A few years ago, Cheryl Clark Lant's mother gave her a packet of letters. They were all the letters — almost one for each day — Vivian Clark had sent to her husband while he served in the South Pacific during World War II. These thin pieces of paper described the first days and years of a baby girl born while her father was at war. They named their daughter, Cheryl. (The ch is pronounced like the ch in Charles.)
"She would write to him every day and tell him everything I did, what I saw or how I looked or what I was wearing," Sister Lant related recently during an interview.
The young mother even wrote to her husband about their daughter's independence, "my can-do attitude even as a little tiny baby," Sister Lant added.
This "can-do attitude" has carried the now-grown dark-haired, slim woman throughout her life — through the birth and rearing of nine children, the survival from cancer of a son and now as the new Primary general president, to which calling she was sustained April 2 in general conference.
"The charge that was given me by President (Gordon B.) Hinckley to look after the children of the Church I take very seriously," Sister Lant said while sitting next to her husband in the Primary general offices in the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City. "I understand that I cannot do that alone. In the first place, I need the Spirit and the help of the Lord, but I also need the help of all the wonderful Primary workers."
The Primary general president is described by her husband, John G. Lant Jr., as having a "tremendous love for children. . . . I believe she was born a child of faith and she has exemplified that our entire marriage, just the abiding trust and confidence and faith in our Father."
Sister Lant saw early in her life the role of faith and nurturing in the life of a child. The child of Charles Verl Clark and Vivan Keller Clark, she was born in Manti, Utah, where she spent her first two years with her mother and her maternal grandparents until her father returned home. After a short while in Idaho, he moved his family, which came to include two more daughters and a son, to Provo, Utah, where he owned a men's clothing store.
"My mother was a gentle spirit who loved my father beyond anything and was there to support him and to help him. She was a stay-at-home mom who cared for her family. She truly knew how to nourish those around her. In fact, she literally wore herself out in the service of others. My dad died (in 2003) from Parkinson's disease. My mother nursed him to the end."
During those early years, the Clark family knew the value of work. As a junior high school girl, Cheryl helped with the family business. She also recalls her father rising at 4:30 a.m. to work in the yard before going to work. "I learned how to work," Sister Lant related.
And she remembers how her dad whistled as he worked. " There was just this little background of joy going on all the time as we would work together," she said.
This spirit of working together — as a family at home and in a family business — has carried into her own family. In 1963 when she was 19 years old, she married her high school sweetheart in the Salt Lake Temple. They both laugh when recalling writing to each other while Brother Lant was serving in the Central States Mission. "He received 104 Dear Johns and still came back and married me!" Sister Lant said, recalling writing to her then-boyfriend.
Brother and Sister Lant have nine children and 21 grandchildren. They raised their family in Orem, Utah, while Brother Lant taught at BYU. In his position, he traveled frequently, but would phone home every evening to take part in family prayer.
It was in 1984, with their oldest son preparing for a mission and other children nearing college age, that Brother and Sister Lant, after much prayer and fasting, felt prompted to begin a preschool. "We decided that was something we could do and build into our family life," Sister Lant said. "It became really a family business. The children helped their dad build the tables and paint. They were the janitorial service and would cut out lamination."
And it was something Sister Lant, who has training in human development and family relations, could do after her children left for school and before they returned home. For many years until other family members joined her husband in running the family business, she administered the teachers in a school that today has 400 children and 20 teachers. And with a strong belief in education and the importance of reading at an early age, the Lants developed a phonics-based reading program that has helped 99 percent of the 4-year-olds in their school learn to read at an advanced first-grade level.
Today, Brother and Sister Lant are quick to list their blessings, and even express gratitude for their trials. And they have worked side by side through it all. Sister Lant was by her husband's side in 1998 when he suffered a cardiac arrest. She recalls how, though it took "10 years off my life," she felt a peace that all would be well. That same peace remained when, within days of Brother Lant's release from the hospital, they learned their son had cancer.
Both husband and son are completely recovered, but these experiences drove home lessons that no one escapes life's challenges — and that lessons learned from trials can strengthen testimonies and bless lives.
"So often we look at other people and think, 'They've got everything. It's so easy for them.' " Sister Lant said. With this in mind, she reflected back to 1973, when her husband was called as a bishop three days after the birth of their sixth child. Three more children were born while he served. On Sunday nights, after all the children were finally in bed and Brother Lant was still in meetings, Sister Lant would walk through the neighborhood in the dark, crying.
And yet she would not have had it any other way. She said great blessings and joys came from motherhood and family life, and living "one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time" deepened her devotion to her family and faith and prepared her for a role as a mother figure to hundreds of thousands of Primary children throughout the world.
And she will do that, as usual, with her "can-do attitude."
E-mail to: [email protected]