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Father's vision sustains posterity 100 years later

As the 19th century ended and the 20th century began, Ezra Thompson Clark, a bewhiskered and successful Farmington, Utah, businessman and missionary, pondered the future and wondered what would become of his posterity.

Russell B. Clark, 100, holds Samantha Black, nine months. Three other generations are represented by Beverly Johnson, Pam Fillmore and Alison Black.
Russell B. Clark, 100, holds Samantha Black, nine months. Three other generations are represented by Beverly Johnson, Pam Fillmore and Alison Black. Photo: Photo courtesy Beverly Johnson

He knew that while he was alive, the family would be united and be fed spiritually. He could personally see to that. But what would happen after he was gone and his descendants multiplied and grew distant from one another?

He decided to leave them the gift of a family association.

Today, a century later, his Ezra Thompson Clark family association remains intact among his estimated 10,000 descendants. The Clark family association, one of many family organizations in the Church, sponsors family history work and promotes family unity and family values, said Carol L. Clark, president. Over the years it has published two volumes of family ancestors and descendants and provided a lot of genealogical information.

"Ezra Thompson Clark was a practical man," said Sister Clark, manager of instructional development for the Family and Church History Department. "As a result, he set up not only a family organization based on correct principles, but he also provided money in his will so he gave the organization something to stand on."

Successful organization

On its centennial, this organization provides a successful model other families might want to emulate, she said.

When the Clark family gathers June 9 at 9:30 a.m. in Farmington, Utah, near its ancestral homes, for its 100th anniversary reunion, the gathering will follow a similar format. One of the Clark ancestors was a child in the first Primary so the family association meeting will begin in the rock chapel where the Primary organization was founded. Great-great-grandpa Ezra's testimony will be read aloud, as it has been for the past century.

Reading their forebear's testimony "has really made a huge difference in keeping the continuity of the family," said Sister Clark. "The first bond formed at the family reunion is the bond of testimony."

Ezra Clark's testimony begins: 'I bear testimony and wish it written so that my children and my children's children may know. . . .' "

His experiences with the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Ill., are recounted, where "I had heard him prophesy many times. . . . I knew him to be a prophet of God."

A guest family historian lecturer will speak. Family members will pay tribute to those who have gone on in death. Stories of family members will be told.

"We keep it pretty lively," she said. "We get a lot of comments from the youth like 'Really? I didn't know that.' "

Generally, however, the reunions for youth are like water dripping on stone — eventually it makes a difference, she said. "There are certain things they love, and certain things they are not quite willing to take part in. But the fact that they are exposed to these things is important."

Emphasize family values

People will look at displays of family heirlooms. The children will play games. Families will tour Clark family homes. They will have a picnic.

Six generations of Ezra Thompson Clark and descendants.
Six generations of Ezra Thompson Clark and descendants.

In these activities, family values are emphasized, such as the virtues of work. "Ezra Thompson Clark was an astute businessman," said Sister Clark. "He knew how to gather the goods of the world and how to distribute the goods of the world. If you are a Clark, you are industrious and take care of your stewardship. You gain an education and you contribute to the community."

Ezra Clark also left instructions that the reunion was to be a place of "adjusting any differences that may arise among family members."

His written instructions created an organizational structure, including a president, an executive committee, and a secretary and registrar, who was to keep the family record. He even suggested the way to replace officers and a schedule for family reunions.

His testimony, besides expressing his personal faith, outlines how family members should cultivate personal testimony, treat one another charitably, conduct their affairs honorably and teach their children faithfully. He often contributed to the Perpetual Emigration Fund and donated substantial amounts of wheat to the Iron Mission in southern Utah.

"The fruits of 100 years of family history and gatherings are evident in my own family," said Sister Clark. "As a child I attended family reunions because my grandfather, Edward F. Clark, loved family history and wanted his posterity involved. His zeal was undoubtedly a legacy from his own father, Edward B. Clark, who had served on the first family association executive committee.

"As a young adult, I helped my dad, Norman W. Clark, to organize meetings and conduct oral histories during his term as family association president.

"Now I serve as president, enjoying dozens of cousins and teaching the next generation of their legacy."

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