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ELDER WILSON LEAVES LEGACY OF LOVE

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Members of the Wellington 3rd Ward started into the final verse of the hymn "How Great Thou Art" at the conclusion of fast and testimony meeting. It was Sunday, May 28, the first Sabbath following the death of their own Elder Todd Ray Wilson.

Unexpectedly, Bishop Rulon E. White and his counselors stood in unison. Their standing prompted others to do the same. With eyes moist and hearts overflowing with reverence for the Lord and respect for Elder Wilson's family, seated in the congregation, the bishopric and weeping fathers, mothers and children stood and sang with fervor.The touching scene came on the heels of testimonies shared by Elder Wilson's father, Arvil; a sister, Diane Wilson Christensen; the bishop and others. Because of stake conference the first Sunday in June, wards in the Wellington Utah Stake conducted fast and testimony meetings the last week in May.

During the service, which began with a prayer for the Wilsons and plea for moisture in the drought-stricken area, Elder Wilson's brothers Brad, 18, and Jim, 12, blessed and passed the sacrament. Though still stunned by the loss of a brother and son, the family faithfully attended to their priesthood duties and worshipped with close friends.

There was no tinge of bitterness.

"There is no hatred in this home," emphasized Brother Wilson. "I want to thank my Father in Heaven for my family and for the ward. It's times like these that remind you how wonderful they are. I know this Church is true. I know Todd knew it was true."

Elder Wilson's sister, Diane, expressed thanks for her family and for the comfort of the Spirit. "I know the Holy Ghost has dwelt in our home constantly the last couple of days," she said. "I know Todd is pulling for us."

Bishop White recounted the strength of the Wilsons as he visited with them after learning of the tragedy. "As we visited with the family to offer sympathy and strength," he said, "I felt they were strengthening me."

The Wilsons' strength comes from their humble obedience and an abundance of love. At their modest home in Wellington, the freezer was full of food. Friends and family continued to call throughout the day Sunday, offering food, cards, flowers and embraces.

Neighbor Erma Atwood, a widow of only three weeks, stopped by with ham, rolls and an understanding heart.

Non-member neighbors had come over and cleaned the home top to bottom before company arrived.

Messages of sympathy from several of the General Authorities, the family of Elder Wilson's companion, Elder Jeffrey Brent Ball, and countless others had poured into the Wilson home from afar.

Family members including eight children, four spouses, grandchildren and sisters of Brother and Sister Wilson gathered in the living room with Bishop White and stake president Rodger Branch to just "be together" and share their feelings.

The underlying sentiment was one of gratitude for Todd, for his influence in the family and for his service.

"I don't want this to change anybody's attitude toward serving a mission," mused Brad. "There are reasons for where we go. It's work that needs to be done."

"Our faith has grown because of this," added 17-year-old sister, Machele Wilson. "It hasn't changed in any way. We feel closer to the Lord than ever because we need Him."

Todd's older brother, Dan, credited much of the stability of the family during this difficult time to the example of his parents.

"The world doesn't produce many parents like this any more," he praised. "Dad wore the same boots for five years while all of us had new shoes."

The family had pulled together to get Todd on his mission in 1988. Brother Wilson had been laid off from the mine where he worked. Finances were strained. Dan, a returned missionary now serving as an elders quorum president in Plano, Texas, had just finished his schooling at Utah State University in Logan. He and his wife, Tina, had a mobile home they had lived in the final year of college. The couple wanted to sell the home before leaving Logan.

Three times they thought they had the home sold, only to have the deals fall through. Todd's departure was drawing close, and he was doing all he could to save money, working nights at a fast-food restaurant in nearby Price.

"We decided that we would do nothing with the money from the sale but put it in Todd's account for his mission," Dan said. "The mobile home sold within about a week."

"Todd had wanted to wait until last fall to leave for his mission," said Bishop White. "He wanted to work all summer and earn mony because he knew his dad didn't have a job. I told him, `Todd, don't worry about the money. I feel strongly that you should go now.' He was obedient and went."

President Branch echoed the same thought. The stake president serves as the family's home teacher and has taught most of their children in seminary. In turn, Brother Wilson is his executive secretary.

"Brother Wilson will do anything his priesthood leaders ask," Pres. Branch told the Church News.

Later at their home, Pres. Branch added: "I don't think the family could have handled this without the support of the Holy Ghost. I remember driving down the road to their home with Bishop White to deliver the news. I pleaded, `Heavenly Father, you've got to help us.' As we met, the Spirit was there."

While that Spirit, and the love of family and friends, is carrying the Wilson family through their loss, they are planning for Brad's departure later this year.

"The missionary tradition in this family has gone on," said Brother Wilson. "This little baby (2-week-old grandson) will be blessed next month, and we hope he will serve a mission, too."