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Holding on to memories of the Jordan River Temple

SOUTH JORDAN — Of all the temples dedicated during his time as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Spencer W. Kimball said the Jordan River Temple was perhaps the most significant.

A short list of reasons is found in his biography, "Spencer W. Kimball: Resolute, Disciple, Prophet of God," by Francis M. Gibbons.

"It was the first temple constructed in the Salt Lake Valley since pioneer days; it was financed entirely by member donations; modern technology was utilized in the presentations within the temple; and the temple's name conjured up images of the Holy Land," Gibbons wrote.

Announced in 1979 and dedicated in 1981, the Jordan River Utah Temple has served members in the Salt Lake Valley for the past 35 years. Last fall, the First Presidency announced the Jordan River Temple would close for most of 2016 and most of 2017 for extensive renovation.

As the Jordan River Temple undergoes this change, the Deseret News has collected several memories shared by Mormon leaders and others who have served within its walls.

The big scoop

During the Jordan River Temple groundbreaking in June 1979, President Kimball lived up to his trademark counsel, "Lengthen your stride."

According to a 1979 LDS Church News article, President Kimball concluded his remarks and gave the dedicatory prayer. Then, instead of grabbing shovels for the traditional turning of dirt, the church president climbed to the controls of a large Caterpillar tractor and maneuvered the machine to scoop a massive mound of earth.

"At this, resounding applause went up from the more than 10,000 people who had gathered for the ceremony," Gibbons wrote in President Kimball's biography.

Two and a half years later, having undergone three surgeries, President Kimball attended the Jordan River Temple dedication in a wheelchair. It was his first public meeting in months and he was unable to speak. He attended one session each of the five days of dedication.

'Weary but jubilant'

President Gordon B. Hinckley recalled the dedication of the Jordan River Temple in his biography, "Go Forward with Faith," by Sheri Dew.

"President Kimball was weak and unable to speak; President N. Eldon Tanner, the first counselor in the First Presidency, had difficulty speaking; the second counselor, President Marion G. Romney, had failing eyesight. As a third counselor, President Hinckley was beginning to feel the burdens of the First Presidency on his shoulders, according to his biography. "He felt weary after 15 sessions in five days, but it was a jubilant weariness from which he readily recovered," Dew wrote.

"There has been an outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord and we have much reason for rejoicing," President Hinckley recalled in his biography. "The only dark cloud has been President Kimball's condition."

Faith rewarded

In his book, "Faith Rewarded: A Personal Account of Prophetic Promises to the East German Saints," President Thomas S. Monson recalled a sweet experience he had at the Jordan River Temple on March 27, 1985.

President Monson recorded:

"After a full day at the office, I had the delightful experience of going to the Jordan River Temple, there to perform the sealing ceremony for Karl Heinz Friedrich Leonhardt and his wife, Brigitte Ursula Danisch Leonhardt. Brother and Sister Leonhardt are residents of the (East) German Democratic Republic. Brother Leonhardt has been called to serve as the recorder in the Freiberg Temple. These are choice Latter-day Saints. While they speak but little English, through the aid of Gary Schwendiman, my interpreter, we were able to communicate and had a wonderful time together. Also in attendance were Donovan Van Dam, president of the Jordan River Temple, and Frank Apel, president of the Freiberg DDR Stake."

Where is President Benson?

S. Michael Wilcox, author, speaker and former Church Educational System instructor, relates three experiences involving the Jordan River Temple in his book, "House of Glory: Finding Personal Meaning in the Temple."

Wilcox describes attending the inauguration of new BYU President Rex E. Lee on a Friday morning. Wilcox noted the attendance of several LDS Church leaders, dignitaries and state and community leaders, all except for one important individual.

"Where was President (Ezra Taft) Benson?" Wilcox wrote. "I wondered if his health was failing and, therefore, he could not attend. I had heard him speak recently, and he had seemed vigorous and strong. Were there other meetings or duties he needed to attend to as he carried the weight of his prophetic mantle?"

The following Friday, Wilcox learned the answer while attending an endowment session at the Jordan River Temple with members of his ward. In visiting with a member of the temple presidency, Wilcox learned President and Sister Flora Benson attended an endowment session at the Jordan River Temple every Friday morning.

The member of the temple presidency assumed the Bensons wouldn't come the previous Friday because of President Lee's inauguration, but to his surprise they arrived at their normal time.

"We were not prepared to greet them and offer our customary assistance. We apologized, telling President Benson we enjoyed greeting them and helping them but had thought they would be at BYU," Wilcox wrote. "President Benson smiled and asked: 'What day is it?' 'Friday,' we answered. Then he replied 'Friday is my temple day. Where else would I be on a Friday morning?' "

Wilcox marveled at the prophet's example, choosing to attend an ordinary endowment session over an event like an inauguration that takes place maybe once every 10 years, he wrote.

"I couldn't help but be impressed with his decision," Wilcox wrote. "Since that day the importance of attending the temple has been magnified in my eyes."

Names in a book

On another occasion at the Jordan River Temple, Wilcox and his family performed sealings for his Danish ancestors, including one family in which the parents lost six infant children before two finally survived to adulthood, one being Wilcox's fourth great-grandfather. In "House of Glory," Wilcox related having a profound experience with this special family in his mind's eye.

"I seemed to see my dear Danish people, all the children gathered around their parents. They were all dressed in white and were rejoicing and embracing each other as the sealings took place. Suddenly, they turned in unison, looking above them at a being I could not see, but I knew who it was by their expressions of gratitude," Wilcox wrote.

"We thank thee, Father," they said, "for allowing us to be born at a time and in a place where our names could be written in a church book, so that our descendant could find our names and bring us here, to thy house, to be cleansed and eternally bound as families. We need wait no longer. Life is fulfilled. And we thank thee that our names were written in a book."

Wilcox marveled that for temple blessings alone, this family appeared to forget the pains and struggles of life. Their lives were fulfilled because their names had been recorded in a Lutheran church book, Wilcox wrote.

"Truly angels descend the Lord's stairway, edifying, instructing and humbling us as we ascend that same stairway to our eternal home and reunion with them," Wilcox wrote. "I can think of no people who have ever lived or who now live that have more reason to rejoice than the Latter-day Saints, for they have had committed to their trust a work that is marvelous in its nature and sanctifying in its performance."

Turning hearts

When Wilcox was a baby, his parents divorced. He was raised by his faithful Latter-day Saint mother and growing up rarely saw his father. Years later, while attending BYU, Wilcox reconnected with his church-inactive father in Salt Lake City, the author wrote in "House of Glory."

Over time Wilcox developed a relationship with his father.

"I learned to like him, and then I learned to love him. My heart was turning. The first father that Elijah's spirit caused me to turn to was not some distant ancestor I would meet someday in the resurrection," Wilcox wrote. "It was my own father."

Deep down, Wilcox hoped his father would return to the church. At times progress was slow, but eventually the time came when his father qualified for a temple recommend, Wilcox wrote.

"What a sweet experience awaited my sister and me as we entered the Jordan River Temple with our father," Wilcox wrote. "Since that day, my father has been to the temple many times. I have continued to do research on our ancestors. I submit their names for temple ordinances, and my father is in the temple every week performing the work for them. I do not doubt the power of Malachi's promise. The spirit of Elijah can reach through centuries of time and bind our hearts to fathers whose names we read on old gothic manuscripts, but it can also reach through the pain of divorce and bind the heart of a son to his father and a father to his son. That is one of the great rewards I have received because Elijah came to fulfill Malachi's promise."


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