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Celebrating heritage: Tenth Ward to observe building's centennial

One Salt Lake ward will get the chance to celebrate a centenarian birthday Saturday. But instead of singing "Happy Birthday" to one of the ward members, they will be blowing out the candles to commemorate a historical chapel.

The 10th Ward, one of the original 19 wards in the Salt Lake Valley, will commemorate a structure that has had its share of influential moments in church history on Saturday and honor the still-burning pioneer spirit that resides within

the boundaries of the ward.

"We feel lucky to celebrate it," said Bishop Nick Berger of the 10th Ward in the Salt Lake Park Stake. "This is a special place, where special things have happened. It's where President (Gordon B.) Hinckley gained his testimony of the Prophet (Joseph Smith) and the Restoration. There are things in this chapel that modern ones don't have."

When President Gordon B. Hinckley was 12, his father took the young deacon to his first stake priesthood meeting, which was at the 10th Ward chapel. Because Bryant S. Hinckley was the stake president, the future prophet sat alone in the back row of the chapel. Men whose pioneer ancestors were just in reach all sang a hymn that would cement President Hinckley's testimony of the church.

"They were singing of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and as they did so, there came into my young heart a great surge of love for and belief in the mighty Prophet of this dispensation," then-Elder Hinckley said during a fireside at BYU in 1979. "In my childhood, I had been taught much of him in meetings and classes in our ward, as well as in our home; but my experience in that stake priesthood meeting was different. I knew then, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God."

And that is only one of many "special things" that has happened within the bounds of the 10th Ward.

The 10th Ward was organized on Feb. 22, 1849, with a bishopric consisting of three Mormon Battalion members, according to the Utah State Historical society. Originally, ward squares consisted of a complete community unit as the buildings served members' spiritual, economic, social, cultural and education needs.

Of the original wards, only the 10th Ward still uses the buildings that were constructed for the pioneers' needs, according to the historical society. Still standing at 420 S. 800 East are the 1873 meetinghouse, the 1880 ward store, a schoolhouse built in 1887 and the chapel. The late gothic revival-style chapel was finished on Sept. 5, 1909, at a cost of $20,000 and later dedicated by Joseph Fielding Smith. It was also the first chapel in the entire church to have a pipe organ installed within its walls.

With such a rich history behind them, members of the 10th Ward look forward to Saturday's pioneer-style party.

For Erma Matson, a ward member who has lived within the boundaries of the 10th Ward since 1958, the chapel and the ward it belongs to have meaning that is hard to describe to someone who's never had the opportunity of living in such a historical part of Salt Lake City.

"When you walk into that building, you can literally feel their (the original pioneers) presence — their faith and courage," Matson said. "I've never wanted to move out of this ward because of the spirit that is here. It has a specialness to it that's hard to describe. The building itself is old, but it's home. I hope I never have to leave here."

For the younger generation, it's an opportunity to connect with the heritage of the ward and push it along.

"It's a really cool building," said Staci Thacker, an Albuquerque, N.M., native who is on the ward activities committee. "I had no idea of its history when I got here. It's been a good experience to plan this, and we hope everybody can have a good time at the celebration."

The ward plans to listen to President Hinckley's story of gaining his testimony in the chapel, which he told at the rededication in 2000, and give tours of the building, Thacker said. In addition, there will also be pioneer-era games for children and opening of the cornerstone and time capsule. In the spirit of a birthday party, there will also be cake and refreshments as participants sing, "Happy Birthday" to the chapel.

"It's a privilege to be a small part of the history of this ward," Bishop Berger said. "The history of this ward and this chapel have been built by the members that have lived here. We welcome all to come and join us, and we extend a special invitation to those who have ever lived in the boundaries of the 10th Ward."


Tenth Ward celebration

Everyone is invited to attend the chapel centennial celebration, but a special invitation is extended to people who have lived in the Tenth Ward. Festivities will start Saturday at 5:30 at the chapel and include listening to President Hinckley's rededication speech, tours of the building by ward members and pioneer games for kids. At 6:30 p.m., the time capsule and cornerstone ceremonies will commence, along with singing "Happy Birthday.". Cake and refreshments will be provided. The Tenth Ward Square is at 420 S. 800 East in Salt Lake City.Heady