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Pioneers - both early, modern-day - honored

July 24 is an official holiday in Utah, but for President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, it was a day for public appearances and speeches.

First, he was the designated representative of the First Presidency in the Days of '47 Parade in Salt Lake City. Then, he delivered two addresses in quick succession, one at the Utah State Capitol and the other at a luncheon in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building next to the Church Administration Building. (See Church News, July 27 for the report and photos on the parade.)In his first message of the day, President Monson helped unveil an 8-foot-tall statue of a pioneer woman, Martha Hughes Cannon, in the Capitol's rotunda.

The statue, sculpted by Laura Lee Stay, and the woman it honors are, it seems, "larger than life."

Martha Hughes Cannon immigrated to Utah in 1861 from Wales. In 1896, the year Utah became a state, she was elected to serve in the Utah State Senate. Her earlier and greater contributions, however, came through her chosen career, medicine. She graduated with her medical degree from the University of Michigan on her 23rd birthday, July 1, 1880. In 1882 she received an advanced medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania - the only woman in a class of 75 - plus a degree in elocution and oratory. She returned to Utah at age 25 and opened a private practice, and served as second resident at Deseret Hospital. She founded Utah's first training school for nurses in 1888. Martha and her husband, Angus Munn Cannon, were married in 1884. They had three children.

Among those participating with President Monson on the program to unveil the statue were Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt and Lt. Gov. Olene Walker. The Rev. Caryl Marsh of St. Paul's Episcopal Church offered the invocation. Music was provided by the International Children's Choir.

In his remarks, President Monson paid tribute to Martha Hughes Cannon as a pioneer who was noble to a cause and faithful in the gospel. He said that after having read her life's story, he recognized her as one who was "dedicated to truth and who persevered in that which she knew was going to be beneficial to people." He called her "exemplary in every aspect of her life."

He referred to her as being "head and shoulders above others, far in advance of others as she pursued the grueling task to prepare for her destiny and for the good that she could do for others."

President Monson spoke of her commitment to the gospel. He recounted the conversion of her family in North Wales and their journey to the United States. In 1861 they joined a small group traveling from New York to Salt Lake City, although they had to share a covered wagon with another family. Martha was just 4 years old. Her younger sister, Annie, died when the group was two weeks away from the Salt Lake Valley. Martha's mother walked the entire journey, entering the valley with bruised, blistering and bleeding feet tied in rags. Martha's father died just three days after the family arrived in the valley.

President Monson, who had a career in publishing before he was called as a General Authority in 1963 at age 36, said he was happy to note that Martha, at age 14, and two other young women were called by the First Presidency to learn typesetting for the Deseret News and the Woman's Exponent. "My father was a typesetter and printer by trade, and I spent each summer during my teenage years helping him out in the printing shop," President Monson said. "In addition, I was associated with the Deseret News for many years.

"Martha didn't just learn to set type; she learned to set Scandinavian type - a most difficult task - even though she knew not a word of any Scandinavian language." She worked seven years at that trade before attending medical school.

"She was always open to new frontiers, and was ever the believer," President Monson said, noting that it was "high time" a statue be placed in the rotunda to honor her. "Martha Cannon walked and blazed the trail for others. Martha Hughes Cannon follows a definition of a pioneer: `One who goes before showing others the way to follow.'

"I am happy that her name was Martha. It is reminiscent of Martha from the holy scriptures who was kind and thoughtful and who served others. Like the Lord Jesus Christ to whom Martha ministered, Martha Hughes Cannon also went about doing good as did He."

President Monson's second speech on July 24 was at a luncheon sponsored by the Utah Pioneer Sesquicentennial Celebration Coordinating Council. At the luncheon, a painting was unveiled in honor of the 150th anniversary of Utah's pioneer settlement, which will be commemorated in 1997. The painting is a montage of water colors by Alma Laurie Whitehead of Friendswood, Texas.

President Monson commented on the pioneering spirit, saying, "The mark of a pioneer is one who plows on. It isn't so much whether we begin the journey but whether we persevere. My heart goes out to those who started out full of hope and with a lot of courage but, through no fault of their own, never made it to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake."

He spoke of having visited Winter Quarters in Nebraska a couple of weeks earlier and there walking through the memorial cemetery where are buried many pioneer Saints who did not survive the journey. "There is a beautiful sculpture by Avard Fairbanks of a mother and father by an open grave, shovel in hand, to bury a little child. They were pioneers, those children. They just didn't have an opportunity to complete their journey, their new home to establish in the valleys of the mountains."

He spoke of a large shaft that marks the grave of Martin Harris in a cemetery near Logan, Utah. Shortly after the marker was erected, many people went to see it, but, President Monson noted, there was a grave nearby that drew his attention. On the marker was a verse: "A light from our household is gone. A voice we knew is stilled. A place is vacant in our hearts, that never can be filled."

"And so it is as we think back on those who have given so much and oft times gained so little that we might enjoy the bounties of life in this day and age," President Monson said.

He acknowledged four of Utah's modern-day "Pioneers of Promise" who were honored at the luncheon:

  • J.D. Mortensen, a cardiovascular surgeon and co-founder of CardioPulmonics Inc., who is the primary inventor of the IntraVascular Oxegnator, which may eliminate the need to place patients in respiratory failure on ventilators.
  • Willam F. Christensen, founder of Ballet West and the San Francisco Ballet, the oldest ballet company in the United States.
  • Wayne A. Border, professor and chief of the Division of Nephrology at the University of Utah School of Medicine who, with his wife, researcher Nancy Noble, has identified a protein that might be highly effective in preventing the progression of kidney disease.
  • Philo T. Farnsworth, who was given a posthumous award for an invention that "changed the world." Brother Farnsworth, who died March 11, 1971, was known as "the father of television."

President Monson also expressed commendation to two other modern-day pioneers, who have contributed through the years in helping to make the Days of '47 the outstanding success it is: F.R. (Flip) Harmon, president, and Eugene Jelesnik, first vice president.

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