Newsmaker: Oscar Nominee

For three and a half months, director Kieth Merrill and his small film crew journeyed through miles of the Amazon rain forest, loaded down with three tons of equipment on trains, bush planes, boats, and canoes. The result was a 40-minute movie, Amazon, which garnered Brother Merrill a 1997 Academy Award nomination in the Documentary Short category.

Many Church members are already familiar with Brother Merrill’s work. He wrote, coproduced, and directed Legacy and directed Mr. Krueger’s Christmas, On the Way Home, and several commercials for the Church’s Homefront series. In 1974 he won an Oscar for his documentary feature The Great American Cowboy.

“As a kid I was fascinated with film,” Brother Merrill says. “But I didn’t realize it would turn into a profession. My wife gets credit for that. She was bold enough to encourage me and brave enough to support me in following my dream.”

As a Latter-day Saint, Brother Merrill says he always lets his peers know about his religion right away. “It’s so much easier to identify your faith, your beliefs, and your heritage in the first five minutes of any conversation relating to a possible work project,” he says. “Bringing it up later is always difficult. It’s critical for me not to violate someone’s expectations when they discover I’m not willing to do some things. Letting people know up front makes life a whole lot easier.”

Many of the films Brother Merrill has worked on are documentary large-format movies that are family oriented and values centered. On numerous occasions he has taken his family with him on filmmaking trips. “In making Amazon we took our unmarried children with us for at least part of it,” he says. “It was my last adventure with my son before he left on his mission.”

Brother Merrill is the first counselor in the bishopric of the Stanford Third Ward, Los Altos California Stake.

Norwegian Area Authority

“As a 13-year-old boy, I learned to appreciate the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ,” remembers Elder Stein Pedersen of Skjetten, Norway, who was sustained as an Area Authority in April 1997. “By reading it and by following Moroni’s advice, I gained a strong testimony of the divinity of this book.”

Elder Pedersen’s parents were both strong members of the Church, his mother having been reactivated not long after his birth and his father joining when Elder Pedersen was four years old. Elder Pedersen faithfully attended his meetings throughout his youth, but despite his testimony of the Book of Mormon, his ties to the Church were mainly for social reasons.

When he reached age 19, the mission president challenged him to be ordained an elder. “This was a turning point in my life,” Elder Pedersen says. “After praying about it, I suddenly realized that having a testimony of the gospel meant I needed to actively show my faith. At that moment I made a promise to use the priesthood in the service of the Lord and thus in the service of my fellow men.”

Another turning point came when he and his wife, Gullaug, were sealed in the London Temple in 1965. “We learned to love the temple and the work that is done there,” he says. “We know the temple brings joy and happiness into our marriage and family life.”

Elder Pedersen is a former airline executive and general manager of a catering business and a company that distributes books and magazines. Presently he is an operations manager for the Norwegian Postal System. He and Sister Pedersen are the parents of five children.

Winning Spirit

Jennifer Emmett Jeffers had no way of knowing that the sudden illness which overcame her in November 1990 would end her hopes for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Soccer Team. Yet the struggles of this former Michigan all-state goalie would lead to a greater victory and a new vision of life.

After Jennifer was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in the spring of 1991, her preparations for Olympic tryouts were replaced with hospital stays, illness, and pain. Eventually the disease worsened and she was given 18 months to live. Her one remaining hope was for a matching donor to provide a bone-marrow transplant. Such a donor match was found in her younger sister, Mackenzie Emmett.

Following the successful transplant, Jennifer slowly progressed to full physical activity. Her return to health, however, was not accompanied by her former athletic aspirations. Instead, remembering a promise she had made to herself during her illness, Jennifer focused on helping others. She volunteered as a Big Sister, helped at nursing homes and hospitals, and worked as a counselor in a summer camp for children with cancer. On 21 May 1997, Jennifer was honored as Michigan’s volunteer of the year.

Jennifer’s Olympic participation was not entirely lost to her fight with an illness, however. She was selected to carry the 1996 Olympic torch through part of Michigan, with her husband, Chad, as her escort. In appreciation for Mackenzie’s gift to Jennifer, Chad asked Mackenzie to take his place.

On 9 June 1996, holding hands, Jennifer and Mackenzie began the last segment of travel for the Olympic torch in Michigan. With thousands of spectators lining the way, Jennifer carried the Olympic torch into Detroit’s Hart Plaza. She extended the torch and gave life to the ceremonial fire, all within view of the hospital where, four years prior to the very day, Mackenzie had extended life to Jennifer.

Today Jennifer continues to volunteer in the Big Sister program and works as a hospital respiratory therapist. “I always knew I wanted to be in a field where I could help others,” she says. “My experience with my illness helped me realize more than ever what I wanted to do and what my priorities were.”

Jennifer is second counselor in the Young Women presidency of the Grand Rapids Ward, Grand Rapids Michigan Stake.Richard Blackmer, Grand Haven, Michigan

In the Spotlight

  • The National Science Foundation has awarded Sherry Kooyman the Antarctic Service Medal for her work as a graphic designer for the Cape Roberts Project. The project will help provide information about Antarctic tectonic and climactic history. Sister Kooyman is a member of the Del Mar First Ward, Del Mar California Stake.

  • Christopher Brady, a member of the Santa Monica First Ward, Los Angeles Santa Monica California Stake, was recently awarded the Henry Mancini prize for film music. The Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles, California, honors one recipient nationally each year. Last year Brother Brady won the composition competition at the Franz Schubert festival in Isleworth, England.