A temple in the ‘star of all valleys’

AFTON, WYO.

Latter-day Saints living in this long green valley nestled along Wyoming’s border with Idaho often speak of a pioneer prophecy — that the spires of a temple would one day rise up below the peaks of the surrounding snow-capped mountains.

That day, foreseen by early Church apostle Moses Thatcher as he looked out over what he named “the star of all valleys,” has arrived.

The new Star Valley Wyoming Temple, the 154th operating temple of the Church, was dedicated Sunday, Oct. 30, in three sessions by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The first temple in Wyoming — a state known for pioneer heritage — will serve thousands of members in six stakes in western Wyoming and parts of southeastern Idaho.

“We can never live off of the faithfulness of our forefathers. Each generation has to stand on its own holy ground,” Elder Bednar told the Church News the day before the dedication. “But there is a continuation, a blessing of that faithfulness for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.”

Continuing, he related that in meetings with members in this valley, “you can feel a spiritual sturdiness and a strength that has continued across the generations. Successive generations of faithful Latter-day Saints have grown stronger.

“And I think personally the temple here in this valley is a symbol of those generations of devotion and faith.”

Elder Bednar presided over dedicatory events Saturday, Oct. 29, and Sunday, Oct. 30, that included a temple cultural celebration. During the first dedicatory session on Sunday, he led an entourage of Church leaders out of the temple for the ceremonial sealing of the cornerstone.

Church authorities joining Elder Bednar were Elder Ulisses Soares of the Presidency of the Seventy, General Authority Seventies Elder Wilford W. Andersen, Elder C. Scott Grow and Elder Larry Y. Wilson, who is executive director of the Temple Department.

Wives of the Church leaders included Sister Susan R. Bednar, Sister Rosana F. Soares, Sister Kathleen B. Andersen, Sister Rhonda L. Grow and Sister Lynda M. Wilson.

“It seems appropriate that the choir can see their breath in Star Valley,” Elder Bednar quipped upon reaching the platform for the cornerstone ceremony, bringing laughter from the 65-person cornerstone choir from Montpelier, Idaho.

Then, explaining that the ceremony is just symbolic, he said it’s a “good reminder that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of your faith.”

Along with the leaders, Elder Bednar invited children to place some mortar and two daughters of Wyoming to take a turn with the trowels — his wife, Sister Bednar, who was raised in Afton, and Sister Barbara D. Perry, wife of the late Elder L. Tom Perry. Sister Perry, who was raised in Cokeville, which is south of Star Valley and part of the temple district, participated in the dedication and cornerstone events.

“This is an amazing dream fulfilled,” Sister Bednar said during an interview with her husband the day before the dedication. “I am thrilled, excited, and full of appreciation to a loving Heavenly Father who has seen fit to bless these people.”

Then Sister Bednar, the daughter of Kay and Nyla Robinson, who are pioneer descendants and longtime residents of Star Valley, shared a “tender mercy” for her family.

When the Star Valley temple was announced in 2011, Sister Bednar’s father, who was celebrating his 85th birthday, called his daughter and told her he had a birthday wish.

“He said, ‘I wish that I would live long enough to see the Star Valley temple dedicated,’” Sister Bednar related.

Continuing, she said, “Tomorrow, the day of the dedication, is my father’s 90th birthday and he will be in attendance. My mom (88 years old) and my dad (90 years old) will both be there.”

Also speaking of the legacy her parents instilled in her was Sister Perry, the daughter of S. Reed and Lois Taylor Dayton. Her father was a bishop in Cokeville for 23 years and a stake president for 14 years. He was also a Wyoming state legislator serving the Star Valley area.

With tenderness, Sister Perry spoke of her father.

“He did a lot of building toward this [dedication] indirectly and directly — and Mother was right there beside him.”

Also pondering his heritage — both recent and as a descendant of the Hale family that originally homesteaded the land upon which the temple now stands — was Neil Hoopes of the Afton 4th Ward. Brother Hoopes doesn’t recall when temple worship wasn’t central in his family — no matter the cost.

He was only 6 years old in March 1969 but vividly remembers when his grandfather, Vernon Hoopes and his wife, Jane, attended the temple in Idaho Falls, Idaho, with two other couples from Star Valley. Until the dedication of the new temple in Star Valley, members, including ordinance workers, traveled over sometimes treacherous winter roads to Idaho Falls.

In that day 47 years ago, the car in which the three Star Valley couples were riding in missed a turn and plunged down a 300-foot embankment. No one survived.

The peace and importance of the temple, Brother Hoopes said, have always been “at the forefront of our lives.”

On the day of the dedication, he attended a session with his wife, Chereon, and some of their seven children in the meetinghouse just south of the new temple.

Earlier in the day, he was ushering in the same meetinghouse and could see the sacred edifice through the window as he listened to live proceedings broadcast from the temple.

“In my mind’s eye, I pictured this whole field right up to the mountain full of people in white.”

He said he felt the presence of the original pioneers who settled this valley in the late 1870s, as well as his parents and grandparents. He said he pictured them giving “the hosanna shout to this temple.”

In her remarks to the Church News, Sister Bednar had a tender message for the youth of the new Star Valley Wyoming Temple: “I hope the youth of this valley will always protect it by the way they live. I pray they will stand for truth and righteousness, be dedicated to the Lord, and do their part to preserve the legacy of faith that has been established in this mountain home.”

STAR VALLEY TEMPLE FACT BOX

Announced: Oct. 3, 2011 Location: 885 South Washington, Afton, WY 831108 Site: 43.6 acres Exterior: Design includes historical references to buildings found throughout the area, including the Wyoming State Capital, the Afton Tabernacle and pioneer-built LDS structures; pre-cast concrete. Architect: David Hunter Contractor: Jacobson/Span Building size: 18,609 square feet Building height: 123 feet District: It will serve members from three stakes in Wyoming and three stakes in Idaho. Public open house: Sept. 23, 2016-Oct. 8, 2016 (except for Sept. 24 and 25, Oct. 1 and 2) Groundbreaking, site dedication: April 25, 2015, by Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy Cultural celebration: Oct. 29, 2016 Dedication: Oct. 30, 2016, by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 3 sessions. Exterior glass: Pink, green, blue, brown and yellow glass was used in the fireweed flower design — a tall wildflower that grows in the Wyoming mountains. Flooring: Stone flooring throughout the temple is Sunny Limestone quarried in Palestine, fabricated in China. Lighting: Chandeliers patterned after those in the Wyoming State Capital.

Julie Dockstader Heaps is a freelance journalist living in Syracuse, Utah, where she enjoys writing, running, gardening, being involved in her community and, most important, spending time with her husband, David, and their daughter, Hannah Mae.