New seventy learned early in life to love apostles, prophets

A film maker approaching the task of documenting the life of Elder Neil L. Andersen might choose two scenes in particular to dramatize.

One scene would feature him at age 10 having journeyed from his hometown of Pocatello, Idaho, to attend general conference in Salt Lake City in about 1961. Unsuccessful at getting into the Tabernacle for the session, young Neil Andersen would be shown situating himself outside the rear of the building in hopes of shaking the hand of an apostle or two. The viewer would then see him grasping the hand of Elder Hugh B. Brown and other apostles, and being near President David O. McKay.The viewer next might see him some 10 years later with his missionary companion in France in the apartment of an investigator who tells them her 10-year search for truth has come to an end and asks for baptism.

The two incidents are influential in the life of Elder Andersen, 41, sustained at the recent conference to serve in the First Quorum of the Seventy, one because it solidified his love and reverence for the prophets and apostles and the other because it deepened his desire to serve the Master.

"I was taught early to really love the modern-day prophets and apostles," he recalled. "And throughout our married life, we have really worked hard at listening to their counsel and putting it into practice."

Regarding the incident from his mission, he said: "I remember like it was yesterday, coming out of that apartment. It wasn't so much the words she said, it was the feelings I felt. I remember as the door closed, I took a deep breath and looked over the balcony, saying to myself, Neil, I hope you never forget how you feel here today.' I said a little prayer and asked Heavenly Father,Please, wherever I go and whatever I do, don't let me forget these feelings I'm having right now.' And He has been very gracious in not allowing me to forget those and many other feelings I had on my mission, and since, that have built a very forceful conviction that these things are of God."

The third of five children, he was born in Logan, Utah, but lived there only a short while, until his father graduated from Utah State University. "Then we were in Colorado briefly, where he taught school, but really what he wanted to do was be a dairy farmer, so that's what we did."

Elder Andersen remembers "typical Idaho farm work, from morning to night" at the dairy farm in Pocatello.

"But my father did teach me the value of work and always encouraged all of his children to be the very best they could be, often quoting inspirational poetry. And my mother was and still is a very warm, loving person who always gave us 100 percent acceptance and was always there at home ready to help us in anything we needed."

In high school, he excelled in student government, serving as governor of Idaho Boys State and attending Boys Nation. He was president of the Idaho Association of Student Councils that involved all high school student body officers.

It was through student government at BYU that he met his future wife, Kathy Williams, a talented, bright coed from Florida. A former missionary companion running for student body president had asked Neil to be his running mate as a candidate for executive vice president. She got involved in the campaign through a friend.

"Kathy was our best campaigner, and we got married to repay a campaign debt," Elder Andersen joked.

But their characters were compatible in terms of dedication to the Church. The great-great-granddaughter of a couple who joined the Church in rural Florida in 1898, she had set and reached a goal to earn all 70 "Beehive Badges" in the YWMIA program. (The last badge she earned was for being baptized for the dead. Her father fulfilled a promise to drive her the 2,500 miles to the Salt Lake Temple - the nearest one at the time - so she could fulfill the requirement for her 70th badge.)

It is obvious the Andersens are deeply in love, but because of modesty, one is often embarrassed by the other's compliment. When Elder Andersen says his wife is "a very fine pianist," for example, she quickly adds she plays the piano "a little bit." And he appears almost mortified when Sister Andersen recalls arising one morning at 4 a.m. in college to get ready to hand out fliers for his campaign in hopes she might "catch a glimpse of Neil."

The couple made their home in Florida as his profession was better suited to an urban environment, and they wanted their children to live near one set of grandparents.

They have taken pains to raise their four children with the same love for the gospel and the prophets they had gained in their youth. When general conference came around, the family would dress in their Sunday best to go to the Tampa Stake Center all day Saturday to view the satellite telecasts of conference sessions.

"We would teach the family to take notes and to look for specific admonitions and promises that came from the counsel," Elder Andersen said. "We would come home, set family goals and we would see the results."

When he was called at age 37 to preside over the France Bordeaux Mission, the calling immediately became a family affair.

"A General Authority told us that the greatest good we probably would have on the mission would be the impact of the whole family, meaning the people there would see a strong family intact, working hard to keep the commandments together," Elder Andersen recalled.

"On most weekends we would load up the car and travel maybe as many as four hours to branch meetings. And in those meetings frequently not only would I speak, but the children might speak or sing. Kathy would speak. It was a family experience."

Sister Andersen recollected a particular month when the missionaries united their faith and prayers to help bring success. At a zone leaders meeting, Pres. Andersen committed that he personally would find someone to baptize that month.

"Our family, that night, sat down together, and Neil explained what had transpired. From that night on, our children every night would pray, `Heavenly Father, please bless Daddy to find someone to baptize.' "

As the weeks went on, his prospects for baptism never came to fruition. Finally, the day before the end of the month, a young medical student from the Mauritius Islands, Kamla Persand, called the mission office and asked to speak with the president.

"She told him that as she was looking through the Yelllow Pages for a doctor, her eyes fell upon the name of the Church and she felt a strong impression to call the mission president. Her father had been one of the first members of the Church in the islands, but she had not joined. She had received the discussions, had attended Church and lived the teachings of the gospel, but had not been baptized."

Straightway, the Andersens drove to see her. Pres. Andersen determined her worthiness and challenged her to pray to see if it was right that she be baptized.

"She called us the next morning at 6:30 and said that as she knelt down that night she felt an overpowering need to be baptized a member of the Church the next day. She had tried calling that night, but Neil was doing transfers, and she had not been able to reach him. That day, at 9 p.m. on the last day of the month, Neil entered the waters of baptism with Kamla. She now attends BYU and was sealed to a wonderful young man in the temple in December."

Added Elder Andersen: "You can see that when there is faith, miracles will follow. We feel very humbled and overwhelmed in this calling. I realize my weaknesses and know that without the faith and support of Church members and without the patience and love of the authorities of the Church, and without the help of my Heavenly Father and His Son, I will not accomplish what is expected of me. I pray that I can be sufficiently meek and humble that the Lord can strengthen me and enlarge my capacity so that I can fulfill His purposes."

Elder Neil L. Andersen

Family: Born Aug. 9, 1951, in Logan, Utah, to Lyle P. and Kathryn Andersen; reared in Pocatello, Idaho, the third of five children. Married Kathy Sue Williams in the Salt Lake Temple on March 20, 1975. Parents of four children: Camey, 17, Brandt, 15, Kristen, 12, Derek, 10.

Education: Graduated cum laude with bachelor's degree in economics from BYU, 1975, recipient of Edwin S. Hinckley Scholarship; master of business administration degree from Harvard Graduate School of Business, 1977.

Employment: Vice president of Morton Plant Health System, a hospital-based health system in Florida; former partner in Florida-based advertising agency and subsequently owner and president of own advertising agency.

Church service: Most recently president of the Tampa Florida Stake; president of France Bordeaux Mission, 1989-92; former stake president's counselor, high councilor, elders quorum president, stake Young Men president; served in the Paris France Mission, 1970-72.

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