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Pres. Monson dedicates beloved camp and new conference center

Aspen Grove rich with memories

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In the heart of Provo Canyon, near where President Thomas S. Monson first learned to fish and swim, he dedicated the Aspen Grove Family Camp and new Aspen Lodge conference center July 1 as a "mountain paradise."

President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, said he was honored to dedicate not only the newly constructed conference center, but also the other facilities at the BYU camp — used for decades by the university and LDS families but never formally dedicated.

"My youth is tied to Provo Canyon where my grandfather owned a cabin," said President Monson, who added that as he returned for the dedication, "memories, of course, come creeping to the surface."

At the age of eight, the year he was baptized, President Monson learned to fish in the Provo River and spent many hours at an old swimming hole, testing his skills against the current.

Today, he said, as his children, grandchildren and thousands of others spend time at Aspen Grove they are also weaving memories.

One of his grandchildren called the mountain retreat "heaven on earth." President Monson said he sees the facility as a "respite from the cares of the world."

Looking at the history of the family camp, owned and operated by BYU, President Monson said it is apparent that the Lord watched over the development of the mammoth project — which has survived "crisis after crisis after crisis."

Located on the Alpine Loop in Provo Canyon, 2.5 miles above Sundance, Aspen Grove first became linked with BYU when the late Eugene L. Roberts used the area as the starting point of the annual Mount Timpanogos hike in 1911. About 10 years later, the Stewart family donated approximately 35 acres of this land to BYU.

In 1922, BYU President Franklin S. Harris established Aspen Grove as BYU's summer school. The staff and students lived in tents and studied botany, zoology and geology. In 1923, a kitchen, dining hall and three dormitories were erected. Later, during World War II, summer school was abandoned at Aspen Grove for various war-related reasons.

Raymond Beckham, a former director of the Alumni Association, became interested in using the area as a family camp for BYU in 1956. At a board meeting Oct. 10, 1962, the project was approved. More than 111 alumni were approached and each signed a personal note for $1,000 to finance the building.

Construction began in the fall of 1962. The swimming pool was excavated, the softball field leveled, sewer lines started, cabin sites selected and camp roads established. The camp opened for business July 13, 1963. An average of eight families a week visited the camp during the first years. During its 39 seasons of operation, however, the camp has grown to an average occupancy of 80 families per week.

In his address, President Monson recounted the experiences of three families he met at the camp, where he has given firesides on many occasions.

In July 1990, President Monson gave a devotional address at Aspen Grove. He noted that a man in the congregation was wearing a Michigan sweatshirt. He related to that group publicly that from boyhood he had also loved the Michigan Wolverines.

"Later I learned from relatives of the man who had been in the audience wearing the Michigan sweatshirt that, prior to this time, he had not shown much interest in the Church and that they had not as yet found a way to reach his heart," recalled President Monson. "They indicated that as a result of my message and the comment made concerning the University of Michigan, the man made a turnabout and invited missionaries to his home. His conversion to the gospel resulted."

In the 1980's, a friend of President Monson's, Richard Headlee, was given a very pessimistic report from his doctors following a heart attack. He needed a new heart and, following faith and prayers, a heart became available.

"How did he say thank you to his children and grandchildren for their love and support? He brought them to Aspen Grove," said President Monson.

He added that the family was so appreciative to the Lord for the good health of their father that they organized "Project Concern International," providing 40,000 pounds of needed supplies for an orphanage in Romania.

Finally, President Monson spoke of the influence Aspen Grove had on Sarah and H. Smith Shumway and their eight children — whom he met at the camp in 1991. Brother Shumway had been blinded and severely wounded by a land-mine explosion in World War II.

"At an evening of entertainment at Aspen Grove, the entire Shumway family was on the stage. The children were asked, 'What was it like growing up in a household with a sightless father?' One daughter responded, 'When I was about 5 years old, I remember my father holding my hand and walking me around the neighborhood and I never realized he was blind because he talked about the birds and other things. I always thought he held my hand because he loved me more than other fathers loved their children.' "

President Monson said, indeed, Aspen Grove is a little heaven on earth. "See what this camp does for people?" he declared. "It brings families together."