Florida stake was first in the South

The Florida Stake, organized in 1947 in Jacksonville, was the first stake, not only in Florida, but also in the South.

At the Jacksonville Florida West Stake conference Jan. 19 - on the 50th anniversary of the first stake - the early Church leaders in Florida were remembered for contributions to the growth of the Church here.The Florida Stake was organized Jan. 19, 1947, and consisted of 1,800 members attending seven wards and five branches.

Today, six stakes make up the area of the first stake, which spanned from Waycross, Ga., on the north, to Palatka, Fla., on the south, and Lake City and Gainesville, Fla., on the west.

The Florida Stake, renamed the Jacksonville Florida West Stake in 1974, was the 163rd stake organized in the Church, the fourth organized east of the Mississippi and the first in the Southeast. The other eastern stakes - New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. - were led by seasoned leaders who had much Church experience in stakes in the West. The Florida Stake presidency was composed of young leaders in their 20s - Alvin C. Chace, Elmer Coleman Madsen and Jacquard Maurice Lindsey - who had never lived in or served in stake or ward organizations. Their entire Church leadership experience was in a mission environment, with a mission president overseeing the Church.

Elder Charles A. Callis and Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve organized the stake. Elder Callis, who had been president of the Southern States Mission for 28 years, was known as "the Shepherd of the South." He loved the South and the South loved him. His influence is still felt throughout the South.

At the meeting organizing the stake, Elder Callis stated that other stakes would be organized in the southern United States, that eventually a temple would be built there and that the younger members of the Church in attendance would live to see these things happen. He died in Jacksonville two days after the organization of the stake.

It was reported by James E. Boone, an early leader in Jacksonville, that the brethren wished to organize a stake in Jacksonville earlier, but didn't because they were impressed that the person to call as the stake president was in the U.S. Army. At that time Alvin C. Chace was serving in Germany. Soon after his return he was called to lead the new stake.

When interviewed to be stake president, Alvin Chace told Elder Lee that he was planning to complete his college education at the University of Florida. Elder Lee told him, "No, Brother Chace, if you'll accept this position in the Church, you'll never regret it and you'll never lose anything by not going to school and accepting this responsibility." He later stated: "Of course, I accepted the responsibility and I've never lost anything. I've been given many privileges that I would never have received if I hadn't been in the stake presidency."

While members of the stake presidency were young, they were noted for their love of the Church and its members.

Pres. Chace, who has since passed away, gave many people he met a Book of Mormon. Frequently, at stake conference, members would introduce themselves to him and remind him of the time he introduced them to the gospel.

Today, 100,000 Church members live in Florida.

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