Battling poverty in the 1930s with a young family to support, Roy W. Oscarson must have wondered how a promise in his patriarchal blessing could possibly be fulfilled, that he would help build one of the stakes of Zion.
But by the time he died on May 10, 1996, he was recognized as one of St. Louis' leading citizens and a pioneer in the development of the Church in the area. He had been a branch president, district president, stake president, regional representative, mission president, and stake patriarch. He had left behind a posterity that today includes two former mission presidents and a member of the presidency of the new St. Louis Temple.At the temple dedication last June, President Gordon B. Hinckley and several General Authorities expressed to Brother Oscarson's 88-year-old widow, Vera, how deeply they wished her husband could have lived to see this milestone.
The Oscarson family illustrates the influence one's example of righteousness can have upon children and children's children.
Among their progenitors through Vera's direct line is Joseph Knight Sr., to whom Section 12 of the Doctrine and Covenants is directed. According to the heading of that section, Brother Knight believed the declarations of Joseph Smith concerning the Book of Mormon plates. And his material assistance enabled the Prophet to continue the translation of that sacred record.
Born in Pleasant Grove, Utah, in 1909, Roy Oscarson learned to work hard on the family fruit farm. A business venture with a partner failed, leaving him to pay off a heavy debt.
"Mother and Dad were very poor," recounted daughter-in-law Linda Lochhead Oscarson, whose husband G. Richard Oscarson today presides over the St. Louis Missouri Stake. Vera was compelled to visit pediatricians' offices seeking free samples of formula too support baby Don, the eldest child.
"Dad applied for a job at the Baker's Shoe Store in Salt Lake. He was told there was a new store being opened in Seattle and he could have a shoe salesman's job there."
Hitchhiking, with $5 of his mother-in-law's money pinned to his underwear "lest he fall among thieves," he traveled to the Washington city.
Moving through the ranks - salesman, assistant manager, regional manager - Roy moved his family more than 25 times, ending up in San Francisco, Calif. There one Sunday morning in 1943, he received a telephone call from Irving Edison, one of the five Edison brothers who had begun a successful retail business in St. Louis. Would Roy like to be the company's new general sales manager?
Roy came in August to look things over.
"It was hot as only St. Louis can be in the summer," Linda recounted. "He attended Church at St. Louis' only LDS branch, a small building on Maple Avenue that had been purchased by Elder Spencer W. Kimball, who served there as a missionary years earlier. There, a handful of Saints were struggling to keep the Church going. It was an older neighborhood. He thought,
How can I bring my family to this place?' A short man with graying hair invited him home for dinner. It was my Scottish grandpa, Angus Lochhead Sr. He said to himself,If there are people like this in the St. Louis Branch, I can bring my family here.' "
With Edison Bros., Roy rose to the position of senior executive vice president and board member before his retirement in 1974.
In the Church, Roy became president of the St. Louis Branch, with Brother Lochhead as a counselor. The membership grew, and when Elders Harold B. Lee and Mark E. Petersen organized the St. Louis Stake on June 1, 1958, Roy W. Oscarson was called as president.
Meanwhile, Roy's and Vera's efforts to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord were bringing favorable results. Richard's and Linda's was the first temple marriage in the newly formed stake.
While serving in the St. Louis stake presidency, eldest son Don created, wrote and produced the "City of Joseph" pageant in Nauvoo, Ill., a half-day's drive from St. Louis. Presented annually since 1976, the pageant has been witnessed by thousands and has been the means by which hundreds were introduced to the Church.
Released in 1992 as president of the Milwaukee Wisconsin Stake, he then served as a regional representative and was called last year to be first counselor in the presidency of the new St. Louis Temple.
Daughter Bonnie worked tirelessly in Relief Society.
Richard and a younger brother, Paul, were something of a dynamic duo in missionary work. While Richard was bishop of the St. Louis Ward and Paul was ward mission leader, the ward enjoyed a successful year with 19 convert baptisms in one three-month period alone.
Then, in 1975, Richard was called as president of the Sweden Stockholm Mission. It was a momentous time just after the creation of the country's first stake, in Stockholm on April 20, 1975, and not long before the Goteborg stake was created on Nov. 20, 1977.
When the mission was divided on July 26, 1976, Paul, only 30 at the time, became president of the new Sweden Goteborg Mission. (The two missions were reconsolidated in 1982 as the Sweden Stockholm Mission.)
While his sons were still serving as mission presidents, Roy himself was called to preside over a new mission beginning Nov. 1, 1976, headquartered in Glasgow Scotland. That was the birthplace of Angus Lochhead Sr., the man whose influence had persuaded him to bring his family to St. Louis 33 years earlier.
Linda Oscarson fondly recalls the occasion in 1976, when Roy went to Sweden for the mission division and to see his newest granddaughter, Richard's and Linda's newborn daughter Kristina. The elder Oscarson was called upon to speak at a Church meeting in Goteborg. Speaking in Swedish he talked of his own mission to that country. He also told of his father, emigrant Gustaf Emil Oscarson, who had returned to his homeland of Sweden as a missionary and there converted his own mother and brother.
So dear to Roy was his Swedish heritage, he was appointed honorary consul for Sweden for the state of Missouri and was knighted by the King of Sweden.
"Upwards of 20 members of the extended Gustaf Emil Oscarson family have served missions in Sweden," Linda noted.
Whether in Sweden or St. Louis, the Oscarson family heritage is pervasive, perhaps due more than anything else to a character trait exemplified by the late family and stake patriarch, Roy W. Oscarson. Menlo F. Smith, former chairman of the Sunmark Companies and today, president of the St. Louis Missouri Temple, described it in a Church News "My Most Influential Teacher" article of Aug. 12, 1978: "[His] effectiveness as a teacher is not so much the result of urging desirable qualities upon others as it is seeking to attain those qualities in his own life and, then, by example, inspiring others."