Tessa Udy: Niagara Pioneer
Hundreds of thousands of visitors annually marvel at the thundering white waters of Niagara Falls. Of these throngs drawn to the western tip of New York by this dazzling display of beauty and power, only a few find their way to the tiny Niagara Falls LDS chapel. Fewer still become acquainted with another bastion of strength and beauty—but a more quiet, serene type. This is Tessa Udy who, along with her husband and small sons, was the first Latter-day Saint to settle in the Niagara Falls area.
Tessa’s testimony and courage have been instrumental in the growth of the Church in Niagara Falls from that first handful to almost three hundred members today. Now, in her mid-nineties, Tessa has become a hallmark of strength and sacrifice.
Growing up in the small town of Liberty, Idaho, the oldest child of John and Clara Hymas McMurray, Tessa faced many challenges that shaped her attitudes toward life, work, and the gospel.
“We were poor,” she remembers. “How I used to wish we could have a rope swing.” But although a rope swing was a luxury the six McMurray children never had, those early days were rich in love and happiness.
Just two days before Christmas when Tessa was nine years old, her mother died of typhoid fever and the young girl’s life changed drastically. Tessa became responsible for cooking (including daily bread making), sewing, cleaning, caring for her younger siblings, and helping with farm chores such as milking and mowing, hauling, and stacking hay. She and two of her sisters took turns taking a year off from school to care for the smaller children. As a result, Tessa was always trying to catch up with her classmates when she returned.
Tessa vividly remembers the morning she woke to find that her father had died during the night. “He had never gotten over mother’s death,” she says simply. The orphaned McMurray children were sent to live with various relatives. At seventeen, Tessa went to the household of her father’s sister in Farmington, Utah, where she had to get a job to help meet the family’s financial needs. While there, however, she was able to complete high school and two years at Deseret University in Salt Lake City. She also received some training from a local doctor to become a practical nurse.
It was while she lived in Farmington that Tessa met Marvin Udy. The day Marvin graduated from the University of Utah, he and Tessa were married. While Marvin continued working toward a master’s degree, Tessa became the mother of two sons, first Murray and then Lynn the following year, both born at home. Lynn had a difficult birth and was later diagnosed as having partial paralysis.
In 1917, the Udys moved briefly to Niagara Falls, then to Kokomo, Indiana. The closest Church members were a pair of missionaries stationed in Indianapolis forty-five miles away. That same year their third son, Kay, was born, then died just three days later.
In 1918, the family moved back to Niagara Falls, where as the only members in the area, the Udys held Church meetings in their home. “My husband used to say that the boys’ and my singing our Sunday School songs just about drove him crazy,” Tessa recalls with a wide grin. The only exposure the family had to other Church members was when the missionaries would occasionally pass through the area, or when special conferences would be held in Buffalo. Then the family would take the train and join with members in the small Buffalo branch. With no LDS neighbors, it would have been easy to become inactive, but Tessa and Marvin worked hard to instill Church principles in their boys.
The Church in the western New York area grew at a snail’s pace during the 1920s and 30s. By 1944, when the first Sunday School in the Niagara Falls area was organized, the membership included only five families. Four years later, a branch was organized and Tessa became the Relief Society president, a position she held for thirteen years. Not long after, Marvin became the branch president.
Tessa recalls arriving early on Sunday mornings at the various halls where meetings were held to clean up cigarette butts and beer cans. To Tessa, this was a small sacrifice compared to seeing the gospel grow in the transplanted setting she had come to call home. But it did accentuate the need for a building of their own, which soon became the main target for the little branch.
Two years before the new building was completed, Lynn, who had been severely crippled for much of his life, died of cancer. As a way of coping with her grief, Tessa turned to raising money for the building fund. By 1954 the Niagara Falls Branch was meeting in its own chapel, which—due to the sacrifice and contributions of the Udys and other branch members—was completely paid for within five months of the time the construction started.
Five years later, Marvin died; the Church and Tessa’s remaining son, Murray, became the focus of her life.
When the Niagara Falls chapel was only eight years old, it was torn down to make way for an urban renewal project, and it was again necessary for a new building to be constructed. Once more the indomitable woman threw herself into raising funds, getting up daily at 3:00 A.M. to bake bread. She would then sell her loaves and donate all the proceeds—as much as $50 a week—to the project.
When the bishop found out what she was doing, he told her she had done more than her share of the work. “You can’t build the church all by yourself,” he said. “Other members need the blessings too.”
For many years Tessa led the Buffalo Stake in endowment work. Each time the stake would arrange a temple trip, Tessa would be the first one off the bus and the last one to leave the Washington Temple. As poor health has prevented her from making the trip recently, many have commented that her presence is missed.
To the people of the Niagara Falls Ward and the Buffalo New York Stake, Tessa stands as a reminder of the price that one woman and her family paid so that many can reap the gospel’s rewards.
Banyan Dadson: Finding the Gospel in Ghana
Men like Banyan Dadson are rare in the small African nation of Ghana. Not only is he highly educated, but he is also a Latter-day Saint in a country where the Church is relatively new. Originally a professor of chemistry, Brother Dadson is now the pro-vice chancellor (vice-president) of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.
A convert to the Church of about six years, Brother Dadson dreams of the day temple spires will be seen against the central African skyline and his countrymen will join the Church in huge numbers. There are already more than 2,000 Church members in Ghana, with as many as fifty baptisms each week. “The Church meets the needs of my people,” he explains simply.
As a young boy, Banyan was so attentive in his Methodist services that he could often repeat entire sermons, and soon became known among the children as “the priest.” When many unanswered questions left him dissatisfied, he drifted into an informal Christian scripture union, but had trouble accepting all of their doctrine of being saved by grace alone. Faith without works was a doctrine which caused deep conflict in him. “Every Christian ought to demonstrate that he believes in the Lord,” Brother Dadson says.
At twenty-two, Banyan separated from the group and joined another brotherhood. The group gave him the spiritual support he needed during the next eight years while pursuing his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees in organic chemistry. “The brotherhood forbade alcohol, tobacco, and immorality and even had a story similar to Joseph Smith’s experience,” Brother Dadson recalls.
He returned to Ghana after earning his doctorate from Cambridge University in England and took a position as a chemistry professor at the University of Cape Coast. He spent the next ten years in academic pursuits, marrying, and beginning a family—unattached to any religious group. During this time he came in contact with “Reverend” Billy Johnson, who had come across copies of the Book of Mormon and started, without official authority, a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Banyan had attended a church meeting, but couldn’t accept the tribal drumming and dancing that were a part of the services.
Eight years later Billy Johnson gave Brother Dadson copies of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and Gospel Principles, along with the news that LDS missionaries had recently reorganized the local church, this time with a priesthood foundation. Brother Johnson had been baptized and was called to be the first district president.
Banyan decided to give the new religion one more try. This time he attended a standard LDS sacrament meeting with the hymns on cassette tapes. As he learned more about the gospel, he soon realized he had finally found the church he had been searching for. He was soon baptized, followed by the four oldest of his six children and, within a few weeks, his wife Henrietta.
Brother Dadson began spending more time with his family, including getting them up at 5:00 A.M. for prayer and scripture study. The effect on the family was impressive.
“People would tell me what a remarkable change for good they had noticed in my children,” he recalls. His brother and sister also noticed and soon joined the Church. Kwamena Dadson is now president of the Cape Coast Branch, and his sister Elizabeth Kwaw is a Relief Society president.
A few months after Brother Dadson’s baptism, he became the branch’s first elders quorum president, and in the spring of 1982 he was called to be second counselor in the Ghana District.
Brother Dadson credits his Church membership for his career successes. In 1981 he was appointed the dean of faculty at the university, a position he held until his appointment as pro-vice chancellor in May 1985. “The Church has made me a more effective teacher and leader,” he explains, citing such skills as organizing his time, using his talents and energies more effectively, and relating better with others. “In dealing with the staff, I am constrained by the law of Christ to show love.”
Along with improvements in his work and family, the gospel has brought another benefit. “I was once plagued by fears, but they have vanished. I feel a solid confidence; I am secure in the Lord.”
During the summer of 1983, Brother Dadson spent two months as a visiting professor of chemistry at BYU. That was his first trip to Utah, although he had previously lectured as a Fulbright Scholar and a guest of the U.S. State Department at various universities in the country.
Though his family remained in Ghana, Brother Dadson took advantage of his two-month stay to go to the Provo Temple and receive his endowment. Since then, economic restraints have prevented him from taking his family to the temple, but he says he “will not rest until I have brought my wife and children to a temple to be sealed.”
The Dadsons and their six children, ages ten to twenty-one, enjoy typical activities with the branch, including plays, native dancing, football (soccer), and working at the welfare farm, where maize, beans, and other vegetables are grown.
Concerned with needs of fellow countrymen for food and other supplies, Brother Dadson is one of the trustees of the Friends of West Africa (Ghana), a nondenominational organization involved with obtaining and distributing free medical supplies to hospitals, clinics, and villages.
The Dadsons plan to stay in Ghana and help the Church to grow, and hope their children will choose to do the same.
Olive Reece: What One Voice Can Do
A victim of crippling arthritis for more than forty years, now confined to a wheelchair in an Indianapolis nursing home, Olive Reece is not what you’d think. You might expect to find a bitter, depressed, lonely woman; instead, you encounter an energetic, witty lady who has proven that her influence and love can extend far beyond the confines of her wheelchair and the walls of the nursing home.
When Olive’s arthritis finally forced her into a wheelchair several years ago, she continued to live alone and care for herself in an apartment specially designed for handicapped people. It didn’t take long for her to notice that there was no way for the non-ambulatory residents of the complex to get across a wide ditch and a busy highway to an adjacent shopping center.
“The apartment owners received government subsidies because the apartments were for handicapped individuals,” recalls Olive, “and it didn’t seem right that the residents had no access to the shopping center.” So Olive began contacting anyone in a position to help, including the newspapers, and soon a bridge was constructed over the ditch. But it was no victory. The bridge consisted of many steep stairs, preventing its use by those in wheelchairs.
So Olive started over. She wrote letters to local government heads and again she appealed to the public through the newspapers. Finally she contacted officials in Washington, D.C., making an eloquent plea on behalf of handicapped people everywhere for accessibility to shopping centers. After two years, the stairs were finally replaced by a ramp.
Olive’s life has been characterized by her gritty determination. Since contracting arthritis at the age of twenty, pain and discomfort have been continually with her through rearing three children and working as a registered nurse. When her children were teenagers, Olive and her husband were divorced, and she continued to provide for her son and two daughters. As her affliction became increasingly painful and debilitating, she was confined to a wheelchair and had to quit the nursing job she loved.
Then she broke both of her legs in a fall and was hospitalized and put in traction. At what Olive calls the lowest point in her life, she lay in a hospital bed, questioning the worth of her life and even doubting the existence of God. One evening an aide entered the room to help ready Olive for the night.
“I am so miserable, all I need is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing to usher me out and I would go gladly,” muttered Olive, instantly wondering why she had said such a “dumb thing.”
“Would you like to hear the choir sing, Mrs. Reece?” Cathy, the aide, questioned lightly. “I think I can manage that.” A few moments later she returned with a tape recorder and a few cassettes. As the soothing music of the choir wrapped itself around Olive and her pains and frustration, she slept.
The next day Olive questioned Cathy about producing the tapes so quickly. “Do you know what a Mormon is?” Cathy countered, smiling.
“Sure. They all live in Salt Lake City.”
“Wrong,” Cathy answered, her eyes laughing. “There’s at least one right here in Franklin.”
And so began a new chapter in Olive’s life. A few days later Cathy introduced her to a pair of sister missionaries, who made daily visits and soon proposed bringing in the elders to administer to her.
“OK,” Olive told them. “Just make sure that your elders know that I am not a Mormon and never will be.” Several weeks later when Olive was discharged from the hospital and her casts came off, she was baptized. Franklin had another Latter-day Saint.
“What was so convincing was that they cared about me, even though I was a middle-aged stranger who was flat on my back and bitter about it. They loved me into the Church, and because of that I quit mourning for what could not be and began to think about my eternal possibilities.”
Soon Olive became a telephone reassurance lady for the Johnson County Senior Citizens’ Center, calling the homebound to see that their needs were being met and that they were safe and happy. She continued to work for legislation on behalf of senior citizens and the handicapped (although she insists that she is not handicapped, only “inconvenienced”). Her dedicated work has won her a nomination for the Ivy Award for Outstanding Service, as well as several commendations from the Indianapolis mayor’s office and many other civic groups.
In March 1983, no longer able to care for herself, Olive moved into a nursing home. But she hasn’t let that curtail her activities. Each month she does her visiting teaching by mail and telephone and continues to write letters of love and encouragement to home-bound senior citizens.
“Olive is one of the greatest women in our ward,” says Terilee Jensen, Olive’s Relief Society president. “She is a lady of rare courage and compassion.”