Utah centennial fireside: Pres. Monson tells of pioneer faith, commitment

If you speak of pioneers in this central Utah community, you'd likely be talking about ancestors of many of its citizens today. Therefore, the town of Moroni, located some 110 miles south of Salt Lake City, was a natural setting for a Utah Statehood Centennial Fireside. President Thomas S. Monson, with phenomenal recall of stories about Utah's early settlers, was a well-received speaker at that gathering June 16.

On hand to greet President Monson and his wife, Frances, upon their arrival here on a pleasant Sunday evening was Moroni Stake Pres. Ronald Bradley, a great-great-grandson of George W. Bradley. Pres. Bradley's ancestor was called during the winter of 1858-59 by President Brigham Young to "remove to Sanpete Valley and take the land in locating a new settlement on the Sanpitch River." That settlement eventually was named Moroni.A measure of the fireside's success lies in the fact that Moroni has an estimated population of 1,300; some 1,600 attended the fireside, with some 400 in overflow seating in the community's activities center and ball park. The attendance figures were boosted as members from surrounding towns came to hear President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency. Also attending were people traveling with the Utah Centennial Wagon Train, camped for the Sabbath on the outskirts of town. The wagon train, with many participants dressed in 1890s style clothing, began in the northern Utah city of Logan on June 4, and is making its way on a 446-mile trek, which should end in southern Utah's Cedar City by June 28. (See June 15 Church News.)

Residents of Moroni have a personification of Utah history among them - Helena Christensen Olsen McKinnon, born Nov. 29, 1896. The petite, 99-year-old white-haired descendant of Moroni settlers, dressed in an old-fashioned red gown accented by a white lace shawl, met President and Sister Monson in the stake president's office before the fireside. She reminisced with President Monson about people and places they both know.

As President Monson entered the chapel for the fireside, he shook hands with several people as he proceeded to the stand. One man in the crowd extended his hand and asked, "Do you remember me?" President Monson, with only a moment's pause, gripped the man's hand, then gave him a hearty embrace, and exclaimed, "Elder Clinton Butters!" He was one of about 490 missionaries who served under President Monson, when he presided over the Canadian Mission, with headquarters in Toronto, from 1959-1962.

In his address, President Monson spoke of the pioneers who settled the Valley of the Great Salt Lake and then, responding to calls issued by Brigham Young, went on to settle such places as the Sanpete Valley. He spoke of the dedication, commitment and faith exhibited by the pioneers and of the extreme hardships and privations they endured.

"For many, the journey didn't begin at Nauvoo, Kirtland, Far West or New York, but rather in distant England, Scotland, Scandinavia and Germany," President Monson said. He mentioned one family representative of those who endured the hardships early converts to the LDS Church in the British Isles and Europe faced as they immigrated to America to join the main body of Latter-day Saints. He told of Adam and Ellen Fife and their children, the youngest of whom, Helen, died aboard ship during an outbreak of cholera. President Monson said that so many had died during the voyage that all the weights and pieces of coal that could serve as weights had been used; nothing was left to tie to the little girl's body to take it beneath the surface of the ocean. "Far into the night her family could see her body floating on the ocean," President Monson said. "Such scenes were not uncommon. Tombstones of sage and rock marked tiny graves the entire route from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. Such was the price some pioneers paid. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their names live on evermore.

"Tired oxen lumbered, wagon wheels squeaked, brave men toiled, war drums sounded and coyotes howled. Our faith-inspired and storm-driven ancestors pressed on. They, too, had their cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. . . ."

President Monson spoke of the Martin Handcart Company, which reached the Sweetwater River in Wyoming that was filled with floating ice. Three 18-year-old young men in a relief party carried nearly every member of the handcart company across the stream. In later years, all the young men died from the effects of their efforts.

President Monson told of his own great-great-grandparents, Charles Stewart Miller and Mary McGowan Miller, who came from Scotland in 1849 and joined a group of Latter-day Saints in St. Louis. Charles and Mary, and two sons died within two weeks of each other. "My great-grandmother, Margaret Miller, was 13 at the time," President Monson said. "The nine surviving children made their way across the plains to Utah, arriving in the fall of 1850."

He read excerpts from pioneer journals, including from some of those who settled Moroni, Nephi and nearby communities.

"The passage of time dims our memories and diminishes our appreciation for those who walked the path of pain, leaving behind a tear-marked trail of nameless graves, for those who settled the towns and villages throughout the Utah Territory - including Moroni," he said.

"But what of today's challenge? Are there no rocky roads to travel, no rugged mountains to climb, chasms to cross, trails to blaze or rivers to ford? Or is there a very present need for that pioneer spirit to guide us away from the dangers which threaten to engulf us and lead us rather to a Zion of safety?

"Can we somehow muster the courage, that steadfastness of purpose which characterized the pioneers of a former generation? Can you and I, in actual fact, be pioneers today? The dictionary defines a pioneer as `One who goes before, showing others the way to follow.' Oh, how the world needs such pioneers today. . . .

"Can we not follow the Prince of Peace, that Pioneer who literally showed the way for others to follow? His divine plan can save us from the Babylons of sin, complacency and error. His example points the way. When faced with temptation, He shunned it. When offered the world, He declined it. When asked for His life, He gave it. . . .

"Our service to others may not be so dramatic as those three young boys who saved so many in the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company, but we can bolster human spirits, clothe cold bodies, feed hungry people, comfort grieving hearts, and lift to new heights precious souls.

"Now is the time. This is the place."

Elder James M. Paramore of the Seventy and first counselor in the Utah South Area, who attended the fireside with his wife, Helen, gave a brief talk at the fireside. He spoke of Annie Nielsen Martin, his grandmother, who was born in 1886 in Denmark. Her family joined the Church and wanted to go to Salt Lake City, but they were able to save enough money to send only Annie, who was then 8 years old. "Her mother tied a mail address card around her neck, `Manti, Utah,' Elder Paramore said. "Can you imagine the frustration she must have felt crossing the ocean without family, without being able to speak the language of the other passengers? She was met in New York by two missionaries who put her on a train to [eventually arrive in] Manti. She lived there until she was 15."

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