LDS boost Family Week

FORT MADISON, Iowa — Just over a year ago, Karl Ebeling; his wife, Rita; and their children stood behind a folding card table hoping to interest parade-goers in National Family Week, an event set aside by U.S. presidential proclamation that designates Thanksgiving week for commemoration and celebration of family.

This year, the Ebelings marched in that same parade and were cheered as part of a walking unit representing Fort Madison Family Week.

Brother Ebeling, a Fort Madison Jaycee and stake mission president in the Nauvoo Illinois Stake, along with other Latter-day Saints from the Fort Madison area, were instrumental in the creation of a week of family-oriented events for that city.

Located in southeastern Iowa, across the Mississippi River from historic Nauvoo, Fort Madison has a population of about 13,000. It is within the boundaries of the Nauvoo Ward. Fort Madison Family Week was a first for the community and a first for the state of Iowa.

After gaining the support of Fort Madison Mayor John Wright and local newspaper publisher John Lowman for the Jaycees-sponsored event, Brother Ebeling developed a multi-denominational steering committee representing the cultural diversity of the city. He later received additional support from Rick Larkin of the Iowa House of Representatives.

Mayor Wright and Rep. Larkin both spoke out on behalf of the Family Week committee at local civic groups and union meetings.

Kicking off the week, a community family home evening drew about 350 people to the local high school. The fair-like atmosphere included games, a variety show, seminars on family preparedness and fitness, plus information on how to plan a family night. Videos about family prayer and parenting were shown throughout the evening on a big-screen television loaned by a local merchant, and LDS missionary couples serving in Nauvoo assisted people in family-history computer searches.

A sense of the importance of celebrating the family quickly spread throughout the community. An interfaith service held at a Methodist Church was highlighted with songs presented by the Ebeling family, Baptist minister Tony Evans and a community choir with members representing most of the city's religious denominations.

Capping off Family Week, a free community-wide Thanksgiving dinner was held. More than 300 meals were served, providing area families the opportunity to serve the homebound and join together in friendship. Ladies of the Altar and Rosary Society of Sacred Heart Catholic Parish and LDS missionary couples serving in Nauvoo worked together to prepare the 30 turkeys needed for the dinner, and more than 100 people volunteered to help with cooking, serving, decorating and clean up.

Due to the success this year, a second Fort Madison Family Week is being planned for Thanksgiving week next year. Brother Ebeling and other Nauvoo Ward members will also assist nearby communities in planning their own family week events for 1999.

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