Newsmaker: A Flowering Creation

“I don’t know what I’ll find, or if I’ll find anything, or where I’ll find it,” says plant breeder Ronald Parker as he departs on another field trip among the flora of southern Utah. “I must be prepared to be disillusioned and disappointed. Or I might be on top of the world because I’ve found a new possibility.”

While most of his counterparts work with species already under cultivation, Brother Parker seeks to interbreed wildflowers. He is especially known for his twelve-year project of breeding vibrant new colors and shapes into the genus Catharanthus, which was previously an insignificant flower available in two or three dull colors. Brother Parker’s work has won him several All-America Selections awards, the most prestigious award in horticulture, and Greenhouse Grower magazine named him one of floriculture’s “Guiding Stars.”

His work with flowers involves the scientific disciplines of taxonomy, botany, genetics, plant breeding, and floriculture. He tracks down collectors who possess rare seeds, researches taxonomy for promising species he might work with, and hunts for wild specimens in the field. Every summer he hand transplants and hand hoes tens of thousands of seedlings, most of which are eventually discarded in his quest for new varieties of garden flowers.

“I have a great appreciation and respect for the beauty and workings of Heavenly Father’s creation,” says Brother Parker. “What I do is simply mimic or manipulate some of the basic natural laws that Heavenly Father has implemented. I act as an agent for bringing elements of his creation together a little faster than might naturally occur.”

After spending his childhood on an Illinois dairy farm, Brother Parker earned his degree in horticulture at the University of Illinois. He served a mission to Germany, and later he received a doctorate in botany from Brigham Young University. He taught genetics and botany at Virginia Commonwealth University for seven years, and in June of this year he retired from the faculty of the University of Connecticut. He and his wife now live in St. George, Utah, where they are members of the Bloomington Hills Sixth Ward, Bloomington Hills Utah Stake.

“The Sun on My Face”

When she was twenty-nine, Thurza Ann McKean, who goes by the nickname Bobbie, discovered she had multiple sclerosis. At the time, her five daughters—Kimberlie, Laurie, Jennifer, Julie, and Heidi—ranged in age from six months to nine years.

Over the years, the symptoms of Sister McKean’s disease came and went, with periods of partial recovery interrupted by increasingly worse relapses. She experienced lack of coordination, tremors, numbness and tingling, double and blurred vision, temporary blindness in one eye, lack of taste, slurring of her speech, loss of equilibrium, and partial and complete paralysis.

“It was hard,” she admits. “I cried when I couldn’t hold a book or read or steady my hand enough to draw. Art is my love.”

As her daughters grew older, Sister McKean organized them and delegated responsibilities so that the family could remain independent and self-reliant. Together they enjoyed refinishing antique furniture, baking, and making Christmas cards. At one point Sister McKean entered a national wheelchair-decorating contest and won a trip to Washington, D.C.

Eventually, however, she could no longer help with household tasks or participate in most projects. One day Laurie heard her mother say, “I’m useless!”

“Mom,” Laurie replied, “if you do nothing but listen to us, you’re the best mother ever. You guide us with your suggestions. Because of you we will be wonderful wives and mothers.”

Almost sixty now, Sister McKean cheers, encourages, and uplifts other patients at the Bennion Care Center in Taylorsville, Utah. “My disease has helped me appreciate the simple things of life,” she says. “I love warm showers, stars in the sky, the sun on my face, and my family. If I ever start to feel that life doesn’t count, I think of my thirteen grandchildren and smile.”Pam Taylor, Salt Lake City, Utah

Quilting at Home

When LaRue Matney of the Lafayette Ward, Oakland California Stake, started noticing increasing numbers of homeless families in the San Francisco Bay area, she decided she wanted to help them. But she needed to do something that would allow her to work at home in Walnut Creek, where she could be with her husband, Kent, a retired dentist.

Reasoning that everyone needs a blanket to keep warm, especially on the streets, LaRue has become a one-woman quilt factory. Using long, ball-ended pins that are easy to see and work with, she pins her quilts on a king-sized bed rather than on a quilt frame. Working on a single quilt from start to finish, she ties it with yarn while she socializes with her husband. Each quilt takes six to eight hours to finish, and when completed they lie perfectly flat, without a ripple.

LaRue learned to sew and quilt during the 1920s from her two grandmothers while she was growing up in River Heights, Utah, a suburb of Logan. After graduating from Utah State University in 1939, she became a milliner buyer for a Salt Lake City department store and later managed fur stores in Salt Lake City and Oakland. She spent forty years managing her husband’s Lafayette, California, dental practice and raised her brother’s son and four children of her own.

Most of LaRue’s quilts are donated to the nearby Pittsburg Family Shelter, where staff members give one to each member of families who complete the shelter’s program. Inspired by Sister Matney’s dedication, the Lafayette Ward youth get into the act each Christmas, gathering gifts for the shelter and delivering them along with carols, games, and holiday goodies.Richard H. Harris Jr., San Francisco, California

Keeping Families Together

Thomas Bollard’s efforts to safeguard children go far beyond his official role as a clinical social worker at the state of New Mexico’s Children, Youth, and Families Department. Whether he’s appearing on television to combat child abuse, participating in an interfaith panel discussion on rehabilitating offenders, writing parenting books and columns, or presenting a Church fireside, Brother Bollard is constantly working for the comfort and happiness of children who can’t speak up for themselves.

The New Mexico state legislature recently honored Brother Bollard with a certificate of appreciation for his service on the Children’s Code Task Force, which studied and recommended updates of state laws governing the care and treatment of children.

“The plight of abused children is heart wrenching,” says Brother Bollard. “We have found that removing children from their homes doesn’t help, except in extreme cases. Long-term placement out of the home leads to the disintegration of the parent-child relationship and discourages reunification.”

By working with parents in their own home, Brother Bollard explains, “social workers are able to understand the family’s stress a lot more. We hear the baby crying and the dishes breaking. We see the three-year-old spilling red punch on the carpet. We are better able to demonstrate caring.”

Brother Bollard believes the home-based approach pays big dividends. “It strengthens families,” he says. “It keeps them together instead of tearing them apart. That’s my goal!”

In the Spotlight

  • Suzanne Dandoy of the Norfolk Ward, Virginia Beach Stake, was recently awarded the national Distinguished Service Award by the American College of Preventative Medicine for her contributions in that field. Sister Dandoy is currently the director of the Virginia Beach Health Department.

  • For his leadership in turning around a struggling rural hospital in Crosbyton, Texas, David D. Clark was one of eleven young healthcare executives to receive an “Up and Comers” award from Modern Healthcare magazine. Brother Clark is the administrator and chief executive officer of the Moore County Hospital District. He serves as president of the Dumas Branch, Amarillo Texas Stake.

  • Fred C. Temby of the Hancock Ward, Winchester Virginia Stake, was elected president of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. Brother Temby edits and publishes three newspapers that circulate in the tristate area of western Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.