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Meet the 90-year-old service missionary who survived cancer and is earning a college degree

More than 13 years after her original call, the cheerful and friendly service missionary is still wearing her black name tag

After her husband died, 76-year-old Joyce Forman accepted a full-time mission call to serve in the Utah Salt Lake City Headquarters Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Her original mission call was for one year, but she enjoyed it so much she extended for several additional years. Eventually Forman transitioned to become a service missionary and continued serving in the Church History Department’s Acquisition and Receiving Center.

More than 13 years after her original call, the cheerful and friendly service missionary is still wearing her black name tag and going strong, despite battles with cancer and while pursuing a college degree through BYU–Pathway Worldwide.

The Church History Department held a 90th birthday party for this special super sister in mid September, complete with two cakes, a table of delicious refreshments and a slide show of memorable moments.

“It was just awesome,” Forman said, beaming.

Sister Joyce Forman is a service missionary in the Church History Department’s Acquisition and Receiving Center.
Sister Joyce Forman is a service missionary in the Church History Department’s Acquisition and Receiving Center. She recently celebrated her 90th birthday and has been serving for more than 13 years. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Elder Kyle S. McKay, the Church’s historian and recorder and a General Authority Seventy, attended the birthday party and paid tribute to Sister Forman.

“Joyce Forman is a living example of pressing forward with a steadfastness in Christ. Her heart, her eyes, her mind are riveted on the Savior. It is this focus that gives her the strength and desire to press forward in untiring service,” Elder McKay said. “If you come from the pioneer people of Panaca, Nevada, you know no other way than to serve with energy and unshakable faith. That is Joyce Forman.”

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Scott Christensen, a historian/archivist in the Church History Department who has worked with Forman over the years, said she has a talent for working with people, as well as making them feel welcome and valued.

“She’s a person that as you get to know her you simply trust her. She’s able to establish those genuine relationships that help her to be successful,” Christensen said. “She doesn’t let anything get in the way of doing her very best work. She’s absolutely committed to the Lord.”

Sister Joyce Forman is a service missionary for the Church History Department’s Acquisition and Receiving Center.
Sister Joyce Forman is a service missionary for the Church History Department’s Acquisition and Receiving Center. | Trent Toone, Church News

‘You would love it up there’

Born in Panaca, Nevada, in 1932, Forman never knew her mother, Dora Mathews. She died of pneumonia shortly after delivering Forman and her twin sister.

Her father, Earl Mathews, a veteran of World War I, died when the twins were 9 years old. Their oldest brother also died while fighting in World War II.

Years later, Joyce Matthews was in an accounting class at BYU when she met Lyle Forman. They married in 1952 and raised a family of six children.

He passed away just before Christmas in 2005.

“I don’t even remember that Christmas, it was just a blur,” Joyce Forman said.

Forman’s son wanted to take her on a trip to Europe to lift her spirits, but a routine physical revealed breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy and received radiation treatment, then learned the cancer was gone.

Within a few years, a friend encouraged her to consider a mission at Church headquarters. “You would love it up there,” the friend said.

Sister Joyce Forman is a service missionary in the Church History Department’s Acquisition and Receiving Center.
Sister Joyce Forman, seated second from the left on the front row, is a service missionary in the Church History Department’s Acquisition and Receiving Center. She is pictured here with other missionaries for the Church History Department. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Forman received a call from the mission president inviting her to come and serve. She asked if he was concerned about a 75-year-old cancer patient?

The mission president told her the average missionary age was then 72 and she would have access to the “best doctors in the world.”

She agreed and, with her family’s blessing, submitted her papers, beginning her missionary service in May 2009.

“From the minute I received my mission call, I have known this is what the Lord would have me do,” she said.

Dedication of Church History Library

The beginning of Forman’s mission came as the Church dedicated the Church History Library on a rainy day in June 2009. She attended the dedication with family members and described the experience as a “thrill.”

“The dedicatory prayer offered by President [Thomas S.] Monson was beautiful, and I was so happy part of my family could be there to enjoy this historic moment with me,” Forman said.

As they walked home, the rain stopped long enough for Forman’s granddaughter to snap a photo of her in front of her newly assigned “mission home.”

Sister Joyce Forman is a service missionary in the Church History Department’s Acquisition and Receiving Center.
Sister Joyce Forman is a service missionary in the Church History Department’s Acquisition and Receiving Center. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

80th birthday surprise

In 2012 for her 80th birthday, Christensen surprised Forman with a special birthday gift.

Christensen tracked down an old ledger minutes book from her Latter-day Saint branch meetinghouse in Panaca, Nevada. He flipped the pages to Sept. 18, 1932, and read an entry about her mother, Dora Mathews, who gave birth to twin girls and brought them to Sunday services to receive names and blessings. As part of her special birthday gift, Forman was granted some time to read through the volume before Christensen returned it to the archives.

When Christensen found Forman later, her eyes were filled with tears. She found another entry that mentioned her mother a few months before she gave birth to the twins.

Dora Mathews had gone to church on a hot July 1932 day and bore her testimony of the power of prayer, and didn’t know how she would ever get along without it, according to the ledger.

The old minutes book allowed Forman to hear her mother’s testimony for the first time.

“It was like she was speaking to me from the dust about the importance of prayer and staying close to the Lord,” Forman said. “I could just almost feel her there sharing it with me. I think I’ve had a guardian angel with me my whole life.”

Sister Joyce Forman, a service missionary at the Church History Library, takes a photo with a Storm Trooper.
Sister Joyce Forman, a service missionary at the Church History Library, takes a photo with a Storm Trooper. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

‘I want to die with my boots on’

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Forman stepped away from her mission service for an extended time to undergo treatment for bone cancer.

When she started feeling good again, Forman told her son she wanted to return to her mission in Utah. He wasn’t so sure if it was a good idea, given her health.

“If you are alive, why sit at home?” she said. “I want to die with my boots on.”

Forman returned and when her supervisor, Jeff Anderson, asked if her family was supportive, her son said, “She wants to do it. She should do it.”

Going back to school

Forman studied for two years at BYU in 1949-50 before getting married and putting her education on hold.

While serving and knowing she will soon be reunited in the afterlife with her mother, an educator, Forman felt inspired to return to school and get her degree. She enrolled in BYU-Pathway Worldwide and is on target to graduate in 2023.

“I’m going into family and marriage,” the 90-year-old said with gusto. “I figured that’s the best kind of knowledge to take with me.”

Life lessons shared

As she continues to serve and learn, Forman is also writing an autobiography titled, “Warm Your Heart by the Fire of My Faith.”

She looks forward to sharing her life experiences and knowledge with her posterity of six children, 33 grandchildren, 98 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

Sister Joyce Forman is a service missionary in the Church History Department’s Acquisition and Receiving Center.
Sister Joyce Forman, third from the left, a service missionary in the Church History Department’s Acquisition and Receiving Center, with family members at her 90th birthday party. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Here’s what she wants her family to know:

Always put the Lord first. “I want them to realize the importance of making covenants and how the blessings just float down from the windows of heaven when you follow His commandments,” Forman said.

She often quotes the words of this poem, author unknown:

Each morning when I wake I say, I place my hand in God’s today,

With faith and trust that by my side, He’ll walk with me my steps to guide.

He leads me with the tenderest care when days are dark and I despair.

No need for me to understand if I but hold fast to His hand.

My hand in His — no surer way to walk in safety through the day.

By His bounty I am fed, warmed by His love and comforted.

And when at night I seek my rest, and realize how much I’m blest,

My thanks pour out to Him and then, I put my hand in God’s again.

“I live by that,” Forman said. “I want my children to realize there have been hardships and trials, but they are minor when you look at the big picture. ... We just need to have a happy attitude.”

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