Anne Goalen Wirthlin has "warm, cherished memories" of the years her family ran a flower shop in Salt Lake City while she was growing up. One memory stands out. During the holiday season when she was about 12 years old, her father told her she could make a Christmas centerpiece to be placed in the store's showcase.
"And I did," she recalled. "I created my own centerpiece and then I put it out there on the showcase. Everyday I watched to see if anybody would come in and buy it, and one day somebody did. I was so excited. That was a red-letter day in my life."Of course, my father let me keep the money for which the centerpiece was sold, but that didn't mean half as much to me as the fact that he had the faith in me that I could create a Christmas centerpiece that would sell."
Having faith in children and instilling in them responsibility and a knowledge of their divine origin was the focus of a recent Church News interview with Sister Wirthlin. She was sustained Oct. 1 in general conference as first counselor in the Primary general presidency, along with new general Pres. Patricia P. Pinegar and second counselor, Susan L. Warner. (Please see Nov. 5 Church News for article on Pres. Pinegar. Sister Warner's profile is scheduled for Nov. 19.)
Although feeling overwhelmed with her new calling, Sister Wirthlin expressed in soft tones her gratitude: "This is my time to give some of what I've been given."
"The older I get, the more I appreciate the home and time in which I was reared," she related. "My parents (Bernard Ivan and Hettie LeRoyce Thomson Goalen) were married during the Depression, and so the values of faith, hard work, self-reliance and provident living were bred into them through those difficult years.
"Those were the values they taught us as a family," she explained. Sister Wirthlin, the middle of three children, has vivid memories of her early years growing up in Salt Lake City. Especially warm are recollections of her maternal grandfather, Andrew Lee Divers, with whom her family lived until she was 7 years old.
"My grandmother passed away when I was 2, so I have no recollection of her, but my grandfather's presence in my life is a definite memory – the memory of one who nurtured and loved me. I felt very close to my grandfather and thought that he would be there always.
"He was not a member of the Church, but he was very supportive and encouraging of our activity in the Church," Sister Wirthlin recalled. "I remember as a little girl sitting on the front porch swing with him, I remember the treats he brought home when he went shopping and the bedtime snacks of popcorn and milk. When I was 5 years old, I contracted rheumatic fever and had to spend much of my time at home resting. During that year, I discovered how good I could feel even when I was sick when I felt loved and cared for."
Finally, she regained her strength and vitality, and shortly thereafter the family moved into a new home. However, they were there for only a short while when Sister Wirthlin's father had an opportunity to buy a flower shop. "Dad always had a love for flowers. He loved the soil; he created his own special mixture of nutrients that would provide the best conditions for plants to grow."
Sister Wirthlin said that buying the flower shop was a "step of faith" for her parents. "Neither my father nor my mother had any training in floral design, and they knew little about small business. Yet they had a good feeling within them that they should buy the shop."
Thus, the new house was sold, and the family moved into a home adjoining the shop. To supplement the family income, Sister Wirthlin's father continued working as a railroad inspector. Although difficult and challenging, those years in the flower shop were some of the happiest for the family. Running the store became a family affair until it was sold when Sister Wirthlin was 15.
"My father seemed to know by nature – not because he had any schooling – the environment which flowers needed to grow best. As I look back, I recognize that my parents had the same natural ability to provide the nurturing environment needed for children to grow.
"Some of my most cherished memories are of family vacations, working together in the greenhouse or all of us around the fireplace when Dad would sit with a newspaper in his lap and peel apples with his pocketknife."
One of Sister Wirthlin's favorite activities while growing up was creative dance, which her mother encouraged in order to strengthen her physically. She joined a local dance company. When she was 13, she went on tour with the company throughout the Eastern United States. She continued to participate in dance until she was a senior in high school. Through the support and encouragement of her mother, she developed faith in herself. "My mother gave me the courage and faith I needed to move on and try new things. That was important because it taught me to believe in myself and gave me the confidence to meet the challenges that came later."
Sister Wirthlin's mother died in 1992. Her father still lives in Salt Lake City.
Another important support structure in Sister Wirthlin's growing-up years was the ward family. "I not only enjoyed associations with my friends, but the older people knew me and my family. I felt like I belonged. I loved Primary, especially my teachers. I have kept in touch with one of my teachers throughout my life, and I feel the same love from her when I see her now as I did then."
From these people, she explained, she learned the importance of caring adults in the lives of children. She encourages members – adults and youth – to help children realize their importance, and to know their names and their families.
After graduating from high school, she enrolled as a freshman at the University of Utah in elementary education. That year she had a major turning point – a blind date. Although not enthused, she agreed and met her future husband, a young returned missionary named David Bitner Wirthlin, the son of Joseph L. Wirthlin, who was Presiding Bishop of the Church at the time.
They dated for three years. During her junior year at the university, they became engaged. However, they waited a year before getting married. During that time, Sister Wirthlin graduated with her bachelor's degree, and her fiance served in the Army ROTC. They were married April 25, 1961, in the Salt Lake Temple. From their union came six children.
Sister Wirthlin speaks warmly of her love for her husband. "David and his family added another dimension to my life through their example of service to the Church, to the community, to the country," she said.
Not long after their marriage, Brother and Sister Wirthlin moved to Minneapolis, Minn., where Brother Wirthlin attended graduate school in hospital administration at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis. During this time, Sister Wirthlin taught 6th grade at an inner-city school.
"None of the children at this school lived in traditional homes. Half of them were from divorced parents. Many of them shared an apartment with another family. Some of the students at the age of 12 had police records," Sister Wirthlin related. "Some of them were abused. Some of them lived in poverty. They did not have enough food and clothing, and the winters in Minneapolis were terribly cold. They would come to school with frostbite on their ears.
"I wanted to move beyond the teacher role. I wanted to put my arms around them and instill in them a sense that the world could be a happy place."
After a year in Minnesota, Brother Wirthlin completed a residency in Albuquerque, N.M. Following a three-year stay in Idaho Falls, Idaho, the family moved back to Salt Lake City, where Brother Wirthlin became assistant administrator at LDS Hospital. He later served as administrator from 1973-83. The Wirthlins settled in Salt Lake City, with the exception of the three years that Brother Wirthlin served as president of the Germany Frankfurt Mission from 1989-92. Today, he directs the fund development activities for Intermountain Health Care's hospitals.
From her life's experiences, Sister Wirthlin said she is convinced of the importance of a nurturing environment for rearing children. She offered the following suggestions:
- Instill in children the knowledge of who they are, that they come from Heavenly Father who loves them, who wants them to be happy. "We have a responsibility to put our arms around all children and lift them out of the negative surroundings that they may be in. This can happen through the teachings of the gospel."
- Be an example. "Sometimes our most meaningful teaching moments are when we don't even realize we are teaching."
- Instill in them a sense of personal responsibility. "They can have responsibilities in the family and in the home. Then teach them to focus beyond themselves and reach out to others."
- Establish a gospel foundation in the home. "The foundation of everything we do is the gospel. I can't emphasize that enough. Heavenly Father's plan is to teach children to draw near to Him through prayer, through scriptures and through sharing our feelings about the Savior through testimonies. This gives children a sense of who they are and their individual worth more than anything else we do.
"As I think back on those children in the inner-city school, I recall the sadness I felt for them in their physical deprivation, but the worst sadness I felt was for their spiritual deprivation. They had no vision of anything beyond the moment – and no one to give them hope for the future."
Sister Wirthlin hopes the Church's "Focus on Children" (Please see Church News, Nov. 27, 1993.) will remind members, "We all have a part in the happiness, well-being and salvation of these little ones."
Sister Anne G. Wirthlin
Family: Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Bernard Ivan and Hettie LeRoyce Thomson Goalen. Reared in Salt Lake City. Married David B. Wirthlin, six children: Kimberly, Jennifer Smith, David, Deborah, John, Marianne; three grandchildren.
Education: Bachelor of science in elementary education from University of Utah.
Community Service/profession: Member of PTA boards; school teacher for one year at inner-city school in Minneapolis, Minn.
Previous Church callings: Young Women general board; served with husband when he was president of Germany Frankfurt Mission, 1989-92; ward Relief Society president and teacher; ward Young Women counselor and teacher; ward Primary president, counselor and teacher.