New leader called for Temple Square

Putting off retirement one more time, Joseph Marshall McPhie accepted a call to direct the Temple Square Visitors Center. And now, five months into his tenure, he is weathering a major challenge.

When he moved into his North Visitors' Center office at the end of February, he had 44 sister missionaries serving under his direction. The number grew to 84 during the next few months in preparation for the coming tourist season. This summer, the number has nearly doubled again to 166 sister missionaries as a large-screen theater and FamilySearch facilities in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building were placed under Temple Square administration.Elder McPhie and his staff were charged with housing the tidal wave of new missionaries, smoothing their adoption into the mission family and training them in their new assignments. He also is responsible for about 50 senior missionaries who serve in a wide variety of responsible positions on Temple Square.

"The only reason it has worked is because of the fantastic spirit of the missionaries and because the Lord wanted it to work," Elder McPhie said.

Elder McPhie's wife, Ruth, was called to the mission along with her husband. She said she loves "all my beautiful daughters" as she assists her husband with the sister missionaries.

Elder McPhie called his counselors from among Temple Square missionaries. Currently serving are Elder Bruce Bennion of Cody, Wyo., as first counselor and Elder Lee Stoddard of Sandy, Utah, as second counselor. Elder C.W. Neal Nielsen of Mesa, Ariz., is the executive secretary. They are serving with their wives, Sisters Peggy Bennion, Annette Stoddard and Virginia Nielsen.

Whenever Elder McPhie, 71, has anticipated retirement, the Church has asked for more service. He has gladly accepted each call.

The repeated postponements of retirement have left Elder McPhie well prepared for his current calling. When he retired from the U.S. Air Force as a colonel in 1974, he offered to stay on as president of the Dayton Ohio Stake for a few months until he could be replaced during the next stake conference.

The "offer" was not accepted and two weeks later he understood why when he received a call from the First Presidency to serve as president of the Virginia Roanoke Mission.

Just before he was released from that calling, he received a call from the executive director of the Missionary Department asking if he would return to his native Utah and work in that department.

So the McPhies put off retirement again for a stint in the missionary department that lasted from 1977 to 1992. During those years he also filled an emergency vacancy as mission president for two years in the Australia Sydney Mission. He was also a regional representative.

He held several positions in the missionary department, ending up as director of operations.

"That's what I did until a year ago last February when I thought I retired," Elder McPhie said.

He and his wife did manage to break away on a couple of nostalgia trips to some of their previous military stations before they were called back by the Church.

He is reaching for certain achievements during his tenure on Temple Square.

"Our twin goals are to make sure that every missionary has a wonderfully successful and fulfilling mission and that every visitor the Lord sends to us is touched by the beauty and spirit of this sacred Temple Square," Elder McPhie said.

Elder McPhie's military experiences included 28 combat missions over Germany as lead bombardier on a B-17 "Flying Fortress" in World War II, plus a year each in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

But despite that experience, as well as his lifetime of Church service, he says his current position is "the most challenging I have ever done."

With more than a thousand hourly assignments to be made each day on Temple Square and in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the mission is a steady beehive of activity throughout its 14-hour day.

"It is a great tribute to my predecessors that the system is so responsive to the needs of our visitors . . . including 16 different foreign languages and a wide variety of tours and presentations," he said.

Despite the busy atmosphere that surrounds his calling, Elder McPhie enjoys the peaceful feeling on Temple Square, the music and the beautiful sights such as the flower gardens and the different buildings. "I still get a thrill each morning as I arrive and look at the Temple," he said.

Add to that the way he feels about the "fantastic" missionaries assigned to Temple Square and you get the impression he didn't mind delaying retirement one more time.

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