Finding friendship in Missouri

To Church members in this area, finding friendship in the present is more important than belaboring the persecutions of the past.

One who has been at the forefront of building bridges between the Church and others is a prominent farm implements executive, J. T. Whitworth of the Blue Springs 2nd Ward in the Independence Missouri Stake, who serves as director of public affairs for the North America Central Area.A lean, hard-driving but affable businessman who is known for his penchant to "do it now," Brother Whitworth has seen considerable progress in inter-faith relations in the past few years.

One event that seemed to crystallize that progress was the 1992 visit of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to Independence, he said.

The Tabernacle Choir was invited to perform in the Auditorium of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which has its world headquarters in this city, near the Church's visitors center.

"This was mainly because of their kind feelings toward us, and RLDS President Wallace Smith's friendship with President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency. That really solidified our friendship."

Brother Whitworth said that in the greater Kansas City area, of which Independence is a part, "We are well-respected. The people know who we are, and we have become known as a hardworking, family-oriented group with high moral standards. We are more community-minded than we have been, but we have a long way to go in that area."

In the summer of each year, the Church works with other faiths in "Project Hunger," in which local television stations and grocery stores are enlisted along with the public to gather food for the homeless and underprivileged.

Church members also take part in a local inter-faith choir. "We sang in the choir in the RLDS performance of Handel's `Messiah'."

Church members worked hand-in-hand with others during what is now known as "the great flood of '93."

"That was a unified effort, particularly by the Liberty and Independence stakes where we assisted in sandbagging and providing clothing and blankets and food, etc. for the flood victims, both during the flood and during the clean up."

Independence is a pivotal area in Church history where early members once tried to settle in fulfillment of scriptural admonition. (See Church News, July 24, 31 and Aug. 28, 1993, p.14.) They were, however, violently rebuffed by local frontiersmen, who feared the growing population would outnumber and overwhelm them.

Even though the Saints were once forced to leave the area at great hardship, Independence has remained important to the Church. Today, the Church has a large visitors center and an adjacent stake center across the street from the original temple lot in Independence, "the center place" of Zion. (D&C 57:1-3.)

On a sweeping grassy slope between the visitors center and the stake center is site where an annual pageant, "A Frontier Story," is presented each July. The props and backdrop for this pageant are particularly striking. Brother Whitworth explained:

"A lot of the props and materials used in building the Independence pageant set came from Nauvoo where the set for the film "Legacy" was built. We tore down what we could use and trucked it here, and rebuilt it for our use." said Brother Whitworth. "That was beneficial for us."

He explained that the pageant recounts the moving of the Saints into Missouri, and their persecution and expulsion by the Missourians. Events of that epoch are portrayed near the locations of where they actually took place.

"We had an attendance of about 15,000 people in four days. In addition, the visitors centers in Independence and at Liberty Jail are very successful."

Even when he goes to work, Brother Whitworth, manager of imports/exports for AGCO Corp., is near historic areas. The acres-large plant, manufacturer of tractors and combines, is located on property adjacent to the visitors center.

Giant combines and powerful tractors, built at the rate of four a day, are shipped around the world from this facility. The company also imports tractors from such countries as Italy, Poland, France, United Kingdom and Japan.

Brother Whitworth oversees purchasing of tractors from these countries, as well as overseeing shipping of tractors, combines, hay tools, etc. to European countries, and to Australia, New Zealand, and Saudi Arabia.

Brother Whitworth started with the company 33 years ago at a branch office in Pocatello, Idaho, of Allis-Chalmers, the predecessor of AGCO.

Born on a ranch in Bancroft in southeastern Idaho, the son of Frank and Wanda Whitworth, he grew up taking part in raising cattle, milking cows, and growing sugar beets on a 4,000-acre ranch.

"One thing we learned was the value of work," he said. "We were up long before sunup, and long after sundown."

He graduated from North Gem High School in 1954, and then enlisted in the U.S. Air Force for four years. Afterward, he graduated from Ricks College and Idaho State University in business management. Shortly after his military service, he married Kaye May.

After he graduated from college, he and his wife went to live on his father's ranch, where he worked. But the ranch life was arduous, and when a child died at birth, the couple decided to leave the ranch. She died in 1972 while giving birth to their fourth child. He later married Marie Phillips, and they now have five children.

During his career in various places around the United States, as he worked his way up the corporate ladder, he served as bishop twice, high councilor, stake mission president twice, stake president's counselor and director of public affairs.

His emphasis on his family, hard work, moral values and service to others has made him an exemplary ambassador of the Church in the Independence area.

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