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Nauvoo missionaries enjoy being tourists at Richardson's Point, Iowa

The day didn't start out how Bonnie Dalton was hoping it would.

Dalton was serving in the Illinois Nauvoo Mission at the historic sites, where tens of thousands of tourists visit every year. Visitors are warmly welcomed by missionaries dressed in period clothing who explain Nauvoo’s history, demonstrate pioneer tools and highlight stories from individual Latter-day Saints. But on April 19, 2015, the 160 senior missionaries, including Dalton, became tourists at a destination most had never heard of: Richardson’s Point.

“I didn’t want to go because it was raining and I knew it would be miserable,” recalled Dalton, who has since returned from her mission. “I dropped my shawl in the mud when we got out of the car; it wasn’t a good beginning. But when we walked into the grove, the Spirit was present and everything changed.”

The quiet grove of trees on a private farm at Richardson's Point was dedicated in March 2014 by President Eric Andersen of the Iowa City Iowa Stake to commemorate two of the first graves on the Mormon Trail. The site has been lovingly preserved and improved over many years by property owner Brad Klodt and his friends and neighbors.

“We didn’t think it would be much, but when we got here, we found it to be so much more,” said Sue Brown, who was then serving as a senior missionary.

Like the pioneers who had grudgingly camped for 12 days (March 7-19, 1846) at Richardson's Point, the missionaries followed their leader in heavy rain to reach the site, but instead of traveling weeks by wagon, they had traveled for an hour by car.

When the missionaries arrived, the rain stopped, only to return in force as they departed. The 90-minute rain-free window just before sunset allowed time for these tourists to gain an appreciation for local residents who have cared for Mormon history sites all across southern Iowa.

“It’s your history, yes, but it’s also Iowa’s history; it’s American history,” Klodt explained to his guests during a short program. He clarified that the graves have always been known about and respected in this farming region. His research into property abstracts helped answer questions about how Richardson’s Point got its name and how it was connected to early church members.

Doug Harwood, then a counselor in the mission presidency, expressed satisfaction with a lesson learned on this outing.

“Many people outside of our church have felt a powerful reason for caring for the Mormon Trail all along its route," he said. "They feel its importance, and that blesses our lives today. It also helps us respect what is sacred to people of other faiths."

Settled into camp chairs with umbrellas in hand, missionaries listened to Lee Dimmitt of nearby Fairfield, Iowa, recount his first exposure to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was in Nauvoo decades ago, and it was one missionary in particular who, on his last day in the field, touched Dimmitt’s heart to take the missionary lessons. Dimmitt’s remarks were followed by comments from Klodt, who explained how he welcomes visitors year-round, how he feels a special peace in the grove, and how much he enjoys the bond of history with his Mormon friends.

“It is amazing to me how they take such good care of this site when they could have just harvested the trees and plowed the ground,” Dalton remarked.

In his dedicatory prayer in 2014, President Andersen asked the Lord’s spirit to “rest strongly upon this place” and touch those who would visit. The missionaries agreed the blessing was in full force during their visit, and they returned to Nauvoo warm, mostly dry and newly enlightened. And Klodt's satisfaction was also evident.

"It was great having them here," he said. "I hope they know they are welcome anytime. I'm going to invite them back in 2016."

Richardson’s Point is located at 11251 County Road J40, Milton, Iowa. Brochures are located in the grove for self-guided tours, but Klodt and local residents often conduct tours as well (see villagesofvanburen.com/sites-of-interest.html?item=78).

Susan Sims lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Her email is sims.susanm@gmail.com.