Heber J. Grant: Years of poverty taught generosity and self-reliance

Jedediah Morgan Grant and Rachel Ridgeway Ivins had been married only a year when Jedediah died on Dec. 1, 1856, leaving behind his 35-year-old wife and their nine-day-old son, Heber Jeddy Grant. The infant was named for both of Brigham Young's counselors - his own father, whose nickname was Jeddy, and Heber C. Kimball.

Understandably Heber became the center of Rachel's life - not just because he was her only child, but because of prophetic statements made about his life by early Church figures such as Heber C. Kimball, who prophesied that the young boy would become a greater man in the Church than his father, Jedediah.Once when Rachel reminded him of the prophecies of his great service to the Church, young Heber said, "Mother, get it out of your head. I do not want to be an apostle; I do not want to be a bishop; I do not want to be anything but a businessman." (Heber J. Grant, the Life of a Great Leader, by Bryant S. Hinckley, p. 26.)

Heber never did become a bishop, but he later was called as a stake president, an apostle and became the first president of the Church who had been born in the territory of Deseret.

A few years after Jedediah's death, his wives had to sell the property on which they lived on Main Street in Salt Lake City, where ZCMI now stands. Then-6-year-old Heber was upset and shook his little fist, vowing, "When I am a man, I will buy you back," referring to the property. He didn't exactly buy the property back, but he did later form a syndicate which bought $350,000 worth of ZCMI stock.

About the time the young boy was vowing to buy back the Main Street property, he accidently brought himself to the attention of President Brigham Young. The young boy got on the back of the prophet's carriage to get a ride and couldn't let go. When President Young discovered the boy and also that he was Jedediah's son, he made sure that Heber was a frequent visitor to the Lion House, where the Church president lived. There "Aunt" Eliza R. Snow would sit him down and tell stories of Nauvoo and of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Heber also attended the Brigham Young Schoolhouse.

For more than a decade, Heber was guided by the "Lion of the Lord," President Young. Heber later testified of the prophet: "I knelt down time and time again in his home in the Lion House at family prayers....Upon more than one occasion,...I have lifted my head, turned and looked at the place where Brigham Young was praying to see if the Lord was not there. It seemed to me that he talked to the Lord as one man would talk to another." (Gospel Standards, p. 224.)

The early years were hard for Rachel and Heber. He remembered his mother crying because she did not even have enough money to buy him a stick of candy for Christmas. She sewed to bring in money, often working late into the night. Heber would push the treadle of the sewing machine to lighten her load.

Of those early years, President Grant once said, "One day we had at least half a dozen, if not more, buckets on the floor catching rain that came through the roof." Their bishop offered help from the Church. Rachel would have none of it. She would be paid for her sewing and with that money she would patch the roof. "And this house will take care of me until my son gets to be a man and builds me a new one," responded the self-reliant widow - a trait that her son learned well. And at 21, he built her a new house.

As a young man, he was always concerned for his widowed mother. As a teenager, he said, "I am going to be a businessman and shall enter an office right away and take care of you, and have you quit keeping boarders for a living."

Through the years Heber had many offices. He had his own business before he was 20 and over the years was president or a director of a variety of businesses. He started businesses to create occupational opportunities for the community. "Home industry" was a strong theme of President Grant's.

Not being called on a mission at the usual age, Heber was worried that he was unworthy and suffered self-doubt. Then a month before he was 24, he was called to a position he had not expected - president of the Tooele Stake, 35 miles west of Salt Lake City. He and his wife, Lucy Stringham, moved to Tooele and bought their first house there. (Heber J. Grant, Man of Steel, Prophet of God by Francis M. Gibbons, p. 39.)

In 1882, a month before he was 26, he was called to another position he had not expected - a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Again, feelings of unworthiness filled his mind.

So he sought the Lord in prayer. On a trip to Arizona, he rode on horseback into the desert alone. "In the kind providence of the Lord," he said, "it was manifested to me perfectly so far as my intelligence is concerned - I did not see heaven - I did not see the council held here, but like Lehi of old I seemed to see, and my very being was so saturated with information that I received that I stopped my animal and sat there and communed with heaven that I am as absolutely convinced as though the voice of God had spoken the words to me." (Conference Report, October 1918, p. 24.) "It was given to me that the Prophet Joseph Smith and my father mentioned me and requested that I be called to that position." (Conference Report, April 1941, pp. 4-6.)

Shortly before his death in November 1918, President Joseph F. Smith took Heber, then president of the Twelve, by the hand and said: "The Lord bless you, my boy, the Lord bless you. You have a great responsibility. Always remember this is the Lord's work and not man's. The Lord is greater than any man. He knows whom He wants to lead His Church and never makes any mistakes." (Heber J. Grant, Man of Steel, Prophet of God, p. 171.)

As president of the Church, he celebrated three great centennials. One was the centennial of the organization of the Church, for which event he was on the cover of Time magazine, but misnamed Heber Jedediah Grant. The second was the centennial of the British Mission in 1937, and he went to England for the celebration.

The third was an "almost celebration." The Relief Society centennial was 1942. But Dec. 7, 1941 - the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor - took the United States into World War II, and meetings were curtailed or canceled. So a small recording was made that carried a message from the prophet, along with Relief Society Gen. Pres. Amy Lyman's, to women throughout the Church.

One of the topics that President Grant hit long and hard was the Word of Wisdom. Before his presidency, Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants had not been regarded as important, even by some leaders. But President Grant taught it with vigor and made it a universal standard for the entire Church.

Frances Grant Bennett, President Grant's last living child, who now lives in Salt Lake City, feels that one of the great strengths that he brought to his Church service was that he was a businessman. It was President Grant to whom the Church leaders turned to help them solve the indebtedness stemming in part from the federal government having confiscated the Church's assets years before. "He was always raising money for something," his granddaughter Florence S. Jacobsen, also living in Salt Lake City, recalls.

It was this businessman that the Lord called to lead the Church through the years of the world depression and the ensuing financial and personal problems in its wake. His work ethic and sense of personal responsibility instilled by Rachel stood him in good stead through those years.

He firmly believed in being self-reliant and depending upon the Lord - not the government. So it is no surprise that in 1936, he set up a welfare program of preparedness to help all Church members to become self-reliant.

The respect felt for President Grant in the business community was shown at a black-tie dinner given by civic leaders for his 82nd birthday. Five hundred attended. A highlight of the evening was the presentation of 1,000 silver dollars in a copper chest. President Grant said he would sell each of the dollars for $100 as a donation to Primary Children's Hospital, completed in 1953. His daughter Frances had charge of making the dollars into paperweights. Their sale turned that $1,000 into an $86,000 donation.

President Grant loved the hymns of Zion. Unfortunately, he was tone deaf. Frances says of her father, "He had no sense of pitch at all. You could play a note on the piano then play a note four notes higher, and he could not tell if it was higher or lower."

But he persevered. "He would practice," she recalled, "just playing a note on the piano with one finger and practice and practice. Of all his accomplishments he was proudest of learning to sing."

President Grant said, "The most I ever worked was to sing 400 songs in four days." It may also have been the most work for Rudger Clawson and J. Golden Kimball too as they were with him on a trip when he asked if they had any objection to his singing 100 hymns that day.

"After I had sung about forty tunes," he recorded, "they assured me that if I sang the remaining sixty they would be sure to have nervous prostration." (Gospel Standards, pg. 354.) He still sang the full 100.

President Grant often quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: "That which we persist in doing becomes easy to do; not that the nature of the thing has changed, but that our power to do has increased."

The prophet believed it and lived it and preached it.

One area in which President Grant was not able to bring his doctrine of perseverance to bear was in learning Japanese - which he didn't. He had been called in 1901 to open the Japanese Mission while a member of the Council of the Twelve.

However, his years in Japan seemed to him unfruitful. He later said: "When in Japan, feeling that I was not accomplishing anything, I went out into the woods and got down on my knees and told the Lord that whenever He was through with me there, where I was doing nothing, I would be very glad and thankful if he would call me home and send me to Europe to preside over the European Mission."

A cable soon came from the First Presidency: "Come home on the first boat." (Improvement Era, volume 7, 1936, p. 396.)

President Grant said that he only asked the Lord for two assignments in his life - one was to go to the European Mission and the other was to be called to the YMMIA presidency. He felt that the Church needed a publication to teach its doctrines. So after being called to the young men's organization in 1897, he would go home at night, and in the dining room, with family members helping him, he sent out thousands of hand-written letters inviting people to subscribe to a magazine that existed, as yet, only in his dreams. Two thousand people responded with subscriptions. And so began The Improvement Era, precursor of today's Ensign.

President Grant's generosity was legendary. No one knows how many he helped - except the Lord and Joseph Anderson. Elder Anderson, who later was called to the Seventy, was at the time secretary to the First Presidency and also handled President Grant's personal accounts. He said that President Grant "thoroughly enjoyed making money, but not for the purpose of accumulating it. His only desire was to have money that he might do good with it. . . ."(Heber J. Grant, Man of Steel, Prophet of God, p. 213.)

Two wives preceded President Grant in death - Lucy and Emily. Then in January 1940, he left Salt Lake City to go to San Diego, Calif., with his third wife, Augusta, their daughter Mary, and Joseph Anderson to the dedication of the Mormon Battalion monument. On Wednesday, Jan. 31, the prophet played a better game of golf than he had played for a long time. It would be his last. He suffered a stroke during the trip.

Now came perhaps his greatest test of perseverance. This man who had worked so hard to be self-reliant now had to rely on other people. It was hard for him to slow down.

President Grant died May 14, 1945. We may no longer hear his ringing voice, but we have his fervent testimony as appropriate to us as it was to the those who actually heard it:

"I rejoice in the knowledge that the work of God is onward and upward and that each of us who is true and faithful will be saved. I rejoice that this Gospel is going to all the nations of the earth. I rejoice in being a messenger of the plan of life and salvation. God has blessed me with a knowledge: I know that He lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. I know that I shall live forever, and that if I am faithful I shall be exalted. I know that this same blessing will come to all of you, if you are faithful." (Conference Report, April 1902.)


Highlights in life of Heber J. Grant

Nov. 22, 1856: Born in Salt Lake City.

Oct. 16, 1882: Became member of the Council of the Twelve at age 25.

1901: Opened the Japanese Mission.

1904: Presided over British and European missions.

Nov. 23, 1916: Became president of the Council of the Twelve.

Nov. 23, 1918: Became seventh president of the Church at age 62.

Nov. 27, 1919: Dedicated Hawaii Temple.

May 6, 1922: Delivered first message over Utah's first radio station, KZN, now known as KSL.

Aug. 26, 1923: Dedicated Alberta Temple.

Oct. 23, 1927: Dedicated Arizona Temple.

April 1936: Inaugurated the Church welfare program.

April 6, 1941: Announced new position of Assistant to the Twelve.

May 14, 1945: Died in Salt Lake City at age 88.

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