How a 1962 Sunday School class with a German fighter pilot and nonmember teen produced an Apostle and a ‘pioneer’ grandmother

Reuniting 60 years later, she tells Elder Uchtdorf — the 21-year-old Sunday School teacher — how he helped her conversion

GLENDALE, Arizona — In 1962, 14-year-old Mary Lou Patty knew practically nothing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when she accepted a challenge from a friend about attending Sunday worship meetings.

“My girlfriend was a member of the Church, sort of inactive, and we convinced each other to go to the other’s church,” she recalled recently, adding that neither her parents nor anyone else in her family had ever looked into the Church.

She attended the local ward in Glendale, west of Phoenix, Arizona, and the Sunday School class for mid-teens, which was taught by a 21-year-old German fighter pilot training at nearby Luke Air Force Base.

His name? Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf joined the air force in Germany in 1959 and trained with the U.S. Air Force in Texas and Arizona. | Provided by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf

His Sunday School lessons — and attention to and caring for the youth — served as a catalyst for young Mary Lou to join the Church soon after, to be baptized in 1964.

“It was just me by myself, and he had such a strong testimony,” she recalled. “I just felt like he cared about me, that he recognized my spirit. I could feel like he was pulling for me to join the Church.”

Latter-day Saints today know the pilot-teacher as Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

And Mary Lou? She’s 60 years older, with the married name of Klippel and a member of the Surprise 2nd Ward in the Surprise Arizona Stake.

The Apostle and the convert of 60 years met for the first time since those 1962 Sunday School classes when Elder Uchtdorf and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, made a quick visit to Luke Air Force Base on Thursday, Nov. 10, and meet with Latter-day Saint military members and staff at the base and their family members in a small devotional meeting.

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Elder Uchtdorf remembers being surprised — and grateful — that Bishop Melvin Huber had called him right away to teach the class, even though he was only going to be at the base and in the ward for about four months before completing his training in the United States.

“It was wonderful how we connected,” he said. “For four months, every Sunday I was with them, and we had a good relationship. I taught the class as well as I could, and I learned perhaps more from them than they did from me because of their openness and kindness.”

In a reciprocal arrangement between the German and U.S. governments, Dieter F. Uchtdorf received fighter-pilot training in Texas and Arizona. | Provided by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf

And Klippel remembers a little “ramshackle building” in Glendale serving as the meetinghouse, with the teens and teacher gathering in a tiny, cramped room for the Sunday School class. “And who knew that out of that little classroom would come an Apostle and a mom who raised a family in the Church,” she said.

That mom is mother of six, grandmother of 23 and great-grandmother of one — and a family legacy of mission service and Church service and leadership. “It’s been a wonderful adventure that started in 1962,” Klippel said.

She attended last week’s Luke devotional, wanting to tell Elder Uchtdorf of his influence in her conversion — but she was hesitant to do so, not wanting to intrude.

A son who was with her — Bishop Brandon L. Klippel of the Cactus View Ward in the Surprise Arizona West Stake — said, “Mom, you’re never going to get another chance — please go up there” and then helped her approach the Apostle when the latter ended the devotional by inviting all for a handshake and a photo if they wanted.

“I had been wanting to say something ever since I got here tonight — I just wanted him to know how much I love him,” she said, adding, “And I could feel that he was being taken back to those days, his teaching those kids and how much it meant to all of us.”

As Elder Uchtdorf took a moment to speak to Klippel and extended family members, he told Bishop Klippel: “You don’t have to go look for pioneers — your mom’s a pioneer, because out of her came this amazing family.”

Said Mary Lou Klippel, “I had never thought about that, but I can see that, and it was very meaningful to me.”

As it was for Elder Uchtdorf. “After all these years, all of a sudden I’m meeting this wonderful, dignified, beautiful grandmother with her grandchildren and her son and his wife,” he said.

It reminded him of one of the messages he had shared earlier in the evening’s devotional, that small things can have big impacts in the lives of others — impacts that one doesn’t know of or isn’t expecting. He retold the saying from the late President Gordon B. Hinckley, who noted that small hinges help swing open big gates.

“This was one of those tender mercies,” the Apostle said of the reunion after six decades. “It was kind of like a thank-you note from Heavenly Father — that I was just a young pilot and teacher back then, and this is something that came out of it.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, pose while meeting with Church members at Luke Air Fore Base west of Phoenix, Arizona, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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