OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. Bill Bonebreak quietly wandered around the memorial to the victims of what has been called the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. On a gently sloping hill are more than 160 chairs rooted in the ground where once stood the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. The chairs represent the victims the smaller ones are for the children. Nearly six years ago, on April 19, 1995, a bomb ripped off the front of the building.
Today, two large granite memorial walls rest where was once the parking lot of the building. One wall has the figures, "9:01," engraved on it. The other, "9:03." In the middle is a large reflecting pool, representing 9:02 a.m. on that fateful morning. Brother Bonebreak, at the time a member of the Midwest City 2nd Ward, Oklahoma City Oklahoma South Stake, said the pool symbolizes a "loss of innocence."
He should know. He was there.
A recruiting officer for the U.S. Army, Brother Bonebreak was in the federal building on the fourth floor that morning. As the bomb exploded, he dove under his desk. The building fell away where he had been sitting. He survived and helped rescue others from the devastated structure. He is now stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky, but on a return visit to the memorial, he said Oklahoma is home. He and his wife, Yvonne, are planning to come back.
"I'm sad. I like it here. I'll be back in three years," he said, when he completes his army duty in Kentucky.
"It's a marvelous place," he continued, speaking of Oklahoma City. "People who live in Oklahoma City know beyond a shadow of a doubt the kind of a community they live in. We have been tested in the fire and we have not been found wanting."
That people here including members of the Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City South stakes, as well as members in the nearby Lawton and Norman Oklahoma stakes have been tested by fire and affliction cannot be argued. The bombing took the life of one Church member, a young husband and father who had just moved his family here from Phoenix, Ariz. Then, in May 1999, a massive tornado an F6 category with winds exceeding 300 miles per hour, plowed through south Oklahoma City, killing 41, including one Church member and his wife. Amidst the devastation were the ruins of 18 LDS homes among hundreds of others. (Please see May 15, 1999, and April 29, 1995, issues of Church News for articles on the tornado and bombing.)
Whether it be tragedy or triumph the latter being the dedication of the Oklahoma City Oklahoma Temple July 30, 2000 Oklahomans, indeed, have not been found wanting in charity and service. Speaking of LDS reaction to community needs, Donald Gilbert Sr., recently released bishop of the Oklahoma City 3rd Ward, Oklahoma City Oklahoma Stake, told how the tornado ripped through town during the night. The next morning, his wife, Lois, said, "We need to do something."
The Gilberts turned on their TV. News reports said victims and rescuers at command posts needed food. "[Lois] said, 'There, we can do that.' I said, 'Let's call around to a few families and see if they'll help. We had about six or seven bags full of sandwiches and potato chips and everything within almost an hour. It was that type of response from our ward."
It's that type of response that seems second nature to members here whether the need pertains to Church service or community service. Bishop Gilbert recalled with fondness his year, from 1974 to 1975, serving as president of the Anadarko (Lamanite) Branch, some 70 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. "That was one of the most interesting and gratifying times of my Church life, working with those Lamanite people. It was just really a great period of time."
For years, members in Anadarko ran a cultural center where they shared their American Indian customs and language with visitors. The center is closed today, but Margaret Ellis Farrow, a member of the Delaware tribe, still teaches her language to young people and others in Anadarko. She and her cousin, Marvine Watkins, want the young people to remember their ancestors and how the gospel came to Anadarko. The families of Sister Watkins and Sister Farrow were among the first to be baptized. (The Anadarko Branch was created in 1946.)
The Larry and Christine Michaelsen family of the Norman 1st Ward, Norman Oklahoma Stake, also found a way to share culture. They moved to Oklahoma when the first of their eight children were still very young. Brother and Sister Michaelsen quickly saw the need for Church pianists, prompting the beginning of a family musical legacy. This legacy has also fostered musical careers. Twenty-three-year-old Stephanie plays the violin and is majoring in music at the University of Oklahoma. Speaking of her parents, she said: "They wanted us wherever we went to be able to help out by playing the piano. It came in handy on my mission [to Argentina]."
The Michaelsen family has also cleaned shopping center parking lots for 23 years to raise money for missions, college tuition and music lessons. The only time a family member was excused from the 6 a.m. "parking lot crew" was to attend early morning seminary.
Picking up brooms and garbage bags is not unique to the Michaelsens, however. For 19 years, beginning in 1970, members of the Norman Ward and later members of the whole stake earned money for Church funds by cleaning the stadium of the University of Oklahoma each fall after home football games. "It did a great deal [to change perception of Church members]," said Leroy Land of the Norman Ward. "As a matter of fact, the university published two of its programs for the ball games with centerspreads in it about the cleaning of the stadium by members of the Church."
Of course, with the active part members here play in the community, good publicity is no longer unusual. After the tornado in 1999, a local radio station expressed special thanks to two organizations for extraordinary service the Mormons and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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