Related list: A complete list of Mormon temples

The Jordan River Utah Temple was intended to be a workhorse.

Covering 153,000 square feet and 15 acres of property at its dedication in 1981, the new house of the Lord was designed to have the largest capacity of any temple at that point (25 percent larger than the Ogden and Provo temples).

In a symbolic gesture during the 1979 groundbreaking, President Spencer W. Kimball departed from the traditional shovel method in favor of a hard hat and construction machinery.

“You will notice the large power-scoop shovel,” said President N. Eldon Tanner, who conducted the groundbreaking service. “It will be operated by President Kimball, in keeping with his oft-quoted counsel to ‘lengthen our stride.’”

Following its dedication, the Jordan River Temple quickly became one of the busiest in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even with the Salt Lake Temple less than 15 miles away.

Three decades after its dedication, the Jordan River Temple, the 20th temple worldwide and seventh built in Utah and the second in the Salt Lake Valley, continues to be a workhorse in an era of accelerated temple work. Here is a look back at its rich history.

“There is a particularly warm feeling about the Jordan River Temple,” said Janet Kruckenberg, secretary to current temple president Robert P. Haight. “Prior to moving to Utah, we came to the Jordan River Temple from time to time. There was always such a welcoming feeling there.”

A new temple

With attendance at the Salt Lake, Ogden and Provo temples at all-time highs in 1977, President Kimball announced plans for the Jordan River Utah Temple at a news conference in the Church Office Building on Feb. 3, 1978. At that time, temples were also under construction in Sao Paulo, Tokyo, Seattle, Mexico City and American Samoa.

After formally acquiring the property, a twist came when church leaders learned the temple straddled two areas with different zoning laws. It was fortunate that the part of the temple in the section with more restrictive regulations for height did not include the tallest parts of the building. There were no height restrictions in the zone where the 200-foot-tall tower and statue of the angel Moroni would be built, sparing architects the challenge of designing new blueprints. As for the gold statue of Moroni and his trumpet, it’s interesting to note that the Jordan River Temple is one of five temples featuring Moroni holding the gold plates.

Tear drops are an architectural theme found in the fence and spire.

The campaign

Jordan River was the first temple whose construction and maintenance costs for many years were funded entirely by monetary donations from local members. The temple site was also a gift to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 1978, a large fund-raising campaign was started in the temple district, which included 122 stakes. When the campaign ended just over a year later, the members had contributed $14.5 million — 110 percent of the original goal, according to a 1981 Church News article. The temple site was also gifted to the church.

Of the thousands who sacrificed to contribute, a few stories are recorded in Chad S. Hawkins’ book “Holy Places.” One woman with cataracts was saving money for an operation to restore her sight. She emptied her entire account and gave everything to the temple.

Another woman struggling to give up smoking committed to her bishop to not only give up her habit, but to donate to the temple fund what she had been spending on cigarettes.

Two young boys went door-to-door selling loaves of homemade bread. With the help of their mother, they sold about 30 loaves.

One man went without lunch every day for a year to save and give one dollar per day.

The groundbreaking

With cloudless, blue skies overhead, an estimated crowd of about 15,000 people attended the outdoor groundbreaking ceremony on June 9, 1979, including Utah Gov. Scott M. Matheson and other dignitaries.

President Kimball, 84, delivered his address, offered a prayer and then climbed atop a large front-end loader to scoop up the first bucketful of dirt.

“The Lord has made known it is his will that sacred and holy temples should be erected,” President Kimball said his remarks.

President Ezra Taft Benson said the Jordan River Temple would be a light to all in the area.

“This valley,” the Church News quoted President Benson, “will be protected, our families protected, our children safeguarded as we live the gospel, visit the temples and live close to the Lord.”

The dedication

In September and October of 1981, the Jordan River Temple hosted more than 560,000 at its open house, the Church News said.

President Marion G. Romney, second counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the Jordan River Temple the week of Nov. 16-20, 1981. President Kimball was in attendance but did not speak because he was recovering from surgery. The temple dedication also commemorated the prophet’s 64th wedding anniversary to his wife, Camilla, who accompanied him.

In the dedicatory prayer, President Romney gave thanks to the Lord “that thou didst inspire thy prophet in this day to select the beautiful site for this edifice on which still another holy temple has been erected in this valley.”

Incredibly, about 20 people who attended the dedication of the Salt Lake City temple in 1893 also made it to the Jordan River Temple dedication, including Ivy Blood Hill, 93; Helen Kimball Orgill, 95; and Elder LeGrand Richards, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Altogether, an estimated 163,000 (8 years and older) attended the 15 dedicatory sessions.

Donovan H. Van Dam was called as the first Jordan River Temple president. With six temples already in Utah, the new president expressed his gratitude.

“Never did most of us dream of such a thing happening,” he said. “From raw dirt to colorful gardens, from cold concrete and steel has risen a beautiful temple – a beacon on a hill.”

The same year Jordan River became the church’s 20th operating temple, President Kimball announced nine more — Lima, Peru; Seoul, South Korea; Chicago, Ill.; Dallas, Texas; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Johannesburg, South Africa; Manila, Philippines; Frankfurt, Germany; and Stockholm, Sweden.

Pressing forward

According to a history kept by Ada Van Dam, the first matron and President Van Dam’s wife, the Jordan River Temple started with more than 1,000 temple workers.

“Today, we have 4,500 temple workers,” said Kruckenberg, who has served in the Jordan River Temple for three years. “Some of these 94-year-old patrons are still driving themselves to the temple twice a week and pull out their walkers to get from the parking lot to the door. I love it. It'll bring you to tears to watch them."

One temple worker was released at age 101, Kruckenberg said, and lived another year and half before passing away. Another member served as a sealer until he was released at age 94. Many temple workers and patrons come in wheelchairs, she said.

From Tuesday to Saturday, there is also a constant stream of young people going to and from the baptistery, before and after school, Kruckenberg said.

Kruckenberg has enjoyed seeing children be sealed to their parents.

"Someone asked a 4-year-old what he liked best about the temple, thinking the child would say something about the decor. The child responded, 'I liked all those grammas in their nightgowns,'" Kruckenberg said.

"Another child was leaving, passed one of the smiling workers and said in all seriousness, 'Goodbye angel.'"

Until a few years ago, the Jordan River Temple district contained 110 stakes. Following the dedication of the Draper and Oquirrh Mountain temples, that number has been reduced to 68 stakes.

Jordan River provides several language sessions, including Spanish, Portuguese, Polynesian languages and a weekly ASL session with ASL temple workers.

"These sessions are packed," Kruckenberg said.

"We are grateful for those who, in their generosity, donated this site for this purpose," President Romney said in the dedicatory prayer, "and for all who have given so generously of their means, their time, their skills and their strength to make possible this sacred house."

Jordan River Temple Milestones

Feb. 3, 1978 – President Spencer W. Kimball announces plans for the Jordan River Utah Temple

June 9, 1979 – Official groundbreaking and site dedication

Aug. 22-Sept. 29, 1981 – Public open house

Nov. 16-20, 1981 – Jordan River Temple dedicated

Jordan River Temple Presidents

1981-1985 – Donovan H. Van Dam

1985-1987 – H. Burke Peterson

1987-1990 – John A. Larsen

1990-1993 – Wm. Grant Bangerter

1993-1996 – C. Elliott Richards

1996-1999 – LeGrand R. Curtis

1999-2002 – Loring M. Hampton

2002-2005 – Ben B. Banks

2005-2008 – Robert L. Backman

2008-2011 – F. Wayne Chamberlain

2011-present – Robert P. Haight

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