Church welfare advocate is honored

When two long-time friends get together, the conversation naturally turns to those things in which they share a common interest. There is much laughter and, at times, a few tears as experiences are recalled. So it was when President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, visited on Jan. 27 one of his long-time friends, Mark B. Garff, 86, in a health care facility in Salt Lake City.

President Monson took more than just his personal expression of friendship and caring to Brother Garff's bedside. He arrived carrying a plaque in recognition of Brother Garff's work in "strengthening the foundations of the modern Church welfare program."Brother Garff was sustained as a member of the General Church Welfare Committee in October 1947 and served for 18 years. The plaque notes: "Brother Garff traveled extensively, teaching welfare principles, instructing leaders in approved procedures and testifying of revealed truths. A traveling companion to many of the presiding Brethren, Brother Garff was known as a powerful speaker and advocate for Church welfare."

Brother Garff served as chairman of the building committee for the welfare program. During those years he oversaw construction of many notable buildings, including expansion of the Church's grain elevators in Kaysville, Utah, from which Church members and others in many parts of the world have received benefit.

He was a successful businessman and also served as a mission president, a vice president of Deseret News Publishing Company, and chairman of the Church Building Committee.

During his visit, President Monson, who was accompanied by his wife, Frances, reminisced about many of Brother Garff's accomplishments and commitment to Church service. Brother Garff's wife, Gertrude Ryberg Garff, was present with two of their five children and a son-in-law.

Much of the conversation centered on Denmark, where Brother Garff served a mission from 1929 to 1932, and where he served as mission president. He was called in 1937 at age 30 to preside over the Danish Mission. He was accompanied on that mission by his wife and their eldest son. When World War II began and other European countries closed their borders, Americans needing to leave Europe were routed through Denmark. So it was under Brother Garff's direction that North American missionaries were evacuated from continental Europe.

"All the missionaries from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Sweden and some from Switzerland came out through Denmark," Sister Garff said. "President and Sister Joseph Fielding Smith happened to be in Holland at the time. They came back to Denmark, and President Smith and Mark worked to get hundreds of missionaries home safely. The United States Shipping Line didn't go there, but they got these little freighters that would come to pick up the missionaries. The freighters' holds were emptied and filled with cots. They got all those missionaries home without any harm. It was just a miracle."

Sister Garff said many of their missionaries visit them. "Mark always checks up on his missionaries to be sure they are still active and contributing," she said.

Before he entered full-time Church service with the welfare and building committees, Brother Garff was a general contractor. Examples of his work are the Wilkinson Center, George Albert Smith Fieldhouse, Richards Physical Education Building and Helaman Halls on the BYU campus; the Orson Spencer Hall at the University of Utah; and the Merrill Library at Utah State University.

While chairman of the Church Building Committee, he oversaw construction of the Provo, Ogden and Washington D.C. temples, the 28-story Church Office Building, and numerous ward meetinghouses and stake centers.

Brother Garff often speaks of the nobility of work. (See related article.) In a Deseret News interview in 1976, he said: "There is no excellence without labor, and I firmly believe that a man is worthy of his hire. Moreover, I have great regard for men who are willing to labor with their own hands."

A portion of the conversation during President Monson's visit centered on a shared interest: fishing. President Monson related stories about some of his own big catches, and told stories he has heard about Brother Garff's fishing days.

Sister Garff said her husband and President Monson didn't fish any lakes or streams together. "But they both certainly have been fishers of men together," she said of the Church service that united them in a long-time friendship.

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