NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Orange groves once occupied much of the fertile soil of Orange County, Calif., carrying a fragrance so strong there were seasons when the distinctive smell of oranges lingered in the air.
Over time, however, freeways and a vibrant economy sprouted from the same soil. Residents built houses, businesses and a tourist industry that literally attracts millions to this area each year.
And today, a temple stands on this fertile ground, a beautiful symbol for all to see that something else will now grow in Orange County — the testimonies of Latter-day Saints.
"There will be a new blossoming of the gospel" in Orange County, said Newport Beach California Temple Matron Dixie Oveson.
She and her husband, Temple President Stephen B. Oveson of the Seventy, lived in Orange County for 13 years before his call as a General Authority. Now, he said, the region will feel an influence that "can't be touched" by anything in the past.
President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the new temple in four sessions Aug. 28. The sixth operating temple in California and the 122nd worldwide, the new edifice will serve 47,176 Latter-day Saints from 16 stakes in Orange County.
"A temple is here to bless their lives, to enrich their lives, to make their lives happier, fuller and more meaningful," said Donald G. Laws, coordinator of the Newport Beach Temple Committee.
Located on Bonita Canyon Drive, next to the Newport California Stake Center and a nature reserve, the new 17,800 square-foot temple stands on 8.8 acres between two of the area's most notable landmarks: Disneyland and the beach.
Hundreds gathered outside the temple for the symbolic sealing of the temple cornerstone, which contained the Church's standard works, historical records of the temple committee and the history of the Church in the area.
President Hinckley thanked the cornerstone choir for the "stirring hymn," and expressed gratitude to the vast audience. "We are grateful to you, to all of you who are assembled here," he said.
After President Hinckley applied mortar to seal the cornerstone, he invited President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency; Elder Ronald L. Rasband of the Seventy; and members of the temple presidency to do the same. He then invited two small children, Rachel Dangl, 5, and Derek Reese, 6, from the audience to apply some mortar.
After the dedication, President Weatherford Clayton of the Newport Beach California Stake said the day could not have gone better or been more meaningful.
"This temple will become the compass point around which all the activity in Orange County will occur," he said. "Since (President Hinckley) first announced there would be a temple here there has been such a purpose and destiny in the hearts of the saints."
President Lloyd M. Rasmussen, first counselor in the temple presidency, remembers a time in Orange County when Church members from two wards met in an old schoolhouse. During the last half century, he watched the area grow, as an economic opportunity and a booming economy brought Latter-day Saints from diverse backgrounds to California.
"Once two wards, now 16 stakes, today we are unified by our own temple," he said. "Orange County is unique. We are able to blend cultures. We are able to blend economic differences."
The temple — built with funds raised entirely by members within the temple district — will now serve Church units representing the Samoan, Tongan, Vietnamese, Korean, Mexican and other Latino populations in the area.
Possibly, the temple will be the greatest blessing to members of the Spanish-speaking Santa Ana South Stake, said Steve Samuelian, assistant coordinator for the temple committee. Many members there have limited resources to travel outside of Orange County, he said. Nevertheless, their contributions to the temple fund and their help during the open house showed significant sacrifice, he added.
"They made significant contributions in the funding of this temple. They made significant contributions in the open house and they will make a significant contribution to the work that will go on in this temple," he said. "We feel it is because of them that the Lord has allowed His house to be built here."
The temple itself reflects the roots of many of the stake's Spanish-speaking members. Built with arches and a Salisbury pink granite exterior, the temple reflects early mission architecture common in California.
"When you think about what the community is, it fits right in," said Robert E. Greene, second counselor in the temple presidency. "It is distinguished. It is grand. It is beautiful. But it has a character that is very much a character of this area."
The Church has had a presence in California since 1846 — even before the first Mormon pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley. The ship Brooklyn, carrying pioneers from New York bound for Utah, landed in California about six months before members of the Mormon Battalion completed a long march in the area.
Today more than 760,000 Church members — or approximately 2 percent of the state's population — live in California, the largest number of Church members in any state outside of Utah.
Since the construction of the Los Angeles California Temple in 1956, temples have been added in Oakland, San Diego, Fresno and Redlands. A seventh California temple is under construction in Sacramento.
Viliami and Mele Kilifi moved from Tonga to Orange County in 1978, before a temple was built on their home island. Today, they celebrate two temples: one in the land they came from and one that has risen from the fertile soil they now call home. "Words cannot describe how happy we really are," Sister Kilifi said.
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