Full circle: Emeritus General Authority now serving in hometown


Living life full circle — that is an apt description for Elder John H. Groberg.

A conversation with the emeritus General Authority and his wife, Jean Groberg, offers lessons in cause and effect, actions and consequences, and the Lord's tender mercies. Sitting in the dining room in their home in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Elder Groberg, who served as a member of the Seventy from 1976 until being given emeritus status in 2005, speaks softly of the influence of his father, his mission to Tonga in the 1950s, of his wife and of the place of temple worship in his life since he was a boy holding President David O. McKay's hat at the cornerstone ceremony of the Idaho Falls Temple in 1940.

Out the front window of their home, one can see the white temple that seems to stand sentinel over the Snake River coursing through this southeastern Idaho community. Now with graying hair, but still with the boyish grin and enthusiasm that marks his pictures from his days as a young missionary, he is now known as President Groberg. Since 2005, he has presided over what was Idaho's first temple and the Church's eighth. Standing by his side as temple matron is Jean Sabin Groberg.

"I just had the feeling, this will be wonderful. I really had the feeling, 'How could you do better than go home and serve?"' Elder Groberg said, recalling his response when President Gordon B. Hinckley called him to preside over the temple in his hometown. "All of those things went through my mind, 'Isn't the Lord good? Isn't He kind?"'

The newly called temple president also pondered how pleased his father and mother, Delbert V. and Jennie Groberg, both of whom died in 2004, would be at his latest calling. The elder President Groberg presided over the Idaho Falls Temple from 1975-1980 and had dealings with the temple long before that. As an orphaned boy being reared by an uncle in Ogden, Utah, he would often visit his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Susan Burnett Brunt, in Idaho Falls.

As related by his son, a young Delbert was one day told by his grandmother, "Delbert, look over there," she said, pointing to a sand dune next to the Snake River. "One day there is going to be a temple here. Don't say anything to anybody until it comes to pass, but just be aware of it."

Years later, through his association with the Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce, Delbert Groberg helped acquire the land for the new temple. In October 1940, President David O. McKay, then a counselor in the First Presidency, came for the cornerstone ceremony for the rising edifice. From this moment came a photo that has become legend in the Groberg family. While preparing for the groundbreaking, President McKay took off his hat and handed it to a 6-year-old boy standing nearby. That boy was the oldest son in a family of 11 children of Delbert and Jennie Groberg. The boy's father grabbed a camera and captured a moment that would later come full circle in the boy's life.

Some 15 years later, in the Kingdom of Tonga, President McKay, then president of the Church, stopped in Tonga on a world tour. He was introduced to a group of young missionaries, including Elder John H. Groberg of Idaho Falls, Idaho. In an unexpected moment, the Church president took off his hat and asked Elder Groberg to hold it for him. "It just hit me. I looked at him and he looked at me. He could tell I was a little emotional and he said, 'We've done this before, haven't we?' Just out of the blue."

After returning home and marrying his college sweetheart, a romance portrayed in the movie, "The Other Side of Heaven" (please see April 6, 2002, Church News), Elder Groberg went into real estate in Idaho Falls. He and Sister Groberg are the parents of 11 children and grandparents of 42. In 1966, while serving as a bishop, Elder Groberg came home to find a call to preside over the Tongan Mission. This time with his wife and a growing family, he returned to the South Pacific for three years.

Over the ensuing years, after his call as a General Authority, he had other opportunities to return to Tonga, including the dedication of a temple there in 1983.

One of his last acts as an active General Authority came in June 2005 when President Hinckley asked him to break ground in Rexburg, some 30 miles north of Idaho Falls, for the Church's 125th temple and the third in Idaho. Accepting the assignment, he hearkened back to when he was 11 years old, just after the dedication of the Idaho Falls temple in 1945. His stake president was declaring that President George Albert Smith had told him that many temples would one day dot the state, one very close to Idaho Falls.

"I remember as a young boy thinking, 'That's got to be Rexburg,' and then the feeling just flooded over me, 'You'll have something to do with that."'

Months after the groundbreaking, he was back in Idaho Falls, the place of his birth. Sister Groberg recalled how at a dinner in the president's room in the temple, she and President Groberg were hosting two stake presidencies, one which included the youngest Groberg son, George. Lining the room are photos of former presidents and matrons.

"I looked up and right between these two brothers was the photo of Delbert and Jennie on the wall. It was one of those pay days that come to parents, seeing the range of their oldest to their youngest son in the temple. That was such a moving thing for me to see that, knowing how dearly they served and loved the temple."

Truly, lives coming full circle in southeastern Idaho.

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