easily, but they did come, and with them came peace as she sought the Lord through prayer and through the power of the priesthood manifest in Heber’s blessings to her. The answers were the simple ones that are often so hard to find—faith in the plan of salvation and in a loving Heavenly Father. Peace came in knowing that his promises are sure and that suffering is not in vain.

“It’s the soul-rending experiences that bring us to God,” Sister Kapp comments. “Trials lead you into a diligent search; they make you ask questions that only the Lord can answer. You have to turn to him. And one day the peace comes that compensates for all the yearning.

“Our trials also help us develop charity—that gift we most need when we serve others. I am reminded of Paul when he praised God ‘who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.’ (2 Cor. 1:4.)

“If we allow suffering to refine us, we are able to comfort others as we have been comforted. We can become an instrument in the hands of the Lord in spreading his peace.”

Although the Kapps never had the family of their own they longed for, they can say they have had children. Youth of all ages have flocked to their home. A drawer in the kitchen contains a constant supply of cookies. “And now,” Sister Kapp smiles, “after a quarter of a million prayers for children, I have responsibility for a quarter of a million young women. I never expected such results.”

In a life that has not followed the path she expected, Sister Kapp has come to rely on the Lord as her guide. Thirteen years after her marriage, when she was working as a training supervisor for Mountain States Telephone Company—a position with both prestige and a good salary—she had a strong impression that she should go back to school. “I had always felt that someday I would go back to school. But that day at my aunt’s funeral I heard in my mind the words ‘life is quick in passing,’ and I knew I should go back. I registered for summer school.”

In looking back on that experience, Sister Kapp reflects, “There are times in our lives when we just go merrily on our way. We received the Lord’s approval once for our actions, and we don’t think to ask him if we are still on track and on schedule. So he sends us something—an experience or a thought—that jars us, that makes us look at ourselves and ask, ‘Is this still the right course?’ That’s what my aunt’s funeral did for me. It helped me see that I needed to change tracks.”

Both she and Heber felt it was important that they learn the lessons which come from being close to children—serving when it is not convenient, loving when others are unlovable, being patient and tolerant. So she earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Heber, too, taught school for many years. Now he works as a contractor, a direct result of his building their first home.

Sister Kapp has also been guided as she has gone from an elementary school teacher to an instructor in BYU’s College of Education, and from a writer and instructor for the Utah Network of Instructional Television to a consultant for a time management corporation.

Each opportunity has prepared her for the next, and all have helped her develop talents she now uses as Young Women general president. She says the preparation never ends. “Each opportunity we have prepares us to do our best in future callings. I have learned not to anticipate what will come next. Instead, I try to focus my attention on the task at hand and give it all I’ve got. Then I know that whatever comes next, I’ll be prepared for it.”

Ardeth Greene Kapp

The Kapps outside their home in Bountiful, Utah—another house built by Heber.

Education and learning have always been important in Sister Kapp’s life. Several rooms in her present home (another she and Heber designed) are lined with shelves of books—well-worn books with paper clips and underlining marking memorable passages. Her favorites include biographies—Marie Curie, Golda Meir, and Winston Churchill, for example—books on nature and management and, of course, the scriptures.

“I’m not a scriptorian, although I’m better than I used to be. I just love to study the scriptures, looking for answers.” She has several sets of scriptures. Personal comments that fill the margins are indicative of her search for meaning.

“Learning has value only as we use it to teach and to serve,” Sister Kapp says, a feeling which is reflected in a saying of President David O. McKay that has become her guide: “The noblest aim in life is to strive to make other lives better and happier.” (Pathways to Happiness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1957, p. 280.)

Ardeth Kapp’s home and heart are always open. Over the years several members of her family—sister Sharon and her parents—have lived with the Kapps. “Ardie always wanted us to feel happy.” Sharon recalls. “One time when I was living with her and Heber after my graduation from college, I borrowed Ardie’s car to go shopping. She let me take it, asking only that I have it home by four o’clock so she could go to a meeting. I forgot all about the deadline and didn’t come home until six-thirty. I felt awful and walked timidly into the house. There I found a cake waiting for me with a note that said simply, ‘I know you were shopping and having a good time. I’m glad. Don’t worry about the car.’ Her only concern was that I not feel bad.”

Now that Sharon is married, her children share in Ardeth’s love. “Mommy Ardie,” as sixteen-year-old niece Shelly used to call her, often spends hours sitting with Shelly in her room, listening to music and chatting. Shelly remembers one particularly enjoyable experience when, as a young girl, she accompanied Ardeth to Canada; Sister Kapp was going there to help her sister Shirley, who had just had a baby. “We had lunch and goodies to eat in the car, and we listened to a Winnie the Pooh tape at least a dozen times.” A favorite tradition is the shopping expedition Shelly and Sister Kapp take each summer before school starts, complete with a lunch of Reuben sandwiches.

Shelly’s six-year-old brother, Kent, considers Sister Kapp his pal. Whenever she visits, she brings a carefully concealed treat. Kent finds the treat, then takes off with Aunt Ardie close at his heels. The chase ends in a capture and the question, “What do I get this time—a hug or a slug?”

Ardeth Greene Kapp

As president of the Church’s Young Women organization, Ardeth Kapp, along with her counselors Maurine J. Turley (left) and Patricia T. Holland (right), is responsible for over a quarter of a million young women.

Young and old alike have discovered this love, this joy in life and faith in the gospel, and have come to Ardeth Kapp for help, comfort, or companionship. Her home is full of mementos—samplers, quilts, ceramics—given in appreciation for her infectious smiles and kind words.

Sister Kapp’s unique ability to care has helped her fulfill her desire to serve. “When I was young,” she says, “I thought the noblest thing in this life was to be a mother. I have since learned that the best mission in life is the one the Lord has prepared for me. So I have felt a real sense of responsibility to discover and fulfill my mission. And I found it in the scriptures. It is ‘to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously’; to ‘cleave unto [our Father],’ and to have my mind enlightened so that I can teach others in ways that will wake in them the things of the Spirit.” (See D&C 11:12–22.)

Ask those who have felt her influence—from those who have read her personal writings to those who work with her in the Young Women organization. They will tell you that Ardeth Kapp has come close to realizing her ideal.

[photos] Photography by John Snyder

[photos] (Top) Five-year-old Ardeth at Waterton Park with her father and her brother Ray. (Bottom left) Ardeth and Heber Kapp break sod in July 1959 for their first home; they built the house together in the evenings and on Saturdays.

Karen Thomas Arnesen, mother of one, is a French name extractor in the Salt Lake Winder West Stake.