Legacy left by Mormon pioneers inspires celebration nationwide

From the sites of early Mormon history to the heart of New York City, members of the Church celebrated Pioneer Day in various ways on July 24.

While Pioneer Day is a state holiday in Utah, members in other states usually have to commemorate the pioneers' arrival in the Salt Lake Valley on the weekend nearest to the 24th. This year, many were able to celebrate on the very day.The Papillion Nebraska Stake, which includes well-known Church history sites on the Mormon Trail such as Council Bluffs and Winter Quarters, had its festivities dampened by record rainfall and flooding, but still carried on in a pioneer spirit.

The stake planned to hold its activities at the Glenwood Lakes Park in Glenwood, Iowa, a settlement established by the pioneers, according to stake cultural arts director Dianne Willenborg.

But after rain drenched the park and hampered transportation, the event was moved to the stake center in Papillion, 20 miles northwest of Glenwood.

There was a neighborhood parade along with indoor and outdoor games and activities, Sister Willenborg said. Many showed up dressed in Mormon pioneer attire.

A concert that evening was originally planned as a gift to the residents of Glenwood. But instead, it was presented at the stake center. It featured country/western singer Al Seifert and folk singer David Hanks. Local historian Gail Holmes gave vignettes of Mormon pioneer history and Maj. Craig Jessop, director of the U.S. Air Force Heartland Band, led a community sing.

Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx was the gathering place for the New York New York Stake's Pioneer Day celebration.

Many members in the stake are converts of various ethnic backgrounds and aren't well acquainted with the Church's history, according to Luisa Perkins who helped organize the event.

Pioneer Day is "a new thing for them," she said. "It is educational for them as far as our pioneer heritage is concerned. We also tried to emphasize Church history in the New York area."

She said activities included softball, volleyball and other games. Pioneer Day oriented crafts were provided for the children. For example, they made pioneer-style sun bonnets and hats, and built log cabins out of twigs and clay.

Sister Perkins said Pioneer Day activities in previous years were left to individual wards. This is the first time the stake has come together for the event and she hopes it will become a tradition.

Members of the Sacramento California Stake have a tradition of celebrating Pioneer Day by performing a community service project.

After meeting with community leaders, members of the stake decided this year to clean up a park and nature area located in the heart of Sacramento.

Each ward was assigned a specific area and worked in it from 7 a.m. until about 11 a.m. Then the members met together in the park for a picnic, entertainment and a talk about pioneer heritage given by Bruce Bitnoff, second counselor in the stake presidency.

"It was good exposure for the Church," Brother Bitnoff said.

The Church in southwestern Missouri tapped a ready resource - the Osmonds - to organize its Pioneer Day. Several members of the Osmond family, popular in the music world, have moved to the area.

Merrill Osmond agreed to produce the Church's show at the family's entertainment complex in Branson, Mo. Members in the Springfield Missouri Stake supported the event which included a pageant created by Brother Osmond, a preshow and a fireworks show.

"If we did our job right, everybody will walk away feeling better about the Mormons," Brother Osmond said.

Residents in that part of the country are interested in the role their area played in early Church history, and many supported the event, he added.

The pageant recounted the history of the Church from the martyrdom of Joseph Smith to the establishment of the Church in Salt Lake Valley.

The Sioux Falls South Dakota Stake was an example of one where individual units had their own Pioneer Day celebrations.

The Sioux Falls 2nd Ward had a pioneer picnic breakfast.

The Sioux City (Iowa) Ward combined the event with a fathers and sons outing. Bishop John Coleman said the men and boys camped out over Friday night and then the entire ward was invited to a pig-roast picnic on Saturday. Games were the type the pioneers might have played, Bishop Coleman added.

The entire Bakersfield California Region joined in annual Pioneer Day festivities. More than 5,000 people participated in activities at the Kern County Pioneer Village. The event began with a children's parade, and live entertainment was provided throughout the day. Children participated in pioneer games such as gunny sack races, frog jumping and water bucket relays. Food with a pioneer flavor such as scones, homemade pies and corn on the cob was served.

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