Book on bedstead ended long quest

A few calculations on the back of an envelope convinced Menlo F. Smith that St. Louis was the place to start his candy business.

In 1952, he and his wife, Mary Jean, then residents of Salt Lake City, moved to this Midwest city. Here they founded what is now an international candy products manufacturing and distributing company, Sunmark. Sunmark is the manufacturer of a long line of tangy sweets now widely marketed across the United States and Canada.The Smiths also found spiritual growth in St. Louis. As a non-member in Salt Lake City, Brother Smith was never interested in the Church while growing up. He attended local schools and earned a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Utah. It was at the University of Utah where he met his wife-to-be, an elementary education major. She was a less-active member at the time of their marriage.

"Having grown up in Salt Lake City with a Protestant background, I experienced a certain amount of polarization regarding the Church," he said. "Some of that wore off on me, I guess. I had some biases."

But those biases have long since dissolved. Today, he is a well-known and widely respected representative of the Church as he serves as a regional representative and vice chairman of the St. Louis Temple committee. He was president of the Philippines Baguio Mission from 1982-85.

An energetic man with an eye to the bright side of life, he is constantly on the move. He and his wife enjoy having people in their spacious home. Their home has a heavy influence of Philippine design, evidence of the close ties the Smiths have maintained with the Filipino Saints since their mission. Shelves of books and pictures of Church subjects indicate the importance of the gospel in their lives.

"Joining the Church didn't distrupt my life," he said. "It put life together."

The priorities in the lives of the Smiths changed with the gospel's influence. Before, the Smiths were primarily interested in business. Brother Smith followed the footsteps of his father, J. Fish Smith. The elder Smith founded the Fruzola company in Salt Lake City during the heart of the Great Depression. Its product was a powder to be mixed with water to make fruit punch, but it was often eaten straight from the packet. The confection became a local favorite. For a long time before mechanical means were affordable, the family ladled powder into packets spoonful by spoonful. But their business prospered. And although he was a less-active member, J. Fish Smith supported the Church and eventually established a chair of economics at BYU.

After graduation from college, the younger Smith worked in Salt Lake City until he calculated on the back of an envelope that "St. Louis was best place in the country to make candy because of its strategic location economically. Raw materials are very favorably priced in St. Louis, and are near the population center of the country."

At first in St. Louis he "wore lots of hats," building an organization and then finding someone else to wear a hat or two. There were plenty of business challenges then.

The company at first marketed powder for punch in packets, then in straws to be eaten directly. In 1963, when the firm introduced the sweet powder in tablet form, the size of the company tripled within 12 months. In 1986, the company was sold and now is a division of Nestle's.

During those early busy years, "I had no interest in the LDS Church at all," he said. Instead the Smiths attended various Protestant congregations. But the 1960s were also years of discord in America. "There was a great deal of change and turmoil taking place in all the churches," said Brother Smith. "We finally decided to find a new church affiliation. We spent a number of years attending churches and searching. All this time I was convinced that this church, whatever it was, was not going to be the Mormon Church."

Sister Smith, who now had gained a testimony, felt differently. "As our children began growing, she began to appreciate how deep her roots really were in the Mormon Church," he said of his wife. Sister Smith kept a copy of the Book of Mormon close by in case he ever changed his mind.

While "she never tried to push the Church on me," he said, "I finally realized that we were not finding any success in our search for another church. I eventually noticed a copy of the Book of Mormon on my nightstand. I decided it couldn't hurt to pick it up and see what it had to say.

"By the time I finished Third Nephi, I knew it was true, and knew that I had to do something about it. This was in 1972."

One day, "I suggested to my wife that we ought to go over to the nearby Mormon Church and see what was happening there. She, of course, had been praying for a long time that this would happen."

Their first Church experience was in sharp contrast to the congregations they'd been attending. They found children everywhere, people rushing around, a few nods in their direction but no welcome. They felt isolated.

"We learned later that one of the reasons nobody particularly paid attention to us is that they thought we were already members," he recalled.

About this time, they traveled to Hong Kong on a business trip. There, they met an LDS couple from Arizona, Maurice and Hazel Tanner.

"They put their arms around us and spent a great deal of time with us socially," said Brother Smith. "They gave us a lot of support. He also later sent me a copy of Jesus The Christ that really put things together for me in a way that I hadn't been able to previously."

Upon their return to the United States, the Smiths chanced to meet longtime friends, Jay and Arlene Ritchie, now of Kansas City, who had since become active in the Church. These friends suggested the Smiths invite the missionaries to their home. The missionaries gave their family the lessons. Brother Smith was baptized in December 1972.

He was immediately called to serve in the Sunday School presidency. Next, he was called to the high council. Following that, he served as mission president's counselor. His next assignment was as bishop of a singles ward where he served for three years, until being called as mission president.

The Smiths' experience in the Philippines was rich in service and friendship. Sister Smith told of the love that came into a Filipino family following the family's conversion. The father used to drink and physically abuse the children. The children hid when he came home. After they were baptized, the father began to return home for meals instead of staying away and drinking. Now when he comes home, his children run to meet him and be kissed, Sister Smith recalled.

During a recent visit to the Philippines, the Smiths learned of the progress in a city where Pres. Smith was the first to send in missionaries. A stake was recently organized in the city, he said.

Growth of the Church in St. Louis is also very satisfying to Brother and Sister Smith. When they first came to St. Louis in the 1950s, Roy Oscarson was taking a lead in strengthening the Church locally. Brother Smith is now among the Church leaders in St. Louis. He was there to greet Brother Oscarson at the Oct. 30 groundbreaking for the St. Louis temple.

Brother Oscarson and other members in St. Louis are "very excited about the prospects of having a temple here," said Brother Smith. "It will add considerably to the presence of the Church in St. Louis. We have a wonderful site for the temple. We have been welcomed in the community. There has not been one stitch of opposition. Our friends are very excited for us."

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