From the late 1930s to the early 1960s, athletically gifted missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints used basketball as a tool to share the gospel in Australia and became well-known as the “Mormon Yankees.”
Provo resident Calvin Eugene Monson was one of them. He died of natural causes Nov. 11 at age 87.
According to his obituary, Monson served in Australia during the mid 1950s despite his mother suffering from a life-threatening illness and limitations imposed on missionary service brought on by the Korean War.
“He exercised great faith and the way was miraculously opened for him to serve a full-time mission,” his obituary reads. “He loved being a missionary and remained close to his mission associates for the rest of his life. He was one of several full-time elders in Australia who brought positive attention to the church by playing on a successful basketball team known as the ‘Mormon Yankees.’”
Starting in 1937, missionaries began playing basketball in Australia and generated positive publicity for the church. One squad played exhibition games against teams preparing for the 1956 Olympics. From 1955-1960, the peak of the Mormon Yankees’ popularity, church membership tripled in size.
Many of these missionaries also played college basketball, including the late Elder Loren C. Dunn and Bob Skousen (both played at BYU) and DeLyle H. Condie (University of Utah), among others. Condie’s experience and the story of the Mormon Yankees was featured in the 2016 film, “Spirit of the Game.”
Prior to Monson’s mission, listed at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Monson played football for Brigham Young University.
Following his mission, Monson worked in city government and operated a real estate business while raising a family.
Later in his life, Monson and his wife served a senior proselytizing mission in Taiwan. His funeral was held Nov. 21.