If you want to get Elden Wood’s attention, speak French. To this day he smiles and joins in the conversation, sings a hymn, or recalls early experiences as a missionary in France in 1952; or when his family lived in Charleroi, Belgium, as he helped to build a chapel there in 1962–1966; or other experiences from the seven missions he has served, six of them with his wife, Picola Wood.
Picola Wood will jump right into the conversation too, because her husband is getting older now — he’s 94 and she’s 89 — and she will quickly clarify or add to his recollections, because she has been a part of almost all of them. And the recollections are plentiful, despite Elden Wood’s challenges with memory and the passing of time.
Music and love
Elden and Picola Wood met in January 1949. They were both studying music, and their classes and performances brought them together. Six months later they were married in the Salt Lake Temple. “When we got married,” Elden Wood said, “we decided that whatever the Lord asked us to do, we would do it.” Little did they realize how often they would live up to that decision.
“We didn’t know we were making important decisions at the time,” Elden Wood said. “We just prayed and did what seemed right. For example, as a vocal music and choral conducting major studying opera, I was told I had to minor in German, French, or Italian. I chose French and quickly fell in love with the language.”
He graduated in 1950 and started work in a music store.
Service in France
“Then in 1952 I was called to serve a full-time mission in France. (In those days, young married men could be called.) On the day I received my call, Picola Wood found out she was expecting our second child. Even so, I had her support. And I had language ability. So I was ready to serve. I loved my wife. I loved my son. And I loved the baby that was on the way. I knew I would miss them, but it was my responsibility to be a missionary.”
Elder Wood first served in Paris, then in Lyon before being called back to Paris as the mission accountant. “I was able to speak French to a lot of people who came into the office, mostly missionaries and members of the Church. I also traveled quite a bit with the mission president and his wife.” He often went to Geneva, Switzerland, as he processed mission finances. And he taught the gospel to several people who became members of the Church.
He wrote home regularly to express his love for Picola Wood and thank her for sustaining him. “He testified of the gospel in all of his letters,” Picola Wood said. “When he got home, he tried to teach me French, but all I learned were a lot of children’s songs.”
Building for the future
“After that mission,” Elden Wood said, “I worked at several jobs, but finally my bishop offered me a job working in his construction business. I did concrete work, carpentry, all kinds of things. I didn’t think learning about construction would lead to another mission; I was just doing what I needed to do to make ends meet. Then from 1962 to 1966, my wife and I were called to take our five young children and supervise the building of a 5,000-square-foot chapel in Charleroi, Belgium.” A sixth child was born while they were serving there.
Elden Wood supervised a crew of young men who had been called as building missionaries. They came from Germany, Holland, France, Canada, and the United States, and one came from North Africa. “Some of them truly had never held a hammer,” Picola Wood recalls. “But every morning at 6 a.m., Elden Wood would gather up his missionaries, go to the chapel site, and they’d have half an hour of gospel study, half an hour of language study, and then work on the chapel. They were from age 15 up. One man was in his 30s. They didn’t start out as good builders, but they had a good teacher.” Building inspectors and architects were impressed with the quality of their work.
“In fact,” Elden Wood said, “many of these building missionaries went on to careers in construction, and several have served in leadership positions in the Church.”
When she and Elden Wood were set apart, Picola Wood was given a specific blessing that she would receive the gift of tongues. “I thought, ‘They say that to everyone.’ But then I was told, ‘I repeat, this is a special gift to you. You will be blessed with the gift of tongues.’” In Belgium, she purchased some language recordings and textbooks and studied them daily, but with little success. Then one Sunday, sitting in sacrament meeting, she realized she was understanding every word. After that, her ability to communicate changed dramatically.
The children were also blessed. “Where else would we have been able to attend French-speaking schools and learn the culture so well?” said one of their daughters, Ann. “We had countless opportunities to love and serve others and to love and be served by them. Belgium was our home.”
After three and a half years, when the chapel was ready to be dedicated, Picola Wood wrote and directed a musical stage production for the public inauguration of the building. She translated all of the lyrics from English into French, demonstrating that she had, in fact, received the gift of tongues.
When the family returned to the United States, Elden Wood worked in construction in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a few months. Then he was offered a teaching position in Burley. He accepted, and the family moved there in 1966. Elden Wood began a career as a music and French teacher, conducting a choir that won superior ratings and performed throughout Utah and Idaho. Picola Wood taught private piano and voice lessons and became involved in community activities, where her students often performed. She and her husband organized a city music festival and opened their own music store.
“The store never made much money,” Elden Wood said, “but it became a gathering place where people could learn voice, piano, and guitar.” The sign on the store read, “Wood Music Store: Come to the Woods for Music.” In 1983, Elden Wood was honored as the Idaho Music Educator of the Year.
Elden and Picola Wood also served faithfully in Church callings, many of them related to music. Elden Wood served as a counselor in a bishopric and then for five years as bishop.
After Elden Wood retired in 1990, he and Picola Wood felt an urgency to serve another mission. When they submitted their papers, they thought they would be serving as a senior couple but were surprised when Elden Wood was called as president of the West Indies Mission, headquartered in Barbados. On their mission they were once again able to use music skills and French language (in some areas), serving from 1991 to 1994.
When they returned home, they were called to work in the Boise Idaho Temple. Each Friday morning from 1995 to 2000 they drove 160 miles (260 kilometers) from Burley to Boise, worked their shift in the temple, stayed with family or in a hotel, worked another shift on Saturday, and then drove 160 miles back to Burley. They also served for many years in the Twin Falls Idaho Temple.
In 2000 they felt they should serve in the mission field again. They were called to a Church Educational System mission in the France Bordeaux Mission and spent their entire mission in Lyon, working with young adults. One of the things they did was organize a choir. To this day one of the choir members, Phillippe Simonet (now a regional director for Seminaries and Institutes of Religion), recalls the way in which Elden Wood directed them.
“We were at conference for all of the French-speaking young single adults in Europe,” Brother Simonet said. “The young adults were excited to be together, and they were chatting and laughing while Elder Wood was trying to organize a choir that would be singing for a visiting authority in just two days. Elder Wood was not a tall man with a strong voice. He tried several times to calm the group down but without success.
“I could see in his eyes that he was not upset, just very sad. Finally he stood up in front of the group and put his finger over his mouth. Then he waited. After a few minutes, everyone was looking at him. Silence came. Then in a very soft voice he said, ‘You cannot sing and talk at the same time. You have to choose. If you choose to talk, you will not be able to convey the beautiful message of this song through the Spirit. But if you listen to the still, small voice, and if you sing with your hearts, He will speak to the audience and testify of the truth.’ After that, he was the only one to speak as we rehearsed and rehearsed.
“When the time came to perform, suddenly something wonderful happened. We all had the impression we were singing with a host of angels. Some singers started to cry, and people in the audience started to cry too.
“I will never forget this simple man, small in stature, with 60 singers all riveted on his direction. What a great gift we all received from the Spirit that day.”
“That was typical of many of our experiences,” Picola Wood said. “It’s so wonderful to share the gospel and feel the Spirit. After that, we’d get home from a mission, and it was just like there was something pushing us to go again. After a rest and a visit with the family, we’d be saying, ‘Well, I guess we ought to put our papers in again.’”
That led to missions in the Bern Switzerland Temple from 2003 to 2005, the Accra Ghana Temple from 2008 to 2010, and the Halifax Nova Scotia Temple from 2013 to 2015.
“We didn’t know all this was going to happen when we started,” Elden Wood said. “We just prayed and then did what seemed right. We’ve been married 70 years now, and it’s wonderful to share so many gospel-centered memories.”