In the geographic middle of a triangle formed by lines from Indianapolis to Cincinnati to Louisville is the quaint riverfront town of Madison, Ind. Since commerce and transportation between the trio of major metropolitan areas can be done without going anywhere near the smaller Indiana town, Madison is rather out of the way, or as Madison Ward elders quorum president Lance Kaczorowski puts it, "Anyone who finds themselves in Madison is either seriously lost or has a good reason to be here."
The ward meetinghouse is located in this city which has a historic old town nestled in a cove on the banks of the Ohio River and a more modern residential and commercial community on the hills behind. But ward members live in a sprawling area covering a big chunk of the Ohio River Valley between Cincinnati and Louisville Jefferson and Switzerland counties in Indiana, and Trimball and Carroll counties in Kentucky. The members experience a geographic isolation similar to what the community that gives the ward its name does in general.
But as the community prospers in that environment by offering a safe and secure, quiet and pleasantly rural place to live, so the ward in the New Albany Indiana Stake benefits from a unity and love fostered by the gospel's teachings of unity and sacrifice.
For example, area natives and longtime Church members Charles and Liz Facemire, who already had to travel 25 miles each way from their home outside Bennington, Ind., to attend Church in Madison, gladly added 10 miles to the round-trip so they could give a ride to recent convert Trista Nevins who was not yet old enough to drive.
Trista met the missionaries while she was out running in her hometown of Vevay, Ind., and gave them a self-referral. Later that night she was surprised when the missionaries showed up, calling on an appointment they had already made with her older sister, who was home with their mother. Trista said she had many more questions for the missionaries than they had for her, but after praying about what they were teaching, she gained a testimony and after two weeks was baptized. She is the only member of the Church in her high school.
The Facemires' willingness to help Trista is indicative of their giving nature. They are loved and respected by ward members.
"Charles is right there, willing to do anything," Madison Ward Bishop James Graves said. He credited Brother Facemire, a former bishop in the ward, and his wife for the devout commitment to temple work in the ward. The Facemires headed up an effort to help adults in the ward become temple worthy and make regular trips to the St. Louis Missouri Temple, a five-to-six-hour drive. Bishop Graves said the success of the effort has been manifest afterward by the high percentage of members with temple recommends and their consistent and frequent willingness to go to the temple.
The temple efforts have been blessed in a marvelous way, Bishop Graves said, with the recent dedication of the Louisville Kentucky Temple. It is about a one-hour drive for most Madison Ward members. To take advantage of that blessing, the ward is increasing its efforts in family history so members can do ordinance work for their own family names. It is also working to qualify as many members as possible to be temple workers, beginning with the Facemires and Phil and Cathy Pearson who were workers in the St. Louis temple.
One source of the ward's strength is the origin of its members and the way they intertwine. Some have lived in the area all their lives, some have moved away and come back and others are fresh move-ins.
Lyle Stockdale was born and raised in Madison, welcoming the missionaries into his home in 1972. In November of that year, "with snow spitting from the sky," he remembers, he and his wife, Ginger, were baptized in an outdoor swimming pool, owned by Ruth Auxier, who was not a member. Brother Stockdale went on to serve as bishop in the ward for six years. Sister Auxier later joined the Church, and she and her sister, Becky Andrus, are now temple workers.
Another member native to Madison is Ron Wehner, who has worked for the local newspaper for years. He joined the Church in 1984 when he was 30. Californian Linda Washburn graduated from BYU and went to the University of Louisville for dental school. A returned missionary, she was enthusiastic upon her arrival about finding the Church and getting involved.
She accepted the call to work on a committee organizing a regional single adults conference. When the chairman, Brother Wehner, met the new member of his committee, he was grinning from ear to ear, witnesses of the event remember. Before the conference convened, the two were married in the Provo Utah Temple and now strengthen the ward with a family of five. Sister Wehner has her own part-time dental practice in Madison.
Brother Pearson was born in Madison, but moved as a young adult to Boise, Idaho, where he served as a meetinghouse librarian for years. When he and his first wife, Janess, returned to the Madison Ward, he was called to serve as a counselor to Bishop Facemire. After his wife died, he married Cathy Fultz, and they continue faithful service whenever and wherever called.
In a way, a lot of ward bonding comes through the teeth. Sister Wehner employs Sister Pearson and Celestra Hoffman, another ward member, in her dental office, and Brother Pearson makes dentures.
The Facemires have been boomerang members of the ward, moving away and coming back four times. Bishop Graves was born in Trimball County, but his family moved to Cincinnati when he was a baby. He and his future wife, Sharon, grew up, married and joined the Church there. But they both had grandparents in Trimball County and loved the area. Finally, they made it a matter of prayer that they could move there and their prayers were answered.
"It's a wonderful place," Bishop Graves said. "We are a very close ward; there is a lot of love. When new people move in, they are always welcome."
Greg Hill's e-mail: [email protected]