Watching the Church grow in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NEV.

Growing up in the small community of Alamo, Nev., Marsha Lamb's experience with Las Vegas, 90 miles to the south, was two piano lessons a month. Now a grandmother in the Cimarron Ward, Las Vegas Nevada Redrock Stake, Marsha Lamb Leason reflected back on her life in the state's largest city during a Church News interview.

Zachary and Stephanie Hoffman are among young members with roots in Las Vegas who receive their endowments in the Las Vegas Nevada Temple.
Zachary and Stephanie Hoffman are among young members with roots in Las Vegas who receive their endowments in the Las Vegas Nevada Temple. Credit: Photo by Greg Hill

Marsha was born to Floyd and Eleanor Lamb. Her father was a longtime Nevada state legislator. Among her mother's qualities and talents was her ability as a screenwriter with movie credits including "Seven Alone," "Against a Crooked Sky" and "Where the Red Fern Grows."

Sister Leason acknowledges that each of her parents had different qualities they instilled in her, shaping her life, her moral values and faith — she said she was a Primary teacher at age 12.

It was her mother who drove her to the far-distant piano lessons, Sister Leason said. During the trips, her mother took advantage of the chance to shop downtown. Marsha asked to stay in the car because she enjoyed watching the people bustling around the relatively newly established gambling meccas in the Fremont Street area. She said she longed for the day when she would be old enough to go into the casinos.

By the time she reached legal age and was a young mother actually living in Las Vegas, she had no desire to enter the casinos.

Instead, she joined other Church members in the growing city's two stakes raising money to build their first stake center. The building on North Las Vegas Boulevard was dedicated in 1963. Sister Leason said for Las Vegas members then, the feeling of attending meetings in the building was similar to what current members get "going to the Conference Center in Salt Lake City."

That stake center was sold to the city in 1970 and is now a community cultural center. It has been replaced by more than 20 modern stake centers throughout the Las Vegas area. The Las Vegas Nevada Temple was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley in 1989. Members of the Church are about 12 percent of the total population of Las Vegas, Sister Leason said, totaling more than 105,000 members.

Marsha Leason has witnessed much of the growth of the Church in Las Vegas.
Marsha Leason has witnessed much of the growth of the Church in Las Vegas. Credit: Photo by Greg Hill

Of the Church's early history in Las Vegas, according to the Nevada Division of State Parks Web site, "The first permanent non-native settlers in the Las Vegas Valley were a group of Mormon missionaries who built an adobe fort along Las Vegas Creek in 1855." It also states of the way-station for travelers between Salt Lake City and California, "After less than 2 years, the Mormon effort was abandoned," in part because of "discouragement of many in the group with the hot summer climate."

Remnants and partial restoration of the fort are now part of a state historic site near the location of the first stake center.

Though the beginnings of settlement in Las Vegas were shaky, events such as the building of Hoover Dam on the nearby Colorado River and the emergence of the gaming industry sparked growth in the 20th century. People moving in included Church members, and the stream continues today. Sister Leason said new move-ins who are members of the Church continually add a freshness to the solid core of the Church.

She accepts that Las Vegas is a dichotomy. Many feel there is justification for the "Sin City" moniker. But there is also much good in Las Vegas, including the strong Church presence.

Near the center of Las Vegas, this sign directs visitors to the Mormon fort, one of the earliest structures in the area.
Near the center of Las Vegas, this sign directs visitors to the Mormon fort, one of the earliest structures in the area. Credit: Photo by Greg Hill

"There is an opportunity to be strongly committed to what you believe when you have both sides pulling at you," Sister Leason said. She pointed out that she and many others stay away from "The Strip" except when they are entertaining visitors who want to "see the lights."

Though Church members are a minority among the total population, the Church is strong enough that "I don't feel like a minority," Sister Leason said. She believes other residents are well aware of the Church. She said, "If you're a member of the Church and start to do something wrong, non-member friends will tell you, 'You can't do that."' But, she added, "You have to stand up for what you believe in." In her life, she said, "Lately, I've had a lot of opportunity to talk about the gospel to various people in different situations."

The standing of the Church is reflected, Sister Leason added, in the fact that a lot of members "serve in civic leadership."

Summing up, Sister Leason stated, "I think some of the best people in the world live here."

The Las Vegas Mormon Fort is now a state historic park with remnants and restoration on the structure's original site.
The Las Vegas Mormon Fort is now a state historic park with remnants and restoration on the structure’s original site. Credit: Photo by Greg Hill
The Painter family -- from left, Zaquary, Matthew, Jamie, father Phil, mother Jill and Joni -- stand in front of one of the many modern meetinghouses in Las Vegas. Their family brought additional strength to the Church in the area.
The Painter family — from left, Zaquary, Matthew, Jamie, father Phil, mother Jill and Joni — stand in front of one of the many modern meetinghouses in Las Vegas. Their family brought additional strength to the Church in the area. Credit: Photo by Greg Hill
Now a community cultural center, the first stake center constructed in Las Vegas still stands on North Las Vegas Blvd.
Now a community cultural center, the first stake center constructed in Las Vegas still stands on North Las Vegas Blvd. Credit: Photo by Greg Hill

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