When Craig Petersen traveled to Hawaii on business last January, he had no idea he was an answer to Bishop Edwin Kamauoha's prayer, or that he would subsequently spearhead a unique service project that would touch the lives of 85 young people in the Riverton (Utah) 66th Ward.
"We went to sacrament meeting at the Kahuku 1st Ward in the Laie Hawaii North Stake," said Petersen, "and Borther Kamauoha, who was bishop at the time, was shaking hands and welcomed us. We noticed the building was fairly new and told him it looked nice. We talked about it and told him we did a lot of building for the Church. A blank look came on his face. He said, 'You are an answer to my prayers. I've been praying for months that I could get a contractor in Salt Lake City who was familiar with construciton, and who could help make arrangements for a restoration project.'"Seven months later, on Aug. 30, youths and adult leaders in the Riverton 6th Ward, where Petersen serves as Young Men president, helped renovate what is left of the historic settlement Iosepa. The name is Hawaiian for "Joseph," and the community was named in honor of Joseph F. Smith, the church president who, as a young elder, was a missionary in the islans from 1854-1858.
Located inskull Valley about 50 miles west of Salt Lake City, Iosepa was established in 1889 by 50 Hawaiian converts to the Church. Islanders traveled to the mainland to be near a temple. Settlers worked on a 1,290-acre Church-owned ranch, and the community grew to about 200 people by the turn of the century.
Iosepa was a well-planned community. It was one of the first in Utah to have a pressurized culinary water system.
Most of the town's residents returned to Hawaii in 1917 to help construct the temple there, and today all that is left of Iosepa are house foundations and the cemetery.
The renovation effort centerd on the cemetery, which has 76 graves marred by wind, water and wildfire. Wooden grave markers were destroyed, and Kamauoha and other members of the Iosepa Historical Society - most descendants of the town's residents - feared they would lose track of where their ancestors were buried. They wanted to erect permanent markers that wouldn't be harmed by the elements and decided to erect a concrete border around each grave.
Kamauoha and four others from Hawaii, with the help of Salt Lake City members of the Iosepa Historical Society, had planned to frame each border at Iosepa and pour the concrete there, an expensive and time-consuming process considering the location of the site and lack of water.
After Petersen returned to Utah, he contacted a Salt Lake City precast concrete company and determined the project would be easier and less expensive if the borders were produced at the plant and trucked to Iosepa.
The change saved countless hours and several thousand dollars. The company helped by selling the markers - each 1 foot deep, 4 feet wide and 6 feet long - at cost, and even donated some labor and materials.
While Petersen was helping make arrangements for the project, he realized this was a good opportunity to involve youths in his ward.
"As Young Men president, I am constantly trying to find significant service opportunities for our young people," Petersen explained. "One day it hit me that this would be a project young men and young women could have pride in and remember for the rest of their lives. I got in touch with Bishop Kamauoha, and he was really happy that we wanted to donate our services and help him."
On the Sunday before the project, Kamauoha addressed the youths at a special fireside. He recounted the history of Iosepa and bore testimony that the restoration would be appreciated by the spirits of those who had inhabited the settlement.
"The fireside sunday really gave then (ward young men and women) ashot in the arm," Petersen noted.
That enthusiasm carried through the project two days later, which concluded with a luau put on by local members of the Iosepa Historical Society.
The army of young people and their leaders set the borders and filled them with gravel, cleaned weeds and debris, raked, leveled and regraded around the cemetery after the borders were in place.
"I helped the man who moved the markers with a tractor," said 17-year-old Daren Bingham. "He had been on a mission in Samoa and knew a lot about the area, and he told me how the people had moved out here so they could go to the temple. It was very interesting. The project had been a dream of his for a long time. He had been planning it for three years. Everybody I talked with had a good time."
Added 16-year-old Sara Feil: "It was a neat experience that built friendships. I enjoyed it, and I know all my friends did. you could tell the Spirit was there, and that you were doing something important for someone."