Opening the Bismarck North Dakota Temple for public tours proved to open many hearts — creating something of a missionary paradise. The Fargo North Dakota Stake presidency issued a challenge to members to take a non-member friend to the open house of the temple. After four days of the open house that ended Sept. 11, a goal of 10,201 visitors had been exceeded.
Two 45-passenger buses brought members from the Bemidji, Minn., area, more than 350 miles from the temple. Several members living near the temple returned often, each time with a different neighbor. Loretta Johnson, a Minot newspaper reporter, had written an article which was published on the front page the week prior to the open house. The writer returned the day following the press conference "for personal reasons" she said. She returned a third time with a friend.
"It's a good turnout for a city of 50,000," said temple president Robert B. Dahlgren.
Ryan Harding, a 17-year-old priest of the Bismarck Ward, said he was asked to write an article for his high school newspaper explaining why he is a Latter-day Saint, the importance of the temple and going on a mission. He invited his teachers to the open house.
Prior to the general public open house, special local groups, such as residents of the temple neighborhood, contractors and construction crews, clergy, government leaders and business people, were led on tours by Elders Yoshihiko Kikuchi and Donald L. Staheli of the Seventy and members of the North America Central Area presidency .
"I think it was very successful," Elder Kikuchi said of the open house. "The husband of a visitor came over. He pulled me down the hallway. He said to me in tears, 'This is extremely inspiring. I am so touched,' " he said. "Another man was so moved, I thought he was a member. He was in tears holding his wife's hand, and said, 'I cannot describe the feeling.' "
Representative comments from visitors were: "I can't imagine any room more beautiful than this [the baptistry]."
"It was educational. Absolutely beautiful structure. It was fun to learn a little more of the Mormon faith."
"I feel very privileged to be in on something like that [the open house]," said Curt Juhala, chief of staff at St. Alexius Hospital, Bismarck. He attended with his wife, Linda.
"It's so nice that you don't have to drive so far," said Marcia Kilzer, wife of Ralph Kilzer of Bismarck, a state senator. He added, "It's wonderful that you chose our district."
Helen Schatz, a county commissioner, said, "How nice of you to ask us. On Sunday, we just drove around it, and felt like we should whisper in the car."
The light gray granite edifice is the first operating temple in the upper Midwest of the United States, and the 61st operating temple of the Church. The structure — 10,500 square feet of floor space — was built on a double lot adjacent to the Bismarck North Dakota Stake Center, in a residential neighborhood in the northwest corner of the city.
Members personally delivered hundreds of invitations to residents living around the temple. "The neighbors just had the most wonderful spirit," said Elder Thomas Holt, Area Authority Seventy.