When Bill Grow came back into full activity in the Church in the late 1970s, aided by loving priesthood leaders, he wanted his children to know the joy and peace that he and they had been missing all those years. But he found that preaching to them about it didn’t have much effect.
His example did, however. Bill was one of those people who, after years of being less active, developed a desire to return to full activity in the Church. Over the next few years, the changes wrought in his life by the gospel, along with his quiet, devoted service, would touch the lives of nearly forty members of his family.
Bill grew up in Salt Lake City, a descendant of Henry Grow, the man responsible for building the familiar domed roof of the Tabernacle on Temple Square. In 1946, after serving in World War II, Bill came home and married Donna Hackett.
Early in their marriage, Bill and Donna were active in the Church. Beginning in 1952, they spent three years in California, where he was a foreman on the construction of the Los Angeles Temple. When Bill and Donna returned to Utah, Bill became business agent for his labor union’s local organization, immersed himself in its affairs, and dropped out of activity in the Church. “I guess I thought the worldly things were more important,” he reflects.
He later took a job with a large construction company that handled projects all over the country.
After the Grows moved to Seattle, Washington, Jackie, the oldest of the seven Grow children, met and married David Young, a returned missionary. In 1969, the Grow family, including the six younger children—Steve, Debbie, Mike, Cathy, Penny, and Andy—moved to Auburn, Nebraska, when Bill’s company sent him to supervise the construction of a nuclear power plant.
The Grows had to drive some distance to attend Church meetings. With his work, hunting, and golfing, Bill found little time for Church activity. Donna attended when she could.
Because their father was gone so much, the Grow children remember being very close to their mother as they were growing up. Donna’s sudden death in 1971, following a burst appendix, was hard for all of them. But her children say that by then her influence had done much to mold their character.
Steve Grow and his wife, Sabra, were married soon after his mother’s funeral. That left Bill with five children at home. He determined that the family’s moving days were over, even though staying in Auburn meant eventually giving up his job with the construction company and finding other work.
Steve had married outside the Church. During the next few years, Bill saw each of his remaining children do the same, following their father’s example by becoming less active in the Church.
In 1973, Bill Grow married Helga Larson, a well-known businesswoman in their community who was a member of another church.
Bill and Helga might have gone on as they were—he too busy for his church, and she knowing little about it—had it not been for a series of faithful home teachers and a stake high councilor named Glenn Potter.
When their regional representative challenged stake leaders to go into the homes of less-active members and ask them why they were not participating in Church meetings and activities, Brother Potter accepted the challenge. He had responsibility for the Nebraska City Branch, and the branch president suggested that Brother Potter visit Bill Grow, adding, “He should be a bishop.”
Brother Potter, now a member of the high council in the Meridian Idaho East Stake, near Boise, recalls that he asked the home teacher to set up a visit. When they went to the Grow home that day in 1978, Bill explained that his outside activities and his responsibility for his children left him little time for the Church.
Then Brother Potter turned to Helga and asked her if she had ever investigated her husband’s church. “No,” she replied, “but I believe a husband and wife should belong to the same church.” She agreed to listen to the missionaries.
A month later, Helga Grow called Glenn Potter to say she was being baptized and to invite him to attend.
Helga’s interest in the Church had had an almost immediate effect on her husband. While she was investigating the Church, the two of them had committed together to live the Word of Wisdom, and then they had begun to plan toward attending Church meetings.
During this time period, as Helga came into the Church, Bill reevaluated the gospel heritage that had been his since birth. A scripture he read in the Doctrine and Covenants one day touched him deeply: “He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple.” (D&C 41:5.) Bill decided that he truly wanted to be a disciple of Christ and that he would do whatever it required.
Brother Potter had promised that Bill would not be called on to pray or to otherwise participate until he was ready, so Bill made the first move by asking if he could be assigned as a home teacher. He traveled as much as fifty miles one way to visit some families. Later he accepted other assignments—in the branch presidency, as high priests group leader, and as a stake high councilor—that required still more travel. He never complained about the time commitment or the cost. He told his children that his gasoline seemed to go further when he was in the service of the Lord.
Bill is particularly grateful for two priesthood leaders whose trust helped him change his life.
Roy Sneddon, president of the Lincoln Nebraska Stake, came to know Bill about a year after Bill had begun coming back to church. President Sneddon says of Bill Grow, “The thing that struck me most about him was his desire to do everything right.” It was as though he were saying, President Sneddon recalls, “‘I’m late on board, so I want to catch up.’”
For a time, Bill served as a counselor to Nebraska City branch president (now bishop) Clifford Bracken. In the beginning, Brother Bracken recalls, his counselor was sometimes “impatient” with those who did not perform as they should in the Church. But Bill’s dedication and resolve were valuable, and the branch president watched as Bill became more meek and humble, developing new patience and love toward others.
The change was not lost on Bill’s children. In their relationship with their father as they were growing up, Michael recalls, “things were more or less his way—or no way.” But his daughter Penny says the change in him was obvious after he started going back to church. He turned into a man who could lead them in the gospel instead of trying to push them along.
At first, he talked to his children often about the Church, telling them that they should come back, too. Bill smiles when he remembers that they began to call him “the preacher.”
“I could see how important it was. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t see it,” he says.
But Bill didn’t realize how clearly they were seeing the effect that living the gospel had on him. His return to activity touched off a chain reaction that brought his less-active children back to the Church and brought most of their spouses to baptism.
After Mike Grow came back to the Church, Andy, who looked up to his older brother, followed. Mike’s wife, Melanie, had been around the Grow family since she was twelve, but her husband’s Church activity was something new for her. Watching him change, she was moved to study the gospel and be baptized.
As Cathy Grow Rohrs went back to church, she took her children with her. Her husband, Randy, says Cathy’s example and his children’s questions on Sunday—“Dad, are you going to go to church?”—drew him in. He, too, was baptized.
The Grow children say they owe their activity in part to the influence of their grandparents from earlier years. Their grandparents’ homes in Salt Lake City have long been focal points for vacation visits. Jackie speaks particularly of her mother’s mother, Clarice Hackett, as a loving “matriarch” in the family. Sister Hackett’s Christlike living and consistent service have been family benchmarks. When her grandchildren were not active in the Church, she never let them feel her disapproval; she just went on loving them.
Clarice helped Bill and Donna’s children keep their mother’s memory alive, but she also welcomed Bill’s second wife. Both Clarice Hackett and Bill’s own parents sparked Helga Grow’s early interest in the Church. Helga felt so much love in their homes during visits to Salt Lake City that she wanted to know what made these people the way they were.
After Helga’s baptism and Bill’s reactivation, they were sealed in the temple in 1980. They became stalwarts of the Church in their area. A spurt of growth at about that time helped the Nebraska City Branch become a ward. Maybe it would have happened anyway, Glenn Potter says, but he attributes the growth partly to the influence of Bill and Helga Grow. Both were prominent in the community and active in service in and out of the Church.
It was a blow not only to Bill and his family but to many others when Helga died in surgery for a brain tumor in 1985. But the bond of love between Bill and his children, which had been strengthened as the gospel had grown more important in their lives, helped sustain him.
After Helga’s death, he continued his Church work with the same dedication that his priesthood leaders had come to know: If Bill Grow said he would do it, he would do it.
One night in 1986, he debated about whether to go to a tri-stake Single Adult dinner in Omaha, more than an hour’s drive away. As both a single adult and a high councilor, though, he felt he should attend. At the dinner, a friend introduced him to Jawni Nadine Johnson. Jawni was a member of the Lincoln First Ward, where Bill was assigned as a high councilor, but they had never met.
A member of the Church since 1960, Jawni was a widow. Her discovery of the gospel and her baptism had been joyous events in her life, but her husband, an atheist, had never allowed her to talk religion to him. Because of his pressure for her to join him in Sunday social activities, she was less active for a time during the marriage (her second). She credits a faithful home teacher and his family with loving her back into activity.
During Bill and Jawni’s courtship, they prepared carefully for their marriage, which took place in the Chicago Temple on 26 March 1987.
As Jawni joined the circle of Bill’s seven children and twenty-seven grandchildren, there were adjustments on both sides, but she speaks of his offspring lovingly as “our family.” And Jawni’s son by her first husband now looks to Bill as something of a father figure, she says.
From the beginning of their marriage, Bill and Jawni set a goal of serving a mission together. That dream came true when, after he retired, they were called to serve for eighteen months at the Chicago Temple, beginning in the fall of 1990.
Bill, who realizes that many who lose contact with the Church do not return, is grateful to the people who so faithfully kept him in contact with the Church during all those years while he was less active. “That’s why I have a testimony of home teaching,” he comments. It can change other lives “just like it changed mine.”
He has been the means of changing a number of lives outside his family. Bill’s children can name several families he has helped activate. He was also instrumental in helping to bring Jawni’s mother into the Church, baptizing her when she was eighty-nine.
But Bill Grow feels the most important work he has done in helping others has been within his own family. He prizes his relationship with his children today, as well as the opportunity to do some things with his grandchildren that he did not do with their parents—such as bear his testimony of the gospel. “I think that’s one of the most important things that a parent or grandparent can do,” he says.
He points out that teaching has to be done with love and patience—the kind of patience that his children will say has come to him through service in the gospel.
“I’ve learned that you can’t do things overnight,” Bill says. “You’ve got to plant a seed, and then give of yourself—just let them know you love them.”