General Authorities’ Wives: Sister Merlene Featherstone


Several years ago I was transferred to Garden Grove, California, by a large grocery firm. During the time my family was in California, we faithfully held our family home evenings. One family home evening lesson suggested that each person in the family take a piece of paper, think of one of the members of the family, write his or her name down, and then write something nice about that member of the family. Each person wrote something nice about every other person, and then we read all of the nice things before the family group.

When I came to my wife’s list, I read several things about her from other members of the family, and then I read what our son Scott had written: “Mom is a miracle maker.” I suppose in that one short sentence Scott described Merlene Featherstone.

She was born on December 29, 1931, in Ogden, Utah. All of her life she has been a very vivacious person, a very positive thinker, and has attracted people to her in great numbers. She has as many dear friends as anyone I know. Those who truly know her love her and are supremely loyal to her. She has enjoyed girls’ sports and has participated in them in her neighborhood while growing up and in the girls sports programs at school and at church. Her five oldest sons are also active in athletics and enjoy them.

Along with her love for outdoor activity, she enjoys outdoor gardening. She loves to work in the yard and can lose all perspective of time while working in a flower bed, crumbling lumps of dirt with her fingers, and planting bulbs and flowers, trimming bushes, and edging flower garden areas.

She is an exceptional homemaker. During the years we have been married I cannot recall her leaving the bedroom before our bed was made. This is training she received sometime before our marriage because it has always been part of our family life. Also, this is representative of the fact that she is an untiring worker and has boundless energy. Again, I have never been ashamed to have anyone come to our home because the living room is always clean and dusted, freshly vacuumed, and attractive.

The boys and our daughter, Jill, have been trained by their mother to assist in keeping the house clean. This is not to say that the family does not enjoy great fun and can’t let down, but we do not leave all of the work for Merlene to do. I have known some families in which the members mess up constantly and leave the poor mother and wife to clean up after them.

Our house is well lived in; there is a joyful, fun spirit in the home. I think the friends of our sons and daughter feel that spirit when they come into our home because it is always there. I think this is because of Merlene and her buoyant spirit. She loves people and loves to be around them.

Many years ago when we lived at a different location, Merlene said she wanted a rock garden. On a particular Saturday I went out into the field that was right behind our home and decided that if I dug a hole six feet deep, six feet wide, and six feet across, the dirt from that hole should be enough to provide her with a hill whereon we could place rocks and beautiful flowers in the corner of our yard.

To begin with, as I started digging the hole, I could throw the dirt, each shovelful, over my shoulder, over the fence, and into the corner where Merlene wanted the rock garden. As the hole got deeper and I became more tired, I would have to throw the dirt up on the side of the hole. Then I would climb out of the hole and throw the dirt onto the pile across the fence. As the hole became even deeper, I finally had to lower a bucket into the hole, fill the bucket, and lift it out, and pour it on the hill over the fence.

As I started the hole, Lawrence, our three-year-old, began to gather his little friends around. There must have been 15 or 20 little friends watching me dig the hole. When I got deep enough in the hole to use a bucket to lift the dirt out, I said to Lawrence and his little buddies, “If you’ll pull the bucket filled with dirt out of the hole and dump it on the shoulder of the hole each time I fill it so that I will not have to climb out, when I get finished with this hole, I’ll give it to you.” Now a hole isn’t much of a prize for an adult, but for three- or four-year-old boys, a deep hole with a little trench leading down into it is a great prize. So they began to assist me.

After doing this work for a few minutes, Lawrence said to me, “Dad, why are you lifting the dirt out of the hole, then climbing out of the hole and throwing it over the fence onto that pile of dirt?” I said, “Lawrence, your mother wants a rock garden in that corner, so I came out here to get enough dirt to build the hill for her rock garden. What your mother really wants me to do, that is what I do.” Then Lawrence turned to his little buddies and said, “Our mom is our leader.”

I am sure Lawrence was right. In our home our mom is a good leader in many things. Merlene has a rare ability to counsel and interview young people. This is especially true of our family. Many nights because of the pressing matters of the next day, I’ll go to bed at a fairly reasonable hour. Merlene will come to bed at 12:30 or 1:00 A.M., and then the next day she will tell me of the discussion she had with one of our sons for an hour and a half or two hours after I had gone to bed. And during this long interview, some of his major concerns were finally uncovered, counsel was given, and a sweet association between mother and son was developed. This experience has happened to each one of our sons many, many times, and through it we have been able to answer problems and concerns, teach standards and principles of the gospel, and share with them the deep and abiding feelings that we have for the gospel and the leaders of the Church. Our sons have a reverence for the leaders of the Church, all of them. I am sure many of the leaders of the kingdom have slight weaknesses or problems, but our family cannot see them. We have a blind spot when it comes to the Brethren—we come near worshipping them, all of them.

Another unusual experience happened many years ago. My wife was the ward president of the YWMIA in the Valley View Sixth Ward, and I served as the stake mission president. On the 24th of July at 5:30 A.M. the experience took place. Our bedroom window was at ground level, and as usual it was open through the night. My side of the bed was near the open window. All of a sudden there was the terrible blast of a bugle playing “Reveille” through the window. I jumped out of bed and stood at attention. When the bugle finished playing, one of the girls who was part of the group outside the window said, “We would now like to have an opening prayer,” so I stood there, and bowed my head, and an opening prayer was given. Then we sang an opening hymn, and the person conducting said, “We would be pleased now to have two talks about our pioneer forefathers. They will be delivered by __________ and __________,” two of the girls in the ward. At the close of the talks she said, “We’ll now have a closing hymn,” and so I sang the hymn along with them, and then we had a closing prayer and they left. I looked over at my wife who had stayed in bed and who had listened to this entire presentation. She had a big smile on her face and had enjoyed every minute of it. I said to her, “What did we just go through?” to which she replied, “We have just had a special sunrise service in commemoration of the 24th of July.” I climbed back in bed and thought about this great woman by my side who felt highly honored, who understood, and had such a love for the young women in our ward.

Another great quality Merlene has is her love for animals. More times than I can tell you we have had stray animals become permanent pets simply because after my wife has taken care of them for several days, they feel they have found a home. I remember one little furry dog who one morning began whimpering on our back steps. It was bitter cold, the temperature was around zero, and Merlene heard the whimpering. She got up and went to the door, and she saw this furry little dog who had been caught in a trap that had been set by someone in the neighborhood. The dog had somehow pulled the stake attached to the trap loose and had dragged the trap to our nearby house. Merlene cried as she saw the pitiful plight of this little dog. I remember going out; the foot was frozen because the big, heavy trap had conducted the coldness into the foot and leg. I remember taking the trap gently off the leg and taking the dog to the veterinarian for appropriate care. Because of her great love for animals, each of our children loves animals.

I remember some time back we had a beautiful Irish setter. Joe owned the dog, and we lived in Boise at the time. The dog was running around up on one of the hills behind the house. Two teenagers had brought .22 rifles to do some practice shooting. They saw our dog, Stroker, and one of the boys decided to shoot at it as it ran back and forth. He shot Stroker, and the dog immediately dropped. Lawrence, watching the whole affair, ran and got his older brother, and they both ran to the dog. Joe picked the large dog up in his arms and carried it home. Then he and his mother drove it out to a veterinarian who administered care to the dog. Joe, his younger brother Lawrence, and his mother fasted through the next 24 hours. Then during the school lunch hour Joe went over to the vet’s to see how his dog was doing. The vet said the dog would live, that everything would be all right. Joe climbed in his car, drove over to the grade school, and went to Lawrence’s room to tell him Stroker would be okay, that the vet said he would live and no serious damage had been done.

Again, this kind of training is invaluable in a home. In addition to all these many great qualities Merlene has, there is one that I suppose is built in every woman. She is absolutely tenacious in the defense of her sons and daughter. When they need to be punished, appropriate discipline is administered and they are punished, but when someone accuses them unjustly or with only part of the facts, she becomes a tenacious defender and will not tolerate unjust criticism of her family members. She is the kind of person you would want to take tiger hunting in the night—you could always turn around and know that she was there.

Merlene has a compassionate heart and a gentle spirit. She loves people and things—she enjoys life to the fullest. She feels a great mission in her home and has eased the burdens and responsibilities of the family by being there so that her husband could be elsewhere in the Lord’s service. She loves family activity and loves the family being together. Her greatest moments are when we, as a family, all of the family, including those married with their companions and children, are with us. Then she feels secure and life reaches its fullest degree for her.

The greatest tribute I could pay to her would be to quote, as I have many times, from Camelot. King Arthur went to a lonely room, locked the door, and said, “Proposition: If I could choose, from every woman who breathes on this earth, the face I would most love, the smile, the touch, the voice, the heart, the laugh, the soul itself, every detail and feature to the smallest strand of hair—they would all be Jenny’s.” Such is my wife. I would choose no one else. Merlene is the miracle maker in our home.

[illustration] Illustrated by James C. Christensen