Continuing a rigorous schedule of travel and meetings, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited Southern Utah Jan. 13-14 for a variety of Church and civic events.
First stop on his weekend itinerary was Parowan, some 240 miles south of Salt Lake City. Here on Jan. 13 he addressed the town's 145th birthday celebration and dedicated the Pioneer Heritage Park on a spring-like day more akin to April than January. Following the park dedication, the president attended a town luncheon hosted by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, and then addressed youth of the Parowan Utah Stake in a Saturday afternoon fireside.On Sunday, Jan. 14, he "dropped in" on the St. George Utah Pine View Stake conference. That evening he spoke to 10,000 youth at a fireside at the Dixie Center Burns Arena. (See story below.)
President Hinckley was accompanied on his visits to southwestern Utah by his wife, Sister Marjorie P. Hinckley, and by Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Seventy, who is president of the Utah South Area, and his wife, Sister Joanne Tingey.
At the Parowan birthday celebration, the prophet was the featured speaker at a folksy town meeting at the high school gymnasium, which attracted an estimated 3,000 people, including an overflow crowd. Standing with a huge American flag as a backdrop, President Hinckley cited a deep sense of "respect and love for those who pioneered this part of the world."
His visit to Southern Utah's "mother city" was the first by a Church president in 20 years.
President Spencer W. Kimball attended a similar birthday celebration Jan 13, 1976, accompanied by President Hinckley, who was then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Said President Hinckley: "I am happy you are making the effort to commemorate the founding of Parowan. I was here 20 years ago with President Kimball. I have wondered ever since how you pronounce the name of this town." He gave various pronunciations of the town's unique name, amidst laughter. "I think I've discovered it this morning. My knowledge has increased, and I'm grateful for that."
Continuing he said: "I stand in reverent respect for those who laid the foundations of this community and of hundreds of other similar communities in the West. . . . There is a growing interest in what happened in the past, and it is good for all of us to stop and look back at our roots and contemplate the source of our real strength."
He went on to recount details of the settlement of Southern Utah and of Parowan in particular. It was on Jan. 13, 1851, that a Mormon pioneer company led by George A. Smith arrived at the present site of the town, following a month's journey from Provo. Parowan was established and became the staging area for other settlements in the region.
President Hinckley related that the original party of more than 150 men, women and children had traveled south through the harsh winter weather in 101 wagons, each with a smoking chimney protruding through its canvas top. "Can you imagine a hundred wagons with smoke coming from their tops, coming down through these desert valleys?" he asked. "Two carriages, 100 horses, 12 mules, 368 oxen they looked after, 146 cows to be milked night and morning, and another 166 head of loose cattle. There were also 14 dogs, 18 cats and 121 chickens. They carried with them 57,000 pounds of flour . . . and another 36,000 pounds of wheat . . . a ton and a half of potatoes and more than a ton of other foodstuffs."
The party also had a cannon "Old Sow," which Jacob Hofheins fired three times as they entered the rim of the valley. The cannon had received its nickname when a sow uncovered the cast-iron barrel in a field in Missouri where mobbers had hidden it. (See Church News, Jan. 29, 1994.) The day after their arrival, George A. Smith led the group in a prayer of thanksgiving.
"He thanked the Lord for the protecting care they had experienced and expressed gratitude for this beautiful valley," said President Hinckley. "He prayed for protection and guidance. He expressed gratitude that in their long journey here there had not been a single fight, which is a rather remarkable thing under the circumstances.
"That was Tuesday, and rising from their knees they went to work. It was wintertime, but it was not a season to be wasted. . . . It was to become the mother city from which men and women would go to build communities to the east and west, the south and the north."
He noted the early colonization efforts and the vision of President Brigham Young. "Almost every community which exists today in Utah can trace its roots to those early days and that vision. . . . He and his people established more than 300 communities which flourish today," President Hinckley said. He explained that the original name of Parowan was suggested as "Little Salt Lake," but that Brigham Young had later suggested the name Parowan.
Following further history and tribute to the area's founders, including its women and the particular sacrifices they made, President Hinckley concluded with a challenge to maintain the legacy of faith and devotion they originated. "It is satisfying to know that here in this lovely valley is a community established by men and women of great courage, of great loyalty, of great faith in the living God, who traveled here at a tremendous cost to create a haven of peace and beauty where for almost a century and a half now the waters from these mountains have given life to the soil of the valley, while generation after generation have lived here and labored and from here have gone across the earth to fill their individual destinies with distinction and honor.
"And so, my dear friends, I count it a great honor to be with you, to remember them and think about them for a few minutes with the hope that the virtues which were the substance of their lives will be carried in the hearts of all of their posterity, wherever they go, and that those roots which were first planted here will continue to grow to mighty trees that will afford shade and comfort, peace and tranquility, strength and capacity that will be felt across the world."
Transportation from the town meeting to the new Heritage Park several blocks away was provided for the Hinckleys in a horse-drawn carriage down the town's Main Street, with citizens calling out greetings en route. At the park, thronged by hundreds of children waving flags and balloons, the president pronounced a prayer of dedication. Park facilities include a large bronze pioneer tribute monument, bronze plaques depicting the settlement of Utah, an amphitheater, walkways and waterways.
In his dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley noted "those who came here with faith and with a spirit of consecration, to build here a place in this part of the world and who would expand to go to other areas, which they did far and wide. We thank Thee for their faith, we thank Thee for their consecration, we thank Thee for their ability, we thank Thee for the skills with which they went to work to cut stone and wood and fashion homes and buildings, some of which still stand to this day."
Speaking to an estimated 200 youth in the small but stately Parowan 1st-2nd ward meetinghouse that afternoon, President Hinckley encouraged all to understand the significance of being a child of God "not just on Sunday, but every day of the week." He spoke plainly about not violating their divine birthrights through the use of foul or vulgar language or immorality and exhorted them to strengthen and look out for each other as sons and daughters of God.
Several young men and young women in Parowan expressed their surprise and delight that the prophet would visit Parowan and take time to meet with them. "It's hard to believe," said Gabe Tilley, 15. "I wanted to hear him telling us how we need to shape up. We all need that."
April Hulet, 13, said she "thought it was neat that I got to be that close to the prophet" and was more than happy to dress up on a Saturday afternoon to do so.
Her friend, Jorden Graff, said she "had to keep myself from crying" throughout the meeting.
Parowan Mayor Dennis Stowell said the entire community was "thrilled" at having President Hinckley participate in the birthday events, evidenced by the lengthy standing ovation the prophet received upon his introduction at the town meeting. "We understand his tremendously busy schedule, yet he was so willing to do whatever he could to be here," the mayor said. "He didn't hesitate at our invitation and has been so kind, indicative of the type of man he is.
"The community rallied around for the entire celebration. I would guess close to half of Parowan's residents are descendants of the original pioneer settlers, which is why they want to honor and remember them."
One of those descendants who was spiritually and emotionally moved during the festivities, though not a Parowan resident, was Elder Tingey. His third great-grandfather, Anson Call, was part of the original settlement party.
"This is extremely historic that President Hinckley would be here, having been here 20 years earlier with President Kimball," he said. "For me, personally, it's very moving because my great-great-great-grandfather was part of the George A. Smith party that came here in 1851. To see his name on the plaque and to read his journal entry on what it was like to come here on that day was quite incredible.
"I think this depicts the essence of our Mormon communities up and down the state, where they gather together as Saints and keep the traditions alive and remember the sacrifices of their forefathers. I think it's a wonderful celebration."