Deseret Industries spans 60 years

Just inside the door to the Church's newest Deseret Industries store in Provo, Utah, stood a man attired in a dark suit, crisp white shirt and distinguished looking tie. As a visitor entered the building, the man at the door extended his hand and gave a heart-felt greeting: "Welcome to our Deseret Industries store."

A look of satisfaction was reflected in his smile, a look that indicated that this greeter laid some kind of personal claim on the store. It was a look that radiated pride and, more important, dignity.The greeter carries the title of "trainee." He is one of thousands of individuals with disabilities or particular needs helped by Deseret Industries. The occasion at which he greeted visitors was special - the opening of the new Provo store on Oct. 30 - but his demeanor and attitude are quite commonplace among those who find employment and job training at Deseret Industries. (Please see related article on this page on the dedication of the newest Deseret Industries store.)

Deseret Industries is now 60 years old. Through the years, it has been refined and polished, improved and upgraded, all the while holding firm to the purposes for which it was established: to help people help themselves by encouraging independence rather than dependence, work rather than idleness. A welfare enterprise, it is built on the principles of thrift, work, giving and sharing.

Deseret Industries began shortly after Harold B. Lee, then president of the Pioneer Stake in Salt Lake City and later 11th president of the Church, received permission to send Stewart Eccles to California to observe the operations of Goodwill Industries. Pres. Lee, acutely aware of poverty and idleness that existed in the wake of the Great Depression, had organized with his counselors a stake welfare committee. That committee became the center of welfare activity in the Salt Lake Valley and, eventually, the Church.

Brother Eccles, then a 32-year-old businessman, spent 10 days observing the Goodwill Industries operation. When he returned to Salt Lake City, he submitted a proposal to the First Presidency, which authorized him to begin collecting used items that could be refurbished and sold. Holgar M. Larsen, who had recently returned from presiding over the Danish Mission, was asked to help Brother Eccles to establish the first Deseret Industries store, which opened in Salt Lake City on Aug. 12, 1938, in an old building that had been occupied by a post office at 342 W. 200 South.

From its beginnings, the primary purpose of Deseret Industries has been to provide work opportunities to individuals who have found it difficult to be employed because of physical or mental disabilities or lack of specific skills. Among those who are receiving opportunities through Deseret Industries are people who have disabilities associated with age, personality deficiencies and illness, or who need work experience or who lack language skills adequate for jobs on the open market. Many need to receive rehabilitation training and learn to take care of themselves.

Perhaps no one is as closely acquainted with the history of Deseret Industries as Glen L. Rudd, a member of the Seventy from 1989-1992 and a former managing director of the Church Welfare Department. In Pure Religion, a book that tells the story of Church Welfare since 1930, he wrote:

"In the early days, the workers were paid a fixed wage, usually one-half in cash and the other half in commodities through the bishop's storehouse.

Workers at Deseret Industries today receive paychecks.T

"The bishops of the Church were notified that they could write bishops' orders on Deseret Industries stores in the same way they could on bishops' storehouses. Bishops have first claim on the items in Deseret Industries. They also have an obligation to teach members of the Church to contribute items that can be renovated and made usable for resale.

"From the very beginning workers were urged to improve their working skills so that they could move into regular commercial employment and become self-sustaining. This would make room for others to develop skills. Some workers have greater needs than their employment with Deseret Industries can meet. Bishops are then authorized to provide additional storehouse commodities to these people. There has been constant pressure to enroll more trainees at each of the Deseret Industries stores. One of the factors that limits the number of workers who can be enrolled is the volume of items contributed by Church members. As donations have increased, more Deseret Industries facilities have been built and an increasing number of needy members have been blessed."

In 1963, on the 25th anniversary of Deseret Industries, President David O. McKay said: "The Prophet Joseph Smith has repeatedly given us the assurance that the idler has no place in this Church. . . . In Deseret Industries, the individual's labors are fitted to his capacity for labor. Here, I am sure, are found some of the most happy people on the face of the earth. They are working, they are producing, and not accepting something for nothing in return."

There are now 47 Deseret Industries stores in operation in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, California, Washington and Oregon. At the dedication of the newest store in Provo, Elder Ben B. Banks of the Seventy and president of the Utah South Area spoke of three people whose experiences represent the essence of Deseret Industries today.

The first person of whom he spoke was an elderly man who sat in a nursing home, just looking at the floor day after day, week after week. Eventually, someone arranged for him to go to a Deseret Industries, where a supervisor put a wide push broom in his hands and helped him sweep a corridor. After a while, the elderly man started to gain an interest in things around him. He raised his eyes from the floor and began to see other things. When faith in himself and his feelings of worth had been restored he, himself, became a supervisor of others at Deseret Industries.

The second account was about a man, age 30, who had never been able to work because of cerebral palsy. A bishop took him to a Deseret Industries plant where he was taught to cut buttons from old clothes. "For the first time in his life, this man felt he was a useful member of society," Elder Banks said. He described how the man proudly placed his first paycheck in his wallet.

The third account was about a man whose life before he joined the Church had been one of welfare checks, food stamps, social worker interviews, public health clinics and unpaid bills. Neither the man nor his wife knew how to handle even small amounts of money. He had difficulty holding a job. His bishop referred him to Deseret Industries for employment.

"For the first time in his adult life he began earning a regular paycheck," Elder Banks said. The man began to develop pride in himself; his wife and children began to develop respect for him as the patriarch of their home. He was taught how to manage a family budget and eventually paid all his bills. After a rehabilitation coordinator helped him practice job interviews, he was hired by a large laundry and linen business. At a farewell luncheon in his honor, he told fellow Deseret Industries workers, "I have found a job in the labor market which will pay me more money than I have ever made before in my life. For the first time in my life, I will be able to provide for my family in the way our Heavenly Father wants me to. I'm progressing, which is what life's all about."

Elder Banks said, "There are many other such stories pertaining to lives that are changed, souls that are saved through these wonderful facilities of Deseret Industries."

He quoted President Thomas S. Monson who, at the October 1988 general conference, said, "The Lord's storehouse includes the time, talents, skills, compassion, consecrated material, and financial means of faithful Church members. These resources are available to the bishop in assisting those in need.' "

Also speaking at the dedication of the new store in Provo, Harold C. Brown, managing director of Church Welfare Services, outlined three basic purposes of Deseret Industries: 1. Provide low-cost goods to members and others in the community. 2. Provide training and employment to those who desire and need it. 3. Provide opportunity for others to serve by giving donations to Deseret Industries and then serving to assist others.

He spoke of his first experience with Deseret Industries, 30 years ago, when he was a young married student at BYU. He said that he and his wife did a good deal of shopping at the Deseret Industries store in Provo. "I've experienced first-hand the blessing and have since still enjoyed coming into a Deseret Industries store and looking around for a good deal."

He said he was raised in a home where nothing was wasted, whether buttons and other small items his grandmother saved or a pile of steel behind the garage. "I'm grateful for an institution that teaches and helps us not waste," he said. "When we have things that we don't need any more in our homes we can give them to someone who can use them. The very thing that you give may be something I need. It's a wonderful thing."

Brother Brown spoke of the machinery and other equipment in Deseret Industries stores. These are important things to have, he said, but the essence of Deseret Industries is when people come together as helpers and those who are being helped. "I would suggest that both have pretty equal needs," he said. "Those who need a little help with training and employment can be helped by some who need the opportunity to rub shoulders with wonderful people whom they come to serve.

"I think within these walls [of Deseret Industries stores] there are sacred things that happen - people working together, loving each other, caring, giving and serving, and all benefiting equally."

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