REXBURG, IDAHO — One hundred twenty five years ago, a small band of Mormon pioneers rolled into this cold, unfriendly land in southeastern Idaho within view of the Grand Tetons. In what would come to be called the Upper Snake River Valley, these 11 men and their families looked out across rolling hills covered with lava rock and sagebrush and might have questioned leaving the green fields of Cache Valley in northern Utah.
But knowing they had been sent by the Church to establish a Mormon settlement, they persevered. They cleared and plowed land, dug ditches and canals, built log homes and held Church services. By the next fall, several hundred more settlers arrived, and the town was named Rexburg. In five more years, they established Bannock Stake Academy, the predecessor to today's BYU-Idaho.
Today, the Upper Snake River Valley is considered one of the prime agricultural centers in the nation. Thousands of acres of green fields produce wheat and potatoes, among other crops. Sparkling, pristine rivers and creeks flow through the region near prime camping, hiking and other recreational areas. In addition, some 13,000 students from the nations of the world come here to attend the Church-owned university.
And now, what is being called the "beacon on the hill" stands seemingly as a glowing sentinel on the east side of town. The new Rexburg Idaho Temple was dedicated on what became a bright, clear Sunday morning, Feb. 10, by President Thomas S. Monson. (Please see page 3.)
More than 7,300 members attended four dedicatory sessions on a winter day that began with fog so dense one couldn't see the new sacred edifice from a short distance away. But by the middle of the first session, sunlight began twinkling through the stained glass windows adorned with wheat stalks. Storms had blanketed the area in the days before the dedication, leaving about three feet of snow and drifts across fields. But the day of dedication brought temperatures into the 30s and blue skies.
"Think of the pioneers who settled this valley," Elder Russell M. Nelson told the Church News between dedicatory sessions, "what they invested in the way of time and effort and now what we have, these many years later, is really quite a remarkable thing."
Calling each temple dedication unique — the Rexburg Idaho Temple is the Church's 125th, Elder Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve added, "The Spirit of the Lord was here as were the spirits of many looking in on the other side of the veil. We felt their presence during the messages and particularly during the music."
Elder Nelson accompanied President Monson to Rexburg for the dedication, along with Elder David A. Bednar, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Elder Claudio R.M. Costa of the Presidency of the Seventy, who is president of the Idaho Area. Elder Nelson presided over the last two sessions of the dedication.
Describing attending the dedication as "coming home," Elder Bednar, who was president of BYU-Idaho in 2003 when the new temple was announced, recalled the selection of the site for the new temple adjacent the south side of campus. "To see the construction and now see it come to complete fruition is a remarkable thing in a quite short period of time," he told the Church News.
The Rexburg Idaho Temple, at 57,504 square feet with its quartz rock finish, will serve nearly 45,000 Latter-day Saints in southeastern Idaho. (Please see box on page 6.) Before the new temple's dedication, members here attended the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple, about 30 miles south of Rexburg.
Despite having had a temple within an hour's drive since 1945, members here anticipated the dedication of "our" temple with almost unrestrained joy. Even new temple President Val R. Christensen, a former member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, was pleasantly surprised by the excitement.
"You'd think the saints here had never had a temple," he said during the recent open house, which drew more than 200,000 visitors.
Such people include Douglas and Darlene French of the Ashton 3rd Ward, Ashton Idaho Stake, who consider the new edifice the "most wonderful thing that could've happened to this valley," said Sister French, who, beginning in April, will become a temple worker here with her husband.
They were married 57 years ago in her parents' home and later sealed in the Idaho Falls Temple. The couple had six children, losing one boy when he was 3 years old. Both were reared in the area, but only Sister French was born in the Church. His conversion, he proclaims with smiles, is "blamed" on her. "'I'll take the blame," she added, smiling.
Sister French related how, shortly after their marriage, they were preparing to attend Church one Sunday when her father-in-law, who had also joined the Church, declared that they needed to cut the grain that day. "I said, 'If you work today you will break down and you won't work again until the next Sunday.' Well, we went ahead and worked and we broke down. The next Sunday, I said, 'Are you going to work today or are we going to go to Church?' (He said,) 'We're going to Church."'
The family has been active ever since.
For one man, a student at BYU-Idaho, the Rexburg Idaho Temple dedication is a life lived full circle. Godwill Tandoh, from Ghana, attended the dedication of the Accra Ghana Temple in January 2004, then, as a missionary in the Nigeria Port Harcourt Mission, he attended the dedication of the Aba Nigeria Temple in August 2005.
Standing near drifts of snow, he waited with friends to attend a dedicatory session here. "It's like a dream come true for me. The temple dedication has been a special part of my life."
The new Rexburg Idaho Temple may come to offer blessings in two significant parts. For young people like Godwill attending BYU-Idaho, they may be able to return to their homelands and "point their children to the temple," as stated during the recent open house by BYU-Idaho President Kim B. Clark.
Through people like 12-year-old Kayla
Whitesides of the Rexburg 14th Ward, Rexburg Idaho Center Stake, who called the temple "a beautiful place," generations to come in the Upper Snake River Valley will be turned to the "beacon on the hill."