Member receives 'highest honor' from Iceland for fostering heritage

The government of Iceland's highest honor - The Order of the Falcon - was presented Aug. 6 to a member of the Church who helped open missionary work in that country in 1975 and who has served three missions there.

The Honorable Tomas Tomasson, ambassador of Iceland, presented the award to Byron T. Geslison at a reception center in Spanish Fork, Utah. The Order of the Falcon is "selectively conferred upon Icelandic and foreign subjects, men and women, who above all others have furthered the welfare and honor of the Fatherland or have accomplished achievements in the interest of mankind."Brother Geslison's parents, Sigmundur Gislason and Sveinsina Adalbjorg Arnidottir, were born in Iceland. They both immigrated to Spanish Fork as children.

The award is a white and gold cross framing an oval-shaped pendant in which a silver falcon is embedded. Decorating the cross is a ribbon of red, white and blue - the colors of the Icelandic flag.

About 150 attended the presentation including Elder Jacob de Jager of the Seventy; Brother Geslison's wife, Melva; the ambassador's wife, Hjordis Gunnarsdottir; Thor Leifson, Consul of Iceland for the State of Utah, and his wife, Loyce; and state Rep. Tim Moran.

The awards ceremony was part of Iceland Day 1993, sponsored by the Icelandic Association of Utah, an organization of descendants of Mormon immigrants from Iceland. Many Icelandic members settled Spanish Fork during the early 1880s.

"It is indeed a happy occasion that Brother Geslison has received a prestigious reward and Iceland's highest honor, The Order of the Falcon," Elder de Jager said during the ceremony. "Brother Byron and Sister Melva Geslison are the type who selflessly further the work of the Lord without seeking recognition for themselves."

He then quoted President Howard W. Hunter of the Council of the Twelve: " `There are many great, unnoticed and forgotten heroes among us. I am speaking of those who quietly and consistently do the things that ought to be done.

" `I am talking of those who are always there and always willing . . . to do the minor things that will ultimately make us great.' "

Before pinning the award on Brother Geslison, Ambassador Tomasson told those present: "I am here on an official errand of the government of Iceland. It is a pleasure indeed for me to be here with you tonight in Spanish Fork, the oldest Icelandic settlement in the United States. . . ." He added that the president of Iceland, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, had commissioned him to "honor one of the outstanding western Icelanders, Mr. Geslison. I want to tell you that the great missionary work that Byron has done - both as a missionary from Utah in Iceland and as a missionary of Iceland in Utah - has been highly valued by the authorities in Iceland.

"We value highly both the fostering of family bonds, and also the promoting of the Icelandic culture and heritage here in Utah and the western Icelandic identity here," he added.

After the ambassador pinned the award on his lapel, Brother Geslison of the Spanish Fork 13th Ward, Spanish Fork Utah Stake, said, "I accept this honor, but not entirely on my own behalf."

He then beckoned Sister Geslison to stand beside him as they received applause from the audience. "I couldn't do much of anything without her," he added.

Continuing, Brother Geslison asked the Icelandic ambassador to "please convey to the government my great and deep appreciation for this honor that has been bestowed upon me.

"I'd like to thank those on this side of the ocean as well as those in the old land. I love the Icelandic people dearly."

Brother Geslison then paid tribute to two men posthumously - Church President Spencer W. Kimball and former Iceland President Krisjan Eldgarn. The award recipient explained that President Kimball "urgently requested that we go to Iceland in 1975. If we hadn't got that call, we wouldn't be here tonight."

In speaking of the former Icelandic president, Brother Geslison said: "He gave great service to us. He was one of the first we met when we arrived in Iceland. We became friends, and I'm grateful for what he did.

"Most of all," Brother Geslison continued, "I want to honor and recognize Him whose hand is in all things, the hand of Providence. I'm so grateful for His benevolent, loving and kind hand."

After Brother Geslison spoke, Rep. Moran presented him with a citation from the Utah House of Representatives for "untiring effort in creating good will between Iceland and the nations of the world."

In 1981, Brother Geslison returned to Iceland on request of the Church's Translation Department to help review Icelandic translations of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. In 1983 and 1987, he and Sister Geslison served 18-month missions to Iceland.

Today, there is one district of the Church in Iceland, including three branches, with about 300 members.

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