It only takes a few moments of conversation with one of the newest members of the Second Quorum of the Seventy before it is obvious what is really important in his life.
Elder Merlin R. Lybbert loves to talk about his family and the Church.His bespectacled eyes glow as he talks about his five living children and their spouses. And like any typical grandpa, he can't say enough about his nine grandchildren.
But Elder Lybbert's love for his family reaches beyond his own descendants. Indeed, he talks with deep respect and gratitude for his and his wife's ancestors, and credits them for many of the blessings his family now enjoys.
"We are just the benefactors of a heritage of righteousness," he emphasized.
Although both Elder and Sister Lybbert, the former Nola Cahoon, have pioneer ancestors who lived in Utah, they were raised in Canada. Their grandparents were among those called by the Church to pioneer southern Alberta. Elder Lybbert grew up in Glenwood, a small community just outside of Cardston, Alberta, where Sister Lybbert was raised.
Both the Lybbert and Cahoon families were deeply committed to the gospel. Sister Lybbert's parents left for a mission to Tonga 12 days after they were married and Sister Lybbert, the second oldest of four girls, was born in Tonga.
"I can't spell the name of the town I was born in, and, before I came to Utah, I hadn't seen a Tongan since we left Tonga when I was almost 2 years old," she said. "But I grew up with a real love for those people because my parents loved them so deeply. They also loved the gospel. I learned early how important the gospel is."
Meanwhile, Elder Lybbert was also developing a testimony and love for his family. At the height of the Depression, the Lybberts, along with several other LDS families in search of better conditions, moved from southern Alberta to Cherry Grove, more than 500 miles to the north.
"A good part of that way was traveled in covered wagons along back roads," Elder Lybbert remembered. "While I'm sure it was hard, as a child (he was 7 years old) I thought it was a great adventure."
The Lybberts only stayed in the Cherry Grove area for four years before returning to Glenwood, where Elder Lybbert found that the education he had received in a one-room schoolhouse in northern Alberta was good enough to advance him a grade.
"In Cherry Grove, there were eight grades all together in the same room," he recalled. "So, if your own lessons weren't very interesting, you could always listen in on the other ones."
The young man learned other lessons outside of the classroom, too. When he was 15, he served as teachers quorum president. When the bishop of the ward was injured in an accident, the work on his farm was divided up among the priesthood quorums. The teachers were responsible for cleaning the pigpens, the chicken coop and the barn.
"That wasn't a very novel assignment for a bunch of farm boys," Elder Lybbert explained. "But I learned some great lessons at that time that I didn't even know I was learning. One lesson was that if you're not efficient in delegation, you get to do the work yourself. You can bet that I made sure that the assignments were given and that they were carried out."
It is obvious while talking with Elder Lybbert that he has developed a rich sense of humor during his 63 years. That humor creeps in as he talks about the first time he and his wife met.
"It was a Halloween party in 1943," he remembered. "Actually, she was quite disappointed the next time she saw me to discover that I hadn't taken off my mask."
The two eventually started dating and their courtship lasted five years. During that time, the 5-foot 10-inch Merlin Lybbert served with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He then went on a mission to the Eastern States. By the time he had returned, Sister Lybbert only had a year before graduating as a registered nurse, so Elder Lybbert took his turn at waiting. The pair were finally married in 1949.
"Before we were married, I really thought my wife was going to fall in love with the postman," Elder Lybbert confided. "We wrote hundreds of letters. There were certainly no tears shed at our wedding – everyone was just thrilled to see us together after five years of courtship."
Humor is not limited to the patriarch of the Lybbert family. Sister Lybbert's conversation is liberally sprinkled with laughter as she talks about her husband and their years together.
"You know," she said, "I should have known what my life with Merlin would be like from our first date. We went to a dance that he was in charge of. We danced the first dance together, but I never saw him the rest of the night. However, his father filled in for him. He has a very supportive family."
Sister Lybbert has continued that support throughout the couple's 40 years of marriage. In addition to working as a nurse while her husband was in school, Sister Lybbert has served in all Church auxiliaries, as well as music chairman and editor of ward bulletins. She has also devoted many hours to service in community and civic organizations.
After the Lybberts were married, they moved to Utah. Elder Lybbert graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor of science degree in law and a juris doctorate. He has worked as a lawyer for 34 years.
Shortly after graduating, he was called to be a bishop of the Rosecrest 2nd Ward in Salt Lake City. From that time on, he has continually served in positions that have taken a great deal of his time, including high councilor, stake president and counselor, and regional representative.
"I know whatever success we've had in life is due largely to my wife," declared Elder Lybbert, a member of the Valley View 1st Ward in Salt Lake City. "She is a wise counselor, and she has a gentle firmness about her that is admirable. She is a student of the scriptures. Probably one of the most uncanny abilities that she possesses is a practical sense of applying gospel principles in life."
As an attorney, Elder Lybbert has tried to follow his wife's example by applying gospel principles in his work. "There is always some controversy in the law, as there is in almost anything," he said. "But there doesn't have to be animosity. I have tried to practice the art of advocacy without animosity."
Even though he has been busy with family, Church and career, Elder Lybbert has managed to find enjoyment in all he does. "That is important in life," Elder Lybbert maintained. "Whether in work or in Church assignments, if you're not having fun, you're not doing it right. `Man is that he might have joy,' " he said, quoting scripture to affirm his statement. (see 2 Nephi 2:25)
And both Elder and Sister Lybbert look forward to enjoying the rest of their lives as they do the Lord's work.
"I am deeply humbled by this calling," acknowledged Elder Lybbert. "I know that the assignment I've been given can't be filled by the Merlin Lybbert I know, but I have faith that the Lord wouldn't have called me if He didn't believe that I could contribute something.
"I know that as I commit all the strength, ability and talents that I have, and as I depend on the Lord, He will make my weaknesses strong. I know that we will be able to meet the challenges ahead and will be able to do the work the Lord has for us to do."
Merlin R. Lybbert
-Born: Jan 31, 1926, in Cardston, Alberta, to Charles Lester and Delvia Reed Lybbert.
-Family: Married Nola Cahoon; parents of Larilyn (Dirkmaat), Ruth (Renlund), Merla (Berndt), Louise (Nygaard), Perry (deceased), and Clark.
-Career: Lawyer; named Utah Trial Lawyer of the Year, 1981-1982; member of American College of Trial Lawyers.
-Education: Bachelor of science in law from University of Utah; juris doctorate also from University of Utah.
-Military: Served year in Royal Canadian Air Force.
-Church callings: Missionary, bishop, high councilor, stake president and counselor, and regional representative.