Today is exactly 40 years since I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These 40 years have been an amazing journey for me and I hope to use this blog post to look back on some of the highlights of what this singular event on January 26, 1975 did for me and ultimately for my family.
My awareness of the church, commonly known as the Mormon church, did not happen until my junior year in high school in Bozeman, Montana in 1973. at that time, I just finished the school year and was on the newspaper staff for the Hawk Tawk, which was the high school newspaper back then.
My journalism advisor (Ms. Helen Micka) assigned all of us something to do over the summer for the first and second issues of the 1973–74 school year. I received the assignment of attending the Wally Byam Caravan Club convention which is a huge airstream trailer gathering. Each year they haven’t national event and this particular year it was being held on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman.so, with camera in hand I began to attend this event.
In Bozeman, we lived about 7 miles out of town in an area known as Bear Canyon. At the entrance to Bear Canyon was a KOA campground that I frequented. And since this was summer and I was a junior in high school, I still frequented the campground, especially to go to the swimming pool or to go over to the campground office and play pool with friends. This particular summer there were a few campers with their Airstreams that did not stay at the main caravan area but selected to stay apart in their own area. One of these trailers was from Summit, New Jersey. It was a family of four, the Gilmans, who had decided to attend the convention, but wanted to stay off-site. I remember even now their two lovely high school aged girls.One was a senior in high school and the other was a sophomore at the time, if I recall correctly. As they were there for about a week I visited with them daily and even took them on a few little tours around the mountains of Bozeman.
One of the things I learned about them was that they were Mormon. The girls had no problems telling me about their church or their beliefs. They gave me a Book of Mormon (you can get one here today if you wish…totally free!) and I learned quite a bit about them. (Later correspondence with Sue Gilman in 2015 had her indicate that she was glad to play a small part in sharing the gospel. What she may not have realized is that he “small” part in sharing with me has led to the conversion of dozens of people. I served a mission and brought people into the church , some of whom later served missions. I had three children serve missions as well. Many of these converts will bring others to the church. Indeed, her little mustard seed has grown to a giant tree!!)
At that time I was desperately seeking for some sort of direction in my life. My mother at that time was a Jehovah’s Witness, my father was Jewish, but not at all participating in the faith. I had often gone to the Kingdom Hall for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but there was just not the feeling that I would expect to get in wanting the truth of the Gospel. And I was always seeking for the truth, prayerfully. After hearing about the Book of Mormon, I took it home because I was interested in religion. That was a big mistake! No sooner did I bring it home and my mother was adamant that the Mormons were a cult. She took the Book of Mormon from me and threw it away and told me to never deal with the Mormons.
After this event, the Gilman family left Bozeman and the Wally Byam event was over. I pondered what they had said and continued praying for guidance and direction in my life.
Ironically, my father, who at the time worked for Skaggs Drug in Bozeman, got a call and was transferred, of all places, to Salt Lake City, Utah. So, here we were moving to the heart of Mormon country just a couple of weeks after I had been told about the gospel by the Gilmans from New Jersey.
By the end of the summer we were now in Murray, Utah and I was preparing to go to high school. Many of the high schools in Utah had a building to the side of the schools that was set aside for LDS seminary. When I was registering for classes I was asked by the counselor if I would like to take seminary. I had no idea what it was, but I also thought this is a good chance to learn more about the Mormons and to possibly make some new friends since I was new in school.
School started and I was fully engaged in my classes, including seminary. Much to the chagrin of my parents I continued to study and learn about the Mormons. Unfortunately for me, because I was not yet 18, I could not gain permission from them to be baptized as they were still very against the church and its teachings, though they did like the people.
What I did discover through going to seminary was that, based upon my understanding of the gospel, this seemed like the true church to me. Mind you, I prayed feverishly about this. It was not something that I was doing out of peer pressure or anything like that.
By May 1974 I pretty much had a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I had studied seminary, I had read the Book of Mormon and I had talked with many of my friends to learn more about it. I was engaged in church activities such as basketball (see a post about this) and youth programs.I was also taking the missionary discussions.
As summer came along, my mother and father were very displeased with my desires to join the Mormon church and they actually asked me to move out of the house for so doing. I was still 17 and was not able to get baptized without their permission, but I continued to struggle along while living on my own a couple of miles from home.
Finally, when I turned 18 I was able to start the efforts to get baptized. I retook the missionary discussions from the older brothers of two of my close friends (Jonathan Jensen’s brother Boyd — who was also the son of the Bishop of the Ward; and Brett Davie’s Brother Lynn). These two, Boyd and Lynn, had both just gotten home from their missions and were great! I did those things that I was directed to do and by January 1975 it was time to get baptized.
Some of my friends had already left to serve missions for the church, but my best friend at the time, Jonathan Jensen, was leaving on his mission at the end of January and so I chose to have my baptism just before he left on his mission so that he would have that experience and I could be baptized by my best friend.
Typically, when one is baptized in the LDS Church, it is by immersion, total immersion. But on this fortuitous day, Jonathan didn’t get me all the way in, so we had to do it a second time, and then a third…UGH!! He told me afterward that I probably needed extra cleansing! No doubt.
Soon thereafter, Jonathan left on his mission to Sweden. My other good friends were all pretty much gone as well. So, I continued to work all through the summer. At the time I was working for a record and tape rack jobber called Alta Distributing. I got to travel all over Utah and Wyoming distributing records. I did a good job for them and helped increase sales since I really knew the music (and I still do!). I eventually moved in with the Thomas family, across the street from the Jensens. It was nice to be near them.
I finally turned 19 in 1975 and could get ready for a mission. By late October I was already filling out mission papers even though I had not been a member of the church for a year yet. Technically, the rule was that I could not leave on a mission until I had been a member for a year, but there was nothing stopping me from submitting the paperwork before then. In the meantime, I continued to work and save for my mission.
I honestly don’t recall exactly when I submitted the paperwork for the mission, but I do recall that it took forever to get my mission call. By December 1975 I was really getting antsy about it. To make things worse, Alta Distributing had decided to open a record store in Price, UT in 1976 and they had discussions with me about managing it. In fact, one day the last week of December 1975 they offered me the position at a whopping $30,000/year. That was almost too good to turn down…but I was waiting on my mission call. Finally, on a Friday, I told them that if I didn’t get my mission call over the weekend I would take the position. And what happened? I got it on Saturday and had to stew the entire weekend. I fasted and prayed.
Oh, yes, I was called to serve in the Japan Nagoya mission. Japan had never crossed my mind. I thought for sure I would go to Europe! In any case, after thinking about fish heads and rice, I decided on that Sunday I would serve. I let the guys at Alta know on Monday morning. It was one of the most difficult choices I have ever made in my life, even to this day. But it was the right one.
I spent two months in Provo, UT learning Japanese, but finally was able to leave, with about 18 others, in mid-April for a life changing experience in Japan.
My experience in the mission field strengthened my testimony in the gospel. It was wonderful being strengthened by others, many who have become lifelong friends. Here are a couple more photos (of the 100s that I have) from my mission.
So, the mission ended and I returned home to the US in February 1978. During my mission, my mother had left the Jehovah’s Witnesses and become involved in the Baha’i faith. Both she and my dad had softened up on my church membership as they saw through my letters home how things had been for me. However, things were not so well for them. While I was on my mission, they divorced. My mom was living in a trailer in Jemez Springs, NM and my Dad had been transferred to Colorado. Upon my return home, all of the family got together at the trailer in Jemez. It was nice to visit all of them. We also got a family photo, the only photo that all of us had been in together.
It was nice to get them all together. Though my mother passed away in 1981, as a family we have only gotten together a couple of times since. After visiting with them I went back to Murray to get life restarted. I stayed with the Thomas family, got a new job with Alta and was back on track. I also decided I would attend BYU, so I started that process.
In late July I moved to Provo. Jonathan and some others had a house in Provo that I could live in, so I left Alta, moved to Provo and got a job at JC Penney as of August 1. A whole new change in life. And then a most unusual thing happened. I went to church in a ward in Provo and, lo and behold, I ran into Sue Gilman, the same girl whom I met in Provo. She was as surprised as I was!! Obviously, she had no idea that I had joined the church. Personally, I think it was the Lord telling us both that He directs affairs and wanted us both to know that we had done the right things ultimately. What a blessing that was!
While in Provo I had a few girlfriends and one quite serious relationship that ended up going sour. But, I also ran into a girl at a bus stop that had my heart. We had both missed the bus back in October 1978 or so. Turns out that she worked at J.C. Penney as well and I got a ride into work with her. She worked in the cafe, so I would occasionally go over an visit, but nothing serious ever happened. She then went home for Christmas, which saddened me…all I knew was her first name…Juli.
Then, on January 4, 1979, school was back in session. I was walking down the hall and she came up to me and said hello. WOW! I got her number, called her for a date and the rest is history. On January 15, 1979 I asked her to marry me in a cold snowy day, up in Provo Canyon. We eventually were married exactly 6 months later. And I know that this blessing would have never come had I not been baptized.
From our marriage, during the 1980s, we had five children. I graduated from NAU and ASU. We traveled to Japan as a family and lived there. As our children grew older, we moved to our home in Kentucky. So much has happened (which is all really another story).
Three of my children followed in my footsteps and served LDS Missions. Amaree, my oldest, served in Japan. In fact, she was one of the same areas as I was and attended the baptism of young boy whose mother I taught when I served my mission. Just another testimony to me that I made the right choice. Marissa served in Thailand. My son Seth got called to the Salt Lake City South Mission…yet another strange twist of events in my mind. I lived there and joined the church there. And on Seth’s final Sunday, I got special permission from the mission president to allow Seth to visit the Murray 20th Ward and speak in church as a guest speaker. He was able to express gratitude for me and also tell them what blessings they had provided through my baptism. They could see the fruits of their labors.
In closing, it is amazing to look back down a 40 year old path and see all that has happened as a result of that one decision and one action in life. The path has not been easy, and was probably not intended to be easy. I am sure there are many more challenges to come. But the real blessing is seeing it in hindsight and knowing that good decisions ultimately bring about good results.