Trek to the temple: The story of the 1st couple sealed in the Washington D.C. Temple

With the rededication of the Washington D.C. Temple just around the corner, many eagerly await this monumental ceremony in such a monumental place. Sheal Vandygriff has found herself reflecting upon the immense impact this temple has had on her and her family, as Vandygriff’s parents were the first to participate in the temple’s endowment and sealing ordinances.

Vandygriff’s parents, Wilfred and Marylee Kimball, each experienced their own journey to discovering the Church and eventually each other, unknowingly growing up only 12 miles apart all along.

Wilfred Kimball was adopted and raised on a New Hampshire farm as a Baptist. He eventually converted to Catholicism and attended regularly but began to notice that a friend had stopped attending.

After speaking with this friend, Wilfred Kimball learned that this friend had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which Wilfred Kimball mistakenly understood to be what was then known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. His friend responded by giving him a copy of the Book of Mormon.

Marylee Kimball said about her husband: “He was converted instantly by reading the Book of Mormon. He contacted the missionaries and was baptized.”

Marylee Kimball, on the other hand, was raised a devout Methodist. While attending nursing school in New Hampshire, she met the missionaries while she visited home on the weekends nearby. Her mother had studied religion and enjoyed discussing the topic with the elders. Over time, such interactions led Marylee Kimball to understand their message as truth.

Her daughter Vandygriff said, “It got to the point where she couldn’t deny it and had answers to questions and it all made sense.”

The two eventually met in a New Hampshire ward. Wilfred Kimball sang in the choir and Marylee directed. They began dating and were married civilly on Nov. 7, 1973.

“When they got married they set their goal that they wanted to return and get sealed,” said Vandygriff.

Newspaper article from The Latter-day Sentinel on March 19, 1988, covering Wilfred and Marylee Kimball’s story.
Newspaper article from The Latter-day Sentinel on March 19, 1988, covering Wilfred and Marylee Kimball’s story. Credit: Provided by Kimball family

Achieving this goal was not a simple one, but the couple saw many miracles along the way. While dating, the Kimballs had donated to the building of the Washington D.C. Temple, and they knew they wanted to be sealed there. After waiting a year to be sealed, though, they found themselves in Oklahoma. Money was tight and Marylee Kimball was seven months pregnant, but they wanted their child to be born “under the covenant.”

“They wanted to go there, because they had contributed to the Washington D.C. Temple, and they felt that connection there,” said Vandygriff.

Marylee and Wilfred Kimball had received approval from their bishop and stake president, who believed the temple to be open, and were determined to make the trek, despite the circumstances. In December 1974 the two returned in their small BMW car, arriving Dec. 6.

Upon arrival, the couple learned the temple was not yet opened for live endowment sessions. The baptistry was up and running, yet the veil had not yet been installed. They spoke with President Edward Drury, who was the temple president at the time. He made several calls, resulting in the approval by the Prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball.

“Don’t let them go without the sealing ordinance,” President Kimball said over the phone. “That’s what temples are for.”

The good news meant temple workers labored into the early hours, 2 a.m. to be exact, to ensure the veil was completed. However, the Kimballs sought a place to stay for the night, while not having much financially. A lady, who turned out to be the temple president’s secretary, was parked nearby, and Wilfred Kimball inquired about cheap hotels.

Marylee Kimball remembers her response: “I don’t know why I’m here. My house is the other way,” which was followed by an invitation for the Kimballs to stay with her. The Kimballs accepted and Marylee Kimball recalled the experience that took place that night.

She said her husband “heard a voice and the voice said, ‘Brother Kimball, you and Sister Kimball will be the first to be sealed in the temple.’”

Her husband shared with her that he had had a dream and heard this same voice weeks prior, saying the same thing. The next day, Wilfred and Marylee Kimball received their endowments on Dec. 7, 1974, in the Washington D.C. Temple, one year and one month after their civil marriage.

The miracles did not cease there. On their return trip home, the newly sealed couple found themselves short on money and short on gas. Stopping at a stake center on their way back, they hoped to speak with the bishop for assistance, but were greeted by an older man. He inquired how much money they needed and wrote them a check for the amount.

The Kimballs continued on, only to find the gas gauge reading empty 100 miles out from home with no money remaining. They managed to return home and get to a gas station as the car died pulling up to the pump.

Eventually the two were able to return to the temple and be sealed to their children from previous marriages, growing the gratitude the Kimballs feel for temple ordinances and their experiences there. The son with whom Marylee Kimball was pregnant at the time of the sealing was given the middle name of Edward, after the temple president. Vandygriff was also sealed to her first husband in the Washington D.C. Temple and attributes this desire to its legacy within her family.

Mementos from the day that Marylee and Wilfred Kimball were sealed in the Washington D.C. Temple on December 7, 1974
Mementos from the day that Marylee and Wilfred Kimball were sealed in the Washington D.C. Temple on December 7, 1974 Credit: Provided by Kimball family

Marylee Kimball said, “We have moved 10, 12 times, and no matter what, the Church and our testimonies have always remained very strong in our lives.”

Wilfred and Marylee Kimball are each 85 years old and reside near Tucson, Arizona. The couple cherishes their testimonies and have remained faithful and unwavering to them. Marylee Kimball feels her story illustrates that all receive blessings and these go beyond just material blessings.

Vandygriff said, “Whether you’re the first person sealed or the last person sealed, that really doesn’t matter. It’s the ordinances.”