'Little miracles' still unfolding for centenarian

Word of Star Valley temple is among life's big events


Howard McKim believes in little miracles — the kind you look back on in your life and realize the Lord's hand. And this tall man with silver hair knows of what he speaks. He looks back on 100 years of living.

Brother McKim of the Thayne 2nd Ward, Thayne Wyoming Stake, celebrated his centennial birthday Feb. 12 at his home in Star Valley, Wyo. He was surrounded by some of his six children and 66 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Thrilled with news a temple will be built in Star Valley, Wyo., Howard McKim says his life is "a lit
Thrilled with news a temple will be built in Star Valley, Wyo., Howard McKim says his life is "a little miracle at a time." | Photo by Julie Dockstader Heaps

"All this came about a little bit at a time. A little miracle at a time. That's an apt description of it," he told the Church News while sitting in the little white house where he lived with his wife, Martha, a good portion of their 70 years of marriage. She died in 2007.

It was last October during general conference that the stake patriarch and former bishop heard the words he'd never thought he'd hear in his lifetime — a temple will be coming to Star Valley. He smiled when he recalled the moment President Thomas S. Monson announced that this sacred edifice would be built in the valley dedicated in 1878 as a "gathering place" by Elder Brigham Young Jr., then of the Quorum of the Twelve.

"I think it's wonderful. I just hope I can participate. I doubt I can, but I hope I can. I think it's great."

For the McKim family, a love of temple worship goes back to 1937 when a 25-year-old Howard McKim proposed to his girlfriend, Martha Van Noy. Her answer? "Yes, I will in the temple."

The young Howard McKim came from a Christian family, members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now called the Community of Christ. He had been adopted as a baby in Iowa. His adoptive father, a sharecropper, soon moved the family to Wyoming.

Later, while on academic scholarship at the University of Wyoming, Howard, then in his 20s, attended dances at the LDS Institute of Religion, where he met his future bride. He was baptized; they were married in September 1937 in the Salt Lake Temple. They have six children: Jerry, now 72; Ron, 69; Robert, 66; Jim 61; Marty, 59; and Melanie Wilkes, 57.

After a decade of marriage, during which time Brother McKim earned a degree in geology and served in the U.S. Army, the family relocated in 1948 to Thayne, where they opened a sporting goods store. Over the years he worked for the Forest Service, was a fishing guide on the Salt River and was a municipal judge. He also taught in the school district for 29 years, including serving as a principal.

And all the while he was part of the Church growth here. One stake was here at the time, called the Afton Wyoming Stake, created in 1892. It served 11 communities throughout the valley, which stretches about 40 miles along the Wyoming-Idaho border. Each town had a one-room Church building with a pot-bellied stove to warm members and curtains to separate classes.

"We had an elders quorum here and part of it was in Afton [some 15 miles away]. So we'd meet down there and up here. It was split," Brother McKim related.

Stake meetings were held in the old tabernacle, dedicated in 1909, which still stands in Afton. (The stake was split in 1978, and the Thayne Wyoming Stake was organized.)

Brother McKim, who also served as a stake high councilor, recalled the difficulties of attending Church services during the brutal winter months. "The main thing was they could survive to attend their meetings. Those were the things that worried me more than anything else. If they had automobiles, to get the thing started. They had sleighs. They had to take care of the animals. Those are the physical things that really caused a lot of problems."

However, he recalled how it was "just wonderful to be with the [Saints here]."

During those early years, the McKims, along with other Star Valley residents, attended temples in Idaho Falls, Idaho, or in Logan, Utah.

Then, in 1978, the McKims accepted a mission call to serve in Hawaii, where they worked at the Laie Hawaii Temple Visitors' Center. "Going on that mission was something else," Brother McKim said.

He recalled one event in particular. "I was getting ready to lock the gate [on the temple grounds] at night. There's this man standing out by the tree smoking and I said, 'Wouldn't you like to come into the temple grounds and see what's going on in here?' He said, 'No, I'm not worthy, and I smoke.'"

Brother McKim talked the man into putting out his cigarette and coming in to watch a Church film in the visitors' center. "We kept working with him. He had a hard time quitting smoking but … he became a bishop."

That is the influence of temples, Brother McKim believes. Especially in his own life.

After returning home, he was called as a bishop and then, in 1985, he was ordained a stake patriarch. Countless Star Valley natives see his name on their patriarchal blessings.

"What I learned was personally how insignificant I was except that I was an instrument of the Lord."

And what would he tell his posterity about never taking temple worship for granted? "I'd probably tell them forcefully, get back to the temple. But I don't think I'm going to have to worry about that. They're good solid people and they're religious."

All this from the "little miracle" 75 years ago of a young woman wanting to marry her sweetheart in the temple.

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