by Lori Stephenson

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    Nobody knows what it means. But everyone wants to find out.

    There it is on the youth conference program. On Friday from 9:00–12:00 and again from 1:00–4:00 “Dooleyalawalagus”! What does it mean? No one seems to know, but everyone is looking forward to finding out. And at the same time they’re feeling just a little apprehensive about the whole thing.

    For many of the youth in the Bountiful Utah Stone Creek Stake, this is the first youth conference they’ve been to. And although there is a theme, professional-looking programs, and a level of organization that any leader would envy, no one seems to know what’s going on.

    Well, maybe not everyone is in the dark. As the crowd prepares to leave for Park City, a resort not far from home where the conference is being held, there are some knowing smiles on a few of the faces.

    Leila Whiting, a Mia Maid in the Bountiful 43rd Ward knows, and she’s not telling. “It’s going to be a lot of fun,” she says, but that’s all you’ll get out of her. In conjunction with the stake youth committee and their leaders, she has helped plan a youth conference that carries a mysterious air of secrecy and yet promises to be a great time.

    Some of the other youth are still a little wary. Mitch Gwilliam, a teacher in the Bountiful 12th Ward, admits to being a little nervous, and Jeff Lund, president of the teachers quorum in the West Bountiful 8th Ward, says it makes him wonder what’s going to happen to them. But overall, the feeling is one of excitement.

    John Shafter, 14, of the Bountiful 12th Ward, stands by his golf clubs and waits to go. “They said we could golf, play tennis or racquetball, and go swimming,” he says, and he’s definitely looking forward to the next three days.

    The first day goes as expected. The hills and mountains surrounding Park City crackle with the fiery reds and yellows of fall, and the air is crisp. Some of the youth head for the tennis courts, others prefer the warmth of the indoor pool, and some use the time to laugh and talk with friends. Almost everyone is up late that night.

    However, the next morning, early, their rooms are empty. But no one is playing on the tennis courts and no one is splashing in the pool. Instead, the youth are found up on a dark stage in the local theater, heads bent intently over whitewashed sheets of cardboard where the word Dooleyalawalagus is being painted.


    The secret is out. Dooleyalawalagus has been revealed, and contrary to what some might think, it is much more than just silly mumbo jumbo.

    Dooleyalawalagus is a town. More specifically, it is a town in a play that has been written especially for this youth conference.

    Within the course of the afternoon, parts will be assigned, scenery will be painted, dances will be learned, and everyone will take part in rehearsals.

    Why all the hurry?

    Because the next day the youth will perform the play at the Utah State Training School for mentally handicapped youth and adults. Although it seems impossible to pull everything together so quickly, everyone dives in and preparation is soon underway.

    While soon-to-be stars of the stage memorize their lines, paintbrushes and plenty of paint transform plain cardboard into the small community of Dooleyalawalagus. A parking lot outside the theater becomes a dance floor for members of the cast practicing their routines, and the sound and effects crew can be heard enthusiastically going over their lines.

    Charice Smith, 15, of the Bountiful 12th Ward, says she’s going to be a dancer in the play. Is Dooleyalawalagus what she expected it to be? “Well, I thought it was going to be dumb when I first heard,” she says, but that was before getting involved. She practices the dance steps with a friend and laughs, “It’s been a lot of fun.”

    There was no mystery surrounding Dooleyalawalagus for Doug Leavitt, a priest in the Bountiful Fifth Ward. Doug is one of the youth assigned to direct the play, and he’s been in on the planning stages of the conference. “I think it’s a really good idea,” he says. “I’ve been to the Utah State Training School a couple of times and it’s definitely something to remember. The kids there are great.”

    And even though his cast and crew are short on practice time, Doug is confident that everything will work if everyone “just thinks and remembers their parts.”

    Just as scheduled in the program, Dooleyalawalagus takes up two blocks of time during the day. Not much, when you consider that the play will be performed the next day. “I’m excited about it,” says Michael Fernelius, a teacher in the West Bountiful Seventh Ward, “but I didn’t think we could do it that fast.”

    As the day of the performance arrives, the youth pile into cars to head for the training school. They leave behind the beauty of Park City and opportunities for more golf, tennis and swimming, yet they are looking forward to doing the play.

    Once at the school, the scenery is quickly arranged on stage, costumes are donned, and the sound and special effects crew takes its place. The remaining youth line themselves against the walls of the auditorium to welcome the residents from the school. As the residents arrive, they are greeted with smiles and given special badges to wear. The auditorium fills slowly, the lights dim, and it’s time for the show to go on.

    As the sound and effects crew imitate the sound of a train, part of the cast arrive on stage aboard the imaginary locomotive. Their destination? Dooleyalawalagus, of course. Upon arrival the travelers are shocked to find that Dooleyalawalagus is not the same as it was when they left several years earlier.

    The plot thickens and the characters learn that Vernon Vile has taken over their once clean, happy hometown and turned it into a dirty, unproductive place. However, with the help of Vernon’s kind sister and a little ingenuity, these characters are able to restore happiness to Dooleyalawalagus and the townspeople. And in the process Vernon Vile, himself, is transformed.

    The final performance may not be a polished Broadway production, but it is very effective and carries a small piece of everyone who has worked on it out to an audience that sincerely appreciates and needs this kind of love.

    And although what they’re doing could be termed a service project, Kevin Jensen, a priest in the Bountiful 12th Ward, says it really doesn’t feel like one. “It’s been great,” he says. “We’re getting a lot more out of it than out of other service projects we’ve done.”

    Heidi Judd, a secretary in her Mia Maid class in the West Bountiful Eighth Ward agrees. “At first it’s a little scary to come here,” she says. “But when you talk with the residents and help them, you see that they’re people too, and they’re so excited to have visitors.”

    After the performance the residents shake hands with members of the play’s cast and crew and begin returning to their rooms. One young resident smiles broadly as he leaves the auditorium wearing, not one but two badges on his jacket. He will remember this visit.

    The cardboard backdrops that represent Dooleyalawalagus are quickly taken down and loaded onto a truck as everyone prepares to go home.

    Many of the youth conference programs have been thrown away or lost by now, but it doesn’t really matter. The questioning looks and curious faces caused by seeing the word Dooleyalawalagus a few days ago are gone. Instead of just a few knowing smiles in the crowd, there are many now.

    Everyone that worked with Dooleyalawalagus knows that it is more than just a small town built of props and whitewashed cardboard, and much more than a silly name or a quickly prepared play.

    Dooleyalawalagus is the sum of a lot of things. It is working hard and working together; it is a little bit of worry and a lot of fun; it is giving without expecting anything in return, and learning that service has its own kind of reward.

    The excitement and air of mystery that once surrounded Dooleyalawalagus may be gone, but no one seems to mind. The real fun, they will tell you, has been discovering what such a word is all about.

    Photography by Lori Stephenson

    Sure, it was a youth conference very similar to a lot of others. We had souvenir T-shirts made, we got to relax and have fun in nice surroundings, and we even had time to play racquetball, tennis, or golf.

    But it wasn’t until we learned the magic behind a crazy, wonderful word that this conference became better than any conference before. We worked real hard for Dooleyalawalagus, but we earned a great reward.