Elder Marvin J. Ashton was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. “I grew up in the Wasatch Ward, where my father was its first bishop,” he said. Later Elder Ashton’s father served in the Presiding Bishopric of the Church.
Elder Ashton is the third of six children in his family. “We were a close family,” he continued. “We had home evening before it was even an official program. Living on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, there weren’t a lot of distractions or many neighbors.
“My mother was always a teacher in the Primary and taught us children while we were growing up. My father was a bishop, and he was involved in community affairs, so a great responsibility fell upon Mother to give us most of our home training.
“Mother read to us, and she insisted that we all learn to play a musical instrument. My sisters played the piano, and I played the saxophone. Both parents encouraged us to do well in school and to have other kinds of wholesome experiences.
“My father was a loving man, but he could be stern when it was necessary. I think children respond best when there is a balanced blend of discipline and love at home. Father expected respectful obedience from his children, so our relationship with him wasn’t one that allowed for persuasion and options.”
Recalling his experience in Primary, Elder Ashton said, “In those days we had Primary and religion classes. Primary was devoted to character and personality development, and we were aided by charts, projects, songs, and recitations. In our religion classes we studied nothing but the scriptures and doctrine.
“I had a Primary teacher by the name of Sister Barton, who really made an impression on me. I was wiggly, and she knew that I had extra energy. She got me to use some of that energy in cleaning the chalkboard and in other ways so that I wouldn’t be mischievous or disruptive.”
Scouting also played an important part in Elder Ashton’s life. When he was eleven years old, his family moved to the Parleys area, where there were only six boys of Scout age. “You need twelve boys to create a troop,” he explained, “so we went to the Highland Park Ward and became part of their Scout troop. All six of us used to ride over there on three horses, and we thought of ourselves as the ‘mounted patrol’. I’m grateful that my parents arranged for me to become part of another troop, where I eventually became an Eagle Scout.
“A couple of times when we came out of troop meeting, our horses were gone, and we had to walk all the way home. Some prankish kids had cut our horses loose, and the horses headed on home. After the second time, we let people know that there would be an uprising if it happened again—Scouts or no Scouts.”
Christmas at the Ashton home was a special holiday. “We would all go together into the living room, where our stockings had been hung the night before. We went after breakfast and after the dishes were done—that was part of the tradition. No matter how excited or anxious we were, we had breakfast first and did the dishes. Then we lined up according to height and walked into the front room. I was the tallest in the family, so I had to stand behind my dad. My mother always made Christmas an exciting occasion—not because of an abundance of gifts but because of her wonderful Christmas spirit. It was always a fun and happy time. My favorite gift was a good tennis racket. I have enjoyed playing tennis all my life.”
Besides playing tennis, Elder Ashton enjoyed playing baseball, kick the can, and marbles. “We used to play a lot of marbles in those days, and I had a good collection of them. If we were really bold, we would play marbles for keeps. Most of the time, however, we just played marbles for the fun of it.”
The Ashtons always had dogs, and Elder Ashton remembered that some of his earliest spiritual experiences had to do with dogs. “I remember when one of our dogs was killed by a car. We had a funeral for it, said a prayer, gave a talk, and cried over our loss. I think that that experience taught us that it was all right to express our sorrow. We didn’t doubt that Heavenly Father heard our prayers.”
Elder Ashton said, “I would like to tell the children to be of good cheer and to not fear. We are living in troublesome times, when there is a lot of violence and lawbreaking, an increased use of drugs and alcohol, and frequent immorality. But you must not fear to be different, to be willing to do what’s right. If we try to be happy and live the commandments, we can have a beautiful world. One of the Church’s basic reasons for existence is to make people happy, particularly children.”