Sister Uchtdorf receives German-American Friendship Award

Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver
Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver
Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver
Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver
Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver

Sister Harriet R. Uchtdorf was honored Monday as a bridge builder, a peacemaker and a kind and gracious citizen of two allied nations that were once enemies.

At a midday event on Nov. 20, Hans Jörg Neumann, Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany, presented Sister Uchtdorf with the German-American Friendship Award.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor of the First Presidency, stood by his wife of 54 years as she accepted the award. They were joined by friends and relatives — including President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency and Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other Church leaders — who gathered for the award ceremony at the downtown Kirton McConkie law office in Salt Lake City.

Sister Uchtdorf said she was “overwhelmed, grateful and honored” to receive an award recognizing individuals or institutions “that have forwarded German-American relations” in outstanding ways.

“I have a special feeling that the German-American friendship was made in heaven,” she said. “Perhaps that is because true friendships are God’s way of taking care of us.”

After accepting the award, Sister Uchtdorf spoke of her first face-to-face interaction with an American at a time when her native Germany and the United States were recovering from a devastating world war.

Sister Uchtdorf was just a little girl when she and her mother, Carmen Reich, passed a young U.S. soldier who was part of the occupation forces in West Germany. The American G.I. smiled at the little girl and handed her a foil-wrapped stick of chewing gum.

Young Harriet was thrilled to receive that small gift during a time of great hardship.

That warm moment with the U.S. soldier was a prologue of sorts for a far more meaningful interaction with a pair of Americans several years later. In 1954, a 13-year-old Harriet answered a knock on the door of her family’s Frankfurt apartment. Standing outside the doorway were two young American men who identified themselves as Mormon missionaries.

Despite Mrs. Reich’s initial hesitation to invite the missionaries inside, Harriet persuaded her mother to let them in and listen to their message.

“And the rest is history,” she said, smiling.

In his remarks, Elder Andersen said no one is more deserving of a German-American friendship award than Harriet Uchtdorf. “She is an extraordinary woman with special gifts that abundantly qualify her for this honor today.”

When Sister Uchtdorf first lived in the United States in the 1970s, she immersed herself in American culture. After returning to Germany, she often asked her commercial airline pilot husband to gather American items whenever he flew to the United States — including cupcake paper liners, Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup, Lifesavers, “and a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving.”

Elder Andersen also spoke of Sister Uchtdorf’s renowned cooking and hostess skills and her capacity to connect with people of all backgrounds. “She always puts the comfort of others above her own comfort.”

President Uchtdorf, he added, often refers to his wife as “the sunshine of my life.”

“Harriet draws people to her,” said Elder Andersen. “She has promoted German and American friendships, but in a much broader sense she has been an example of the Savior’s teachings for all of God’s children: Love one another as I have loved you.”

It’s been said that tones makes the music, Elder Andersen concluded.

“The tone of Harriet Uchtdorf is more pleasing than the strings of the Berlin Orchestra.”

Mr. Neumann called Sister Uchtdorf “an unofficial emissary of Germany throughout the world” who never spares an opportunity “to speak highly of her home country of Germany.”

Sister Uchtdorf, he added, has dual German/U.S. citizenship making her “the perfect choice for the German-American Friendship Award.”

James T. Burton, Honorary Consul, Federal Republic of Germany, offered welcome remarks. His family’s personal association with Sister Uchtdorf has offered him glimpses of her true character.

“Despite the highly visible and prominent role that she plays within the Church, she is one who does not actually seek the spotlight,” he said. “Instead, she’s most comfortable making other people feel at ease.”

Sister Uchtdorf’s family paid tribute to their mother and grandmother with a musical presentation that included a humorous, heartfelt song written by the Uchtdorf family for the occasion.

President and Sister Uchtdorf’s daughter, Antje Uchtdorf Evans, and several grandchildren sang and played a variety of musical instruments, including a trio of recorders and a jazz clarinet solo.

In a brief introduction to their musical presentation, Sister Evans spoke of beloved family traditions such as gathering around the living room piano and singing together in German and English.

“Your love of music is contagious to us,” she told her mother.

In addition to President Eyring and Elder Andersen, guests at the event included Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Bishop Gérald Caussé, the Presiding Bishop.

Also attending was Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert.

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