By the time Tom Monson entered the University of Utah at age 17, the Big Band era was in full swing and many social activities for young people included dancing. He remembers one activity in particular, the university's "Hello Day" dance.
He has good reason to remember it: It was at that social that Frances Johnson, quite literally, danced into his life.
He was dancing with a girl from his high school, West High, when he saw Frances, who was from East High School, dance by with a young man from her school. To this day, he remembers the name of the song that was playing: "Kentucky."
He doesn't describe it as "love at first sight," but he knew that he wanted to meet that young woman. "She was — and still is — beautiful," said President Thomas S. Monson during an interview with the Church News as he talked about their upcoming 60th wedding anniversary, which will be Oct. 7.
After the "Hello Day" dance, it took nearly a month for Tom Monson to actually meet fellow University of Utah freshman Frances Johnson. At a streetcar stop near the university, he saw her waiting with another young woman and a young man. Ever outgoing in personality, he greeted the young man, whom he had known in grade school, and, thereby, orchestrated an introduction to the young women. The four of them rode downtown together on the streetcar. As soon as he could, Tom looked Frances up in his university student directory. Wasting no time, he called her that evening.
Asked at what point he knew he wanted to marry Frances, President Monson said, "I don't believe that young men, when they're 17 and freshmen at the university, are thinking exactly about marriage. At that time, World War II was raging and all of us young men knew we had to go into the service sometime. In the Salt Lake school system, both Frances and I graduated from high school when we were 16. I turned 17 in August, she in October. We entered the University of Utah at that age as freshmen. The dating patterns then were not who you were going to marry, but who you were going to take to the prom, or to some other social event.
"We dated differently in those days. I dated different girls, she different boys. It was not a go-steady thing right off the bat, but I sure thought the world of her."
For Tom Monson, the insecurity that many young men have upon meeting a girlfriend's parents vanished as soon as Franz Johnson learned the identity of the young man calling on his daughter.
"Her parents were Swedish," President Monson said, "and they wanted their children to marry someone who was Swedish. When Frances' father met me, he said, 'Monson is a Swedish name, isn't it?' I told him that it was. He left the room and soon returned with a photograph of two missionaries and asked if I was related to the Elder Monson in the picture. I looked at it and said that it was my great-uncle, Elias Monson.
"Brother Johnson wept and said that Elias Monson was one of the missionaries who helped bring the gospel to his mother and father and the rest of the family in Sweden. He embraced me. Then Frances' mother hugged me. I turned and looked at Frances. She said, 'I'll get my coat."'
So began the courtship of Tom Monson and Frances Johnson, a courtship that was interrupted by a world war.
Knowing that he would have to serve in the military, he opted to enlist in the U.S. Naval Reserve, which proved to be one of the best decisions of his life for when the war ended he had to serve only a few months longer. Had he enlisted in the regular navy, he said, he would have been obligated to serve several more years.
When he enlisted, he had a serious talk with Frances. "We were going pretty steady at that time," he said. "I told her, 'I think I will come back, but there is no guarantee when there is a war going on.' I magnanimously said, "It wouldn't be fair for you to just sit at home. You should date while I'm away."'
President Monson laughed, and then told the Church News, "That was the stupidest thing I ever said in my life! She took me at my word and dated other young men, but we corresponded regularly." (He has kept her letters in a small treasure chest that he made when he was a young boy.)
At the end of basic training, he was given a 10-day leave. He just showed up without telling anyone he was coming home.
"The first thing I did that Friday afternoon when I got to Salt Lake City was to call Frances. I said, 'Surprise, I'm home! Let's go out tonight.' She said, 'I have a date.' I said, 'Break it.' From my standpoint, breaking the date was as logical as could be. I'd been away 12 weeks, but she wouldn't break that date. She had written, saying how much she missed me, but I came home and discovered she missed me not quite enough to break a date with someone else."
Perhaps her refusal to break her date with someone else was a sign of her strength of character: she was a young woman who kept her word.
During the remainder of his leave, he and Frances dated, and he had dinner at her home. He returned to San Diego. After several months, he was granted another leave and he returned home. This time, he knew where his heart was, and he had another talk with Frances. "I rescinded my suggestion that she date other young men," he said.
After he was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1946, he re-enrolled at the University of Utah. He proposed to Frances in the spring of 1947.
He graduated with honors from the university. He had worked part-time since the age of 15, starting in a printing business with his father and, during his college years, worked part-time for the Deseret News. Upon graduation in May 1948, he received three promising job offers, but each would take him away from Salt Lake City, where he wanted to make his home. When he began working as the assistant classified advertising manager at the Deseret News, he felt he had a secure job and was then able to support himself and a wife. He and Frances were married in the Salt Lake Temple Oct. 7, 1948.
President and Sister Monson have been devoted to each other all through the years. Their six decades together have gone by quickly and deepened their love for one another.
He described Sister Monson as being somewhat shy. Asked to describe her as the young woman he dated, he said, "She seemed like she enjoyed life. She laughed readily. We had a great time dating. She had many friends.
"She has been supportive from the day we married. She knew I put a lot of stock in that word 'duty.' I'm very mindful of responsibility. She knew that. She has never complained."
He spoke of her support of him during his years of Church service. He was called at age 22 as bishop of a ward with more than 1,000 members, about 84 of whom were widows. When he was 27, he was called as a counselor in the Temple View Stake presidency. At age 31, he was called to preside over the Canadian Mission, and at age 36 he was called to serve as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
"The first year I was in the Twelve I was away from home about half the time; I was traveling all over the world," he said.
"Frances does not crave the limelight. She's much quieter than I am. While I'm talking in a social setting, she's quiet. She'll join in the conversation a bit but not lead out. When she talks, she has something to say."
Asked to reflect on their 60 years of marriage, President Monson said, "I was from the old school; I thought you had to get your degree and get a job, and then you could get married. The GI Bill would have paid for my education, and I had a part-time job, but that was just the way I thought. My brother got married while he was in the service and his wife became a teacher and a nurse. It works out either way. If I had it to do over again, I would have married sooner."
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