Church members sustained 11 new General Authority Seventies during the Saturday afternoon session of the Church’s 186th Annual General Conference on April 2.
Called as new General Authority Seventies were: Elder W. Mark Bassett, Elder Mark A. Bragg, Elder Weatherford T. Clayton, Elder Valeri V. Cordón, Elder Joaquin E. Costa, Elder Massimo De Feo, Elder Peter F. Meurs, Elder K. Brett Nattress, Elder S. Mark Palmer, Elder Gary B. Sabin and Elder Evan A. Schmutz.
Following are brief biographies on each of the new General Authority Seventies:
Elder W. Mark Bassett
Every summer as a little boy, W. Mark Bassett would travel with his family from their home in the Sacramento, California, area to visit his maternal grandmother in Alabama. Among their days traveling there, the family would regularly make a point to visit Church’s historic sites.
Whether it was visiting the historic grounds of Nauvoo, Illinois, or walking through the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York, Elder Bassett remembers the powerful feelings he had — even as a young boy — as he visited those sacred places.
“We felt something there,” he said. “That’s how my testimony was formed, through little experiences.”
That testimony gained as a young man has been a source of strength for Elder Bassett throughout his life.
Born in August 14, 1966, to Edwina Acker and William Lynn Bassett, in Carmichael, California, Elder Bassett is the second oldest of five children. Church service and living the gospel were important priorities in their family.
After serving in the Guatemala Guatemala City Mission from 1985-87, Elder Bassett moved to Provo, Utah, to attend Brigham Young University. He married Angela Brasher in the Salt Lake Temple on Dec. 20, 1989. They are the parents of five children and have two grandchildren.
In 1991, Elder Bassett earned a degree in accounting from BYU, and later moved with his family back to the Sacramento area to work in the wholesale auto auction industry. He worked as controller at Brasher’s Sacramento Auto Auction, and as the CFO and co-owner of West Coast Auto Auctions, Inc. — where he operated automobile auctions throughout the western United States.
Elder Bassett has served in many capacities in the Church including Young Men president, bishop, high councilor, stake president, president of the Arizona Mesa Mission from 2007-2010, and Area Seventy. At the time of his call as a General Authority Seventy, he and his family were living in the Granite Bay 1st Ward, California Rocklin Stake.
Elder Mark A. Bragg
When Mark Bragg was 14-years-old, friends from his Little League baseball team introduced his family to the Church. Mark was baptized and his mother, who had been a member of the Church in her youth, was reactivated.
“It changed our lives,” said Elder Bragg, sustained April 2 as a General Authority Seventy.
Mark Allyn Bragg was born April 16, 1962, in Santa Monica, California, to Donald E. and Diane Bragg.
While attending the University of Utah, Elder Bragg was called to serve in the Mexico Monterrey Mission under the direction of mission president Roy H. King and his wife, Darlene O. King.
When Elder Bragg completed his missionary service, he began dating his mission president’s youngest daughter; he married Yvonne King in the Los Angeles California Temple on March 17, 1984.
After the untimely death of Elder Bragg’s father, the couple returned to California to start a career in the banking industry (he completed his career as senior vice president of Bank of America) and to be close to Elder Bragg’s mother.
It would be seven years before children would join the Bragg family. “At times we felt out of place, even in our family,” recalled Elder Bragg.
Then — “on the best day in the world” — Sister Bragg gave birth to the first of four children. “I remember thinking there couldn’t be anyone happier than I was at the moment.”
Life has not always been easy for the family, however. The day after being sustained as a bishop in the ward where he grew up, Elder Bragg’s mother was tragically killed during a car hijacking. Her's was the first funeral over which he would preside as bishop.
Yet the outpouring of support from the same ward that had nurtured Elder Bragg’s testimony as a youth, sustained his family. “The Relief Society was there for our family every day,” he recalled.
Those lessons would guide Elder Bragg through his future service in the Church — as a stake president, Area Seventy and a temple ordinance worker.
Elder Weatherford T. Clayton
Elder Weatherford T. Clayton is extremely grateful for the opportunity to serve. He feels a great love for people and strong ties to his family. The work of the Lord is a priority for him. He was sustained on April 2 as a General Authority Seventy.
Born March 1, 1952, to Whitney Clayton Jr. and Elizabeth Touchstone Clayton, Elder Clayton gained a strong testimony of home teaching in his youth. Because of the efforts of a home teacher, at age 12, he and his family accepted sacred covenants and were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple in 1964 by then-Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“With the gospel of Jesus Christ we can all gather home,” said Elder Clayton. “We have felt the influence of those who have gone before. They are as real as those who are present.”
Thinking about ways the Lord prepared him to serve, Elder Clayton said he was often inspired by the example of others. “I watched how friends and family dedicated their lives to the Lord and found their joy in the service they offered to God,” he said.
After serving in the French Canadian Mission, he enrolled at the University of Utah where he met Lisa Thomas Clayton They were married in the Salt Lake Temple on March 16, 1976. Elder Clayton earned a degree in psychology and completed medical school at the University of Utah. He worked in a private medical practice as an obstetrician-gynecologist from 1985 to 2013 prior to his call to serve full-time as a mission president.
Elder and Sister Clayton are the parents of five children. He served as ward mission leader, gospel doctrine teacher, bishop, high councilor, stake president, family history consultant, Young Men president and youth Sunday School teacher. He was serving as president in the Canada Toronto Mission at the time of his call to the First Quorum of the Seventy.
Elder Valeri V. Cordón
From his mother, who joined the Church at age 16, Elder Valeri Vladimir Cordón Orellana received a foundation in the gospel that served him well when he moved 150 kilometers away from his hometown of Sacapa, Guatemala, to attend high school in Gutatemala City.
Elder Cordón was sustained as a General Authority Seventy at the April 2016 general conference.
“The most important thing I received from my mother was to be very reverent about all the sacred things of the Church,” recalled Edler Cordón, who is a son of Ovidio and Ema Orellana Cordón.
The father would join the Church soon after their marriage. He went away to Chicago in the United States to work and while there was influenced by Church members and received the message from missionaries. The family was sealed in the Mesa Arizona Temple in 1972, when Valeri was 3 years old.
He grew to love the gospel as he heard his mother frequently singing Church hymns and songs, such as “I Am a Child of God” and “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission.”
In fact, he would later serve in the El Salvador Mission from 1987 to 1989. Three of his four siblings would also serve missions (his youngest sister married before she got that opportunity) and, ultimately, his mother would serve a mission in the Guatemala City Temple.
At the time of his call, Elder Cordón was serving in the Fourth Quorum of the Seventy in the Central America Area. He was in the presidency of the Costa Rica San Jose East Mission from 1998 to 2000.
Elder Cordón was born in Guatemala City Feb. 19, 1969, and spent his earlier boyhood in Sacapa. He left home at age 15 to be schooled in computer science and would never return.
His educational interests resulted in his receiving a bachelor’s degree from Mariano Galvez University in Guatemala in 2010 and an MBA degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012.
He would parlay his education into a successful career as an information systems director, first at Glaxo Smith Kline, a pharmaceutical company and, since 2012, at Pepsico Central America Caribbean.
He married Glenda Zelmira Zea Diaz in the Guatemala Guatemala City Temple on March 25, 1995. Having had a fervent testimony since childhood, Sister Cordón had intended to serve a mission herself, but her plans changed when she met Valeri. She later recognized him as having caught her eye when she saw his photo in a Church magazine years earlier.
They have three daughters.
Elder Joaquin E. Costa
A matchmaking friend set Joaquin Esteban Costa on the path that led to his conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ, a temple marriage and leadership in the Church, including his recent call as a General Authority Seventy.
Joaquin Costa and Renee Varela were university students in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when a mutual friend, Alin Spannaus, now an Area Seventy, introduced them. A second-generation Latter-day Saint, Renee hesitated before accepting a date with the 21-year-old young man, who was not a member of the Church. After three dates she decided she “liked him too much” and felt they shouldn’t date anymore. At the end of the school year, he went to Entre Rios, Argentina, where he was born in March 1965, to Eduardo J. Costa and Graciela M. Fassi.
Renee accepted a call and served in the Chile Osorno Mission. After she returned home, Brother Spannaus arranged for the young couple to attend the same party, at which Joaquin asked her for a date. “I prayed and decided to give him a chance,” Sister Costa said. He set out to learn about the Church.
As he studied with missionaries, she asked him to pray and read the Book of Mormon from the beginning to the end. “He didn’t make it to the end before he received a strong testimony,” Sister Costa said. “He didn’t get baptized just to please me. We dated one more year and then married in Buenos Aires Argentina Temple in 1989.”
He received a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1987 from the Universidad de Buenos Aires. As a young couple they moved to Provo, Utah, where he received an MBA in 1994 from Brigham Young University. They and their growing family, which includes four children, lived in Chicago, Illinois, as he worked for a multinational investment banking and financial services corporation. His banking career took his family back to Argentina for a few years and then to the Czech Republic and the Sultanate of Oman in the Middle East. For the past two years, his family has lived in Lima, Peru, where he has been working with a Danish investment firm focused on microfinance.
Elder Massimo De Feo
Shortly before accepting his full-time mission call, Elder Massimo De Feo learned key lessons of sacrifice and love from his father, Vittorio De Feo.
The De Feo family had few financial resources, and neither Vittorio nor his wife, Velia, were Church members. But the elder De Feo respected his son's desire to share the gospel.
“My father asked me, 'Do you really want to do this?'” remembered Elder De Feo. “I said, 'Yes, with all my heart I want to serve the Lord'.”
Vittorio promised to do all he could to help cover the cost of two years of service in the Italy Rome Mission.
“I considered that money to be sacred — it was the fruit of great sacrifice from a man who did not believe in the Church,” said Elder De Feo. “So I served my mission with all my mind, heart and strength because I loved the Lord and I loved my father.”
Gospel principles such as sacrifice, hard work, family and service have helped define Elder De Feo, who was sustained to the First Quorum of the Seventy on April 2.
Born in Taranto, Italy, on Dec. 14, 1960, Massimo De Feo learned of the Church at the age of 9 when two missionaries knocked on the door of his home. Massimo and his older brother, Alberto, were soon baptized.
The De Feo boys enjoyed the love and support of devoted branch leaders as they attended Primary and, later, Mutual. Massimo also made lifelong friends with other youth in the branch — including fellow convert, Loredana Galeandro, whom he would marry after his mission. They were sealed on Aug. 14, 1984 in the Bern Switzerland Temple.
The De Feos have three children. Prior to becoming a General Authority, Elder De Feo lived in Rome and worked for more than 30 years at the U.S. State Department. He has served as a branch president, district president, stake president and an Area Seventy.
Elder Peter F. Meurs
Elder Peter Fletcher Meurs was born on Dec. 21, 1956, in Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia, to Frederik and Lois Jones Meurs.
One of their next-door neighbors operated a “fix anything” shop for farming equipment. Young Peter Meurs spent much of his time with his best friend in the shop building mini-bikes and go-carts, and tinkering with the equipment. His passion for building and creating things soon led him to study mechanical engineering at Monash University in Melbourne.
When he was 18, and pursuing his studies he informed the university he needed a two-year break to serve a mission for his church. He was told that he would be allowed to defer for only one year or lose his place in his program. He decided not to go.
A short time later, he listened to the priesthood session of general conference and heard President Spencer W. Kimball proclaim that every worthy young man should serve a mission.
“It was like he was speaking to me. It just went straight through me,” Elder Meurs recalled. He decided to serve, and one week before he left, he received a letter from the school allowing him to defer the two years.
His mission, he said, ended up being “the best education I’ve had.”
The gospel has taught him that “helping people be successful is the most important leadership principle.” Adhering to that and other gospel truths has helped him throughout his career, he said.
After completing his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Elder Meurs worked as project engineer for ESSO Australia and was a founding partner of WorleyParsons Limited. He recently served as director of development for Fortescue Metals.
Following his mission, Elder Meurs married his “best friend,” Maxine Evelyn Thatcher, on Jan. 2, 1979, in the Hamilton New Zealand Temple. They have four children and nine grandchildren.
Elder Meurs has served in many callings including elders’ quorum president, ward organist, stake and ward Young Men president, public affairs director, branch and district president, bishop, stake president and Area Seventy.
Elder K. Brett Nattress
Elder K. Brett Nattress and his wife, Sister Shawna Lee Adamson Nattress, describe themselves as “imperfect people looking for perfect moments.”
They have found many such moments over the course of their lives; all are connected in some way to the Savior and the Atonement, said Elder Nattress, who was sustained as a General Authority Seventy at the April 2016 general conference.
Elder Nattress said he was born of goodly parents, David and Judy Sorensen Nattress, and remembers his mother reading the Book of Mormon to the family every day.
On one occasion, he was home on a break from college, hyper-focused on upcoming finals, and was not feeling right, though he didn’t feel physically ill.
His mother said, “If you’re feeling well and don’t feel right, you need to go serve somebody.”
He threw a snow shovel in the back of the family pickup and went around shoveling the driveways of the widows in the ward. He felt much better.
“I was so focused on myself and the finals, I had forgotten that the real purpose of life is to serve others,” he said.
Elder Nattress was born March 4, 1965, in Pocatello, Idaho. The family moved to Lehi, Utah, where he and his five siblings experienced life in a small, rural farming community.
He met his future bride while they were both seniors at neighboring high schools. After he returned from serving in the California Sacramento Mission from 1984 to 1986, they were married in the Salt Lake Temple on April 24, 1987. They have seven children.
He attended Brigham Young University and graduated from the University of Utah in 1990 with a degree in physical therapy. With his brother David, he co-founded Advanced Health Care Corp. in 2000.
Elder and Sister Nattress are members of the Fruitland 1st Ward, Ontario Oregon Stake, but at the time of his call were in Arizona, where he was presiding over the newly formed Arizona Gilbert Mission.
The mission call took them close to the home of three of their married children. There, they have experienced many “perfect moments” with thir children and grandchildren. “My husband plays the ukulele, when we have family night,” Sister Nattress said, “Our grandchildren will go into the other room and grab the ukulele and bring it to their grandpa.
“And they love to sing and dance while he plays the ukulele. To me, that is a ‘perfect moment.’”
Elder S. Mark Palmer
In 1992, time was a precious and limited commodity for Elder S. Mark Palmer and his wife, Jacqueline.
Elder Palmer was in the stake high council at the time. He was also working hard to build his professional career.
Sister Palmer's time was stretched just as thin. The Palmers were raising six children in their Austin, Texas, home — including a 6-month-old baby boy.
When their stake president invited them to serve as workers at the Dallas Texas Temple they didn't know how they could handle one more duty. But they accepted the call — then prayerfully asked for the Lord's help.
Making a monthly bus trip to work all day in the Dallas temple required sacrifice and careful planning. “But it blessed our lives enormously,” said Elder Palmer, who was sustained April 2 to the First Quorum of the Seventy.
Serving in the temple, he added, prepared him spiritually for future priesthood callings. It made him a better husband and father — and he found balance in his busy life.
“Going to the temple often helps you reset your priorities and be reminded of the covenants you have made.”
Elder Palmer was born Feb. 11, 1956, in Te Puke, New Zealand, to Kenneth and Jill Palmer. His family joined the Church when he was a young boy. He served a full-time mission in the New Zealand Wellington Mission.
After claiming an undergraduate degree at the University of Auckland he enrolled in the MBA program at Brigham Young University. While living in Provo, Utah, he met a fellow returned-missionary, Jacqueline Wood, on a blind date. They were married Dec. 18, 1981, in the Salt Lake Temple. The Palmers have six children and nine grandchildren.
Elder Palmer is the founder and president of SMP Ventures, a real estate development company.
He has served as a bishop, stake president, president of the Washington Spokane Mission (2009-2012), interim president of the Australia Sydney South Mission (2014), and as an Area Seventy.
Elder Gary B. Sabin
Three Christmas trees stand out of the memory of Elder Gary B. Sabin.
The first was a beautiful Christmas tree of his youth; a young Gary scaled the tree trying to reach a candy cane and the entire tree crashed to the ground.
The second was an evergreen branch he found as a missionary in Belgium, where he served from 1973 to 1975 as part of the Belgium/Holland Mission. Elder Sabin and his companion took the branch home and propped it up around the Christmas cards they had received from home.
The third was a tree made of Christmas lights strung on the IV stand next to his daughter’s hospital bed. One of three Sabin children to suffer from cystic fibrosis, his daughter had received a double-lung transplant one year after the death of her brother from the same disease.
“We have learned a lot more from our children than they have learned from us,” said Elder Sabin, sustained April 2 as a General Authority Seventy.
As a General Authority he will remember the Christmas trees and the lessons he learned from them. Each tree highlights portions of his journey — from a young boy wanting a candy cane, to a missionary teaching about the Plan of Salvation, to a father who relied on the plan and the Savior’s love to sustain his family in mortal trials.
Gary Byron Sabin was born in Provo, Utah on April 7, 1954, to Marvin E. and Sylvia W. Sabin. He married Valerie Purdy in August 1976. They are the parents of five children; a sixth child was still-born.
After graduating from BYU with an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree, Elder Sabin earn a master’s in management from Stanford University.
Elder Sabin has served in numerous Church callings, including bishop, stake president and Area Seventy. He has worked as a founder/chairman/CEO of several companies, including Excel Realty Trust, Price Legacy, Excel Realty Holdings and Excel Trust.
In 1993, Elder and Sister Sabin formed Sabin Children’s Foundation, an organization dedicated to addressing the medical needs of children.
Elder Evan A. Schmutz
Elder Evan A. Schmutz is grateful for the revelatory experiences entrusted to him by the Lord. His conversion to the gospel has been deepened through regular scripture study, service in the kingdom and obedience to his commitments to God.
Born June 6, 1954, to Richard and Miriam Schmutz, Elder Schmutz learned early about the power of prayer. As a Cub Scout he sold $17 worth of tickets to a jamboree but couldn’t find the money when it was time to turn it in. His mother encouraged him to pray and the Lord revealed to him exactly where it was. It was a strong confirmation of God’s love and awareness for him.
At 18, Elder Schmutz lost his older sister to an auto accident. It had a tremendous impact on him, bringing about significant spiritual experiences.
Shortly thereafter he was called on a mission and reported for training. He prayed for a personal witness of the gospel. While observing some instructors teaching about the First Vision, he said, “I received a testimony so powerful that I could hardly stay in the room.”
After serving in the North Carolina Greensboro Mission Mission, Elder Schmutz made a point of continuing to study the scriptures every day for the rest of his life. “I have found great joy, personal learning and understanding through early morning study for a long, long time.”
Elder Schmutz married Cindy Lee Sims Schmutz on February 3, 1978, in the Provo Utah Temple. Elder Schmutz earned a degree in English and a Juris Doctorate from Brigham Young University. He worked professionally for several law firms from 1984 to 2016.
Managing the demands of five children, Elder Schmutz served as a bishop, member of a stake presidency, of the Phillipines Cebu Mission and MTC branch president. He was serving in the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy at the time of his call to the First Quorum of the Seventy.