At 105, she ‘personifies goodness’

NEPHI, Utah — Not everyone gets a personal visit from a member of the First Presidency on his or her birthday. But then, it's unusual to live to the age of 105.

Helena McKinnon, a lifelong Moroni, Utah, resident, but lately of Nephi, observed her 105th birthday on Nov. 29. President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, went to Nephi on Dec. 1 to extend a birthday greeting at a gathering of extended family members and other well-wishers.

At the birthday party in the care center where Sister McKinnon now resides, President Monson pronounced her "a sweet woman, the personification of a Latter-day Saint grandma, great-grandma and mother and a dear friend."

Indeed, it was not their first meeting.

He recalled the occasion in 1996 when he filled a First Presidency assignment to go to Moroni in connection with Utah's Centennial observance of that year. Sister McKinnon was 100 years old then, having been born during the year Utah gained statehood, 1896, and was introduced at the gathering as an honored guest. She was wearing a red dress on that day, President Monson remembered.

"I saw your name [on the printed program] and it took me a little while to remember that your [second] husband, Ray McKinnon, operated the corner store where I lived [as a boy in Salt Lake City]. . . . I lived right next to that store clear up through the time I grew up and got married."

President Monson reminisced that when his parents would pay their grocery bill on Saturdays, "Ray McKinnon would give us candy bars. I thought that was pretty good. Who else did that? Nobody!"

He said he had been ready to come to Nephi on her birthday but the weather that day had rendered it inadvisable for the gathering to be held as it put at risk those who might come long distances. But, he said, "the good Lord opened up today. It's supposed to snow tonight, but today, they say it's a 'trough.' I'm going to call it the Helena Trough!"

She is the "personification of goodness," he said, adding: "She just has to be known as an optimist. You don't live to be 105 being a pessimist."

He noted that until she was unable to do so, she faithfully attended the Manti Utah Temple several days a week, doing two sessions each time she went.

Helena McKinnon, 105
Helena McKinnon, 105 Credit: Photo by R. Scott Lloyd

President Monson joined the family in singing "Happy Birthday" to Sister McKinnon and, at the end of the rendition, intoned, "And many more!"

The honor with which Sister McKinnon is held in her hometown of Moroni is such that the city proclaimed her birthday, Nov. 29, as "Helena McKinnon Day." In connection with that the city's newest resident was on hand at the Dec. 1 birthday gathering, 2-week-old Jaden Eric Kaibetony, the adopted son of Gary and Angie Kaibetony.

The mother of four daughters, Sister McKinnon has 25 grandchildren, 117 great-grandchildren and 66 great-great-grandchildren. She married John Manley Olson in 1915. He died in 1972. Later, she married Brother McKinnon. They served a mission together in England before his death.

Her posterity's esteem for her is exemplified by great-grandson Matt Blackham, a member of the Crescent 11th Ward, Draper Utah Crescent View Stake, who paid tribute to her at his ward's fast-and-testimony meeting the next day, crediting her influence with motivating him to remain faithful in the gospel and the Church.

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