Special Charter


A leadership youth conference learns to meet the challenges of the ’80s by taking a look backward and a step forward in Virginia

The rain was beating down, and yet the buses seemed to keep coming. One after another they would materialize out of the wet, gray evening, roll up to the doors of the huge civic center, disgorge their occupants, and then join the long bus queue in the parking lot. Some were full of young men and others full of young women. As two buses pulled to the curb, girls’ faces peered out of the rain-streaked windows. In the haze they could see young men, teachers and priests, complete with suits, ties, haircuts, smiles, and umbrellas, waiting to meet each young lady as she stepped off the bus and to carefully escort her through the rain, up the steps, into the foyer of the civic center. Forty-eight buses, each of them with “Special Charter” on its destination sign, delivered their precious cargos.

Once inside, each young lady, in her beautiful and still-dry best dress, was again met by a handsome, smiling Aaronic Priesthood young man who offered her a formal welcome to the dinner-dance in a way that only a Virginia gentleman can do and then presented her with a long-stemmed carnation.

Many of the young people gasped as they walked into the auditorium and saw the hundreds of beautifully set tables filling the hall. “I didn’t know there were this many Mormons in the whole world,” said a Laurel, who is one of three Church members in her high school. It wasn’t long before all of the young people and their leaders were seated and enjoying a delicious dinner of roast top sirloin, French-cut green beans, Julienne carrots, Southern-fried chicken, potatoes au gratin, tossed salad, and a delightful assortment of desserts.

The evening began despite the weather, and it continued to get better. After dinner everyone went next door to the civic auditorium where they were entertained by a group of professional singers, dancers, and musicians. Once the program was over, the young people returned to the scene of the banquet, which had been transformed into a ballroom during their absence. Sister Elaine Cannon, General President of the Young Women, and Elder Julian Lowe, Regional Representative of the Capitol and Potomac regions, led everyone around the floor in a grand march, and then the young people danced until midnight.

This gala banquet and grand ball climaxed one of the most spectacular youth conferences ever held. Some 1,800 youth and 250 leaders from 78 wards in 14 stakes in the Capitol, Potomac, Richmond, and Roanoke regions were here to participate in a multi-regional leadership youth conference. Two entire college campuses had been turned over to these young people. The Young Men activities and housing were located at Ferrum College and the Young Women stayed 45 miles away through the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains at Radfard College. Both groups met together at the Roanoke Civic Center for their combined activities.

After registration and some light workshops for those who arrived a little early on Thursday, many of the features that were to become outstanding throughout the entire conference were already evident. The conference was well-organized—a staff of more than 50 key people had been planning things down to the smallest details for a year—and during the conference the planners established a command post, located between the cafeteria and the girls’ dormitory rooms, where they could best take care of any emergencies. Every activity was planned with a specific goal in mind. The first meetings started on schedule, and this timeliness continued for the entire conference.

On Thursday evening the young women were challenged in the opening session by Sister Beverly Campbell, adult chairman for the women’s conference, to grow, expand, and “feel joy, because this is a gospel of joy.” She also told the girls that now is the time to make commitments “to your Father in Heaven, to your family, to your country, and to yourselves.”

For the next three days the youth tried to be equal to these challenges. They were busy from early morning until late at night. Near the end of the conference a tired-looking Young Men leader said, “We had planned to keep the young people busy, to occupy their total time and effort, so that they would be tired after the first day or two, but what actually happened was that the youth kept getting more and more excited as the conference progressed until finally the advisers and leaders began to feel like walking zombies and the young people were more enthusiastic than ever.”

The spiritual tone established in the opening plenary session by the priesthood leaders and Sister Campbell was amplified by the girls themselves early in the meeting when they displayed their personally designed Sesquicentennial banners and shared their testimonies.

Themes on the scores of banners included “Having a Perfect Brightness of Hope,” “Love One Another As I Have Loved You,” “Choose Ye This Day Whom Ye Will Serve,” “From Whence Cometh Her Strength,” “Catch the Vision,” “Onward and Upward,” “Search Diligently in the Light of Christ That Ye May Know Good from Evil,” and many other inspiring thoughts from the prophets and the scriptures. The girls spoke fervently about the banner themes and how doing the research and work to make them had enriched their lives. The girls left this opening session in a reflective mood, contemplating the challenges given by their leaders and peers.

The thrill of seeing the young women bring out their banners the first evening was to be repeated again and again during the following days of the conference. They were proud of who they were and what they stood for, and the banners were their heralds to the world.

Late Thursday evening at Radford the young women met again, this time in their dormitory lunch room for what the schedule described as a “Pajama Parade.”

It turned out to be a phantasmagoric sampling of the most original and humorous in sleep wear. And the costumes did not stop with clothing. Hair was put up in curlers made out of juice cans. Others had somehow convinced their hair that it wasn’t hair at all but wire and had it braided straight up or out from their heads. There was even a special nightgown that looked as if it were made to fit a complete set of Siamese quadruplets. Many prizes were awarded, but still there did not seem to be enough for all of the delightful creations.

The 7:30 Friday morning devotional came almost too early, but by breakfast everyone seemed bright and alert. Then until noon they attended special seminars including “Being a Woman in the Decade of the ’80s,” by Sister Elaine Cannon; “101 Ways to Be a Missionary,” led by Elder and Sister Wayne A. Reeves, directors of the Washington Temple Visitors’ Center; “So You’ve Got to Defend the Church,” by Steve Coltrin, director of the New York office of Church public communications; and “The ERA: A Moral Issue,” by Sister Beverly Campbell.

At the same time in Ferrum, the young men were involved in their own seminars and workshops. They were learning everything from mechanics to missionary work in 50 sessions that included helps in career exploration, physical skills clinics, and social and personal development. They were also impressing their hosts at Ferrum. One college staff member commented that she had never encountered so many polite young men before. And others in the administration talked admiringly about the clean, wholesome, athletic nature of many of the young men, wondering if they might be interested in attending college here and helping Ferrum’s sports program.

On registration day several of the young people complained about having the boys and girls on separate campuses, but as the conferences progressed, they all seemed to really enjoy their own activities more without the pressures they usually feel when someone from the opposite sex is around. Bryan Krieger, from Silver Springs, Maryland, felt this separation gave the conference a perfect balance of social, spiritual, and physical activities.

“There is no way we could have accomplished as much all meeting together,” added Randy Tearlink from Charlottesville, North Carolina.

When they did see each other for the first time dressed in their best at the dinner-dance, they appreciated the company even more. Franky Ipsen from Fayetteville, West Virginia, said it was even fun following the advice of the speakers. “The dance really made it worth coming. There were plenty of girls to dance with, and we tried our best to do what we were told in the general sessions, ‘Warm people’s lonely hearts.’”

There were lonely hearts warmed that evening. Young people from small towns who rarely know more than one or two Latter-day Saints their own age couldn’t even count all the Mormons. One leader reported that as she was walking between the refreshment tables at the dance, she noticed a young lady sitting all alone, sobbing softly to herself. The leader sat down, talked to the girl, and found that she was hard of hearing and had a low estimation of herself. Her friends had left her, not maliciously, but they had been asked to dance and were all out on the dance floor. A little while later this same leader noticed a young man sitting quietly alone. He wasn’t too coordinated and didn’t feel bold enough to ask anyone to dance with him. So she took the boy over to the young lady, introduced them, and chatted with them for a while until they felt comfortable together. The young couple danced and talked and laughed and drank lemonade and danced some more and were as happy that evening as anyone could be. Others felt less alone and gathered strength from the numbers that evening. Tim Turner from Roanoke explained his feelings after the banquet: “Meeting all these other Mormons made me realize that there are many others who have the same goals I have.”

Dozens of brightly colored booths and pavilions dotted the green grass of the Radford quad like huge flowers in a meadow. It was Friday afternoon and the young women were staging one of the best street festivals ever. It started with a full-blown parade, complete with a 100-piece brass marching band. Young women marched with their banners, which then stood proudly parked near various booths.

Crafts and hobbies of every description were displayed. You could stroll between the stake booths just looking at the latest in needlepoint or jewelry making, or you could sit down and let one of the experts behind the counters help you make a doll, paint your own original ceramic piece, or produce delightful cloth Christmas decorations or art from soup cans. Tacos, hot dogs, hamburgers, drinks, and ice cream were free for everyone and were best eaten while listening to a real hillbilly bluegrass family band that played during most of the afternoon.

The Saturday morning fashion show featured styles popular during the first 150 years of the Church and included many pioneer costumes imported from Utah, along with several smart contemporary outfits for today’s young LDS girl. Lunch and then more workshops and a sports round robin including swimming, bowling, tennis, softball, soccer, volleyball, basketball, dance instruction, a timed obstacle course, and more kept them busy all afternoon and into the early evening.

At the same time the young men were spellbound by Sister Cannon and U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch in a leadership seminar that lasted until lunch. For the afternoon they held their own little Olympics, which included, in addition to the regular sports such as basketball and softball, a fantastic soap slide down Adams Hill, log rolling, pole throwing, watermelon-eating, tugs-of-war across the stream, water-balloon relays, bowling—using old tires and brightly painted cardboard boxes—a balloon stomp, 10-man relays, and various marathons. Most of these contests were chosen because physical size and athletic prowess didn’t give anyone an edge in the competition. In fact, the little guys were the heroes on the 10-men pyramid teams. And the slim, athletic types did not do as well as their rounder teammates in the watermelon-eating contest.

The sports activities and everything else worked well because even the small details were well planned. For example, there were: (1) Friendship tokens—each ward made pins or little badges, or copied recipes and even scriptures on cards. Everyone had some to trade, and when they met a new person, they exchanged their friendship tokens. The person with the most at the end of the conference received a prize. (2) Workshops and seminars for the adult leaders so that they too went home from the conference with new knowledge and motivation. (3) Special hosts and hostesses who made sure the speakers and workshop leaders knew where their sessions were being held. They introduced the speakers to their classes, and they also provided each speaker with chalk, a handkerchief, and a glass of water. (4) Greeters who presented flowers to the girls at the dance. (5) Complete handouts, including schedules and maps for all activities and required rules of conduct. (6) T-shirts, frisbees, looseleafs, and note pads bearing the conference logo so everyone would have a tangible remembrance of the conference.

Under their priesthood leaders’ supervision, the young men held their Sunday morning priesthood meeting at Ferrum, while the young women met for an inspirational sunrise service on the quad at Radford. Held outdoors on a beautiful Virginia morning, these gatherings again lifted and inspired the conference participants. After the opening session they divided into their respective stakes to hold individual testimony meetings. The morning mist seemed to bring a perfect heavenly atmosphere even closer to these groups as they gathered on porches and broad stairways, under trees, and on patios for their individual testimony meetings. A thousand young women shared their feelings and told how the conference had strengthened them and how they carried forth new resolve to be true daughters of God.

After the priesthood meeting Greg McArthur from Colesville, Maryland, said, “I was thrilled with our sports success, but an even more important victory was my desire to be a part of a generation of excellence. I can never forget the fellowship and love that was part of this gathering. The priesthood of God marches on!”

After the morning meetings, both groups met in Roanoke once again for a final meeting together before traveling to their homes. They were full of feelings about their strengthened friendships, faith, and knowledge of the gospel. They were also thankful to all of their leaders who had worked so hard. Perhaps Eric Schetselaar from Lynchburg, Virginia, summed up the feelings of most of the participants when he said, “This has really been a terrific experience for me, and I’ll always be thankful to all those who have helped me prepare myself to meet the challenges of the ’80s in the right way.”

[photos] Photos by Brian K. Kelly