Mentors taught her life's lessons

In 1988, when her mother died, Bonnie Parkin did what most daughters do upon the death of a parent. She grieved. And she began sorting her mother's things. Among old letters and papers, she found "all these sweet notes from people."

New Relief Society general President Bonnie Parkin and her husband, James Parkin pose outside the Church Office Building may 8, 2002. Photo by Tom Smart (Submission date: 05/08/2002)
New Relief Society general President Bonnie Parkin and her husband, James Parkin pose outside the Church Office Building may 8, 2002. Photo by Tom Smart (Submission date: 05/08/2002) Photo: DESERET NEWS

"They talked about how she blessed their lives — her happiness and her encouragement to them," Sister Parkin recalled of her mother, who was a visiting teacher for 50 years. "I don't think I really realized the impact she had on people's lives until after she died.

"It was just another witness of my mother's love for women," Sister Parkin said. "I think Relief Society should be about love. I think if people feel loved and if they feel they belong, they'll come [to Relief Society]. That's really the bottom line. You should walk out of there feeling good about yourself and feeling good that the Lord loves you and that you're His daughter and that He knows you and He cares about you. That's the doctrine that's taught in Relief Society."

And that's the doctrine Sister Parkin hopes to emphasize during her tenure as Relief Society general president, the office to which she was sustained April 6 during general conference.

During an interview in her office in the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City, Sister Parkin spoke, sometimes tearfully, of her gratitude to the women who have been her mentors — her mother, Ruth Butikofer Dansie; her grandmother, Agnes Kunz Dansie; and others with whom she has served throughout her life, including as the wife of a mission president and as a counselor in the Young Women general presidency. (Please see box on this page; also see profile in Nov. 26, 1994, Church News when Sister Parkin was called as second counselor in Young Women general presidency.)

"My grandmother was a farmer's wife," Sister Parkin said, recalling visiting her paternal grandparents' farm as a young girl growing up in Herriman, Utah. (Her maternal grandmother died when Sister Parkin's mother was a child.) "She raised chickens. She would gather her eggs and then case the eggs — get them clean with a little sandpaper, then put them in these big cartons. I remember going to my grandmother's and helping her case the eggs. She talked about Relief Society and she talked about good women."

Agnes Dansie also talked about the importance of education and saw selling her eggs as a means to help educate her children, Sister Parkin said. That belief in education carried over to her grandchildren. When Sister Parkin was attending Utah State University, she frequently received encouraging letters from Grandmother Dansie, with a dollar tucked inside.

"She just felt that dollar might help you. She was so proud you were at school. She didn't have a lot of dollars, and you knew she had made a sacrifice."

Sister Parkin has never forgotten those lessons learned while cleaning eggs with her grandmother. And she applied them as she graduated from Utah State University in elementary education and early childhood development and then married James L. Parkin in 1963 in the Salt Lake Temple. They have four children and 14 grandchildren. "He is a good man," she said of her husband. "He has been such an example for our sons. He is a man of integrity."

Together, Brother and Sister Parkin have supported each other in various Church callings, including when she was called to the Young Women general presidency in October 1994, and when he, an otolaryngologist and former chief of surgery at University Hospital in Salt Lake City, was called in 1997 to preside over the England London South Mission.

It was in England that Sister Parkin learned the value of listening — both spiritually and physically. Just 11 days after their arrival, she became dizzy and ill during a zone conference. "Jim, I can't hear out of this ear at all," she whispered to her husband on the stand.

Sister Parkin soon recovered from her sudden illness, but never regained the hearing in her right ear. "What's happened to me," she said, "is I have some new insight and understanding for people who have disabilities. I think I'm more patient. I think I'm a bit kinder than I probably was before."

Whatever the challenge, Sister Parkin credited the kindness of the British Latter-day Saints with helping her adjust to the life of a mission president's wife. She remembers visiting teachers who simply asked what she needed. One in particular, when learning President and Sister Parkin were expecting children visiting from the United States, showed up with a load of toys for the grandchildren.

Other sisters taught her by example, she said, recalling one woman who had just joined the Church. "She wrote to me [that she'd] been called to be a visiting teacher, and she was so excited because she had someone she could serve. She had something to do."

Then there was the senior missionary couple, Sister Parkin continued, who baked a birthday cake for an elderly sister who had never had a birthday cake before in her life. "They sang 'Happy Birthday' to her. She sat there and wept. She was just overcome by their goodness, their love of the Lord, and that, therefore, they loved her."

For Sister Parkin, the list of women who have been mentors seems endless — her counselors in the new Relief Society general presidency, those she worked with and met during her service in the Young Women general presidency.

But today, as she embarks on her service as the new Relief Society general president, she speaks tenderly of the four million nine hundred thousand women in Relief Society throughout the world.

"Wouldn't it be great if I could meet with every one of them," she said, her voice cracking with emotion, "and tell them how much I love them and appreciate their service to the women they serve and their service to the Lord. That's not going to be possible, but I hope in some way what I say and do will just reach to them and make them want to reach a little higher and give a little more."

Much like her grandmother and mother did.

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