This story began in 1987 with the Bennion First Ward’s youth conference trip to the Manti Utah Temple and the time capsule that the youth buried afterward.
Hold on—1987? Isn’t this article 16 years late for publication? Well, yes, if you’re writing a story about burying a time capsule. But this one’s about digging it up.
After three days of service and activities near the temple grounds, the teens and leaders from Taylorsville, Utah, drove home to wrap up the conference. Then in a corner of leader Brenda Jeppson’s yard, they stood quietly in the warm July twilight and watched as a long, black time capsule was buried about three feet deep in the crumbly soil.
Sixteen-year-old Stacie Hankins wrote in her journal that night, “After we buried the time capsule, we promised we would return with our spouses and children in 15 years.” Then she vowed, “I will return.” Along with most of the youth and leaders at the conference, Stacie kept her promise.
The crowd that gathered in the same corner of that yard 15 years later not only looks very different, it is three or four times bigger than the original gathering. Children run around on the soft grass in the Jeppsons’ backyard while their parents—the grown-up Bennion Ward teens—chat about what they included in the capsule.
The capsule is sealed so tightly they have to saw the ends off. Inside is quite a collection of 1980s memorabilia. Banana hair clips, tape recordings of popular music, newspaper articles, postage stamps, clothing ads, microwave popcorn, letters to themselves with their testimonies, and a New Era are all packed into the smooth black tube.
Sorting through the mementos gives a sense of how much time has passed. But a lot more than wardrobes, world news, and waistlines has changed.
Imagine your life in 15 years. What will change? Where do you want to be?
Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Openshaw then, now 30-year-old Jennifer Bowden, thought about where she wanted to be in 15 years when the time capsule was buried.
“I was hoping I’d be married and be a mom,” she says.
Check. Her husband sends her a smile from a nearby table as her children, Samuel and Emma, giggle on the Jeppsons’ swing set.
“I also knew I wanted an education,” she continues.
Double check. Jennifer has a master’s degree in dietetics from Utah State University.
What has stayed the same is her strong testimony of the gospel. She pauses thoughtfully to consider where the last 15 years have taken her. “If my younger self could see me, I think she’d be pleased,” she says.
But Jennifer isn’t the only one smiling. Nathan Cantonwine, now 29, whose 100-watt grin hasn’t dimmed at all in 15 years, is happy with where he ended up too. More than serving a mission, going to college, and starting his own family, Nathan wanted to have a stronger testimony by the time the capsule was opened.
“Growing up, I had a tendency to rely on other people’s testimonies,” he says. “I knew the gospel was true because I could feel it when I was with my leaders and friends. But now, I have experienced things, in particular with prayer, tithing, and fasting, that have borne a strong witness to me that I cannot deny.”
Fifteen years scattered the teens of the 1987 Bennion ward across 12 states, from Florida to Washington. They served missions in places as close as California and as far away as Italy. The more time goes by, the more they realize what’s truly important. They say they don’t worry about superficial things like popularity and fashion anymore.
Heidi Tuttle, now Heidi Kim, says her perspective has changed tremendously in 15 years.
“When I was 17, I didn’t see the whole picture,” she says as her toddler son, Kennan, dashes by in red overalls. She scoops him up and kisses the top of his head as he squirms away.
“After my mission to Korea and getting married, I realized the gospel and my family are what’s most important,” Heidi says, as she looks proudly at her husband who is singing Kennan a special song in Korean.
Stacie Hankins says the most important thing in her life is the scriptures. She remembers burying a letter in the time capsule that contains her feelings about the Book of Mormon. She says if she were to include something in a time capsule today, it would be a list of scriptures that have changed her life. She wants to use the scriptures to strengthen her future family.
It’s fun to see the crazy things they buried all those years ago. But the real treasure of the 1987 Bennion youth conference wasn’t buried in the corner of the Jeppsons’ yard. It’s testimonies, families, friendships, and dreams—all things you can’t bury in a time capsule. The ones in the group who seem the happiest now are those who envisioned what they wanted to be when they were young and then worked toward those goals, rather than simply going wherever life took them.
When the warm summer evening slips into night, the group of reunited friends is still talking under the light of a few bright lamps. They each read the testimonies they wrote and put in the time capsule—their testimonies are the only things that outlasted the constantly changing popular culture. “Today I recommit myself to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Brenda Jeppson reads from her tattered piece of paper. Tonight, through her tears, she repeats her commitment to Christ as she looks forward to a future with the people she loves.