Friendships are strong in ward Pres. Monson once served as bishop

With memories fresh and bonds of friendships strong despite the passage of half a century, some 200 members of Salt Lake City's former Sixth-Seventh Ward met in reunion Feb. 25.

President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency and a former bishop of the ward, was a featured speaker at the reunion, held in the McKinley Ward meetinghouse. The Sixth-Seventh Ward was dissolved 30 years ago after being in existence for 115 years. President Monson was called in 1950 at age 22 to be a bishop in this ward of more than 1,000 members. Bishop John R. Burt, now 79, who preceded President Monson as bishop of the ward, also spoke.The oldest person in attendance was President Monson's 96-year-old aunt, Blanche Condie Carter.

The reunion offered a look at a Salt Lake City ward from the 1920s to the 1950s, and of the lasting associations formed in a ward family.

Reminiscences were rich of such things as 10-cent hamburgers and chocolate malts, forbidden rides on switch engines, three-act plays and road shows, choir competitions and quartet contests, and spook allies and movies in the recreation hall.

"There was something about our ward that made it different from any other ward," said President Monson, who was accompanied to the reunion by his wife, Frances. "We didn't have a lot of money, we didn't necessarily have the best voices in the stake, but we sure tried."

Looking over the gathering, he noted, "You are beautiful, you are handsome; I could just about name all of you . . . that's because I love you so much. The memories I have of the Sixth-Seventh Ward are choice.

"Our ranks are a little thinner than they once were, but I guess we ourselves are a day or two older. I hope we don't feel any older. We have to carry on the tradition of the ward!"

The original Sixth and Seventh wards were created by President Brigham Young on Feb. 22, 1849. The two wards existed side by side until Nov. 12, 1922, when they were combined. The ward was discontinued on Oct. 25, 1964.

President Monson described the unusual way the two wards became one:

"It was announced to the Sixth Ward that, at a certain point, they'd assemble in front of the chapel and then, to the music of the Poulton Brothers Brass Band, march up Fifth South to the Seventh Ward Building.

"The moment came, charged with electricity. In the Seventh Ward, the bishop said: `In just a minute the Sixth Ward will come marching in that door and we will all be members of the same ward. I have just one word of advice. Be careful what you say about any members of the Sixth Ward because they are all related.'

"Thus was born the Sixth-Seventh Ward. I don't think any other ward was ever created in quite that fashion."

President Monson recalled that after he had been called to the Council of the Twelve in 1963, Elder Harold B. Lee, also of the Council of the Twelve, quipped, "Since you have served five years as bishop of this large ward, it is really the equivalent of 25 years in any other ward."

Caring for the 88 widows became a lifetime commitment. President Monson, while he was bishop, visited the widows often during the year, and at Christmas time he delivered to each a box of candy and a chicken for cooking.

As the years passed, the widows asked him to be prepared to speak at their funerals. Although in his new responsibilities as a member of the Twelve he was often away, he kept his promise to each of them.

He commented, "During those 30 years [while serving in the Council of the Twelve], I often traveled four or five weeks in a row to distant parts of the world, but I always managed to get home just in time for each one of those funerals.

"You tell me it was chance, and I'll tell you it was the hand of the Lord, who is ever mindful of the widow."

President Monson expressed appreciation for all the bishops who served in the ward. He cited Psalm 41:1-2, which states, "Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive; and he shall be blessed upon the earth: . . ."

"I think that each bishop of the ward has lived by the scripture from James, `Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction . . .' (James 1:27), and each bishop has. I am grateful for all who have served in that office."

He remarked, "I've always felt that wherever I go, and whatever I say, I carry a lot of the Sixth-Seventh Ward with me.

"May you instill in your children and grandchildren the same love for the gospel as those great pioneers of the past."

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