Temple fulfills old prophecies

SNOWFLAKE, Ariz. — Perched on a hill, the Snowflake Arizona Temple, referred to as a "prophetic temple," stands as a tribute to the perseverance and faithful legacy of early settlers and Native Americans who raised families, established communities and helped to build the kingdom of God in northeastern Arizona.

The temple, with its unique interior design that blends these cultures, was dedicated on March 3 by President Gordon B. Hinckley, becoming the Church's 108th temple and Arizona's second.

President Hinckley spoke at four dedicatory sessions along with Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder Dale E. Miller of the Seventy. More than 11,000 participated in the services at the temple or at three nearby chapels.

Faithful Latter-day Saints in the area have waited more than 120 years for this long-hoped and prayed for temple.

"This temple is the answer to prophecies that were made," said Dean Porter, Snowflake Arizona Temple Committee coordinator. "It is a tribute not so much to us, but to our pioneer forebears, who were asked to leave their homes in Utah and eke out a living here."

Journals of these early settlers record that as early as 1880 Church leaders spoke of a temple being built here someday.

Only two years after the first members of the Church moved into the area, Apostle Wilford Woodruff encouraged the struggling saints to persevere by speaking of the possibility of a temple in their midst.

Later, prophetic statements were attributed to Church presidents John Taylor and Joseph F. Smith. Faithful saints clung to these promises, passing them on, with their faith and hope, from generation to generation.

"The history and legends of Snowflake are rife with these stories," said Snowflake Arizona Temple President Leon T. Ballard, 72, and a native of the town. "I have been raised on those things. That's why I consider this a prophetic temple."

A temple was always on the minds of early settlers, added temple matron Flora Ballard, also a native. "These were people with a tradition of building a temple even when they didn't have enough to eat. People have always been dreaming and visualizing a temple here."

Snowflake and the adjoining town of Taylor were settled in 1878 as part of the colonization effort begun by President Brigham Young. Early pioneers in search of fertile ground settled near Silver Creek. William J. Flake and his family bought several hundred acres from a rancher with the intention of starting a community here.

Shortly after settling in the area, Brother Flake was on his way back to Utah for more cattle when he met Elder Erastus Snow. He told the apostle of his intentions and asked about a name for the future town. Elder Snow was reported to have suggested the name Snow Flake. " 'Snow for me' and 'Flake' for you," he said.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, right, observes as Elder Neal A. Maxwell applies mortar at cornerstone
President Gordon B. Hinckley, right, observes as Elder Neal A. Maxwell applies mortar at cornerstone ceremony. Also observing is Elder Maxwell's wife, Colleen. | Photo by Scott P. Adair

The Snowflake temple site was selected by President Hinckley; the edifice was completed after nearly a year and a half of construction following its groundbreaking on Sept. 23, 2000, by Elder Rex D. Pinegar of the Seventy.

The towns of Snowflake and Taylor, whose total population is less than 9,000, hosted more than 94,000 people who toured the temple during the open house in February. Those numbers were significantly higher than the 35,000 in the temple district. President Ballard said he believes that the numbers were so high because many people living outside the area have great interest in it.

"There is a host of folks who think this is their temple because of ancestral ties here," he said.

Many of those who came to the open house as well as the dedication were Native Americans. Of the 11 stakes in the temple district, which covers northeastern Arizona and a small portion of northwestern New Mexico, several include members who reside on the Navajo, Hopi, Apache and Zuni reservations.

Inside the temple their influence is felt in the decor and artwork. "It was the artisan's idea to try to tie in all the cultures that are unique to this area," said Brother Porter.

Not only are there patterns taken from pioneer quilt blocks but also tribal designs and these are represented in everything from stenciling on the ceilings to sculpting in the carpet.

President Frankie J. Gilmore of the Tuba City Arizona Stake, which includes much of the Navajo and Hopi reservations, said that including the tribal designs was important. "It has a lot of meaning to us," he said. "Each temple has some significance. This one has a special meaning for us simply by putting these things in there."

Another element of the temple is a mural in one of the ordinance rooms, painted by Native American artist Linda Turley-Christensen. On three walls she represented the varying landscapes included in the temple district from red sandstone cliffs to pine-covered mountains in vivid detail.

Members wait in line for dedicatory service of Snowflake Arizona Temple to begin.
Members wait in line for dedicatory service of Snowflake Arizona Temple to begin. | Photo by Scott P. Adair

There are also several handcrafted pieces in the temple made by local Native American artists, including rugs, woven baskets and pottery. Gary Polacca, a Hopi artisan and president of the Polacca Branch, crafted one of the pots.

He created something that reflects his testimony. "This pot represents the way I look at the Church through the Book of Mormon," he said. "My people are literal descendents of Father Lehi and all the stories that we have as a people that trace our history are very similar to those stories in the Book of Mormon."

Through symbolism, Brother Polacca painted and carved on native clay expressions of some of those events. "This is sacred to me because it represents what my feelings and testimony are," he said. "I have especially directed this to my people and hope that they can understand and make the connection, too, that this is the true Church."

Another piece of artwork is a reproduction of a painting by John Jarvis, portraying Jacob Hamblin, considered the great missionary to the Native Americans in Arizona, meeting with Hopi Chief Tuba, one of the earliest Native American converts. A descendent of Chief Tuba, Alan Numkena, sang in the choir during the second dedicatory session and was asked by President Hinckley to bear an impromptu testimony.

After the session, Brother Numkena, of the Tuba City Arizona Stake, said he believes this temple will become even more important to his people.

"After witnessing the open house and the numbers of Native Americans that were there and with incorporating the Native American designs into the interior, I think that they will be drawn into wanting to go there. I think they got a better understanding of how important temples are; that they will make every effort to be eligible to make it to the temple," he said.

Youth attending dedication of Snowflake temple is representative of the multi-cultural membership in
Youth attending dedication of Snowflake temple is representative of the multi-cultural membership in eastern Arizona. | Photo by Scott P. Adair

President Gilmore said there has been a lot of interest by members of his stake in going to the new temple. "I have given out four times as many temple recommends in the last month-and-a-half as I did during the last two years."

Snowflake Arizona Stake President Stephen A. Reidhead agreed that the temple is very much for the Native American Latter-day Saints as well as other members. "This is their temple," he said. "We have wanted to make them welcome. This has been our goal since the beginning."

Many of those involved agreed that the temple has already brought a unifying spirit to the members spread out across the temple district as they worked together preparing for the temple's completion and dedication. Stakes provided volunteers for various duties. Primary children wrote their names on rocks that were incorporated into the temple's foundation. Youth slipped booties over visitors' shoes or hung crystals on the chandeliers. Adults served as ushers and guides or baked some of the more than 100,000 cookies for the open house.

"Before now we only saw each other on the competing field in basketball or football; now we'll see each other in the temple where there's a spirit of love and the Spirit of the Lord," said Tricia Reid-head, wife of President Reidhead.

Lorum Stratton, 91, Snowflake's oldest native resident, is thrilled to see the temple built. "I didn't think I'd get to see it in my day," he said.

He also expressed this feeling, shared by many of the area: "I don't think of it as Snowflake's temple, but the temple of all of northern Arizona."

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