When Elder Gardner H. Russell was nine years old, he helped build a chapel in his hometown. “Hand-cut stones had been purchased from an old building,” Elder Russell recalled, “and they still had mortar on them. I remember sitting outside in the cold weather, chipping the mortar off the stones so that we could reuse them. After the church was dedicated, I sometimes looked at the walls and thought that I could see some of the stones that I had worked on, and I felt a certain pride of ownership.”
Helping establish a new branch of the Church was not a new experience for Elder Russell, who grew up in the mission field. “I was born in Salt Lake City, but we moved to Columbus, Ohio, when I was five years old,” he said. “We traveled in a Paige automobile on dirt roads, and it took two and a half weeks to get there. I would keep asking where we were going, and finally I asked, ‘Dad, can’t you find Ohio?’”
After the family had settled in Columbus, Elder Russell’s father had a nervous breakdown. “To restore my father’s health, we moved to a place called Salt Creek and camped there,” Elder Russell continued. “There were four of us: Father, Mother, my two-year-old brother, and myself. It was a very good time for me because my father and I spent a lot of time fishing and just being together. And although I was young, I had more responsibilities because of my father’s condition.
“That fall I went to school in Londonderry, Ohio, in a one-room schoolhouse where three grades met together. All summer long and into the fall I went barefoot—all the boys did. When the tall grass was mowed, the stubble hurt our feet, but we got used to it.”
Elder Russell said that after his father’s health was restored, his family moved back to Columbus. “My father organized the first branch of the Church there. We held our meetings in the loft of an old building, and it was one of my duties to help clean up the loft after parties held there by nonmembers the night before.”
Throughout his life Elder Russell had other responsibilities and jobs that taught him to work hard. “When I was twelve years old, I sold newspapers on a street corner in downtown Columbus, Ohio. I learned big-city ways, such as how to get the best corner for selling. I would pick up my papers, then run to beat the other boys and claim my turf.
“If it weren’t for such a strong family background in the Church and such good examples, I don’t know if I would have been as dedicated to the gospel. My father was a great man and an example of one who lived a life of service. He opened branches of the Church with his own money and paid the rent for meeting halls until the branches were established.
“My father taught me all the correct principles, including honesty. One time when my father and I were walking downtown, I saw a dime on the sidewalk. ‘Didn’t you see that dime?’ my father asked me.
“‘Yes,’ I said.
“‘Why didn’t you pick it up?’ he asked.
“‘Because it wasn’t mine,’ I answered.
“Because I often lived in communities where I was the only active member of the Church, I wanted to be as good an example of a righteous Latter-day Saint as I could. I tried to live in such a way that anyone watching me would be affected positively.
“As a young boy, I was very close to the missionaries. One of my most treasured possessions is a little New Testament that a missionary gave me when I was six years old. It was bound in leather and had the inscription, ‘To my friend Gardner for 100 percent attendance at Sunday School.’
“I hope that you children will have the courage to speak out about the gospel,” Elder Russell said, “and to do everything possible to be a good example so that others who see you will respect you. And talk about the Church. I’ve always made it a practice that if I’m with someone for fifteen minutes whom I’ve never met before, I will tell him something good about the Church. Out of the unnumbered times that I’ve done this, I’ve had only one poor experience. Sharing the gospel with others brings great happiness.”