Dream of winning a colt became lesson in answers to prayer

Nine-year-old Susan Lillywhite wanted a horse. So much so that when a community drawing for the son of Trigger - Trigger being Roy Rogers' horse - was announced, she was certain the colt was meant for her.

"I was sure this would be my horse because I prayed about it every night," she recalled. "Always my prayers had been answered. I told everyone I was getting a horse. I can remember the disappointment when I didn't win. My mother told me, `You didn't have a place to have a horse, and you really wouldn't have been able to care for him. Heavenly Father knew all those things.'"That was an important learning experience for me," she related. "I learned that our prayers are not always answered in the way that we intend them to be, but sooner or later it all works out for the best. This is very important for children to understand early - that Heavenly Father is the one who has the plan, and we pray to have that plan manifested in our lives."

The Lord did have a plan for that little girl, as today she is second counselor in the Primary general presidency. Susan Lillywhite Warner was sustained Oct. 1 in general conference. (Please see Nov. 5 and Nov. 12 Church News for profiles on the new general president, Patricia P. Pinegar, and the first counselor, Anne G. Wirthlin.)

In a Church News interview, Sister Warner discussed her new responsibilities and her personal theme - instilled in her as a child - that has helped her face many challenges: "You do your very best and the Lord will somehow make up the difference."

"I believe that," she emphasized. "You do the very best you can, you try to do everything that the Lord has asked you to do, and you follow the counsel of the Brethren and the Prophet. You take it all very seriously - and then you put it in the Lord's hands. We just have to humble ourselves and be able to follow what He has in mind for us. He's the one who knows best."

Sister Warner's parents, Justin B. and Alice Mitchell Lillywhite, taught their four children - three girls and a boy - these principles while rearing them in Anaheim, Calif. Sister Warner's memories of childhood and early life are of riding horses with friends through orange groves, working at Disneyland, and striving to be a good example of the Church.

"Those were wonderful times in Southern California because the Church was growing there. My father was the bishop of an area that was 100 square miles. Those were the days before the consolidated schedule. We would go to Church early in the morning and take our lunch and stay for the day, or I would go home with a friend who lived closer to the Church and then come back to sacrament meeting."

Sister Warner remembers attending Church meetings in a rented building, in a YMCA and in a used-car warehouse. While meeting in the warehouse, she recalled, her family would clean and straighten the building every Sunday morning so meetings could be held there.

One thing clear to Sister Warner throughout those early years was the importance of setting a good example. "You felt like you were truly a missionary and people were looking to you as an example of the gospel. My brother and I were two of the few members of the Church in elementary school. Teachers knew that we were Mormons, and our friends knew that we were Mormons. But they didn't know very much about the Mormon Church except through us."

Because of their small numbers, every willing member had many responsibilities in the ward, Sister Warner related. "We were building the kingdom. My father spent a lot of time at the Church, my mother also. She always had several callings. I watched their example and knew that I would be called upon too."

And she was. "As soon as I turned 12 and graduated from Primary, I was in charge of the nursery. That was a very adult responsibility, but that was wonderful because I felt important and needed."

Sister Warner grew from childhood to young womanhood during these years. She remembers her excitement at two important events for members in Southern California - the first early-morning seminary program, and the dedication of the Los Angeles Temple in 1956.

She recalled how much having a temple meant to members there "because

previouslyT we had to go all the way to Mesa, Ariz., to do baptisms for the dead and other temple work."

Additional significant events and activities in Sister Warner's youth included LDS dance pageants held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., road shows, student government and athletics.

In high school she lettered in basketball, swimming and field hockey. As part of the YMCA-sponsored Youth and Government, she was chosen as a youth senator to represent her community in Sacramento, the state capital. "I loved being involved in this kind of thing."

She loved government so much that her high school friends predicted at the senior banquet that she would be the first woman senator for California. "I thought to myself, `Well, that is a part of me, but that's not the deepest part and the dearest part of me!' "

The young woman loved children. This love was an asset to her in her job during the summers and Christmas vacations while she attended BYU. She sold souvenirs at Disneyland - while wearing an Alice in Wonderland costume.

Sister Warner told the Church News that she has happy memories of Disneyland, which opened in 1955 when she was in high school. The Lillywhite family attended the grand opening.

Then, in 1960, her life reached a milestone. While attending BYU, she met C. Terry Warner. Both were involved in student government.

They were married in the Los Angeles Temple July 6, 1962. At the time, Brother Warner was finishing his bachelor's degree at BYU, and Sister Warner was teaching 3rd grade at a local elementary school.

The next year, the Warners moved to New Haven, Conn., where Brother Warner began studying for his doctorate in philosophy at Yale. "We worked very hard in the Church, and he worked very hard in his Ph.D program. In addition, he was called to be a branch president and then a bishop.

"I was in the Primary presidency and then in the Relief Society presidency. I can remember leaving home in the afternoon, going to several places to pick up children for Primary, going to Primary, and returning home after dark. In addition, because members were so spread out, visiting teaching was a several-day project.

"I recall my husband taking exams while I walked through the New England green in the center of the city with a baby in the front of the stroller, one standing on the back and one hanging onto the side." (Today, the Warners have 10 children.)

In 1967, Brother Warner started teaching at BYU. He later became dean of the College of General Studies. The Warners have been in Provo ever since, except for 1986-87, when Brother Warner was a visiting senior member of one of the colleges at Oxford, England. The Warners lived in an English village called Steventon.

While they were there, a small branch of the Church was organized in nearby Didcot. "To go to Church, people had to go on the bus to Oxford; the transportation was very difficult. So an old Church of England building was rented. It was very cold. We wore our mittens - with the fingers cut off - to play the piano. Our older children led the singing and taught Primary. We didn't have classrooms, so we had all ages together on the stage.

"We went out tracting with the missionaries, and we brought investigators. What a wonderful opportunity for our children. When we saw the missionaries coming with somebody, we all met them at the door, greeted them and welcomed them in."

Sister Warner spoke of their efforts to be a part of the community. "I volunteered in the village school, which was under the auspices of the Church of England. It was a little parish school. At first they were very hesitant to let me come. Then, little by little, I worked myself in and did bulletin boards for them and helped with the teaching. We became part of the community."

The Warners even threw a Christmas party - complete with a musical program - for the villagers. In all these activities, Brother and Sister Warner involved their children.

From these experiences, Sister Warner has learned the importance of "focusing on children." (Please see Nov. 27, 1993, Church News for information on the Church's Focus on Children.) She expressed hope that Primary leaders are striving to ensure that children feel the Spirit while attending Primary. She suggested two ways:

Sing the Primary songs. "Music is the universal language. When you sing those Primary songs, you are expressing your testimony. We can help children identify what they are feeling.

Bear your testimony to children. "In those branches when I was growing up, we had people who weren't pillars of strength, but they had a seed of a testimony, and they bore that to the children."

In speaking of the responsibilities of Primary leaders and teachers, Sister Warner admonished: "You've got the scriptures. You've got the list of the children. You've got your knees. You've got your mind that the Lord will enlarge if you will do the things that He asks. You've got your handbook, and you've got priesthood leadership."

Sister Warner explained she realizes circumstances vary and not all situations are ideal - at home or at Church. However, she emphasized: "No matter what your situation is in the world - it may not be all that you would hope it would be - the Lord will bless you wherever you are. Bloom where you are planted."

She hopes parents, members and Primary leaders will "nurture the children of the world so that they will blossom in testimony, obedience and service."


Sister Susan L. Warner

Family: Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Justin B. and Alice Mitchell Lillywhite. Reared in Anaheim, Calif. Married C. Terry Warner, 10 children: David, Alice, Elizabeth Robison, John, Julia Ballif, Daniel, Katherine, Carrie, Jenny and Mitchell; six grandchildren.

Education: Bachelor of science in elementary education and psychology from BYU.

Community service/profession: PTA officer, school board committee for gifted and talented, child abuse council, unwed mother placement program, volunteer substitute teacher; taught elementary school for 11/2 years.

Previous Church callings: Member of Primary general board, ward Young Women president, counselor and adviser; ward Relief Society president, counselor and teacher; stake and ward Primary counselor and Primary teacher.

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