Homecoming is sweet for prophet

It was a sweet homecoming for President Howard W. Hunter as he returned for a weekend conference and reception to the stake over which he presided four decades ago.

The Pasadena California Stake conference Oct. 15-16 coincided with the 58th anniversary of the stake and recent publication of its history. Following the Saturday evening adult session at the stake center - constructed when President Hunter served as stake president - a reception was held for the former living stake presidents, who were all in attendance. Along with President Hunter, who was the fourth of nine presidents to serve including current Pres. Bruce G. McGregor, former presidents in attendance included Richard S. Summerhays (1959-63), James C. Ellsworth (1963-71), Elder Cree-L Kofford (1971-77) now serving in the Seventy, and Oakland Temple Pres. Orlin C. Munns (1977-86). President Hunter served from 1950-59.The return to Southern California also was enjoyable for Sister Inis Hunter, wife of the prophet, who lived in the Los Angeles area for many years before moving to Salt Lake City in 1968.

As President and Sister Hunter entered the back of the cultural hall of the stake center and moved up the aisle toward the stand prior to the Saturday evening session, the 1,400 people in attendance stood respectfully. Many friends and former associates - who had come not only from the stake but also from throughout the surrounding area and beyond as well - extended hands of welcome. As the Hunters neared the chapel, which sits at a right-angle to the cultural hall and was opened along the side, the choir and congregation began singing the three verses of "We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet."

It was an emotional moment.

"I am delighted to be here this evening with Sister Hunter to share in this special stake conference," said President Hunter. "It has been wonderful to see so many whom we have known through the years. My heart is full as I contemplate the events in my life which occurred in the Pasadena area with you my brothers and sisters."

The prophet noted he had experienced a "flood of memories" upon his return. "Hopefully this conference will be a time of reunion for each of us and also a time of spiritual rededication, using the events of the past as a catalyst for even greater things in the future."

He then recounted his years in the stake, recalling with fondness his gospel doctrine teacher in the old Adams Ward, Peter A. Clayton, who "taught in such a way that the gospel plan and the rich and eternal doctrines revealed by the Lord came into clearer view for me."

President Hunter further reflected on his early family, professional and Church years in Pasadena, remembering his call as bishop of the new El Sereno Ward at age 32. "I will always be thankful for those 61/2 years. They were educational in experience and brought me close to wonderful ward members as we worked side by side to accomplish the will of the Lord."

When the Pasadena Stake reached a population of more than 9,000 in 1950 and required division, President Hunter was called as the new stake president by Elders Stephen L Richards and Harold B. Lee of the Council of the Twelve. "How thankful I am for the devoted efforts of the counselors who served with me during those years: Daken Broadhead, A. K. Berry, Richard Summerhays and Talmage Jones. Those are men I grew to love and with whom I still feel a close kinship.

"I remember with fondness our efforts as a stake presidency to bless the lives of the Saints. I still feel the same intensity about the importance of the family home evening program, which we stressed at that time, and which has recently been emphasized by the First Presidency. We also made an extended effort at that time to reach out and bring back the less-active members of our stake. The need to do so exists today, perhaps with an even greater urgency."

President Hunter discussed the construction of the stake center, which he oversaw from October 1952 to June 1954, the pioneering of early-morning seminary in the stake, the announcement and construction of the Los Angeles Temple and other personal memories.

"And so, this evening, I have returned to the place and the people I learned to love with all of my heart and soul. As I have accepted the responsibility which now comes to me, how thankful I have been for the years of training and apprenticeship which the Lord provided in this favored place."

On Sunday, President Hunter began by saying he was inclined to "start at the first row and go down each row and talk about the things we have shared, the things that have happened over the past many years, but it's impossible to do that. I just want you to know the great respect and love I have for each of you who have diligently brought about the progress that has been made in past years in this stake."

He recounted buying a meetinghouse organ that came along for sale before the stake had a building to put it in. There was much laughter as he said: "After we bought the organ, we didn't know what to do with it. We stored it in our basement until we had a place to put it. As I heard the organ play this morning, I thought of the experiences we had in the building program, starting off first with an organ."

The prophet went on to recount much of the history of the Church in California and the availability of temple opportunities to members in the state. "Truly the faithful Latter-day Saints represent the leaven in the loaf of the state of California. Your influence, through righteous living, appropriate community involvement and effective missionary work, will bless the people who reside within the boundaries of this stake and in a greater area of the whole state of California. I feel the Church will continue to grow in strength and vitality in this area."

He concluded by leaving his prophetic blessing upon the people, that they might "feel the love and confidence of our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" in their daily lives.

On Saturday night, hundreds lined up in the cultural hall following the meeting to greet President and Sister Hunter, who shared hugs and handshakes well into the evening. The other four returning stake presidents and their wives also greeted countless friends in the stake center's courtyard on a comfortable California night.

Scrapbooks, photographs and numerous displays were set up throughout the building, and refreshments were plentiful. Though many acquaintances were renewed, for some it was the first chance to meet the prophet.

An emotional Terri Ann Galvan, 17, was one of the last people to greet President and Sister Hunter Saturday evening. "I shook his hand and knew that I would have to hurry through, but he held onto my hand for a moment as we talked. He wanted to personally let me know that I was important to him."

Jeanne Walton was a teenager in the stake when President Hunter was stake president. She was age 15 when he was called to the Council of the Twelve. "It was special to be back here and to see him at the pulpit. When he stood and said, `My beloved brothers and sisters,' it was just like he did when he was our stake president.

"I remember him as very caring and loving, firm but gentle and soft spoken. You always knew that he loved you."

Ushering at both the Saturday evening and Sunday morning sessions were 40 missionaries from the California Arcadia Mission. Elder Lance Mickelsen of Redmond, Utah, said it was a "great opportunity to usher for the prophet. It makes what we teach every day a reality once we get to shake his hand."

Added his companion, Elder Cade Crapo of St. Anthony, Idaho: "It's been a testimony builder to be here and to see the prophet firsthand. It's exciting to see the excitement of the people and the emotions it brings for them to see him in person."

In addition to President Hunter, the four other returning presidents also had the opportunity to speak, along with the current stake presidency, Sister Hunter and others. Elder Kofford met with 325 youth Sunday morning and responded to questions that had been submitted ahead of time. In the Sunday morning general session, President and Sister Hunter were presented a copy of "How Firm a Foundation: The Story of the Pasadena Stake" from Susan Kamei Leung, who was called as stake historian by Pres. McGregor three years ago and compiled the history.

Sister Hunter recounted several of her personal memories while speaking Sunday morning. She went on to encourage the reading of the seventh chapter of Moroni and the cultivation of faith, hope and charity in the lives of the members. She especially encouraged those who are single not to despair. "God knows who you are. He knows your every need; He knows your every fault; He knows your every strength; He knows all about you, and He will help you in every way possible if you are true and faithful to Him. Don't give up."

She expressed appreciation for the experience of being at the conference, and said the outpouring of love was "something I will never ever forget, never could forget."

Elder Kofford told the Church News: "There has been a tremendous outpouring of love for the prophet from people who have lived in the Pasadena stake over the years, many of whom now live in a wide variety of places. Just to be here and experience that emotion, and particularly the depth of the emotion that they have for him, has been an inspiring experience."

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