Latter-day Pioneers: 150 Years Later


Happy birthday to the Church! For its 150th birthday (known as its sesquicentennial), banners have been sewn, formal balls thrown, and celebrations held around the world.

What’s your attitude toward the early Saints and your heritage? And what kind of heritage will you leave your grandchildren and great-grandchildren? To find out, we did some asking at April conference when thousands of people from around the world came to Salt Lake City. The answers were varied—but they all told of the gratitude felt for our Church heritage, shared by converts and life-members alike.

Q: If you could speak with one of the early Church members, who would it be?

“I’d talk with Joseph Smith to find out how he really felt inside and what his emotions were when there was so much persecution.”

—Molly Johnson, Durango Second Ward, Durango Colorado Stake

“I’d talk with Emma Smith to find out what it was like being a woman in the early Church.”

—Julie Ziegler, South Jordan Fourth Ward, South Jordan Utah Stake

“I’d talk with Wilford Woodruff or one of the Apostles who went to Europe, because I’m interested in the Church and its impact on the world.”

—Galen Fletcher, Huntington Beach Sixth Ward, Huntington Beach California North Stake

“Joseph Smith. I’d like to know what it was like to be in the presence of an angel.”

—Ominai Aiono, Jr., National City Second Ward, San Diego California South Stake

Q: The early Church members faced many difficult challenges that they overcame. What are some of your pioneer-sized challenges today?

“Peer pressure is the biggest challenge. It’s a different problem than the pioneers faced, but just as difficult for us.”

—Ominai Aiono, Jr.

“You’d think that since I live in Salt Lake City, I wouldn’t have to worry about being an example because a lot of people are Mormons, but that’s not true. I’m looked to for setting a good example for Mormons and non-Mormons, and that’s a challenge.”

—Nanette Riddle, Monument Park 16th Ward, Salt Lake Monument Park Stake

“The hardest challenge is to do things you know you’re supposed to be doing, with so many influences trying to get you not to.”

—Mike Leavitt, Riverside First Ward, Blackfoot Idaho Northwest Stake

“I’ve found that the responsibilities for my choices are on me and my family, not the Church, so one big challenge is relying on the Spirit for my choices.”

—Garen Fletcher, Huntington Beach Sixth Ward, Huntington Beach California North Stake.

Q: What events are you recording in your journals for your grandchildren to read?

“I recorded how I felt when the priesthood was opened to the blacks. I remember the day it was announced on the radio. I was with some Mormon friends, and we just started shouting, we were so happy.”

—Ruth Fellows, Ygnacio Valley Ward, Concord California Stake

“I write the things that I hope will keep my children strong in the Church. Maybe they can learn how I overcame problems that are similar to theirs. That’s what I’ve learned from my grandfather’s journal.”

—Ominai Aiona, Jr.

“I’ve written my personal goals from the personal progress program, what President Kimball says at conference, how I’m going to try to obey his counsel, and about my first time coming to Salt Lake City and seeing the Tabernacle and Temple.”

—Molly Johnson

“I recorded when I went to the sesquicentennial ball, and how exciting it was to see the Apostles and other General Authorities there. Just having a whole bunch of Mormons together was great.”

—Melanie Jorgensen, Newark Second Ward, Fremont California Stake

Q: The early Church members gave us a great heritage in their missionary work. What are you doing to carry on with it?

“In some of my classes at school, I get the chance to tell people about the Church, and they’re always interested in it. I love to tell about it.”

—Shawna VanWagenen, Scottsdale Fifth Ward, Scottsdale Arizona Stake

“In seminary we put our testimonies and pictures in copies of the Book of Mormon and sent them off to people.”

—Mike Leavitt

“I baptized one of my best friends into the Church. At school about twelve of us members play volleyball together, and we’re always happy and outgoing. My friend wanted to play with us and then started going to our meetings, too. He joined the Church, and now he’s trying to get his family to join.”

—Ominai Aiono, Jr.

“I’m marking my own set of scriptures and saving money for my mission.”

—Alan Leavitt, Riverside First Ward, Blackfoot Idaho Northwest Stake

“Our family has friendshipped a few families into the Church, and I’ve brought friends to Mutual. One friend’s close to joining right now.”

—Molly Johnson

Q: What has your Church heritage given you?

“The Church has given me a solid foundation to work from and a perspective of life that most of my friends don’t have. Also, it’s given me confidence in myself and my abilities and a desire to grow and be better.”

—Galen Fletcher

“I don’t know what I’d do if I weren’t a Mormon and didn’t have that testimony of what I am and where I’m going. Our family’s so big—we have nine kids—I think we’d have problems getting along if we didn’t have the Church.”

—Rachelle Fletcher, Huntington Beach Sixth Ward, Huntington Beach California North Stake

“It’s the only true Church on the face of the earth, and I’m glad I’m Mormon.”

—Donald Tom, Kayenta Ward, Page Arizona Stake

Q: If you could give any present to the Church for its 150th birthday, what would it be?

“I’d build the Church a new chapel.”

—Ricky Leavitt, Riverside First Ward, Blackfoot Idaho Northwest Stake

“I’d teach the gospel in Russia.”

—Randy Bear, Ammon Sixth Ward, Idaho Falls Idaho Ammon West Stake

“I’d give my faithfulness.”

—Lourdes Zazheta, Mexico Guadalajara Mission

“I’d give the Church access to all the countries where we can’t do missionary work now.”

—Ruth Fellows

“I’d give the Church all the oil wells in Arabia.”

—Alan Leavitt

“I’ve already made a banner for the birthday, but I also want my testimony to grow more and more and to show others that the Church is important.”

—Nanette Riddle

“I’d give the Church me—my time, my talents, my energies.”

—Galen Fletcher

“I’d make a timeline and put pictures of Church events on it, and then give it to President Spencer W. Kimball.”

—Melanie Jorgensen

“I’d like to bring someone into the Church for the sesquicentennial.”

—Shawna VanWagenen

“I’d wish that everyone in the world were Mormon.”

—Doug Keele, Shelley Seventh Ward, Shelley Idaho First Stake

[photos] Photos by Jed Clark and Richard Romney