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Timeline of President Russell M. Nelson’s life and ministry

In honor of President Nelson’s 99th birthday, take a look at these notable dates from his life

President Russell M. Nelson — who turns 99 on Sept. 9 — was set apart as the 17th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Jan. 14, 2018, after serving 34 years in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was a world-renowned heart surgeon and medical researcher before entering full-time Church service in 1984. 

Sylvia Webster, one of President Nelson’s nine daughters, said her father accomplishes much because he knows how to balance his life.

“When he’s at work, he’s 100% at work. When he’s home, he’s 100% at home. When he’s doing his Church duty, he’s 100% Church duty. I think maybe that’s how he balances things,” she said.

Following are some of the events from President Nelson’s personal life, professional life and service in the Church.

Sept. 9, 1924 — Born to Marion C. and Edna Anderson Nelson in Salt Lake City.

1941 — Graduated from East High School in Salt Lake City as the valedictorian. At age 16, he was the youngest member of his class.

1945 — Received bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah.

Dantzel White and Russell Nelson smile at each other.
Russell M. Nelson and his first wife, Dantzel White Nelson, at the University of Utah in 1942. The couple met in 1942 when they were part of the same musical. They married in 1945. | Provided by Russell M. Nelson

Aug. 31, 1945 — Married Dantzel White in the Salt Lake Temple.

1945–1947 — Served in the United States Navy Reserve.

August 1947 — Graduated first in his class with his M.D. degree from the University of Utah. He went on to serve residencies at University of Minnesota Hospitals and Massachusetts General Hospital.

July 1948 — The Nelsons’ first child, Marsha, was born. They would have eight more daughters and one son over the next several years.

1951–1953 — Served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during the Korean War. 

1954 — Awarded his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. 

Nov. 9, 1955 — Performed the first open-heart surgery in Utah at age 31.

Dr. Nelson, in scrubs, holds of a model of the human heart.
Dr. Russell M. Nelson explains a surgical procedure to a nurse. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

1955 — Accepted a faculty position at the University of Utah’s medical school as assistant professor of surgery.

1955-1965 — Served as a Temple Square missionary, helping visitors from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. each Thursday.

1964-1971 — Served as president of the Salt Lake Bonneville Stake. 

1968-1984 — Served as director of the thoracic surgical residency program at the University of Utah.

1970 — Received honorary Doctor of Science degree from Brigham Young University.

1971-1979 — Served as general president of the Sunday School organization.

March 1972 — The Nelsons’ 10th child, Russell Marion Nelson Jr., is born.

President and Sister Nelson are surrounded by dozens of family members, including adults and children.
Church President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, pose for photographs with family members after a press conference at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

April 12, 1972 — Performed lifesaving open-heart surgery for President Spencer W. Kimball, who lived 13 more years and went on to serve as 12th President of the Church.

Feb. 6, 1977 — Ordained his father, Marion Nelson, an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. The following month, Marion and Edna Nelson and their children were sealed in the Provo Utah Temple.

1979-1984 — Served as regional representative for the Church.

September 1980 — Accepted role as visiting professor of surgery at the Shandong Medical College in Jinan, China, and developed relationships with Chinese doctors.

April 7, 1984 — Ordained an Apostle and set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at age 59.

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March 4, 1985 — Performed his last open-heart operation, on famous Chinese opera star Fang Rongxiang.

1985-1990 — Assigned to oversee the Church’s affairs in Europe and Africa, with special assignment to open nations in Eastern Europe under communist rule for the preaching of the gospel.

April 19, 1987 — Dedicated Hungary for the preaching of the gospel.

1989 — Received honorary Doctor of Medical Science degree from Utah State University.

Feb. 13, 1990 — Dedicated Bulgaria for the preaching of the gospel.

1994 — Received honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Snow College.

Jan. 29, 1995 — The Nelsons’ sixth daughter, Emily, died of cancer at age 37, leaving behind a husband and five children.

May 18, 1997 — Dedicated the São Paulo Brazil Missionary Training Center, one of the Church’s first two international MTCs.

Feb. 12, 2005 — Dantzel Nelson died after nearly 60 years of marriage.

April 6, 2006 — Married Wendy L. Watson in the Salt Lake Temple.

September 2010 — Dedicated six countries on the Balkan Peninsula for the preaching of the gospel: Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Oct. 6, 2012 — Served as chairman of the Missionary Executive Council when President Thomas S. Monson announced a minimum-age change for missionaries. As an Apostle, he also served as chairman of the Temple and Family History Executive Council and the Priesthood and Family Executive Council.

2015–2018 — Served as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Sept. 19, 2015 — Dedicated the renovated Priesthood Restoration Site in Harmony, Pennsylvania.

Jan. 14, 2018 — Ordained and set apart as 17th President of the Church after the death of President Thomas S. Monson. 

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March 31–April 1, 2018 — Sustained in a solemn assembly during general conference; announced that ministering replaces home and visiting teaching and Melchizedek Priesthood quorums are combined.

April 12–23, 2018 — Embarked on global ministry with stops in London, England; Jerusalem; Nairobi, Kenya; Harare, Zimbabwe; Bengaluru, India; Bangkok, Thailand; Hong Kong, China; and Laie, Hawaii. 

President Nelson speaks with brothers James, Paul and Adam Howell after a meeting as Sister Wendy Nelson smiles on.
President Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, talk with brothers James, Paul and Adam Howell after speaking during Jerusalem District Conference at the BYU Jerusalem Center in Jerusalem on Saturday, April 14, 2018. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

May 17, 2018 — Released joint statement with national leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

June 3, 2018 — Spoke during a worldwide devotional for youth in the Conference Center and invited them to join the Lord’s youth battalion. 

Aug. 16, 2018 — Issued statement about the correct name of the Church, initiating changes to the names of Church communication channels.

Oct. 6, 2018 — Announced home-centered, Church-supported approach to gospel learning with “Come, Follow Me” and adjusted Sunday meeting schedule, both during general conference.

Oct. 19–28, 2018 — South American ministry to Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile culminated with dedication of the Concepcion Chile Temple.

March 10, 2019 — Dedicated Rome Italy Temple, with every member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in attendance.

May 17–24 2019 — Pacific ministry featured stops in Hawaii, Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Tahiti.

July 21, 2019 — Spoke at the NAACP national convention in Detroit, Michigan.

President Nelson speaks at a pulpit on stage at the 110th NAACP convention in Detroit. The words “When we fight, we win” are in the background.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks at the 110th NAACP convention in Detroit on Sunday, July 21, 2019. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Aug. 24–Sept. 1, 2019 — Traveled to five countries in Central and South America: Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil. 

Sept. 9, 2019 — Honored as “a heart healer” during his 95th birthday celebration in the Conference Center.

Oct. 2, 2019 — Announced women, youth and children may now serve as witnesses of sealing and baptismal ordinances.

Oct. 5–6, 2019 — Announced discontinuation of ward Young Men presidencies, other organizational changes for youth and revised temple recommend questions during general conference.

Nov. 15–22, 2019 — Traveled to four countries in Southeast Asia: Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia.  

April 4-5, 2020 — Introduced new Church symbol during general conference; led Hosanna Shout after issuing “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World.”

Nov. 20, 2020 — Invited all to #GiveThanks in worldwide message on healing power of gratitude.

June 14, 2021 — Announced educational and humanitarian initiatives with the NAACP.

April 3, 2022 — Reached 100 total temples he had announced since becoming Prophet, with the 17 locations he released at the conclusion of general conference.

April 14, 2022 — Became the oldest President of the Church.

May 15, 2022 — Spoke during worldwide devotional for young adults in the Conference Center about three fundamental truths to prepare them for eternity.

Aug. 8, 2022 — Became the Church’s longest-living Apostle in this latter-day dispensation.

Aug. 14, 2022 — Rededicated the Washington D.C. Temple.

President Nelson, dressed in white, and Sister Nelson, pose for a photo with the Washington D.C. Temple in the background.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, walk the grounds of the Washington D.C. Temple in Kensington, Maryland, on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Aug. 27, 2022 — Dedicated site of future Ephraim Utah Temple at groundbreaking services.

Oct. 8, 2022 — Dedicated site of future Heber Valley Utah Temple at groundbreaking services.

April 13, 2023 — Received Ghandi-King-Mandela Peace Prize from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

June 22, 2023 — Announced new edition of “Preach My Gospel” at 2023 Seminar for New Mission Leaders.

Aug. 30, 2023 — Donated his medical journals to the University of Utah.

Sources: ChurchofJesusChrist.org, TheChurchNews.com, “Insights from a Prophet’s Life: Russell M. Nelson” by Sheri Dew

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