Corinne Drollette was 14 years old when she helped push a Mormon handcart during a youth trek at Martin’s Cove — a site sacred to Latter-day Saints for its pioneer legacy of tragedy and triumph. On that hot summer day 11 years ago in central Wyoming, she thought about those early pioneers.
“[I was] just amazed by how strong they were, to push those handcarts and all they went through on the trek [to the Salt Lake Valley].”
Now 25 years old and a student at Idaho State University, Sister Drollette stood in line to visit the new Star Valley Wyoming Temple — the first in a state known for its pioneer heritage. On this warm fall day on Saturday, Oct. 8, the last day of the month-long open house for the new sacred edifice just south of Afton on Highway 89, she spoke of her trek experience and of growing up in nearby Thayne, one of 11 communities in this “star of all valleys.”
“Especially in Wyoming, there’s tons of pioneer heritage,” she told the Church News. And as to pushing those handcarts, she recalled “how hard it was and how many people it took to push those carts, the teamwork.
“It’s just like the gospel. It’s a team — all of us together. [And now] to have a temple here is amazing.”
Sister Drollette and her three friends from the Pocatello (Idaho) YSA 10th Ward, were among the some 79,000 visitors during the open house events, which included construction and neighborhood tours the week of Sept. 19, and the public open house, which lasted from Sept. 23 through Oct. 8, with some exceptions.
Among the dignitaries visiting during VIP tours on Sept. 21-22 were Former Vice President Dick Cheney, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso and U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, both of Wyoming, along with other state elected officials and religious leaders. (Please see Sept. 23 and Sept. 30 issues of Church News.)
Speaking of the “memorable experience” the past month has been was President Mark Taylor, chairman of the open house and dedication committee. He described “wall-to-wall people” filing through the temple — one day seeing 700 visitors per hour.
Despite the crowds, “nobody minded,” he said. “We’re a society of being in a hurry, and it seemed like the temple slowed their lives down enough to enjoy it. They thought they were standing in the shadow of the temple waiting to go inside the Lord’s house.”
President Taylor, who is also president of the Afton Wyoming Stake, recalled the comment of one woman of another faith. “She took about eight or nine steps into the celestial room and she put her hand over her chest and said, ‘You just can feel a difference in this room from the rest of this building.’
“Isn’t that a powerful statement?” President Taylor added. “I don’t think she came here expecting a tender mercy from the Lord and yet she received one.”
Visitors first viewed a short film at the stake center south of the temple, after which buses took them to the temple grounds. On some days, visitors were able to ride a horse-drawn wagon to the temple.
“I like the idea that the horses slowed the experience down a little bit so you had time,” he said. “With the horses walking along, you’d be able to see the temple sitting up on this mound.”
President Taylor said that some 5,000 volunteered their time during the open house events from all six stakes in the temple district, which includes western Wyoming and stakes in Montpelier and Soda Springs Idaho.
Among them was Mark Watkins of the Osmond Ward, Afton Wyoming Stake. For Brother Watkins, who helped direct people at the bus lines, serving during the temple open house reminded him of his “before and after.”
“I was living in Riverton, Wyoming, and a couple of missionaries knocked on my door. They sat down and started talking about tithing, which seemed really odd because I was not making enough to make my bills.
“They challenged me to pay my tithing. In the next two to three months, there were enough changes in my life that I went from a couple hundred dollars short to $50 a month surplus, after paying tithing — no income change.”
After that, Brother Watkins said, “I became more curious about this thing that my mother tried so hard to teach me as a child.”
He related that he became active in the Church and later married his wife, Tamalu. Today, 23 years later, they are the parents of nine children.
One of the promises he made his wife, he said, was to always have a temple recommend. He has kept that promise and looks forward to serving with her in the new Star Valley Wyoming Temple.
The new temple will be dedicated on Sunday, Oct. 30, in three sessions. A cultural celebration is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 29, at Star Valley High School.
Julie Dockstader Heaps is a freelance journalist living in Syracuse, Utah, where she enjoys writing, running, gardening, being involved in her community and, most important, spending time with her husband, David, and their daughter, Hannah Mae.