A member of the LDS Church's First Presidency was the guest of honor and principal speaker at a fireside here Sunday evening. However, a petite 99-year-old woman dressed in an old-fashioned red gown with white lace trim briefly stole the spotlight.

President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, met 99-year-old Helena C. Olsen McKin-non just moments after he arrived at the LDS Church's stake center in Moroni to speak at a Utah Statehood Centennial Fireside.Before taking his place on the stand in the chapel, President Monson, accompanied by his wife, Frances, visited with McKinnon in the office of Moroni stake President Ronald Bradley. It was hard to tell who was impressed more by whom. Her white hair, charming smile and talent as an engaging conversationalist captured President Monson's attention to the extent that the meeting, attended by 1,600 people, was a few minutes late starting.

Later during the fireside, President Monson called McKinnon up to the podium and introduced her to the audience.

President Monson spoke of the pioneers who settled the Valley of the Great Salt Lake and then, responding to calls issued by Brigham Young, went on to settle such places as the Sanpete Valley. Many attending the fireside Sunday evening to hear President Monson are descendants of those pioneers.

"For many, the journey didn't begin at Nauvoo, Kirtland, Far West or New York, but rather in distant England, Scotland, Scandinavia and Germany," he said.

He drew from his own family's history, relating the story of a great-uncle, David Miller, and his family to illustrate some of the hardships early converts to the LDS Church in the British Isles and Europe faced as they immigrated to America to join the main body of Latter-day Saints. With David were his wife, Ellen, and their children, the youngest of whom, Helen, died aboard ship during an outbreak of cholera. President Monson said that so many had died during the voyage that all the weights and pieces of coal that could be used as weights had been used; nothing was left to tie to the little girl's body to take it beneath the surface.

"Far into the night her family could see her body floating on the ocean," President Monson said. "Such scenes were not uncommon."

He read excerpts from pioneer journals, including from some of those who settled Moroni, Nephi and nearby communities.

"The passage of time dims our memories and diminishes our appreciation for those who walked the path of pain, leaving behind a tear-marked trail of nameless graves, for those who settled the towns and villages throughout the Utah Territory - including Moroni," he said.

"But what of today's challenge? Are there no rocky roads to travel, no rugged mountains to climb, chasms to cross, trails to blaze or rivers to ford? Or is there a very present need for that pioneer spirit to guide us away from the dangers which threaten to engulf us and lead us rather to a Zion of safety?

"Can we somehow muster the courage, that steadfastness of purpose which characterized the pioneers of a former generation? Can you and I, in actual fact, be pioneers today? The dictionary defines a pioneers as `One who goes before, showing others the way to follow.' Oh, how the world needs such pioneers today. . . ."

"Can we not follow the Prince of Peace, that pioneer who literally showed the way for others to follow? His divine plan can save us from the Babylons of sin, complacency and error. His example points the way. When faced with temptation, he shunned it. When offered the world, he declined it. When asked for his life, he gave it. . . . "

President Monson said people of today might not be called to perform heroic acts as did those of Utah's early pioneer days, "but we can bolster human spirits, clothe cold bodies, feed hungry people, comfort grieving hearts, and lift to new heights precious souls," he said. "Now is the time. This is the place."

Elder James M. Paramore of the LDS Church's Quorums of the Seventy, and his wife, Helen, also attended the meeting. Elder Para-more, first counselor in the church's Utah South area, spoke of his grandmother, Annie Nielsen. Her family had joined the LDS Church in Denmark and wanted to immigrate to America. However, the family had money enough to send just Annie, who was 8. "Her mother tied a mail address around her neck, `Moroni, Utah.' Two missionaries met her boat in New York and put her on the train to Utah."