NAUVOO, ILL. — Rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple is a memorable enough saga, but it has a sub plot — a love story.
Hugh and Marlene Pierce, currently serving as missionaries at the temple site, met, fell in love and married as the temple walls were beginning to rise.
Elder Pierce, who made headlines in 1977 as the first Latter-day Saint mayor of Nauvoo since Joseph Smith, was serving as a family history missionary in Salt Lake City with his wife, Josephine, when she passed away in September of 1999. She had suffered 18 years with cancer, but her health had improved prior to their call.
"We thoroughly enjoyed the mission," he said. "It was the highlight of our lives. But about 10 months into the mission, her little heart played out. She got a transfer to the other side, and I received a release to come home."
Marlene Layton's husband, Lawrence Layton, died in Salt Lake City of a brain tumor about six years ago. In September 1999, she was called to serve in Nauvoo as the site historian for the new temple, working closely with her brother, Ronald Prince, the project administrator. It was there that she became acquainted in the Nauvoo Ward with Brother Pierce, who was serving at the time as high priests group leader.
Each received a strong spiritual impression to pursue a relationship. They immediately contacted F. Keith Stepan, managing director of the Temple Construction Department, who has a leadership role over the missionaries serving at the temple site. Ultimately, the determination was that Sister Layton would be given an honorable release from her service to allow an opportunity for the two to get better acquainted with the understanding that she would be called back as a missionary.
"I didn't want to lose her as my site historian," Elder Prince said.
Meanwhile, Brother Pierce submitted his papers in preparation for the eventuality that he could be called to serve with her in the event they did get married.
After squeezing about six months of courtship into a week or two, the couple were married in the St. Louis Missouri Temple. The members of their respective families who could manage it met them at the temple for the ceremony.
They spent about a week honeymooning in nearby St. Louis and Hannibal, Mo. Then they got back to work, having been called as a couple on a 24-month mission. Sister Pierce resumed her duties as site historian, documenting the progress of the construction with photos and written logs. Elder Pierce manages the observation deck, where visitors may observe the progress of the construction, learn more about the purpose of temples in general and this one in particular, and view interesting objects such as the drainage system for the baptismal font, unearthed during excavation. He also assists the structural, mechanical and electrical engineers with inspecting the work.
"And we want to tell you we're really happy, definitely really happy," Elder Pierce said.
"Couldn't be happier," added his bride.