Modern Mormon pioneers in Arkansas

Credit: Valerie Sherwood Keith
Credit: Valerie Sherwood Keith


John D. Sherwood of Mount Vernon is known throughout Arkansas as a pioneer of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s no secret that his success as a missionary and patriarch of a large family is made possible by the support and partnership of his wife of 63 years, Barbara Lee Jones Sherwood.

Stake President Bruce K. Berkheimer remarked, “Sister Sherwood is one of the most elect ladies I have ever met.”

While visiting their home recently, he told her, “I stand on sacred, hallowed ground where in this room, the gospel was taught and practiced.” President Berkheimer fondly recalled his eldest son receiving his patriarchal blessing in the front room under the hands of Brother Sherwood.

John and Barbara met and married in the Mesa Arizona Temple in 1951. Three of the Sherwood brothers, John, Calvin and Ray, felt the Church needed them in Arkansas and made the move in 1960 to Mount Vernon, where John acquired 120 acres. Calvin stayed four years before returning to Arizona. Ray and Helen raised their family in the Conway area then moved back to Arizona before returning to Arkansas for their retirement. John and Barbara farmed cattle while raising their family of 14 children in Mount Vernon. They still live on the farm, in the same house, with additional rooms added to accommodate large family gatherings that include 63 grandchildren and 104 great-grandchildren.

The Sherwoods’ choice of residence was largely motivated by proximity to the Barney Branch, organized in 1914, which was the earliest branch in Arkansas that had been in continuous existence. The Pleasant Prairie Branch near Des Arc was the first branch in Arkansas, formed in 1876, but the group of 27 families comprising 125 people moved en masse to Utah by wagon train in 1877.

A few years after the Sherwoods arrived in 1960 (and probably due to their arrival), the Church had grown significantly, and there was a need to organize Church units in more-populated areas. The Conway Branch had been formed in 1956 and included many of the Barney members. The Searcy Branch was formed in 1964 with John D. Sherwood as its first branch president. The Searcy Arkansas Stake was organized on Jan. 26, 2014, the result of pioneers such as John D. and Barbara Sherwood.

Now 87 years old, Brother Sherwood’s body is slowing down with an infection in his knees causing problems, yet his mind is still sharp and strong.

Brother Sherwood spoke to President Berkheimer about his love for the Grammer family whose son, Billy, just returned from his two-year mission to Concepcion, Chile. Years ago, Brother Sherwood was a dental patient of Billy’s dad, Dr. John Grammer, and brought him a Book of Mormon to read. The family received the missionary lessons and joined the Church.

Brother and Sister Sherwood’s gospel influence extends across the world. Eight children, 22 grandchildren and one great-grandson have served missions for the Church all across the United States, one of its territories and in 15 other countries.

The Sherwood family has an 18-foot-long dining table in their home. Years ago, before Sunday meetings were consolidated into one block, the Sherwoods invited members who lived long distances away to their home between meetings. Their hospitality continues today.

President Berkheimer said, “We, of the Searcy Arkansas Stake, love, honor and deeply appreciate Brother Sherwood for his pioneering spirit in blessing countless lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ. The service he has rendered to this stake and surrounding areas, especially his family, has been invaluable. He is a devoted disciple of Christ.”

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed