The joy of serving surpasses all else

'We will leave our home, not look back'

This was to have been F. Melvin Hammond's summer for fishing.

An outdoorsman who has spent much of his 55 years in the mountains and valleys of southeastern Idaho, he knows practically every fishing spot within 200 miles of his Rexburg home. Anticipating numerous fishing expeditions this summer, he marked on a calendar precisely which days he would fish each river and stream, and even took in a fly-tying class.Almost exactly one week after the class ended, he was called to full-time Church service, as he was sustained April 1 to the newly created Second Quorum of the Seventy.

Having served as a mission president, stake president and bishop, as well as in other callings, Elder Hammond knows the joy of service surpasses the thrill of fishing.

For years, D&C 128:22 has been in his thoughts, almost as if incubating a resolve to do his part in helping the Lord's work move forward: "Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. . . ."

"I have always loved that scripture," said Elder Hammond, who had been a professor of religion at Ricks College for 23 years.

As one who has devoted himself to studying and teaching the scriptures, he has a "working knowledge" of them and often quotes from the scriptures. One of his favorite accounts is the 17th chapter of 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, in which the Savior appeared to the Nephites and healed their sick.

"I think that what the Savior did with all those people - how He healed their sick and blessed the children - epitomizes His life," Elder Hammond reflected. "He healed, not only physically but also spiritually. He healed tortured souls. I have a great desire to `heal' people, to help them."

At the time Elder Hammond was called as a General Authority, he and Sister Hammond were teaching a Sunday School class for 17-year-olds in the Rexburg 10th Ward, Rexburg Idaho East Stake. When they began teaching Sunday School in 1987, right after they returned from Bolivia where he was president of the Bolivia Cochabamba Mission from 1984-87, only two or three students came regularly to the class. Twenty-five now attend, a tribute, said Sister Hammond, to his ability to capture the attention of young people and to make gospel teachings an integral part of their lives.

Elder Hammond understands young people, perhaps because of some of his own early experiences, some of which have been painful.

When he was 9 months old, his father, Floyd M. Hammond, died at age 24 after suffering an injury while playing baseball in Blackfoot, Idaho, where the family was then living.

His mother, Ruby Hammond, moved to Rexburg where she went to Ricks College and studied to become a teacher to provide for young Melvin and his older sister. When Melvin was 5, she married Earl Schofield, and they moved near Ashton, Idaho, where his love for the great outdoors began.

"We lived about five miles out of Ashton on the Fall River until I was a sophomore in high school. Then my family bought a ranch and we moved to Lima, Mont.," he said. "Our home on the Fall River was in an isolated area. I spent many hours alone in the canyon. It was a beautiful place. I hunted there, helping put meat on the table. In the summers, I would fish and swim in the river. During the winters, I went to and from school not in a school bus but in a school sleigh, pulled by a team of horses. The sleigh had a little wood-burning heater.

"That place had a great impact on me. I still love to be alone in the mountains. On occasion, I just want to be alone. It is not unusual, when I am really feeling stress, to go home and tell my wife I need a couple of hours to myself. I will go to the mountains, walk, sit, meditate and pray when I have a major decision to make."

There were times during the 16 years he served in the Idaho House of Representatives when he went to the mountains to ponder major decisions. A Democrat, he served three terms as the Legislature's minority party leader.

When he was called to serve as a mission president in Bolivia, he was given a warm send-off by both Democrats and Republicans. On his last day in the Legislature, he was given a standing ovation.

"A lot of the legislators had heard me say I was just a cowboy from Montana, so they gave me suitable gifts," he said. "The Republicans gave me a pair of cowboy boots, and the Democrats gave me a Stetson hat."

Elder Hammond, if the truth were known, probably would have preferred a pair of basketball shoes. "Playing basketball is one of the greatest loves in my life," said the 5-foot-11-inch Elder Hammond.

His love for basketball was one of the reasons he, as a young man, went to Ricks College on a basketball scholarship. It was in Rexburg that he met one of the local young ladies, Bonnie Sellers.

"He has a beautiful tenor voice," said Sister Hammond. "On our first date, we sat on a river bank and he sang, `Love Gets in Your Eyes,' and other love songs. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!"

Theirs was an idyllic courtship. She was a beautiful cheerleader; he had the potential of being a basketball star and a member of the college's track team. However his athletic career was cut short when he was injured in a motorcycle accident before the first basketball game of the season.

In the accident, in which his motorcycle crashed head-on with a car on a rain-slickened highway, his hips and one hand were broken, and his right foot "came within a whisker of being torn right off."

"The doctor wanted to amputate my foot because he said it would not heal, but my mother would not let him until I had a priesthood blessing," Elder Hammond recalled. "My bishop and step-father administered to me. I was told I would run again. The blessing was realized. I was in the hospital for two months and on crutches for six months after that. My foot eventually healed, but my track and basketball careers were just about ended."

Speaking of the accident, Sister Hammond said, "The time it took for him to convalesce tempered him and made him great. At that time, young men weren't given as much encouragement to serve missions as they are now. He had thought about going into the air cadets and becoming a pilot.

"We were dating at the time. I had always told him I wanted to marry a returned missionary. He would just laugh and say, `Oh, I'm going to go.' During the time he was recovering from the accident, I feel the Lord worked through him and prepared him to go on a mission."

He was called to the Spanish American Mission, and after his return, he resumed his courtship with Bonnie Sellers. "He still sang love songs to me, but this time, there were some Spanish songs among them," she recalled.

After their Sept. 14, 1956, marriage in the Salt Lake Temple, they made their home in Rexburg, where they have raised a son and five daughters. Music has continued to be an important part of their lives, and Elder Hammond still sings love songs to his wife. "She means everything to me," he said. "We do everything together. I cannot imagine what my life would be without her as a part of it."

Although Elder Hammond's athletic career ended prematurely, he has retained his love for basketball. His foot did not heal quickly enough for him to resume playing college basketball but he eventually was able to participate again in the game. Now dipping down to younger men for teammates and opponents, he manages to play about three early-morning games a week.

He also rides a bicycle for exercise. In winter months, he resorts to a stationary cycle in the basement of his home. "Try to picture this," said Sister Hammond. "He gets up in the morning, goes downstairs and starts riding the bike. He has his scriptures open, and he works on memorizing scriptures. I can hear him down there. The sound of him mumbling the scriptures and the bike going is music to me."

Of his reading the scriptures while riding the bike, he said, "That's the best time to memorize because it kills the pain of exercise!"

The scriptures have always been an important part of Elder Hammond's life. "When I returned home from my first mission I made a commitment to myself that I would read the Book of Mormon every six months, and I've kept that commitment," he said. "I've read it many times, and I never tire of it. Some people think that is really strange. I have a friend who said I should start reading Shakespeare or something else. I try to read other things too; I've always loved to read. But I love nothing more than the scriptures. Each time I read the Book of Mormon, I try to focus on something different. It never gets old."

Nor does serving in the Church. His summer of fishing is only one thing Elder Hammond is giving up to accept his call as a General Authority. He and Sister Hammond are leaving their dream home, a house they had planned for many years. They moved into their new home last December and thought that would be where they would spend the rest of their lives.

"A nice big `For Sale' is up on the front lawn," Elder Hammond said a short time after his call to the Second Quorum of the Seventy. "We are ready to go anywhere we are called in the service of the Lord. We will leave our home, and never look back."


Elder F. Melvin Hammond

Born: Dec. 19, 1933, in Blackfoot, Idaho, to Floyd M. and Ruby Hoge Hammond.

Family: Married Bonnie Sellers; parents of Melanie (Mrs. Randy) Rynearson, Lezlee (Mrs. Stuart) Porter, Stephanie (Mrs. Brad) Weekes, Todd, Lisa and Natalie. They have 10 grandchildren.

Career: Ricks College professor of religion.

Education: Attended Ricks College; B.A. and M.A. degrees, BYU.

Church callings: President of Bolivia Cochabamba Mission, president of Rexburg Idaho Ricks College East Stake, bishop of Rexburg (Idaho) 10th Ward, high priest group leader, officiator in Idaho Falls Temple, Sunday School teacher, missionary in Spanish American Mission.

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