Utahns celebrated Pioneer Day last month, but hundreds of Hawaiians honored their Utah roots Monday with the dedication of a historical monument at the site of the former Mormon colony of Iosepa.
The occasion marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the once thriving settlement in Skull Valley. President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave the dedicatory address and prayer."This memorial will stand here as a fitting tribute to those who lived and died here and gave their lives as an expression of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," the church leader told the crowd gathered at the Iosepa cemetery, the only readily apparent remnant of the town.
"As we traveled down the highway today in our air-conditioned car, I pictured in my mind the trek of those who came 100 years ago today to this place and of how they must have felt on that occasion. But they set to work, and they made it beautiful. What appears to many to be a desert was in effect a garden spot, a place of beauty, music, sociality, worship and love one for another as they established here a colony of Hawaiian saints."
President Hinckley mentioned that on Arbor Day in 1899, 10 years after their coming, the colonists planted 300 walnut trees, 300 fruit trees and 100 ornamental trees.
"This was not the desert we see today," he said. "This was once a beautiful community and a part of a large mosaic of communities that our people established all over the West, in Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and California - 500 communities, at least, and among them stood Iosepa as a gem, a paradise, brought from the islands of the Pacific to the desert of the West."
Among several speakers at the service was historian Dennis Atkins. He said that when Hawaiian converts to the church came to the Utah Territory in the 1870s and 1880s, much of the fertile bottom land had already been settled. A committee of white and Hawaiian church members considered possible sites for settlement in Cache, Weber, Utah and Tooele counties, finally choosing the Iosepa location.
The name Iosepa, Hawaiian for Joseph, was given in honor of Joseph F. Smith, president of the church at the time.
Atkins said the town thrived until 1917, when President Smith announced that a church temple would be built at Laie, Hawaii. Most of the Iosepa settlers, who had come to Utah mainly to perform ordinances in the church's temples in Utah, decided they must go back to Hawaii to help in the construction of the temple there, Atkins said. Thus, the Iosepa project ended.
The monument features a bust of a Polynesian warrior sculpted by Jan Fisher, an LDS sculptor from Laie, Hawaii. On the granite base are plaques telling the story of Iosepa and listing the names of the original settlers. There are 79 graves in the cemetery, and all the recorded names of the dead are listed on the monument.
Edwin L. Kamauoha Sr., president of the Iosepa Historical Society, said a $5,000 donation was received from Princess Abigail K. Kawananakoa of Hawaii to help in construction of the monument.