Perennial Radiance: Jean Sabin Groberg

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    “We wanted to organize; we wanted to have a club and wear a uniform, a blazer, and be official. We even got together and selected a name and colors for our club. We wanted something that all the LDS kids in our high school would want to be associated with, so we could be clearly identified as LDS.”

    As Jean Sabin Groberg continued her account of that period of time in her life, her enthusiasm increased. “The purpose of our club was going to be to strengthen each other and to look after each other. There were only 20 or 30 of us in a very large high school in southern California. We really wanted to have something like the institute, only for high school, so that we could be strong together.”

    With the growing desire that they each shared, she told of how a number of the youth unitedly approached the institute director. He listened to them. Then he met with them to discuss their plans, their goals, and their desires for an LDS club on their high school campus. He heard their concerns and felt the intensity of their desire. He agreed to “see what could be done.”

    Sister Groberg recalled that after some time of anxious waiting, it was finally announced that they were to meet with the institute director. “Oh, it was just so exciting,” she exclaimed. “We were told that the seminary would be coming to our area that next year. There had been no seminary available to us, and now we had the feeling that our interest and our initiative had helped to tip the balance in bringing seminary to southern California. At least we felt important, that we were part of the beginning. To be a seminary graduate was a goal we just wanted to attain,” she explained.

    Sister Groberg remembers with deep appreciation the closeness among the youth of her age in their ward. She gives thanks, in part, to the quiet, powerful influence of a humble, dedicated Sunday School teacher whose life and example made a lasting impression. She explained: “Brother Richard Maxwell was our teacher. He was self-educated,” she recalled. “He never knew his real name, his parents, or any of his ancestors: He had been raised in an orphanage. Someway in his wandering through life, he found the true church. He had such a beautiful testimony that the gospel was what life was all about, and he had a wonderful, understanding way with young people. He loved us,” she declared, then continued with warmth in her voice: “He was able to teach and reach us in his own humble way.”

    When Brother Maxwell died of a heart attack, Jean, along with the other youth in the North Hollywood Ward still in their teens, felt so grateful for his life and his love and influence in their lives that they felt they had lost a dear friend. Sister Groberg remembered that her sister, Marilyn, was invited to speak at his funeral. “She went around to all his students to get their feelings for this humble, great man who had become such a friend to each of us. Our feeling for Brother Maxwell,” Sister Groberg said, “was a very special thing.”

    These grateful students felt a strong desire to somehow express their appreciation for their friend and teacher. “It took some time after he died to collect the money,” she recalled. “Several months, I believe. We sponsored many projects. We took a little box to all our firesides and finally collected the money we needed. We wanted to buy a redwood tree. We all agreed that a redwood tree, when it grew up, would appropriately symbolize Brother Maxwell’s great strength and stature.” The youth were united in this special project. Someone was responsible for having a plaque made to place at the base of the tree, and others arranged for a fitting program. On the appointed date the members of Brother Maxwell’s Sunday School class gathered together for this special memorial service. Together they planted the tree, which they knew would become in time a mighty redwood. This living tribute stands today tall and stately by the side of the chapel and a beautiful bronze plaque at its base reads, “In memory of Richard Maxwell, our beloved teacher whose example was like the redwood, tall and masterly.”

    Sister Groberg shared other memories about her high school friends. “There was always a surplus of girls,” she remembered, and then added, “and I was never in the real dating circle. I hardly had any dates in high school, and you know how you’d feel. The day my older sister who was always an example for me turned 16, a young man called her up, and for four nights in a row a different boy called. It was like they had all been waiting for her to turn 16. It was so exciting. I thought that was the magical thing: you turn 16 and you start dating. Well,” Jean said, with emphasis, as though she was remembering it all over again, “it didn’t happen when I turned 16.” She paused a moment, reflecting on what must have been a very disappointing experience.

    “And how did you survive that situation?” I asked.

    “Oh, I had a lot of good girl friends, and we had a lot of fun” she said, then thoughtfully added, “I never feel badly if a girl doesn’t have dates in high school. If you’re just a little patient, you can still have a good time. I really had fun dating in college, a lot of fun.”

    Jean’s older sister, Marilyn, played the violin in the orchestra at BYU. Sitting next to her was Julie Groberg, who also played the violin. It was the first semester, and these two girls shared many conversations. One day Julie and Marilyn got talking about their families. Julie spoke of her young brother who was a freshman and hadn’t had a date since he arrived at BYU. Marilyn told of her sister, Jean, who was also a freshman and hadn’t had a date yet either. “So, together, they cooked up this blind date arrangement and approached me,” said Jean. “I didn’t like the idea of a blind date, but our other roommate knew the Groberg family. She gave enthusiastic counsel that I shouldn’t turn down this great opportunity. So on the good faith of my sister and our roommate, I mustered up the courage.”

    Her first date with John H. Groberg was only the beginning of what in time developed into a beautiful courtship. Five years later it lead to eternal marriage in the Los Angeles temple. But first, while he served a mission in the Pacific Islands, she continued dating and enjoying the association of many friends. She was also diligent in keeping pace with his spiritual growth through study, active service in the Church, and keeping in touch with him through letters. Jean shared something about those letters that became even more important in later years. “His letters would come from so far away and would be written sometimes months ahead of the time he would finally find a boat to take them out. There would be times I would have a particular concern, and it seemed that I would get a letter from him just at the right time telling of an experience he had had or a lesson he had learned that held the very answer I needed. Often the letter had been written before the concern even existed, but it just seemed the timing was what it needed to be.”

    Thinking of their life together, Sister Groberg said, “I think I’ve always known since I knew what John was like that he would give his whole life and self to the gospel and the Church.” Then she added with a tone of deep sincerity, “And that’s what you really want.”

    About her feelings for having to share her husband’s limited time with so many others she happily explained, “I’ve always wanted to have the priesthood be the guide in my home, and if you have the full blessings of the priesthood in your life, it’s got to come from one who is fully dedicated. The whole foundation and direction of our home is determined by that.” She remembered when Brother Groberg served as a bishop: “No one realizes the time a bishop gives until you go through it. But you are still so much a part of it,” she emphasized.

    Sister Groberg remembered the first Sunday after her husband was sustained as bishop. For the longest time they drove through the streets of their ward boundaries, up and down each street. “We felt such a deep love and concern for everybody in those houses,” she said. “It’s just part of the calling that comes to a bishop and his wife, a very special feeling. It sort of feels empty now as you go up and down those same streets. You see the same houses, but it is different. That was a special blessing that came with the calling of a bishop and his wife.”

    President and Sister Groberg were called to preside over the Tonga Mission when Gayle, their fifth daughter, was only six months old. When they left, Jean, a young mother going into a strange land with five young children, expressed her feelings this way: “I had heard John talk through the years of these people—their great faith, their love, and their service—and I didn’t have any worries. I was really excited about it.” She summarized that period of their life by saying that it was more than a chapter, it was the whole theme of life. “It really doesn’t matter where you are, the things that really count can be developed in any humble or great place.”

    Now, with a wonderful and talented family of 11 children, Sister Groberg reflected on times Brother Groberg served as a Regional Representative of the Quorum of the Twelve to the Pacific Islands and was frequently gone great distances three weeks at a time. On one occasion a call from the prophet to Elder Groberg conveyed this message: “Tell your wife you won’t be gone over six months on this special assignment (it turned out to be only two months), but we’re not sure how long it will be.” Of these times she spoke tenderly: “When your husband is giving his all, it doesn’t separate you even while he is away. It really doesn’t separate you. You are a part of it with him,” she explained. “It was his letters,” she said. And she had already developed a deep appreciation for his sensitive writing. “He would write such inspiring letters. His letters to us as a family had a profound influence on everything we did. They always have been such a strengthening influence,” she emphasized. “He would share what he could of his experiences and then he would come home and the girls would look forward to their daddy coming back and telling them really special and inspiring things that had happened on his trip.”

    This devoted, unselfish wife and mother recalls gratefully how her husband would give her a blessing before leaving on extended trips. “We did have a lot of times when there were answers to prayer and special things we were promised in those blessings.” With conviction and gratitude, Sister Groberg bore testimony: “Even though he was not there, his influence was always there.” Her dark brown eyes deeply set in a countenance of serenity and peace, Sister Groberg shared her simple faith: “I just know that you have to keep going on the path, no matter what comes along. I do know the only way things will work out is to follow the path that the Lord has set out. I’ve always had a testimony of the fact that Heavenly Father put each of us on this earth at the right time and in the right place for our greatest development.” With her radiance bearing evidence of her unwavering faith, she added, “My parents taught me and I’ve come to know that it’s up to us to face life with faith and just never give up, knowing that the things that are happening are for our good.”

    [illustrations] Illustrated by Robert Barrett