by Leda M. Tully
The place was Nauvoo in the 1840s. Because the Latter-day Saints had been refused the right to bear arms for protection, a group of boys formed a troop and armed themselves with jackknives and sticks and walked the streets following undesirable strangers. Whittling and whistling, they eventually ran the stranger off the streets of Nauvoo. The name of the troop was “The Whittlin’ Whistlin’ Brigade.”
Now a hundred years later, another troop has been formed. This one is composed of 20 young men and women, armed with songs, dances, musical instruments and stories, and they have followed over 50,000 children and adults around, running them into delightful entertainment.
The new Whittlin’ Whistlin’ Brigade is under the direction of Dr. Harold Oaks of the drama department of Brigham Young University. The troop was formed in the fall of 1975 and specializes in putting on plays for children.
The BYU group, in conjunction with the Provo Community School program, has taken plays and puppet variety shows to several areas of Utah and Colorado. They have also gone on tour to Arizona, San Diego, Disneyland, and an educational theater convention in Los Angeles, California.
The purpose behind the Brigade is the need for better children’s entertainment. “We want to entertain them and at the same time teach them about the theater,” said Dr. Oaks. “Along with this we need to bring a package that will not only attract children, but also their parents. We want this to be a family pastime,” he said.
One of the best parts of the play is when the children are asked to yell out a magic word. “When Ti gives you the signal with his hand, you must yell out Rumpelstiltskin,” Griffin will say. Usually the children get very excited because they have been waiting all through the play to do their part.
The plays performed by the Brigade, which include Yankee Doodle, the Mirror Man, the Puppet Variety Show, and the newly written Rumpelstiltskin, have been chosen especially for the involvement of the children but also because of the worthwhile message they convey. Brent Lefavor, who directs Rumpelstiltskin, says that the play talks about the magic we all have within. “We all have certain talents and special things about us. Our plays are geared toward encouraging children and their parents to discover these.”
Before going on their tours each summer, they spend over 74 hours a week rehearsing and acting in the hot, non-air-conditioned gymnasium of a Provo grade school.
“Our days sometimes start at 8:00 A.M. and end at 11:00 P.M.,” said Marsha Evans. “We have become very close, especially while we were on tour,” said another member of the company. As for any problems between members, Brent Evans said, “Friction between the actors can’t last very long. The company will not function that way. So there are a lot of apologies given around here.”
Since the company is small, everyone takes turns in doing everything for the shows—making puppets, working on the sets, selling tickets, acting, dancing, playing instruments, and whatever else happens to come along.
“Our greatest problem at the beginning was the inexperience of the actors,” said Brent. “Most of these kids have never had experience in the theater, and we cannot use any of the terminology to teach them.” Liza, one of the members, remembers when they began to dance for Yankee Doodle. “The choreographer came in and did a split and expected us to follow. We all just stood there and stared. Most of us had never even danced!”
Another time while everyone was busy painting sets after midnight, one of the girls stopped and said “Do you know what today was? It was my birthday, and I forgot!”
Brent remembered when he and his crew painted all the sets.
“Everyone had to help, and they did a good job if you consider they had never painted before!”
In fact nobody had sewn before either, and all the puppets in the show have been made by the company.
Along with spending endless hours training the company in handling puppets, Wendy Reese and Dr. Oaks are teaching health missionaries to use puppets in teaching. “It’s a lot easier for people to listen to a puppet than to some unknown American. So we are going to develop easy-to-use puppets, and patterns to make them, along with an easy-to-carry set and a manual.”
At the end of each summer, the group comes home again from their tours to settle into being regular students. They have set the pattern for others to follow. The next summer others will learn what they learned and serve as they have served. Whittlin’ and whistlin’ are worth following.
Two shovels full of sand were poised in front of the slowly churning cement mixer, and two sets of eyes watched carefully the gray sludge sloshing rhythmically inside. Although one set of eyes belonged to a dark-haired 16-year-old from El Salvador and the other to a fair-haired 22-year-old from the United States, both held that clear, steady gaze of common understanding. Both knew that that gray sludge was worth its weight in gold. It was helping to build sturdy cement block houses that signaled hope for families in need. And it was helping to cement ties between Latter-day Saint youth from two different nations, and between these youth and the grief-stricken people of yet a third nation.
The youth—more than 30 young men from El Salvador and upper Guatemala and nine students from Brigham Young University—were working in Guatemala with a host of adult leaders from local branches and stakes, in addition to health and full-time missionaries from around the world. The group included about 55 people in all. Their task—to rebuild homes destroyed by the February 4 earthquake.
Their task was not easy. The terrible terremoto, or earthquake, destroyed about 20 percent of the country’s residential buildings, claimed more than 2,000 lives, and left an estimated one million people homeless. Church members were included in this number. President Guillermo Enrique Rittscher of the Guatemala City Stake, for example, reported 142 homeless families.
Statistics, however, do not paint as clearly the picture of human drama as the scene that greeted the volunteers when they arrived two months after the quake. Guatemala City had become a tent city. Large families were bravely trying to work out of small tents amid a cold, steady rain. They had begun to build portable plywood homes, but one room was inadequate for some of the large families. And in addition to all this, the water lines had been broken and much of the water was feared to be contaminated. It had to be boiled before use—not a simple task in a tent.
It was in these circumstances that mission president Robert B. Arnold and Harold B. Brown, Regional Representative of the Twelve for Mexico and Central America, organized the project and obtained the clearance for calling work missionaries from El Salvador and upper Guatemala to help build earthquake-resistant houses.
The young men who volunteered ranged in age from 15 to 18. They postponed their own work, their studies, and other activities to help.
“We really appreciate these young workers. We truly feel that the Church is going to be in fabulous hands as these boys grow and mature and take their positions of leadership in their various wards here in Guatemala and El Salvador,” said Carol Lyons, a health service missionary who helped pilot the program. “They truly love the gospel and all of its facets, and they really want to serve our Heavenly Father. This is their main purpose in being here—so that they can help their brothers in building these homes. But likewise, they can be prepared and go forth as proselyting missionaries in the months to come.”
The program had already begun when the BYU volunteers, most of them building construction majors, offered to share their expertise for eight weeks with the young workers. With the direction of Lon Wallace, their adviser and an instructor in BYU’s building construction and technology program, and the sponsorship of the BYU Benson Agriculture and Food Institute, nine volunteers loaded a van with hard hats, donated tools, and sleeping bags and headed for Guatemala and life in tent city.
The workers were located in two areas—Guatemala City and nearby Patzicia. They lived in tents alongside the members.
“You don’t understand what living in a tent is until you can experience a downpour of an inch or two and feel the dampness and the wetness of trying to build a fire to boil your water and wash your dishes,” said Boyd Lyons, a health service missionary who helped pilot the program. “The wind blows every day. Heavy fog rolls in every day and stays until 9:00 A.M. the next day. You can cut it with a knife.”
Complaints of any kind were scarce, however, although the days were long and hard, beginning at 5:30 in the morning. After a spiritual meeting with scripture reading and prayer, breakfast was served. Then the truck was loaded with needed supplies, and the volunteers were ready to start work at 7:00 A.M. Sometimes they took lunch with them, so they didn’t return to camp until 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. After dinner there were English classes to teach or to attend and tracting with the full-time missionaries to do. Finally, many weary young men eased their bodies, aching from hard work, into damp sleeping bags.
The work was made hard, in part, by a shortage of materials. The workers had only one two-ton truck to transport all of the sand, gravel, and sometimes water for their day’s work. While one crew mixed the cement, another would go back to load up with sand and gravel for more. Because the water lines had been broken, many of the work sites had no water. So workers searched in the constant drizzle and filled 55-gallon drums from rivers, wells, and anywhere there was some water so that the cement mixing could go on.
“We ended up working hard. In fact, as I thought about it, I know that nobody could pay me enough money to do that kind of work. I’d do it for free for these people, but nobody could ever pay me enough to do work like that,” one volunteer said thoughtfully.
As the time neared for the BYU volunteers to leave, the young Central American workers showed their appreciation in ways that broke down all language barriers. One young man organized a party with decorations, poems, talks, and a special meal with Guatemalan goodies prepared by one of the local Relief Society groups. At the end of the celebration, he threw his arms around one of the tall BYU students and broke into tears at the thought of their leaving. And so the BYU group left to resume their lives with a new perspective. But their tools, their expertise in building, and, most important, their testimonies stayed.
“Words are inadequate for expressing our gratitude,” one Guatemalan woman told Brother Wallace. “Only the Lord can thank you, and he will in time.”
Following disaster, the Guatemalan Saints begin life anew, with a stronger faith in God and in their fellowmen. Within concrete walls, their gratitude reverberates and grows with the warmth that can only be inspired by love in action.
At 6:00 A.M. on Thursday, August 11, 1976, Bobby Elkington, Bishop Brian W. Hunt of the Temple View Third Ward (Temple View New Zealand Stake), and Bardia Taiapa met in the Temple View chapel. There they turned over the $30.00 earned by the early morning seminary class of the Temple View New Zealand Stake for their brothers and sisters on the Gilbert Islands. The money was raised on two successive Saturdays when the class members made doughnuts and sold them at stake leadership meeting and around the Temple View community. It’s a very enthusiastic seminary class that will get up at 5:00 A.M. and earlier to go to class, raise $30.00 for a struggling seminary group, and then raise another $16.00 for their own activities.
Many of the youth have 100 percent attendance records.
Lori Ransom, a 16-year-old Idaho girl, recently won first place nationally in the American Legion Auxiliary Americanism contest.
Lori’s essay placed first in the senior division in Pocatello, went on to win in the state, and was then entered in the national competition. She was flown to Seattle, Washington, on August 22, 1976, to attend the Legion’s national convention where she read her essay to 2,000 women representing every state. Her essay was geared to the question “Is Americanism in danger of extinction? How may I preserve my heritage?”
Winning essay contests is not a new experience for Lori. She was first in the local Americanism contest in both the fifth and seventh grades. Lori has also won two state awards in French competition.
Lori is secretary of her Laurel class, organist for the junior Primary, and is a third-year seminary student. She does a lot of artwork for her ward and for Highland High School (Pocatello, Idaho).
In early 1975 the Bridgeport Ward (New York New York Stake) was divided. Ward members felt the two new wards would be weakened in all phases of the Church program, but the young men of the new Merritt First Ward had different ideas. Even though they had never won a stake championship in their previous ward, the Merritt First Ward young men felt they had the talent to do well in athletics; and well they did.
It all began in the spring when they took the stake, region, and area championships in softball. Then in the fall they repeated the same winning streak in basketball against tough opposition. Even that was not the end of the story. In volleyball, they repeated the act once more. This still was not the end. They won their second season of softball, too. The Merritt First Ward young men have an unconquerable spirit.
In the southeast corner of Temple Square in Salt Lake City there used to stand a museum of early pioneer artifacts. But in mid-1976 plans were announced to replace the structure with a second visitors’ center. The new center is being built to accommodate the increasing traffic on Temple Square, which is the most popular visitors’ attraction in the state of Utah. The 30,000-square-foot, two-level building will be erected on the site occupied since 1902 by the museum.
The old pioneer log cabin in the southeast corner of the square will be moved inside the new visitors’ center and will be featured in the exhibit on temples and the family. A large picture-window view of the Salt Lake Temple will provide a striking contrast between the majestic temple and the humble cabin, underscoring the emphasis Latter-day Saint pioneers placed on “the House of the Lord.”
Also planned for the temple-family display are dioramas dealing with the Mormon pioneer trek across the plains of the United States in the 1840s and the building of temples throughout the world in latter days.
There will be a large mural on the history of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the ages, a motion picture theater, and videotape learning centers.
On the lower level of the new center there will be life-size dioramas of scenes from the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon section will also include a motion picture theater and a browsing area where visitors can examine comparisons of archaeological findings in the Old World, the New World, and the Pacific. The exhibit will point out the similarities in the cultures of the peoples in these three parts of the world.
The young women in the Fort Wayne Indiana Stake were in the habit of sharing their talents and service with everyone all year round. So when it came time to have An Evening for Sharing program, they decided to have something a little different and share with each other some fun and some good learning experiences. First of all they called a steering committee of young women. Then they handed out questionnaires to all the young women in the stake to find out what they would like to do. It seemed unanimous—they all wanted to have a 24-hour time for sharing (really a one-day girls’ conference) and call it “Unlimited.”
They began the event with a Friday evening filled with games, food, a special introduction of the theme, and an original song written by one of the Beehive girls, Becky Wall. The next morning, workshops in the six areas of focus in the Young Women program were conducted. Adult specialists from the stake presented workshops on the Treasures of Truth book, quilting, social dancing, macramé, speaking to the deaf, and other topics. (The girls sang “I Am a Child of God” in sign language for weeks after the activity.) After the workshops they held a testimony meeting and shared their most priceless possession with each other.
Eighty girls and leaders participated. They turned what is usually one evening into 24-hours of sharing.