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Carole Mikita: Connecting with the missionaries who taught my mother


Last December, I received a lovely Christmas card from longtime friends, Clarence and Dana Johnson, who live in Maryland. In their note, they expressed their excitement for the rededication of the Washington D.C. Temple. Not long after the New Year, my supervisor, Angie Denison, asked me if I would like to create a conference special for KSL-TV about that temple. When I mentioned the Johnsons, Angie asked if we should interview them. Then I told her the story.

Clarence Johnson is from New Mexico and was the missionary who confirmed my mother, Mildred Mikita, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in November of 1960.

His career had taken his family to the East Coast and I knew that he had served as a stake president but his excitement about the rededication of the temple was because he is a sealer there.

Dr. William B. Mikita and Mildred Mikita with their four children, including Carole Mikita. They were living in Ohio in 1960 when missionaries Elders Clarence Johnson and Wayne Lewis taught Mildred about the gospel and she was baptized.

Dr. William B. Mikita and Mildred Mikita with their four children, including Carole Mikita. They were living in Ohio in 1960 when missionaries Elders Clarence Johnson and Wayne Lewis taught Mildred about the gospel and she was baptized.

Credit: Provided by Carole Mikita

So, we had a lovely interview and then Clarence took me and photographer Eric Betts into another room to tell us about an Al Rounds painting. It shows the Kirtland Temple in the background and a sawmill in the foreground. The man who owned that sawmill — Joel Hills Johnson — is Clarence’s great-great grandfather. He was a convert who moved from Amherst, Ohio, to Kirtland, building that new sawmill to help in construction of the temple and eventually moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, and assisted in building that temple. 

“The temple has been a pretty big part of my ancestry,” Clarence told me. “And I hope it continues to be a part of our family as our grandchildren now get older and older.” 

Suddenly, there I was standing next to a man who is a literal link to the foundations of the Restoration. I never knew his family story. I had always been grateful and proud of my grandparents and one set of great-grandparents who bravely left their parents and homes in Eastern Europe to come to America in the early part of the 20th century. I felt they were inspired. My family just smiles because I say it so often: “There are no coincidences in the gospel of Jesus Christ!”

Wayne Lewis, who is originally from Arizona and now living in Centerville, Utah, was the missionary who baptized our mother. We also exchange Christmas cards with him and his wife, Bev.

In the 1960s, missionaries trained briefly at a Mission Home in downtown Salt Lake City. Apostles set each missionary apart. It was then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley who blessed Wayne Lewis and told him he would baptize someone on his mission who would become a lifelong friend. That turned out to be my mother.

Wayne Lewis of Arizona served as a missionary in Ohio in 1960 and taught Carole Mikita’s mother about the gospel.

Wayne Lewis of Arizona served as a missionary in Ohio in 1960 and taught Carole Mikita’s mother about the gospel.

Credit: Screenshot from KSL-TV

Wayne sent this special message to us Christmas of 1983, after our father, Dr. William B. Mikita, joined the Church:

“Two young missionaries found themselves assigned to Steubenville, Ohio. Their objective: to share the good news; the exact gospel plan taught by the Master, with all its blessings, has been restored to earth! Unsure but hopeful, these two traveled from home to home eager to share a specific message … the heavens are not sealed … the Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever. He has spoken today in the same manner He spoke yesterday … through a prophet … [and] the Lord has called a prophet. Who would listen? Most were polite, many curious … but who would listen? Whose heart was really ready? Was anyone living in this Ohio river community with ears to hear and hearts to know the truth of this message? One street after the other. … A warm, smiling face looks searchingly … and says, ‘I want to hear your message.’ The rest of our scenario is history.”

Elder Clarence Johnson of New Mexico served as a missionary in Ohio in 1960 and taught Carole Mikita’s mother about the gospel.

Elder Clarence Johnson of New Mexico served as a missionary in Ohio in 1960 and taught Carole Mikita’s mother about the gospel.

Credit: Screenshot from KSL-TV

Our mother spoke at a fireside in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1985 and said this of her conversion: “At the time, I remember wanting this just for me — I needed it, I desired it. It had not entered my mind that my family embark on this new venture of undertaking a new religion. It was enough for me to handle my own thoughts and accompanying problems. Then as I was confirmed, the only thing that I remember is that I was blessed that I would bring my family into the Church.”

So even after she passed away in 1987, we stayed in touch with Wayne but had lost contact with Clarence.

Fast forward 43 years. 

I had spoken at then-LDS Business College and with that talk was a biographical sketch that included my hometown of Steubenville, Ohio, and that I was 9 years old when my mother became a Latter-day Saint. Clarence Johnson saw that information while reading about the Church and wrote me a letter. It came to my mailbox at work, a letter from Maryland. When I opened it, a photograph fell out — there was my mother standing next to Clarence Johnson! He wrote “Are you the daughter of the woman we taught in 1960?” I had to sit, I was weeping with gratitude. Reunited! 

And that’s what happened that summer when Clarence and Dana came to Salt Lake City to serve a mission at Church headquarters. I invited Wayne and Bev, Clarence and Dana to dinner to our home. Those two former missionaries had not seen each other in more than 40 years. They hugged and again, tears filled my eyes.

Carole Mikita talks with Clarence Johnson, center, and Wayne Lewis, who were the Latter-day Saints missionaries who taught her mother in 1960, in a 2011 interview.

Carole Mikita talks with Clarence Johnson, center, and Wayne Lewis, who were the Latter-day Saints missionaries who taught her mother in 1960, in a 2011 interview.

Credit: Screenshot from KSL-TV

These two dear men are important to our family history and our family testimony. Wayne Lewis and Clarence Johnson exercised their faith and courage to serve missions. They had not met before the mission president assigned them as companions to one another in Steubenville, Ohio. And soon after our mother’s baptism, they were reassigned to other companions and other parts of the mission. 

Clarence wrote: “I have never known someone who the Lord had so prepared for the gospel as he had prepared Mildred Mikita. Elder Lewis and I only served in Steubenville for a short period of time. We came to Steubenville at the same time and we served for a few months and then we left at the same time. I truly believe that we were sent there because the Lord was well aware of your mother. … I feel very honored that I was one of those missionaries sent there.”

We, her children, Carole, Bill, Steve and Judith, are convinced that the Lord put them together and sent them to find our mother. She recognized “the true priesthood” of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ entered our home when they visited and taught her the first time. She had prayed fervently for answers to many faith questions and there they were.

Now three generations later, here we are! My siblings and I are eternally grateful for what they did and the men they have become. We still know them and we are still learning of them and it is all meant to be.

— Carole Mikita is KSL-TV’s special projects senior correspondent.

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