Remembering the Mormon pioneers "with respect and reverence and very deep gratitude," President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters April 18.
He said the new center was "a beautiful structure designed to memorialize those who came [to Winter Quarters] in 1846 and subsequent years."More than 900 persons attended the dedication, filling a large assembly room in the basement of the visitors center, where the services were held, and the foyer and numerous rooms upstairs.
President Hinckley was accompanied by his wife, Marjorie; Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Barbara; and Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy, and his wife, Anne. Elders Ballard and Pinnock also addressed the gathering, as did Nebraska Gov. E. Benjamin Nelson.
As Gov. Nelson finished his remarks, he called President Hinckley, Elder Ballard and Elder Pinnock to the podium, where he tongue-in-cheek commissioned them "admirals in the great Navy of the State of Nebraska" and presented a certificate of such to each.
President Hinckley then gave to the governor a small pewter replica of a handcart.
In his remarks, the prophet said, "These were great people in whose footsteps we walk. They were men and women of courage and faith, of enterprise and great capacity to do what they set out to do.
"How thankful I am, how deeply grateful I am, how profoundly I feel a sense of gratitude for the pioneers who left here 150 years ago and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, and all those who followed them until the coming of the railroad in 1869. God be thanked for their faith.
"We come of great people, and whether we are of that stock or whether we have just come into the Church, we are all a part of that legacy of greatness, that exodus to greatness which occurred at the base of Parleys Street [in Nauvoo] where the first wagons moved down and crossed the Mississippi.
"How proud we ought to be of our inheritance, how grateful for our heritage, how thankful for a remarkable and wonderful legacy of faith."
In his dedicatory prayer, the prophet petitioned that the visitors center would be a place of learning for those of all faiths, and a source of inspiration to those of the Church who come and reflect upon the price of the membership which they have. "We pray that it will serve as a place of education to all who will see it, that they may gain a witness of the truth of this work for which our pioneers paid so great a price."
In his remarks, Elder Ballard said in all of the pioneer sesquicentennial celebrations that are taking place in "almost every ward and branch, stake and district throughout the entire world," members need to make sure they do not lose sight of why the pioneers did what they did.
"Why did they do it? he asked. Why did they unwaveringly follow their prophet? I think as we contemplate that great question of why, our minds go back to the sacred grove in 1820, where the Prophet Joseph Smith knelt in prayer and God the Eternal Father and His beloved Son Jesus Christ appeared to him and opened this dispensation, the last dispensation of the fullness of times. . . .
"Let us never forget," Elder Ballard went on, "as they gathered around their fires in the evenings, as they sang the songs, as they tried to cheer one another up, very deeply within their hearts and their souls was their commitment to the reality that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. The heavens were opened, the fullness of the gospel had been restored and they knew that. "When the winter came upon them and the handcart companies were about to collapse under the trauma that they were facing, yet buried in their hearts was the realization that the Church was true. . . ."
Elder Pinnock talked about sacrifice. "How hollow life would be if sacrifice would suddenly be slipped away and we were left with only the supposed comforts of life. It would not work. Life would not be . . . a time of progress. Our losses would be monumental if we didn't have sacrifice. Our future would be dim. Our children and our grandchildren would be left without an anchor.
"The very goodness of life itself in the kingdom provides ways and provides procedures of sacrifice," Elder Pinnock noted.
He said that if members were asked to sacrifice today as they did in pioneer times, he felt "we would carry on with firm footsteps as they did."
Gov. Nelson said that the dedicatory services "recognize and respect those who . . . have left an indelible impression on all of us as individuals, and certainly have left their mark on this great state."
Providing music for the dedication was a children's chorus from the Papillion Nebraska Stake, which sang a musical medley of seven songs, and an adult chorus from the Omaha Nebraska Stake, which sang "Faith in Every Footstep." Prayers were offered by Elder Eldon L. Fletcher, director of the visitors center, and Connie Bangerter, wife of Pres. Jack Bangerter of the Nebraska Omaha Mission.
The new visitors center has been opened since last November. Before that, the center was housed in two trailers across the street. Last year, 42,000 visitors came to the center. This year, said Elder Fletcher, "we are expecting between 60,000 and 70,000." The increase is attributed to the opening of the new center and the sesquicentennial year.