Mormon Corner

By Larry A. Hiller

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    In the middle of a city, in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, Latter-day Saint students have created their own cozy little corner.

    Some towns on the map are nothing more than a small store or two at a crossroads. And there is a place in Alaska called “Mormon Corner” that turns out to be nothing more than a locker in a high school.

    The difference is, the small store can disappoint you if you were hoping to find a larger town. But Mormon Corner seems to never disappoint.

    At Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, Alaska, the Latter-day Saint youth seem to stand out. Their smiles, friendly attitudes, and leadership qualities frequently mark them as LDS. And they picked the nickname “Mormon Corner” for the locker where they gather before and after school, at lunch time, or whenever the occasion arises.

    Even school principal Ted Paulsen has noticed the contribution LDS students make in his school. “You notice these teenagers in your student council, on your basketball team. They’re leaders in the school. They have high expectations for themselves. You can see that they know where they are going, what they are going to do, and how they are going to get there.”

    Mr. Paulsen’s own son, who was a student at Lathrop, has commented on the LDS students: “He says that he can pick out an LDS student because of dress and speech and all of the things we judge people by. He has a lot of respect for them.”

    But just where is Mormon Corner? It’s wherever one or more of the LDS students happen to have assigned lockers in a convenient spot, so the location changes from year to year. Sometimes there are two Mormon corners.

    What goes on there? The usual joking around, making plans for after school, keeping track of friends, and a fair amount of sharing the gospel and fellowshipping. Susan Benefield can tell you about that.

    Susan noticed the LDS youth at Lathrop and liked what she saw. “One thing I noticed when I first met these students is that they all smile. It’s like they know something you don’t. They walk through the halls with a smile on their faces, most of them. It makes you kind of wonder, why are they so happy all the time?”

    Susan began to find her answer when Courtney Hull, Susan’s best friend, invited her to early-morning seminary. “It was just a going-with-my-friend sort of thing,” Susan explains. “Then I started going to Young Women and to church and everything else, and everyone was really friendly. Then I started listening to the things the teachers were teaching. And one day it just came to me that this is the thing I needed to do.” So she was baptized.

    “I still have my friends that I had before I joined the Church,” Susan goes on, “and I have a lot of friends that aren’t in the Church. But I know when I’m with the LDS youth that there’s no peer pressure, no gossiping going on, no name calling, no drinking.” Now Susan knows why the LDS students seem so happy all the time: “I guess the gospel kind of does that to you.”

    Of course, smiling all the time isn’t always the best idea if you live in Fairbanks—not if you wear braces on your teeth and you are outdoors in the winter. Your lips can freeze to the metal braces. This is a place where it’s so cold in the winter that if you go outside with hair still damp from your shower, your hair literally freezes and can break off.

    On the other hand, summer means warm days with nearly twenty-four-hour sunshine. Ask about summer, and you get those famous smiles again. “There’s no night,” says one. “If your parents say, ‘You be back before dark,’ you can come back the next morning,” she jokes.

    “You don’t take summer for granted,” says another. “You do as many things as possible.”

    Still another adds, “You feel guilty if you miss doing something because summer is so short.”

    There’s a tangible zest for the gospel as well as for life among the LDS youth in Fairbanks. This is a place where wages are generally quite high and money is often easy to come by. And too many other teens try to substitute alcohol, drugs, sex, or materialism for love, family values, and spirituality. But LDS teenagers stick together while reaching out to others. In the middle of the city, in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, they’ve created their own cozy little corner—Mormon Corner.

    Photography by Jed Clark

    Taking advantage of summer’s almost twenty-four-hour sunshine, Latter-day Saint youth in Fairbanks, Alaska, help clean and shine a city monument as part of a community service project.

    There’s a tangible zest for the gospel among the Mormon youth in Fairbanks. But while they enjoy their own activities and life-style, they still reach out to share the gospel with others. By the way, some of the faces on these pages do not belong to our Fairbanks youth. They’re Native American totems or symbols seen at a Fairbanks park dedicated to the area’s rich history. You can tell which is which. There is nothing wooden about the LDS youth.