PROVO, Utah — "We can walk in the footsteps of our forebears but we must blaze a trail for those who will follow in ours," President Thomas S. Monson declared at a fireside April 11, held in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the founding of Provo.
Many thousands attended the fireside in BYU's Marriott Center, one of several events commemorating Provo's sesquicentennial.
Among honored guests at the Sunday evening fireside were U.S. Senator Bob Bennett, Utah Lt. Gov. Olene Walker, Provo Mayor Lewis Billings and former mayors. President Monson's wife, Frances, accompanied him to the fireside.
In his address, President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, gave a contemporary history of Provo from his perspective as a boy, as a teenager and as a man. President Monson spoke of the boyhood summers — from the Fourth of July until Labor Day — that he spent living in his family's cabin in Vivian Park in Provo Canyon, fishing and swimming in the Provo River.
He referred to that river as "the greatest pioneer of all Utah County." In the 1930s, he said, Ripley's "Believe It or Not" listed the Provo River as the most heavily fished river for its size in the United States. Saying that he would let his "thoughts go backward in time," President Monson spoke of some of the high adventures he and other "boys of summer" experienced as they fished the river.
Drama entered into those idyllic summer days. President Monson spoke of the day when he, about 12 or 13 years of age, was floating down the river on a large innertube when he heard people shouting, "Save her! Save her!" He looked around and saw a young woman bobbing in a whirlpool. He grabbed her by the hair and then pulled her onto the tube. He knew the river so well that he was able to navigate its currents and get the young woman to shore, where her family kissed him, thanked him and called him a hero.
"They said, 'You saved her life,' " President Monson recounted. "I didn't know what to say, so I replied, 'That's just fine. Have a good time.' I got back in the tube and floated down to the Vivian Park Bridge. I wasn't any hero, but she told me she owed her life to me.
"I'd like you to consider one thing," President Monson continued. "It would take about 45 minutes to float down from below Wildwood [where he launched the innertube] to the Vivian Park swimming hole. There was no swimming that late in the afternoon. It was about 4 o'clock. Why is it that one lone boy on an innertube came past that swimming hole at precisely the time needed to save a drowning girl? You say, 'Coincidence.' I would say, 'Heavenly help,' for surely God preserved her life. I was just on His errand to do so. I always want to be on the Lord's errand."
Having to return to Salt Lake City and school after Labor Day marked "paradise lost" for him as a boy, President Monson said. He spoke of the changes that have come to Provo Canyon in the intervening years. Some landmarks are gone, "but in their place are fond memories that we cherish and savor all our lives."
With the coming of World War II, he said, the "boys of summer" went off to war. He described the shortage of special treats, such as candy bars and Sun Freeze Fudgesicles. He was 16 the last summer he spent with his family in Provo Canyon.
"I've seen the aging of our summer friends and have celebrated our eternal memories," he reflected.
He spoke of Brigham Young University, which is unique among schools, of its faculty, students and code.
To the citizens of Provo, he said, "You're good people. You're friendly people. You're talented people. You're God-fearing people."
He extended "a special birthday greeting to Provo and that river which runs through it. I viewed it yesterday. It's been here longer than any pioneer. So, to the chief pioneer, I pay tribute."
"There's a river that runs through all of us who know Provo. I call it a river of faith, a river of service, a river of legacy, a river of love. It runs through our lives. It runs through our thoughts. It runs through our memories."