For the past two years, W. Garth Andrus has walked the pages of history.
Since February 1989, he has been director of the Nauvoo Visitors Center and Historic Sites, and has been responsible for the 25 Church historical sites in Nauvoo and Carthage.This month he will complete his two-year call, which he described as being "a wonderful, choice assignment."
"I feel a very special spirit here," Brother Andrus said. "It's like walking on hallowed ground. As I walk the streets early in the morning and go by the homes where Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the others once lived, I especially feel that spirit. We have many non-members who come into the visitors center and say, `I just feel a very special spirit.' It's hard for them to verbalize, and it's hard for us to explain. We can tell them that what they're feeling is the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, but many of them don't understand that concept."
Brother Andrus' feelings for Nauvoo are heightened by the fact that his great-grandfather, Milo Andrus, lived here, and was bishop of the Nauvoo 5th Ward. Brother Andrus said he went to the Nauvoo Family History and Property Identification Department, located upstairs in the Nauvoo Visitors Center, and looked up information about his Nauvoo ancestor. (See Church News, Sept. 22, 1990, for an article about the Nauvoo Family History and Property Identification Department.)
"I found out where my great-grandfather's home was located, where his acreage was, and received a history of his family. I was able to visit those places," said the director.
Brother Andrus grew up in rural Marion, Utah, but moved to the Salt Lake area after he married Eloise Adamson. Later, his employment transferred him to California, where they raised four sons and two daughters. They now have 29 grandchildren.
From 1980-83, he and his wife lived in the Philippines, where he presided over the Philippines Manila Mission. In 1984, he and his wife were called as president and matron of the Manila Philippines Temple.
"It was a choice experience to be in the Philippines working directly with the people, seeing them come into the Church," he said of their mission assignment. "Then, to go back and serve in the temple and see some of those same people coming to the temple to receive their endowments and be sealed as families was particularly thrilling, especially to see large families kneeling around the altar.
"I remember one family in particular. One of the daughters had been a missionary when I was mission president. The family sold all they owned in order to get enough money to buy passage on the boat to come up from Mindanao, the farthest island from Manila. It took them three days and two nights on a boat. They didn't know what they would do after they returned home, but their goal was for the family to go to the temple and be sealed.
"At the time, the father was the branch president. After the family returned home, they all went to work and got enough to start over. The last I heard, he was a bishop."
Brother Andrus said he is sometimes asked which calling has been most rewarding – that of mission president, temple president or director of the Nauvoo Visitors Center. "When I was mission president, I thought that that must be the choicest of all callings in the Church. When I served as a temple president, I thought the same thing. Now I say that what I'm doing at the present is the most choice experience.
"Being in Nauvoo is a rewarding, exciting thing. We have a great opportunity to meet many members of the Church, and an even greater opportunity to meet non-members and see their interest in the visitors center displays and in Nauvoo. The temple site is the most popular place. It's very beautiful. There's a lot of history to be enjoyed there."
Brother Andrus said tourists to Nauvoo generally can be divided into two categories – those who like arts and crafts and those who have an interest in history.
"The people who are interested in arts and crafts can enjoy places like the Browning gun shop, the blacksmith shop, the brickyard, the candle making and pottery places. They also enjoy the carriage rides.
"Those who like history just want to see the whole place, particularly the homes that have been restored. The Brigham Young home is the house that most people visit. Sara Granger Kimball's home is also very popular. Different things appeal to different people. Members of the Church are interested in the arts and crafts as well as the history. Non-members generally like the artifacts of the old homes and the crafts, to see how things were done."
Brother Andrus said that the Nauvoo Visitors Center doesn't receive as many missionary referrals as some of the other visitors centers operated by the Church. "However," he maintains, "we plant seeds. The mission keeps reporting to us that many of their converts from the general area are people who say they've been to Nauvoo, and that this is where their interest in the Church was sparked."
The director spoke of the couples who are called on missions specifically to serve in Nauvoo. "Some have lots of Church experience, and some haven't been members very long, but they're all very committed to the work here. It's a great thing to see what they add. They bring strong testimonies. Some of them work long hours, especially during the summer months."
On a typical day during the summer, five couples alternate serving in the center each day. Some of the homes have only one couple; others have two couples. Some couples work 10-hour days, then go to their quarters for supper, and then, three nights a week, take part in special performances.
"On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we put on an evening show at the visitors center that's called `Nauvoo Adventure,' which explains through music some of the things that transpired in Nauvoo from 1839-1846," explained Brother Andrus.
"On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, we have what we call `Rendezvous in Old Nauvoo' that's put on in the restored cultural hall. Missionary couples do various skits and presentations about life in Nauvoo."
Brother Andrus explained the evening performances add a dimension to the area. "In Nauvoo, there's nothing to do in the evening," he said. "There is no movie theater, no entertainment of any kind. We fill the cultural hall – it holds about 120 people – every night we put the show on. The theater for the Nauvoo Adventure can seat about 235 people; it's usually filled. Sometimes, we have to carry in benches."
Visitors come to Nauvoo from practically every state in the United States, from many Canadian provinces, and from several other countries, particularly Germany and England, explained Brother Andrus. During 1990, about 110,000 people visited Nauvoo.