Many years ago, while sitting in stake conference in Cleveland, Ohio, Daryl H. Garn had the impression that he would be called to serve in his ward bishopric.
Such a calling wasn't good timing, and it certainly wasn't his ambition. Still, as he and his wife walked out of the morning session that Sunday, he was greeted by the man who had just been sustained as the new bishop. He asked if the Garns would meet with then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve, the visiting authority.
"We didn't even sit down," Elder Garn recalled. "We spoke casually for several minutes," before Elder Kimball asked if he would serve as second counselor.
"There is something you need to know," Elder Garn said in response. "We may be here only a short time." Elder Garn then detailed a long list of reasons explaining why he shouldn't serve, including his apprehension that as a first-year dental student he would likely flunk out in the first quarter.
"I believed in my heart that I would be sent home in disgrace after the first quarter of school," Elder Garn said in retrospect. "I knew I had been accepted into Western Reserve University because of the recommendations of a former student and not on my own merits and accomplishments.
"Elder Kimball listened patiently, then looked me in the eye and said, 'Brother Garn, put the Lord first in your life, and things will work out.' So I mustered all the faith I could and accepted the call," he said.
Serving was not convenient. Studies were demanding and two of their eventual six children were born during these years. During this time, with only half his graduate work completed, the bishop moved from the ward and Elder Garn was called as bishop.
He remained steady in his service and, by the time he graduated, he was among the top several students in his class, which made him eligible to enter a master's program in orthodontics.
"I thought back to President Kimball's promise. I realized I probably would have flunked out of school if I hadn't accepted that calling," he said.
So meaningful was Elder Kimball's promise, and so pronounced were the Lord's blessings, that through all his Church service — from his time in the bishopric to his most recent calling to the Second Quorum of the Seventy, to which he was sustained on Oct. 5 — Elder Garn has made serving the Lord the focus of his life.
"When people ask things of him, he's always saying, 'That's just what I want to do,' " said his wife, Irene.
Elder Garn inherits his faith from a family pedigree rich in service. His parents, he said, were living monuments of Church devotion. Born in Tremonton, in northern Utah, as an only child, Elder Garn learned to love the gospel from his mother and how to work from his father.
He was raised on a 12-acre farm in Fielding, Utah, a verdant farming community near Tremonton. His father bought him two cows and said that half of the money he earned by selling the milk was his to spend, and the other half he owed his father to repay the cost of the cows.
Years later, when the Garns were buying their first home, Elder Garns' father returned the cow money which he had been saving for them to use as a down payment.
For many years, Elder Garn helped his father, who, in addition to working for the sugar company, was custodian of the Fielding meetinghouse for 28 years. "We shoveled a lot of snow off those sidewalks," he remembered.
These were happy years, when Elder Garn was able to mix his love of farming with his love of basketball. "I grew up with a basketball in my hand," he said. After playing two years of basketball at Utah State University, he began considering a mission.
"I didn't have plans to serve a mission," he said. "It wasn't something my family had done. While at USU, I had to make a decision about my faithfulness in the Church. During this time, Rolf Kerr, who now serves in the Seventy, had just returned from a mission and he put his arm around me. I realized that the sharpest people I knew had served missions.
"I believe my mother prayed me on a mission," he said. "My mission was the defining point in my life. I learned to the love the work. My second companion was a new elder. Within about a week, I realized that I knew the discussions, but he knew the gospel. I decided that's where I wanted to be."
Near the end of his mission, while serving as an assistant to the president, Elder Garn greeted a group of new missionaries as they arrived on the bus. "I welcomed them and introduced myself. One elder said, 'I have a letter for you.' It was a letter from Irene."
Having grown up in nearby Portage, Utah, Irene Hall attended Bear River High School where the two had been casual friends. With this letter, they began corresponding the last six months of his mission. During this time, Elder Garn saw a picture of Irene in the Church News when she was an attendant to the Days of '47 Queen.
"My heart started to flutter," he said. "The first item of business when I returned home was to do all I could to persuade her to marry me."
"It didn't take much persuasion," Sister Garn said. "I think we both knew." After being married in the Logan temple, and after years in dental school, the Garns settled in Mesa, Ariz., where he practiced orthodontics for 34 years.
"Years earlier, while playing basketball for Utah State," Elder Garn said, "we waited on the runway for a break in the storm to fly to Tucson to play a game. It got to the point where we had to leave or miss the game. We left Logan in a blizzard and arrived in Tucson in warm sunshine. It was like summer. I decided, that if given the chance, I wanted to live in a place like this."
Their home was an activity center where friends of their children congregated. "They ate a lot of chocolate chip cookies," Sister Garn said.
After more than 40 years of Church service, Elder Garn finds President Kimball's counsel still true: "I know the Lord blesses us when we serve."
E-mail: [email protected]