Saving Souls in Seminary

“I think what my students find in seminary is a sense of freedom,” says 77-year-old Irmgard Sirtl. She teaches seminary in the Landshut Branch, Munich Germany Stake. “They feel free to ask questions.”

One of Sister Sirtl’s students, 16-year-old Carlo Theiss, says: “In school there are all kinds of temptations and challenges. People don’t understand my being a Latter-day Saint. They have different morals. But Sister Sirtl provides us with a place where we can be with friends, gain strength, and learn the gospel.”

One highlight of Sister Sirtl’s seminary teaching came when she challenged each class member to bear his or her testimony. “Eventually,” she recalls, “they all bore their testimonies to each other, though it was difficult. They didn’t know I was helping them prepare for something bigger. Not long after, every one of them bore testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel in a branch testimony meeting without any further prompting from me.”

Sister Sirtl joined the Church in May 1957. She raised six children, took in four foster children, and also has six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She has been a widow for 20 years. In addition to teaching seminary, her activities in her small branch include teaching Sunday School and Relief Society, serving as a Relief Society counselor, and doing her visiting teaching.Paul and Shirlee Conners, Sandy, Utah

A Symbol for Good

When actor-singer Robert Peterson was 18, he suffered a serious head injury that caused a life-threatening blood clot to develop on his brain. He received a priesthood blessing, and in surgery the next morning doctors found no blood clot. During his hospital stay, Robert had a powerful inspirational experience that helped him resolve to make a career of using his singing and acting talents for good.

In 1953 Robert and his wife, Lois, moved with their three children to New York City, where Robert studied singing on a scholarship at Juilliard. Over the next five years, he attended five vocal schools and worked at various part-time jobs, including singing at churches of other faiths. Nevertheless, the family had to pawn Lois’s sewing machine in order to buy groceries.

In 1961 Robert landed a role in Camelot on Broadway as a chorus member and understudy for a minor role. The producers were impressed with the young baritone from Utah, and before long he was asked to understudy Robert Goulet in the role of Lancelot. Eventually he replaced Goulet on Broadway, and later he toured nationally with Camelot for two years. However, feeling disillusioned by the worldly musicals gaining popularity in New York during the 1960s, Robert subsequently turned to doing regional theater and industrial shows in cities nationwide. Later he returned to Salt Lake City, where he starred in the Pioneer Memorial Theater’s production of Man of La Mancha. Before long he was invited to join the University of Utah faculty as an associate professor and to join the Pioneer Memorial Theater as artist-in-residence. He still enjoys those activities some 25 years later. He also teaches private vocal lessons.

He has performed numerous benefit concerts for many causes, such as the March of Dimes. His Church-related work has included starring in Promised Valley in 1968 and 1969, narrating the Temple Square nativity scene, and portraying the voice of Brigham Young in Mountain of the Lord. In 1987 he received the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce’s Honors in Arts Award. Brother Peterson is a member of the Alta View Second Ward, Sandy Utah Alta View Stake.Mark Purles, Draper, Utah

Time to Embrace the Gospel

I first met Russian scientist Nickolay Koshelyaevsky in June 1989 at a conference of time-measurement experts in Paris. Nick’s grandfather had been a Russian Orthodox bishop, and I could tell Nick had strong spiritual inclinations. My wife and I gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon in English. By the time we parted, we had developed a real friendship.

In September 1989, after I attended a scientific meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, my wife and I visited Nick at the USSR’s timing center 60 kilometers north of Moscow. We exchanged scientific insights, and he mentioned he was having trouble reading the English version of the Book of Mormon. Upon our return to the United States, we sent Nick a Russian version of the Book of Mormon and some other Church books. He received them just as he was leaving on a two-week vacation. We received a letter expressing that he was deeply touched by what he was reading.

Knowing of the USSR’s excellent work in scientific time measurement, I soon recommended that Dr. Koshelyaevsky give a paper at an international conference. He agreed, but at the last minute his airline ticket was canceled. He sent his paper with another colleague, and I volunteered to present it. I was surprised to see the following quotation at the paper’s head: “And time only is measured unto men” (Alma 40:8).

Later, Nick was able to visit our lab in Boulder, Colorado. Over the weekend, he attended all three Church meetings. He was particularly touched by the open sharing of spiritual feelings in the high priests group discussion.

When our friends’ son was called to Moscow on his mission, we gave him Nick’s address. I e-mailed Nick about the missionary who might visit him, and he e-mailed back, “A friend of my friend is my friend.” Our friends’ son wasn’t able to visit Nick himself, but he gave the referral to other missionaries. Nick was eventually baptized in Moscow’s Zelenograd First Branch on 17 July 1994. At a scientific meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, a few weeks later, Nick told me his good news by handing me some pictures taken the day of his baptism. He bore his testimony and thanked me for introducing him to the gospel. Later, Nick and I met again at a conference in San Diego. I had invited him to bring some family history information, and together we went to a family history center and entered 10 of his family names for temple work to be done. On 4 June 1996 my wife and I were privileged to accompany Nick to the Hawaii Temple for his own endowment. He gave me a big embrace afterward that I will never forget.

“Our Church is the true Church,” testifies Brother Koshelyaevsky. “It is arranged and managed in full agreement with the precepts of Jesus Christ.” He serves as Sunday School president in his branch.David W. Allan, Fountain Green, Utah

[photo] Left to right: Nickolay Koshelyaevsky, Edna Allan, and David W. Allan.

In the Spotlight

  • Wen Tsung Chou, president of the Taichung Taiwan Stake, received his country’s annual Best Service Enterprise award on behalf of Hi-Con Chemical Admixture Taiwan Ltd., of which he is president. Cosponsored by the Republic of China’s Association of Service Industry Quality Development and Ministry of Economic Affairs and Taiwan’s Department of Reconstruction, the award was presented by the president of Taiwan.

  • La Viece Smallwood of the Macclenny Ward, Lake City Florida Stake, recently retired from writing “Out on a Limb,” a long-running newspaper column about family history. She was honored with an Award of Merit from the National Genealogical Society. She is also appreciated by her community for organizing a yearly Christmas parade and participating in other community projects.

  • Thomas B. Griffith has been appointed as chief legal counsel for the United States Senate. His new position involves defending senators and senatorial committees, officers, and employees from civil suits related to official work. He is a member of the Leesburg Ward, Warrenton Virginia Stake.

  • James B. Conkling of the Roseville Fourth Ward, Roseville California Stake, was given the President’s Merit Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. His music industry career includes serving as the first president of Warner Brother Records. Proceeds from the award ceremony held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, were donated to the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of Brother Conkling, who suffers from the disease.