Serving mission was `dramatic turn' in his young life

As a young man managing a meat market in his Rexburg, Idaho, hometown, J. Kent Jolley experienced a life-shaping moment.

"It was at that point in time I realized I didn't want to be a meat cutter all my life," recalled Elder Jolley, who was sustained April 5 at general conference as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. "I just had a strong feeling about it, a very spiritual experience it was, and the feeling came over me that I needed to change the direction of my life. I went right to my bishop and said, `I'm ready to go on my mission, and I'd like to go as soon as I can.' "It was a dramatic turn for the young man, who had been resisting his mother's urgings to serve a mission, but it was decisive.

"I'm where I am today because the Spirit had the influence on me that it did," he reflected in a recent telephone interview from his Rexburg home.

It would not be the only time in his life such an experience would occur.

From childhood, he had learned to work hard, tending cows as a youngster, and later mowing lawns before learning the meat cutting business.

But after making the decision to go on a mission, he, at age 20, would direct that strong work ethic toward full-time missionary service.

Argentina in the early 1950s was not an easy mission field.

"Most of our work was proselyting door to door," Elder Jolley said, "We received many rebuffs and denials, but we never gave up. And the harder we worked, the better I felt about it."

On one occasion, President Henry D. Moyle of the First Presidency visited the missionaries and told them that when a mission is young, it is like a fire burning with green wood, that it does not catch on for a while, but that the day would come when the fire of the gospel would burn bright in Argentina and all of South America.

"There are [now] many missions, many stakes, many temples and hundreds of thousands of members," he said. "To me it's almost incredible."

Elder Jolley, 63, met his wife, the former Jill Waldram Leishman, when they were freshmen at Ricks College in a government class. He mustered the courage to ask her to a dance but showed up for their date with a bandaged thumb. He had been at work cutting meat. He remembered: "I cut myself daydreaming, kind of concerned about that date. I didn't know exactly how I could sell myself to Jill."

But as she tells it: "I pretty well knew after the first time or two I went with him that he was probably just what I had been waiting for. I tried not to let him know that, though."

"She kept me busy all summer, chasing other boys off," Elder Jolley said with gentle humor.

A farm girl raised in Moody Creek outside Rexburg, she had grown up with farm chores to do and had honed her homemaking skills to an art.

Thus, the Jolleys were a good match when it came to the rigors of married life, such as raising a family while he attended George Washington University, working nights as a Fuller Brush salesman and later working as a contracts negotiator for the Department of Defense.

"We've never been afraid of a little hard work," Elder Jolley reflected.

Thus, when he was called to serve as mission president in Corpus Christi, Texas, Sister Jolley took easily to the role of caring for the young missionaries, preparing home-cooked meals for each one who arrived or departed.

The mission president experience deepened the Jolleys' appreciation for people and the blessings the gospel can bring to them.

"That's the No. 1 thing he lives for, even more than his work," Sister Jolley said of her husband. He's incorporated his work into that shell of wanting to help people, even at the expense of his own time. A lot of times people don't have the wherewithal to pay him, and that hasn't seemed to bother him."

Thus, the community in and around Rexburg often finds Elder Jolley at the forefront of community projects such as raising funds for a high school football stadium.

And as a high priests group leader after the Jolleys' return from Texas, he found joy in encouraging several couples to return to full activity in the Church, taking Sister Jolley along on visits to them.

A real estate developer, Elder Jolley, through the promptings of the Spirit, has seen his life gravitate toward a more spiritual kind of building.

That happened a year or so before his call to preside over the mission. He had been practicing law for some 30 years and had developed some properties. The children were mostly raised. The Jolleys concluded one evening they were in a rut and it would be nice to do something to benefit mankind more. Then came the mission call.

"And we served there for our three years, and we've been home 21/2 years and we're back doing some more real estate development. We'd just finished a couple of motels and we asked ourselves again, why in the world are we doing this? We need to get back out in the mission field, helping with the building of the Kingdom. Goodness, we must have been thinking out loud, because we were called to Salt Lake again and here came our present call.

"Although we will greatly miss our children and grandchildren, we feel just fine about leaving the things we've been doing. We're going to be doing some building that really counts now."


Elder J. Kent Jolley

Family: Born in Rexburg, Idaho, Dec. 30, 1933, to William Afton and Mildred Mangum Jolley. Married Jill Waldram Leishman in the Idaho Falls Temple, Nov. 22, 1957. Parents of seven children: Ann (Brian) Harper, Mindy (Grant) Taylor, Mark (Kellie), Elaine (Kurt) Shipley, Lesa (Ryan) Jackson, Jeffrey and Jennifer; 16 grandchildren.

Education: Bachelor's degree in speech with minors in political science and Spanish; juris doctorate; both degrees from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Military service: National Guard, 1951-54,

Employment: attorney, real estate developer, former county prosecuting attorney.

Church service: president of Texas Corpus Christi (later Texas McAllen) Mission, 1991-94; former Book of Mormon specialist for Missionary Department, stake president's counselor, high councilor, bishop and counselor, elders quorum president, Young Men president and Sunday School superintendent; served mission in Argentina, 1954-56.

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