Chicago—Many people wrinkle their noses and grunt whenever the word Chicago pops into a conversation. It’s not hard to tell what the first descriptive adjective will be either. If it isn’t “windy” or “cold,” it most certainly will be “dirty.” With seven million people stacked on top of $40.3 billion in industrial facilities, and the whole situation bathing in Lake Michigan’s humidity, it’s not too difficult to understand why.
But big industry and millions of people do produce something besides dirt. In fact, those same people who quickly come up with “dirty” for a first adjective have little trouble finding ten or twelve “things I like,” once they are started on the Chicago theme.
Latter-day Saint youth aren’t much different.
“A few weeks ago we were talking about why we were glad we moved here,” Amy Hathaway, a recent Chicago immigrant, observed. “I realized all the opportunities I would have missed by not coming. I look around me every time I go into the city and I see so much that I want to do, and I see all that there is to do. Chicago is a world within itself. You can live here for years and never really see everything.”
Some aren’t so enthusiastic, but most seem to have little trouble coming up with a favorite spot or two that, in their minds, give Chicago at least a slight edge over other places.
Personally, I wasn’t so impressed with Carl Sandburg’s “broad shouldered stacker of wheat” the first time I was there. In fact, I cut my visit a day short because I longed to be gone. Regardless of which way I turned, the wind blew directly in my face. Just try to get any help from an umbrella or a raincoat under those conditions.
Even more depressing than the weather, though, were the horrors of big-city life. Imagine screeching and thundering around a corner in an elevated railway car that passes within three feet of someone’s bedroom window. I had to open my mouth to muffle the sound—and I was in the car. I wondered what it would be like to be gently awakened every twenty minutes, all night long, by one of those monsters.
Chicago’s charm, like any other city, has to be tied to the people who live there. I like Chicago now. And I guess the biggest reason I do is the people I have met there. Particularly the young people who happen also to be members of the Church.
Places take on a completely different face when viewed through the special aura that usually surrounds groups of Latter-day Saint youth. Chicago is no different. In fact, Chicago youth lean a little toward the sanctimonious in their civic pride—simply because of how they feel about people. Hearing them talk, one might think that Zion had been reestablished right in Chicago. And of course it has—Zion is where the pure in heart are found.
Jeff Christensen put it this way: “Chicago gives you confidence. You feel as if you can handle yourself.”
“I want to live here—after I find a good Mormon husband,” pert Kerrie Sorenson chuckled. When I asked her and many of her contemporaries from the Chicago Stake why they feel that way, they made it pretty clear. “We feel it’s good for our children to grow up in an area that has pronounced aspects of missionary experience attached to it.”
“The Latter-day Saints of Chicago are close and strong and make a tight-knit group. I feel secure here—kind of a feeling of home,” Fred Holets explained.
Rick Holbrook described it as a simple function of scarcity. “The school I attend, John Hersey High School, has nine Mormons out of twenty-six hundred students. This helps me to be a better Mormon, because I know many kids are watching me and are measuring my religion by my actions.”
“Oh, the other kids tease us a lot,” Amy said. “They say, ‘You’re a Mormon? I thought they wore bonnets and dressed like Quakers,’ or ‘Aren’t you the ones who meet in that large building (referring to the Tabernacle)?”
“Yes, and there is always the comment, ‘How many mothers do you have?’” Wendy Hales added.
“But if they ever get out of hand, we just lay a little heavy scripture on ’em,” Paul Thorpe said, as he rocked back in his chair, and the rest of the group laughed.
Kerrie put it pointedly: “Living in the minority, and in an area where the meetinghouse is not very close to your home, it is sometimes hard to go to church. Here, Mormons are always examples for the whole Church, and someone is always watching.
“Mormon friends are very close because they share your beliefs. So I urge other kids everywhere to stay close to the Church and to recognize the opportunities and advantages it offers.”
Of course there are some disadvantages in living where there aren’t many members of the Church. One such disadvantage comes in dating. With only a few Latter-day Saint classmates, it becomes a little difficult sometimes to get the right kind of a person to date.
“The boys in the ward are nice,” Kerrie said, “but sometimes they only seem to look at us as the little girls who were always smarter than they were in Sunday School. I wish they’d really consider us.”
“I don’t think dating is any more of a problem here than it is anywhere else,” Amy added. “Of course many of us date non-Mormons, but most kids pick their dates and friends by the type of kids they like to associate with. You find the good guys and the bad guys wherever you go. I have found that the kids respect my standards and don’t drink or smoke while I’m around.”
With the exciting downtown area of the city only minutes away from where most of the Chicago members live, there is no excuse for not having anything to do on a date.
Chicago is a different world at night. Myriads of light bulbs transform the ugly gray of the buildings into a dazzling light show. Theater. Ballet. It’s alive. Even a look at the skyline from the top of the Prudential Building offers enough of an excuse for a good date.
When a daytime date is in order, there are museums, parks, zoos, beaches, boat trips on the lake, or just plain browsing in some of the world’s swankiest shops.
But even with all that, most of the young people said they found their greatest enjoyment in attending stake MIA dances. When I asked why, I knew the answer before it came. It’s the same phenomenon that made me like Chicago: the people. And particularly, the Latter-day Saints.