Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball was lost for a long, long time.
Oh, not completely lost; people knew she was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. They just didn't know where. Time, weather and maybe vandalism had taken their toll on the red sandstone marker that had been placed on her grave in 1898.
And that bothered Ron Anderson, a Salt Lake historian and volunteer who gives tours of the cemetery. "She has such an interesting story, and I wanted to talk about her on the tour we do regarding faithful women."
Now he can. On Thursday evening, on a hillside looking out over the cemetery, a new marker was dedicated in honor of this "strong minded and warm hearted" woman.
Sarah Kimball, born in 1818, was an early pioneer of the LDS Church. She lived in Kirtland, Ohio, then moved to Nauvoo, Ill., where she married Hiram Kimball. While in Nauvoo, she founded the Ladies Society to make shirts for men working on the temple. The group was the forerunner of the church's Relief Society.
Sarah came to the valley of the Salt Lake in1848; served for years in the General Relief Society; was president of the 15th Ward Relief Society for 41 years, where she built the first Relief Society Hall and Granary.
She was also active in the women's suffrage movement, serving as the first president of the Utah Women's Suffrage Association and a member of the Utah Constitutional Convention.
She was, says Anderson, truly a remarkable woman. "The fire of women's rights burned in her long before it was taken up by others."
Anderson spent more than a year looking for Sarah, and finally, with the help of a cemetery employee, found what was left of her marker. "The base and bottom of the marker had sunk into the ground and were almost totally covered with grass. A triangle piece that had been broken off lay some three feet away, and it, too, was almost covered by grass.
The story of how a new marker came to be is one of how lives can touch one another beyond the generations and of what a small group of dedicated people can do.
About a year ago, a group of Young Women from the North 18th Ward, took one of Anderson's tours, and they, too, felt bad that Kimball's marker had been destroyed. They and their leaders decided to take on a "headstone for Sarah" project.
Under the direction of Jo Ann Autenrieb, the eight Mia Maids — Crissy Renda, Jill Christensen, Jennifer Sutherland, Rebecca Priggemeier, Elizabeth Clark, Dara Jacobberger, April Garrick and Millie Walker — began researching Kimball's life; began raising money for a new marker.
They contacted Larkin Mortuary, which donated the stone marker (along the way the thinking changed from doing a headstone to doing a monument) and then they designed the memorial and wrote text for the marker.
And through it all, they came to know and love Sarah Kimball. "Her philosophy that most stands out to me was that handwork should be accompanied by brain work," said Renda, as part of the dedicatory program.
"She also thought tight lacing was a sin against humanity. I liked her before, but that totally endeared her to me."
"I admire the way she was committed to helping others," added Priggemeier. "She would have given up everything for what she believed in." Priggemeier knows she and her friends may not be asked to make the sacrifices Sarah did, "but I think she would want us to be young women of values and to stand up for what is right."
Autenrieb noted how Kimball was given a promise that she would be remembered from generation to generation. "We are helping to fulfill that promise today," she said. "And it won't end here. These girls will return to this place as mothers and grandmothers, perhaps bringing flowers to put in the vase on the monument. They will tell their daughters and granddaughters the story."
"I can't think these girls will ever be the same," said Sharon Larsen, second counselor in the General Young Women's Presidency, who attended the dedication.
"What they have done is just marvelous," added Mary Ellen Smoot, General Relief Society president. Not only have the girls learned the thrill of research, they have seen the power of service. "Just think what has happened because this woman had a desire to make shirts."
And just think what has happened because the girls — and others — cared.
Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball will be long remembered.