Restoring Kirtland a matter of building faith

Karl Anderson was point man in developing historic site

KIRTLAND, Ohio — Karl Ricks Anderson didn't set out on a crusade to put Kirtland on the map. His simple desire after graduating with a master's degree in business administration was to make a comfortable living and teach early-morning seminary — somewhere besides Utah.

But in the course of living life and keeping the commandments, his career took unexpected twists and turns, always landing him near a sacred historic Church site such as Palmyra, Nauvoo or, as happened three times, Kirtland. In each place he grew in appreciation and understanding of the Lord's hand in restoring His Church.

During the past 36 years, while he and his wife, Joyce, raised their seven children, he became an authority on Kirtland history and the Prophet Joseph Smith. He also became the point man in helping restore the historic village where six new or restored facilities were dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley in May.

Thousands, over the years, have been treated to Brother Anderson's spiritual insights, whether discussing the Kirtland Temple by reading section 110, or sitting on a bench in the wooded hillside above the Isaac Morley farm, reading from journals of the appearance of the Lord in organizing the priesthood in a nearby schoolhouse. In all this, visitors to Kirtland remember his robust sense of humor.

He is quick to say that many people assisted in developing the historic village. But it was President Hinckley who acknowledged Brother Anderson's efforts by calling him out of the congregation during dedicatory services to bear his testimony.

"I have become convinced that the Lord put me here," Brother Anderson said in an interview with Richard D. McClellan in 2001.

The son of a country newspaper publisher in Kaysville, Utah, who knew the strain of printing three weekly newspapers, Brother Anderson wondered as a teen where he would spend his life. He longed to build up the Church outside Utah.

"It seems like it was meant for me to be here because I have moved to Ohio three times," he said.

But it wasn't until he was called as president of the Cleveland stake that he began feeling that the Lord had work for him there, much of it having to do with building the faith and missionary zeal of the members.

"I received very strong spiritual promptings about what needed to be done in Kirtland and initiated many of those things as a priesthood leader," he said.

Such impressions also directed acquisition of key properties. While serving as stake president, Brother Anderson felt the distinct impression to ask about purchasing a piece of property across the street from the Newel K. Whitney store.

In the early days of the Church, the site had been the location of the John Johnson Inn which was used by leaders as Church headquarters. Over the years, the building had been replaced and was leased to a tavern owner.

"I had an impression one morning," Brother Anderson said, "that I should have our real estate agent inquire about the status of the property as soon as business hours began. The agent asked if it had to be done that day. I told him I would appreciate it if he could."

The agent called Brother Anderson later that afternoon to report that he had contacted the owner of the building an hour before he was to sign a new seven-year agreement with the tavern owner.

He told how the building owner was mulling over whether he should sign the contract. The tavern owner had signed the papers, and lawyers suggested that the building owner sign. Yet, he felt hesistant to sign.

"If you have someone interested [in the building]," said the owner to the real estate agent, "I would rather sell it than lease it."

Within a day, approval was granted by the Church to purchase the property.

Later, on the day the agreements were finalized, the building owner told Brother Anderson on the phone, "I don't know who you are, but I want to say, 'God bless you.' "

Years of walking the land of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as well as studying countless personal accounts, has opened Brother Anderson to new feelings and insights.

"Normally, I might say that one of the things that surprises me is his willingness to lay everything on the line, including his life. Except the more I know Joseph, it does not surprise me. Maybe it's one of the things that impresses me most — after the tarring and feathering when he received permanent injuries to his ribs, his tooth, and hair, and his son died [from exposure to the chill spring air], and his whole private life was threatened — he knew from then on that nothing was off limits for the adversary working against him.

"In a letter he wrote to Emma from Missouri two months after the tar and feathering, Joseph said, 'I will try to be contented with my lot. God is my friend. . . . I count not my life dear to me, only to do His will.'

"Joseph's willingness to give everything out of desire to do the Lord's will would be one of the things that used to surprise me, but not now. The more you get to know Joseph, this was who he was. His life was not dear to him, only to do God's will."

Now retired from business, Brother Anderson has taught institute for nine years, after teaching early-morning seminary for 15 years. In addition to serving as stake president, he has served as regional representative, and is now patriarch in the Kirtland Ohio Stake.

But his concern is that visitors see Kirtland as more than historic buildings and artifacts.

"Many people leave having seen the Whitney Store and the things the saints used to buy," he said. "But have they really understood the spiritual significance and felt the Savior's witness and the directing of His Church? Has their testimony been increased as a result of having been here?"

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