She helped nurture fledgling Church during life of service

Far from friends and established centers of the Church in the 1930s and 1940s, Rhea Coleman Guilt threw her energy into helping others through community service, and has reaped a lifetime of rewards for her efforts.

Sister Guilt, a member of the Laconia Ward, Concord New Hampshire Stake, lived in many locations in the Northeast and saw the Church grow from infancy to stakes. Her husband, Ryan, a convert to the Church, died in 1984.For her services, she has been president of the New Hampshire Federation of Women's Clubs, Mother of the Year (1967) for New Hampshire, Girl Scout leader for 15 years and president of the Laconia Council of Girl Scouts, to name a few.

"On my 80th birthday the community gave me a party," she said. "I was honored, and many people attended. They came from all over, and my family came to be there.

"Everyone knows I am a Mormon," she said. "One experience I was delighted about happened at a federation meeting when a very elegant woman came up and said, `I understand that our state president is a Mormon.'

"I just buckled up and said, `Yes, I am!' "

"Thank heavens," the lady responded. "I have been looking for a Mormon for a special reason."

"Yes, Mrs. Mathis, Why?" I asked.

"I have Joseph Smith's holly wedding china. It came through my husband, and I wanted some worthy Mormon to have that china," she said.

"I willingly accepted," Sister Guilt explained. "Later, I contacted some people, and through Dr. LeRoy Kimball the china was placed in the museum at Nauvoo."

Another recognition she received was less satisfying.

"One interesting thing happened while living in Boston, Mass.," she said. "The Quincy Ledger made an error in their headline and said, `Mrs. Ryan W. Guilt will speak on the subject, Why I am a Moron.' They were quick to apologize, but I just thanked them, and with a smile admitted they may be right."

Her good-natured response led to more friendships and opened doors to the Church, a lifelong pursuit of Sister Guilt. She explained that her commitment to the Church runs back several generations.

"My father was a bishop for many years and my ancestors were among the saints who were driven out of Nauvoo. I was the ninth child in the Henry T. Coleman family," she said. "I went to Brigham Young University and became a teacher. In the summer I was part of a traveling lyceum program taking care of a children's program. That is how I met my husband, Ryan Guilt. We were in Birdsboro, Pa., though he was from Quincy, Mass.

"He immediately began to court me and I said, `That is the last man I would ever marry.' I had been raised in the Church and wanted to marry a member. Ryan was not a member of the Church. He continued to pursue me, and I was attracted. He even came to Utah to court me, and he met my parents and won them over. We were married in 1930 and established in Massachusetts.

"I found myself the only Mormon on the South Shore, but I did discover that there was a branch of the Church in Boston. My husband, a very wonderful man, said that he would go to my church two Sundays if I would go with him to his for two Sundays.

"I just let his church know I was a Mormon, but I went to work with them when I was there. They honored and respected me as a faithful Latter-day Saint. At the Boston Branch there were about 30 members. We met in a dirty dance hall on Huntington Avenue."

As the Church grew, the New England Mission was organized in 1937 with Carl Eyring as president. Eventually the Church purchased part of the estate of poet Henry W. Longfellow in Cambridge, Mass. The property included two homes.

"It was very exciting to move into a clean wonderful home for our meetings," Sister Guilt explained. "One home was used for the mission and the other we used as a chapel. George Albert Smith, Jr. was a professor at Harvard and his father and other Church leaders visited us in our branch.

"I was serving in the Relief Society, and we traveled from the South Shore to Cambridge for meetings. Being the only Mormon in my community, I was often asked questions, and some times made fun of, but I had an answer, and on occasions was invited to speak about the Church to various organizations. I was delighted to do that."

During this time, her husband, a textile engineer, was making friends with mission presidents, university professors and others who were members of the Church.

In 1944 he was transferred to New Hampshire. "We found a house on Cherry Valley Road in Gilford. We bought this beautiful farm - only to find that I was the only Mormon around. I wanted to serve, so I helped out at the Community Church and they accepted me. The mission president, Pres. William H. Reeder Jr., asked Bill Marriott to visit us, and we became close friends. It was through that friendship that my husband became more and more interested in the doctrine of the Church. After 36 years of being involved, he was baptized by Brother Marriott."

Pres. Boyd K. Packer, now of the Council of the Twelve, was mission president then.

"After several years, the Harold Gunn family from Utah moved to the area. It was wonderful. We established a little Sunday School."

As they worked with the missionaries, the membership grew and a little branch was established. Sister Guilt had so many contacts and was so well-liked in the community that they had no trouble finding a place to meet.

"We met in various places," she said. "And, we were blessed to have the meeting places free of charge. We were growing rapidly and it was decided that we needed a chapel. Getting land was difficult, but through my association with the Federation of Women's Clubs, I met women who lived on both sides of the lot where we wanted the chapel. Both of these lovely ladies sold us land to give us the acreage needed. It is near the shore of beautiful Opeechee Bay. The meetinghouse was built by missionary labor and the efforts of the people with their projects of selling maple sugar, and holding suppers, bazaars and other things."

Sister Guilt served as district Relief Society president, traveling from Vermont to Maine and back to New Hampshire. Still, she found time to join the women in helping to paint the rooms of the new meetinghouse under construction.

"We were so proud, and the whole community admired us for our courage and commitment to our faith, and for building this edifice," Sister Guilt said. "My husband became the first bishop of the Laconia Ward, and later we served a mission to the Washington D.C. Temple."

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