How 1 Swiss woman’s curiosity led to an entire family’s conversion

DCF 1.0
DCF 1.0 Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

During my nearly 45-year-career at the Church News, I wrote a lot of stories about people’s conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In most cases, they were accounts of the people I interviewed. Occasionally, I related accounts of their parents, grandparents or friends.

I interviewed Elder Hans B. Ringger soon after he was sustained during the April 1985 general conference to the First Quorum of the Seventy. A third-generation member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Ringger related the story about the conversion of his Swiss grandmother, Elisabeth Zoebeli Ringger.

“My grandmother, who was born in 1853 and passed away when she was 103 years old, was a widow for over 62 years,” Elder Ringger said. “She lived in the same house as another widow. Every Sunday, she saw the other woman leave the house, well-dressed, always at the same time. My grandmother asked her where she went every Sunday. She said she went to church.

“My grandmother was suspicious because this lady always turned right on the street and the church was on the left side. Grandma thought something must be going on. So, the next Sunday, Grandma dressed herself and waited until this lady left the house and then followed her. She discovered she was going to the Mormons. My grandmother went in, too. That’s how she came to join the Church in 1896.”

With a hearty laugh, Elder Ringger said, “Some people make jokes about women’s curiosity, but I am very grateful my grandmother’s curiosity caused her to follow her neighbor.”

When I decided to write about Elder Ringger and his grandmother’s conversion story, I called his nephew, Louis E. Ringger, to get a few more details and, possibly, a photo of Elizabeth Zoebeli Ringger. He sent the photo, along with an email message, stating how the family members “are forever grateful” for the first in the family to join the Church. He referred to her as “our own pioneer.” Louis shared this bit from Elder Ringger’s oral account about his mother:

“As a widow she maintained herself with ironing, cleaning and laundering, which she did even when I was growing up. … As a cleaning woman she maintained the apartment of the missionaries, and through that connection made the acquaintance of some missionaries who later became General Authorities. Brother Henry D. Moyle was one of her charges (also) Levi Edgar Young and Albert D. Bowen. She told us about them.”

Elder Hans B. Ringger
Elder Hans B. Ringger | Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

My interview with Elder Ringger in 1985 gleaned certain details: He was born to Carl and Maria Reif Ringger, the sixth of 10 children; two died in infancy. He, his parents, three brothers and four sisters and paternal grandmother lived in a six-room apartment on the third floor of a building near the edge of Zurich, Switzerland. Nearby were woods and Zurich Lake, where young Hans played with his brothers and sisters and neighbor children.

“I was very short,” he recalled, “but not so little that others didn’t accept me, although I was usually the last chosen in activities. I was about four-and-a-half feet tall when I was 15.” He grew to 5 feet, 10 inches.

Regardless of physical stature, Elder Ringger, under the supervision of then-Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, became a monumental figure in the expansion of the gospel in what had been known as “Iron Curtain countries,” including Russia, the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Poland. He was instrumental in the building of the Frieberg Germany Temple in the German Democratic Republic, the Church’s first temple in Eastern Europe.

Mindful of his grandmother’s pioneering role in bringing the gospel to his family, Elder Ringger stayed devoted to the Church and its teachings. As a youngster, he loved going to Church meetings in Zurich. “My father was called as a patriarch. I received my blessing from him, and one of the things that impressed me was that I should always listen to the leaders of the Church,” he said.

“When I was about 12, President Heber J. Grant was in Switzerland. The day he was in Zurich, I couldn’t be there, so I asked my father to take me to Basel where he was during the week so I could listen to him. That was the greatest spiritual experience in my early days. I’ve always loved to listen to our leaders and also to other members, whether it’s a little child or someone who speaks the language poorly. I am always impressed with their testimonies.”

Elder Ringger maintained his greatest blessings had come through his Church activities. He met Helene Susy Zimmer — also a third-generation Latter-day Saint — at a Church social. They were married in Basel; they were among the first couples sealed in the Swiss Temple (now Bern Switzerland Temple) after it was dedicated in September 1955. They became parents of a son and three daughters.

Elder Hans B. Ringger died at his home in Basel, Switzerland, on Oct. 18, 2010, at age 84.

Correction: This article previously misstated Elder Hans B. Ringger’s death date as Oct. 18, 1995. It has been updated to reflect the correct date of his death, Oct. 18, 2010.

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