COLUMBUS, Ohio In an area where state and local officials promote the sanctity of the family as the solution to social ills, the Columbus Ohio Temple was warmly and enthusiastically received by civic and business dignitaries during the first several days of its open house.
The doors of the temple were opened for two days for VIP tours on Aug. 19-20, and then for six days for general public tours Aug. 21, 24-28.
"We are very pleased with the early attendance," said Elder Keith L. Smith, Area Authority Seventy, noting that visitors during the VIP tours included more than 300 civic, business and education leaders in the state, including Ohio Gov. Robert Taft and his wife, Hope; Columbus Mayor Gregory S. Lashutka and his wife, Catherine; president of the state Senate; the provost and other officials and dignitaries of Ohio State University; and key national and international business leaders.
"The dignitaries were very complimentary and pleased with what we had to say," continued Elder Smith. He then noted two incidents that were particularly gratifying during the VIP tours.
He said Gov. Taft, who shares common ancestry with President Ezra Taft Benson, was presented a porcelain statue following his tour, conducted by Elder Loren C. Dunn of the Seventy. The statue depicted a mother helping a young daughter walk toward her father.
"When the governor's wife who is the mother of one daughter saw the statue, she immediately took it from the governor's grasp and said, with tears in her eyes, 'This is our family.' " The First Lady, explained Elder Smith, is active in emphasizing family and children values in a statewide family initiative.
On another occasion, Mayor Lashutka greeted the temple committee "like old friends," Elder Smith said. Mayor Lashutka had been instrumental in the construction of the temple by assisting in the permit process and helping the Church establish friendships with the city. He is also an ardent supporter of family values.
"The VIP tours clearly exceeded my expectations," said Dimon R. McFerson, a member of the Columbus Ohio North Stake and president and chief executive officer of Nationwide Insurance Enterprises. "People were genuinely touched to have the truths of the temple explained to them."
Nearly 7,000 people, which included a mix of members and non-members, toured the temple on the first day of the general open house. Some attended from as far away as Pennsylvania and Indiana.
"The comments were positive," said Kurt D. Southam, president of the Columbus Ohio East Stake, who conducted a group tour of funeral directors and then answered questions for nearly an hour after. "They were grateful to be educated and found us willing and open to talk about the practices of our religion."
Interest in the temple, explained Elder Smith, has been largely generated by members of the Church inviting friends and neighbors. Youth in the Church took fliers to homeowners living near the temple and extended a personal invitation to attend.
"We have been pleasantly surprised by the media attention," he continued. Feature coverage of the temple was aired by the three major television stations during the first few days of the open house. A two-page spread detailing Church history and the significance of temples was published in the city's major daily newspaper. All other suburban and weekly newspapers have also published articles explaining the temple.
The Columbus Ohio Temple is located near the center of the state in a wooded area on the western side of Columbus near an existing stake center. It is approximately 150 miles south of Kirtland, Ohio, where the first temple of this dispensation was dedicated more than 163 years ago in 1836.
The temple, constructed of white Vermont marble quarried near the birthplace of Joseph Smith in Sharon, Vt., will be dedicated in six sessions beginning Sept. 4.