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Octogenarian still serving tirelessly

Just try to keep up with Wanda Mortimer when she's delivering mail in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The petite, lithe family history missionary has two plaques for placing third and fourth in her age group in a three-mile race. She has a badminton set on her wall in her small apartment — a race prize.

She's 87 years old.

Sister Mortimer, who attends the Salt Lake 2nd Branch, Salt Lake Stake, said serving at the Family History Library has "kept me active. I have a schedule to follow and that keeps me going. And I like that."

However, it's hard to imagine anything slowing her down. Before she began her mission in the library in March 2001, she was planting her flowers, weeding her garden and climbing ladders to her fruit trees in Rigby, Idaho, where she is a member of the Labelle 3rd Ward, Rigby Idaho East Stake. She was supposed to go home in March 2002; most everyone she began her mission with has come and gone. But three mission extensions moved her release date to May 2003.

"I'm glad. I'm enjoying it," she said during a break in her daily work. "There's no other place to be — among all these happy people, greeting you and loving you. I get so many hugs."

Not that she's lacked hugs in her life. She has 11 children, 70 grandchildren and 72 great-grandchildren with "six on the way," she emphasized with a grin. She and her husband, Don Mortimer, whom she married Feb. 19, 1941 in the Salt Lake Temple (he died in 1988), reared their family on a dairy farm outside Rigby in southeastern Idaho. The farm is still in the family, run today by son, Dale. Her children are Renee (Karl) Stucki, Larry (Orkell), Wayne (Alice), Donna Jean (Bob) Humphreys, Lyle (Sheila), Dean (Judy), Elaine (Nathan) Ricks, Doyle (Kitty), Dale (Doris), Gary (Kathy) and Lynn (Carol).

All 11 are supporting Sister Mortimer financially, emotionally and spiritually as a missionary. "I didn't have to ask for their help. They just offered," she said.

More than a year and a half ago, Sister Mortimer had just been released as ward Relief Society music leader; before that she served 10 years as a Primary teacher. She related how a friend put an arm around her and told her she could relax.

That didn't last long. Soon the mission president at the Family and Church History Mission wrote her, inviting her to submit her papers for a mission. "Some couple recommended me," Sister Mortimer said. "I've never found out who that couple was."

Whoever they are, she is grateful. After receiving her mission call, she packed her bags and headed to Salt Lake City, where she first worked in the public affairs division of the Family and Church History Mission. Today, she mails packets to patrons who send family history queries. She frequently attends the temple, doing two sessions a day — and she enjoys her friends at the library. She misses other friends who have gone home. She keeps in touch with some by e-mail, such as Sister Enid Scholes from England.

"We just hit it off that first day," she said. "She offered me a ride to my apartment. We even played Chinese Checkers. I taught her how."

Sister Mortimer also talks warmly of her friendship with a neighbor in her apartment building who recently was diagnosed with cancer. "I put her hair up every Saturday," Sister Mortimer said.

Her active lifestyle has translated into more than just missionary service. In the past two years, she has joined grandchildren living in Springville, Utah, for a three-mile "fun-run for families," in which she placed third and fourth, respectively, in the 70-and-over age group. She grins mischievously in pointing out all the other age-group categories were separated by five years. "Mine was 17 years."

Race organizers told her they didn't think they'd have anyone in an 80-and-over group. They didn't know Wanda Mortimer.

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