Sunday School monument refurbished

The monument to the organizer of the first LDS Sunday School in the Rocky Mountains is tucked away from the mainstream of Church historical sites in Salt Lake City, but the descendants of Richard Ballantyne are taking steps to restore it to prominence.

The bronze and granite statue stands on the northeast corner of 300 South and 100 West. It was on that block that Brother Ballantyne built his cabin. And it was in that cabin that he conducted the first Sunday School on Dec. 9, 1849.Descendants of Richard and Hulda Meriah Clark Ballantyne chose the monument as the location for a reunion July 31. The reunion came several weeks after the family started a restoration project on the monument. Without maintenance or care, the bronze replica of Ballantyne teaching a group of children had oxidized into a dull green mass that obliterated most of the words and detail sculpted by Avard Fairbanks. The green had also bled onto the dull granite base.

"The statue looks 90 percent better than it did four weeks ago," Darrell Moench told about 75 family members gathered around the statue during the reunion. He spearheaded the restoration project and conducted the reunion.

"This is where our family's ancestry began, right on this corner," Brother Moench said. "[Richard BallantyneT built his home here specifically for a Sunday School."

Delecta Ballantyne Moench Davis, 93-year-old family matriarch and one of Ballantyne's granddaughters, was at the reunion and shared some recollections with the family. Sister Davis' mother enriched her with fond memories of her grandfather even though he died two years before she was born.

"My mother adored her father," she said. "She said he was so soft spoken that if something amused him, he would throw his head back and shake, but not make a sound."

She said she attended the dedication ceremony for the monument, erected by the Deseret Sunday School Union, on Nov. 11, 1945. She said a platform was constructed on the corner next to the statue and she was seated on the platform next to President George Albert Smith.

"That day when my son Larry was bathing I told him to wash his hands extra good because he might get to shake hands with a prophet," Sister Davis recalled. "He said, `I don't think I'll get to,' but he did."

Brother Moench said he drove back and forth past the degenerating monument for several years, and finally decided something needed to be done about it. First he called the Church and found out from Jim Raines of the Historical Department that the statue was under the Church's jurisdiction. Brother Raines then gave guidance to the family's efforts to clean the statue, a trying task according to Brother Moench.

First, family members tried scrubbing the corrosion with chemicals, wire brushes and steel wool. Nothing happened. Stronger chemicals were used, again with no results. Then they tried hydrochloric acid which ate through the corrosion. But when Brother Moench saw the statue the next day, "it looked like a rusty old anchor."

After blasting it with fine glass, it took on a bright gold color. But then several applications of acid neutralizer started to return the art to its natural bronze state.

Brother Moench said the Church was going to take over the restoration the rest of the way, applying a patina and waxing it. Then the granite base will be sandblasted.

The inscription on the granite base says: "Erected by the Sunday Schools of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints 1945."

There is a quote from Brother Ballantyne at the bottom of the bronze memorial: "I felt that the gospel was too precious to myself to be withheld from the children. They ought to have the privilege of the gospel teaching and that was the main purpose, to teach them the gospel."

Arched at the top of the bronze sculpture is the statement: "In commemoration of the first Sunday School in the Rocky Mountains, conducted December 9, 1849, by Richard Ballantyne."

Etched into the granite on the back of the monument is a drawing of the cabin where Brother Ballantyne conducted that first Sunday School.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed