Mormon Corner


At this Alaskan High school, if you are good you go stand in the corner.

Some mail order companies are just post office boxes. And some towns on the map are nothing more than a gas station at a crossroads. So why not a place in Alaska called Mormon Corner that turns out to be a locker in a high school?

The difference is, the mail order company could leave you feeling like you didn’t get your money’s worth. And the gas station town can disappoint you if you were hoping to find a place to stay. But at Mormon Corner, everything—make that everyone—seems to be the real thing, just as advertised.

Advertised? Yes. At Lathrop High, in Fairbanks, Alaska, the LDS kids seem to stand out like they are wearing signs. They are the ones whose smiles, friendly attitudes, and leadership qualities frequently mark them as LDS. They are also the ones who picked the nickname “Mormon Corner” for the locker where they seem to gather before and after school, at lunch time, whenever.

Even their principal, Ted Paulsen, is willing to talk about the contribution LDS students make in his school. “You notice these kids in your student council, on your basketball team. They’re leaders in the hall. When the cream comes to the top, a lot of LDS kids are there. They don’t stand out because they are better. It’s just that they have high expectations for themselves. You can see that they know where they are going, what they are going to do, and how they are going to get there.”

Mr. Paulsen’s own son, who was a student at Lathrop, has commented on the LDS students: “He says that he can pick out an LDS student because of dress and speech and all of the things we judge people by. He has a lot of respect for them.”

Back to Mormon Corner. It’s wherever one or more of the LDS kids happen to have assigned lockers in a convenient spot, so the location changes from year to year. Sometimes there are two Mormon corners. What goes on there? The usual kidding around, making plans for after school, keeping track of friends, and a fair amount of sharing the gospel and fellowshipping. Susan Benefield can tell you about that.

Susan noticed the LDS youth at Lathrop and liked what she saw. “One thing I noticed when I first met these kids is that they all smile. It’s like they know something you don’t. They walk through the halls with a grin on their faces, most of them. It makes you kind of wonder, why are they so happy all the time?”

Susan began to find her answer when Courtney Hull, Susan’s best friend, invited her to early-morning seminary. “It was just a going-with-my-buddy sort of thing,” Susan explains. “Then I started going to Young Women and to church and everything else, and everyone was really friendly. Then I started listening to the things the teachers were teaching. And one day it just came to me that this is the thing you need to do.” So she did it. Got baptized.

“I still have my friends that I had before I joined the Church,” Susan goes on, “and I have a lot of friends that aren’t in the Church. But I know when I’m with the LDS kids that there’s no peer pressure, no gossiping going on, no name calling, no drinking.” Now Susan knows why the LDS kids seem so happy all the time: “I guess the gospel kind of does that to you.”

Of course, smiling all of the time isn’t always the best idea if you live in Fairbanks—not if you wear braces and you are outdoors in the winter. Your lips can freeze to the metal braces. This is a place where it’s so cold in the winter that if you go outside with hair still damp from your shower, you hair literally freezes and can break off. And some of the most dreaded words kids can hear in the winter are, “Go out and start the car.”

On the other hand, summer means warm days with nearly 24-hour sunshine. Ask about summer, and you get those famous smiles again. “There’s no night,” says one. “If your parents say, ‘You be back before dark,’ you can come back the next morning,” she jokes. “You don’t take summer for granted,” says another. “You do as many things as possible.” Still another adds, “You feel guilty if you miss doing something because summer is so short.”

There’s a tangible zest for life as well as for the gospel among the LDS youth here in Fairbanks. This is a place where wages are generally quite high and money is often easy to come by. And too many other teens try to substitute alcohol, drugs, sex, or materialism for love, family values, and spirituality. But LDS teens stick together while reaching out to others. In the middle of a city, in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, they’ve created their own cozy little corner—Mormon Corner.

[photos] Photography by Jed Clark

[photos] It’s social climbing of the best kind (top left) when LDS youth in Fairbanks gather annually to spruce up a downtown monument. Photos: p. 29 (top left) Aaron Hull, Sariah Espinosa, Lauri Easton; (top right) Fred Donaldsen. P. 31 (top) Will Woods and Chris Johns, (bottom, foreground) Anna Eddington.

[photos] Fellowshipping here is often a matter of relaxed, easy-going friendships and good-natured fun. (Top) Susan Benefield, Courtney Hull; (bottom) Lauri Easton, Matt Wappett. By the way, some of the faces on these pages don’t belong to our Fairbanks youth. They’re Native American totems or symbols seen at a Fairbanks park dedicated to the area’s rich history. You can tell which is which. There’s nothing wooden about the LDS kids.