Lester D. Ross, 75, may have thought he would never see the fruits of his labors.
For years after he was baptized in July 1942, he strived to help establish a permanence to the Church in Lancaster, Pa., located 33 miles southeast of Harrisburg. But this was during a time when new members still felt the urge to move to the West.His years of consistent service finally paid off. Today, there are two wards in Lancaster and a meetinghouse that the members built.
He and his wife, Mary Eleanor, first met the missionaries in January 1941. "The missionaries had only been in the area for six weeks when they organized the first sacrament meeting," he recalled.
He and his wife attended that meeting and were impressed to further investigate the Church. They never looked back. They were baptized in the Susquehanna River at Columbia, Pa.
Their baptism occurred a short time before the organization of the Lancaster Branch in January 1943. The branch, then part of the Blue Ridge District of the Eastern Atlantic States Mission, had an average attendance of 12 to 14 members.
Brother Ross served as a counselor in the first branch presidency and later as branch president. Sister Ross served as Relief Society president and spearheaded projects for a building fund.
For more than 10 years, members organized fund-raising projects to build a meetinghouse, recalled Brother Ross. But they ran into a major obstacle. In order to build a meetinghouse, they needed to increase branch membership.
"We'd build up membership and then the families would move out. They still had that feeling they had to go West. It was extremely discouraging," he related.
Mission leaders discussed the possibility of merging the branch with the York Branch, 25 miles west of Lancaster, just two years after the Lancaster Branch was organized. But that never happened. Brother Ross persuaded the mission leaders to let the Lancaster Branch continue.
Finally, membership began to grow in about 1953. In 1957, two acres were purchased for the meetinghouse. The following year, members began to build the meetinghouse. Because Brother Ross' occupation was in construction, the mission president asked him to supervise the building project.
He described the occasion as having a "festival spirit." About 50 percent of the branch's 79 members pitched in to help.
"The women would prepare meals so we could eat there right on the site. They would even come and push wheelbarrows. We had people who were not members of the Church who helped us," recalled Brother Ross.
In fact, he related that two couples joined the Church after working on the meetinghouse.
The Lancaster Branch became a ward when the Gettysburg Stake was formed in 1970. The ward became part of the Harrisburg Pennsylvania Stake in 1979.
But Brother Ross, now a patriarch in the Church, will never forget helping build that meetinghouse more than 30 years ago. "That was a marvelous feeling. We really became a close-knit family membership." – Julie A. Dockstader