Called to Serve: Howard W. Hunter—A Style of His Own


14th President of the Church

It was a cool, overcast morning in 1919. Twelve-year-old Howard Hunter sat in the congregation in an aging frame chapel in Boise, Idaho. He had been a member of the Church only a short time, but he loved the gospel with all his heart.

Most of the members had mixed feelings that morning. There was excitement about the announcement of a plan for a new chapel. But there was concern about the cost. Ward members were asked to pledge what they could afford, but these were hard times and there was not a lot of money to spare.

The young boy rose to his feet. “I’m Howard Hunter, and I pledge $25,” he said in a loud voice. Howard had worked years to save that money, a large amount for anyone in 1919. But he knew the new chapel was worth the sacrifice. Others followed his example. The money was found. The chapel was built.

For most of his life, President Howard W. Hunter has been setting examples people have loved to follow. On June 5, 1994, Howard W. Hunter was ordained as the 14th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His example now becomes a symbol of the Church he so loves.

Priesthood Privileges

On November 14, 1907, Howard William Hunter was born in Boise, Idaho, to John William and Nellie Marie Rasmussen Hunter. Howard was the eldest of two children.

His father was not a member of the Church when Howard was a boy. His mother was, however. She taught him the gospel, and when Howard turned eight, he desired to be baptized. His father felt Howard should wait until he was older to make that decision. Howard followed his father’s wish, but eventually the longing for Church membership became too much to bear.

“When I was 12, I joined the LDS Boy Scout troop,” said President Hunter. “I sat in sacrament meetings with the other boys. When it was time for them to pass the sacrament, I would slump down in my seat. I felt so left out. I wanted to pass the sacrament, but couldn’t because I had not been baptized. I finally prevailed upon my father to allow me to be baptized” (Church News, May 19, 1985, p. 4).

Howard and his younger sister, Dorothy, were baptized in the public swimming pool.

As a deacon, young Howard started the fire in the stove to take the chill off the chapel, and then advanced to pumping the bellows for the organ.

As a Scout, he became only the second boy in Idaho to receive an Eagle Award.

According to his sister, he was a polite, popular young man, though he did not call attention to himself. Dorothy said that he just did the things he felt were important in his own “quiet, sweet way. He was awfully good to me, and I can truthfully say I have never known my brother to do a wrong thing in his life” (Ensign, Apr. 1986, p. 23).

Hunter’s Croonaders

While still in high school Howard developed his natural ear for music by learning to play the piano, marimba, drums, violin, clarinet, saxophone, and trumpet. He formed a band, Hunter’s Croonaders, that followed him to the University of Washington in Seattle. Eventually they gained employment as a dance band on a ship bound for the Orient.

Howard moved to California. At a Church dance he met Clara May Jeffs, a former fashion model who was working as a personnel manager of a large Los Angeles department store. Soon after meeting Clara May, Howard realized that his days as a musician were numbered. A musician’s hours were not conducive to the type of family life he wanted. So, before he took Clara to Salt Lake City to be married in the temple, he packed away his instruments for good.

Howard and Clara were married in the Salt Lake Temple on June 10, 1931. The newlyweds returned to California where Howard went to work in a bank.

From the years 1934–39, Howard maintained a grueling schedule of work, Church assignments, and night school. In 1939 he graduated cum laude with a degree in law from Southwestern University in Los Angeles. During those years the Hunters’ three sons were also born: Howard William, Jr., who died in infancy, John J., and Richard A.

After passing the California state bar examination, Brother Hunter started his private law practice and became a highly respected member of the legal community.

A Call to Serve

When the El Sereno Ward of the Pasadena Stake was organized in September 1941, Howard W. Hunter was called as its first bishop. He was called as stake president in February 1950.

During those years a strong spirit of love resided in the Hunter home. President and Sister Hunter always found time for their sons. For example, they helped both sons achieve the rank of Eagle Scout by camping with them and going on trips.

A Special Witness

In October 1959, President Hunter was in Salt Lake City for general conference.

“At the conclusion of the first session, my counselor, Daken K. Broadhead, told me that President David O. McKay’s secretary wanted to see me. …

“President McKay greeted me with a pleasant smile and a warm handshake and then said to me, ‘Sit down Pres. Hunter. I want to talk to you. The Lord has spoken. You are called to be one of the special witnesses, and tomorrow you will be sustained as a member of the Council of Twelve.’”

President Hunter could not speak. Tears came to his eyes as he humbly sat in the presence of “that great, sweet, kindly man—the prophet of the Lord” (Church News, Nov. 16, 1974, p. 5).

The next day, in delivering his first general conference address, President Hunter said, “I want you to know that I have a firm, uncompromising conviction that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that the gospel was restored in this latter dispensation by the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith. …

“I do not apologize for the tears that come to my eyes on this occasion because I believe that I face friends, my brethren and sisters in the Church, whose hearts beat the same as mine today, in the thrill of the gospel and in service to others” (Improvement Era, Dec. 1959, p. 962).

Since his call to the Council of the Twelve, President Hunter has stressed honesty, sacrifice, hard work, the importance of example, and his belief that we should all rejoice in the blessings of life.

On October 9, 1983, President Hunter lost his wife to a lingering illness. Soon after, he underwent back surgery. Doctors said he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. But he was determined to walk again, and through remarkable faith and effort, he can now walk with assistance. On April 12, 1990, President Hunter married Inis S. Egan, a widow and long-time family friend.

It has been 75 years since a young Howard Hunter rose to pledge his savings for the construction of a new chapel. Ever since, he has continued to be an example to members and friends of the Church around the world.

[photos] President Hunter was the first child (inset, right) born to John William and Nellie Marie Hunter (inset, left). While growing up he was an active Boy Scout.

[photos] Above (from left): With his sister Dorothy and their dog; as a saxophone player in his band, Hunter’s Croonaders; as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve; and speaking at the Tabernacle pulpit.

“I have shed many tears and have sought my Father in Heaven in earnest prayer with a desire to be equal to the high and holy calling which is now mine,” President Hunter said after he was ordained as the Church’s 14th president.