“Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone,” Ensign, July 1972, 20
“Vaughn Featherstone is a man’s man. He is physically strong and vigorous. For example, he is qualified as a professional river-runner. Most Church members don’t know it, but they now have a ‘river rat’ among the General Authorities.”
A business associate of the Church’s new second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric was speaking. Jerry Rudd has worked closely with Bishop Featherstone for the last four years and has known him for fifteen.
“Vaughn is a rare blend of the spiritual, the physical, and the intellectual,” Mr. Rudd said. “And what is most impressive about him is his total dedication to what he is doing. He joined our organization eighteen years ago and has helped build it into the success it is today.
“At the same time, you are always aware of his inspirational side. He reaches out and touches many people spiritually.”
About that “river rat” business?
“Vaughn is a man who likes to be doing things, especially with his boys, Scouts, family, or associates. One of his long-standing interests is river-running. He has guided groups on runs down all of the tough rivers in the West, as well as some in Mexico. He is very skilled at it and loves it,” Mr. Rudd said.
“Let me tell you just one experience. In 1970 Vaughn acted as guide for a group of executives on a run down the Middle Fork of the Salmon, one of the most challenging rivers in the West. Halfway down the river we ran into a boating party of three whose rubber river boat had struck a sharp rock in midstream, partially deflated, and overturned. When we came by, the raging river had pinned their boat against the rock and the three people were desperately hanging on.
“Vaughn quickly took charge. He hiked upstream a ways, then swam downstream through the rushing waters to the rock. After reassuring the people, he got them working together and helped them work the boat around where they could right it, away from the current pressure. Then he helped them relaunch the boat, swimming and pushing it to the shore. It really was a heroic rescue, but he made it look easy. He’s a good swimmer and powerful physically. If I were lost in the wilderness, I would like Vaughn Featherstone to come to my rescue.”
“I’ve had many blessings in life—the gospel, my family, my work,” Bishop Featherstone declares. “I’ve been accused of being a self-made man, but that’s not true. I’ve got so many to thank for helping and inspiring me along the way. I learned early in life the importance of the help you can receive from the Lord. That’s been one of my greatest blessings.”
Vaughn J. (initial only—no given middle name) Featherstone was born March 26, 1931, in Stockton, Tooele County, Utah, a son of Stephen E. and Emma Marie Johnson Featherstone. The family moved to Mountain Home, in eastern Utah, and then, when Vaughn was about five years old, they settled in Salt Lake City. The family included six boys and two girls, with Vaughn the third child and second boy.
The only member of the Church in his family was his father, and his work and frequent absences from home had led him into inactivity. When Vaughn was still quite young, his parents separated, and his mother carried the burden of responsibility for the family. So Vaughn had to find the Church pretty well himself—with some good help from his Primary and Sunday School teachers.
“The first thing I remember about the Church was being invited by a friend to attend Primary with him. I guess I was eight or nine years old. I remember the Blazer class. We had a checklist of different accomplishments. One of them was baptism. I hadn’t been baptized—but I wanted to be because I wanted that space on the checklist filled. My mother, a great supporter of mine, gave me permission; she later joined the Church, as did my brothers and sisters.”
Vaughn also had to seek and find his testimony.
“A good friend of mine, Gordon Augason, stood up in fast meeting when I was about fifteen years old and said that he knew the Church was true. Everything in my heart told me that he knew it.”
Vaughn asked his Sunday School teacher, Lewis Haws, how he also could gain a testimony.
“Read and study the Book of Mormon,” he was told.
“I literally lived every page of the Book of Mormon, and I wept as I went through it. It was a great spiritual experience,” Bishop Featherstone recalls. “Reading through tears, I actually felt as if I were there when these great things took place. When I finished, all I could do was kneel down and thank the Lord for my testimony, because then I knew the gospel was true.”
The name Vaughn Featherstone appeared frequently in reports of activities at South High School in the late 1940s. He was active in student government, serving as junior and senior class president and school historian. He also played football for three years and went out for track for two years.
But most important, at high school he met his future wife, Merlene Miner, whom he started dating in his senior year.
“We really first met at ward parties,” Sister Featherstone recalls. “He was so much fun, pretty soon I started thinking, ‘This one is for me.’ What really attracted me was his great potential. He always has had a vibrant enthusiasm for what he is doing. That and his total dedication to his interests made him different from the rest. He has had to work hard all his life—but at the same time he has learned how to have fun.”
Sister Featherstone has worked alongside her husband in the Church, with an emphasis also on teaching and helping the youth. She has taught Primary and MIA classes as well as served in MIA and Primary executive positions.
“With our church callings, it takes planning to still have the necessary time for the family,” she said. “Friday has traditionally been my night. Vaughn saves it for me and I always look forward to spending that evening with him. Keeping Monday night clear for family night has been a problem,” she added. “We solved it by having the children answer the telephone ‘Featherstone Family Night.’ Not many would intrude then, members or nonmembers.”
Vaughn graduated from high school in 1949, and he and Merlene were married in 1950 in the Salt Lake Temple. By then, the young bridegroom was working for a Salt Lake supermarket. A few years later he joined the produce department staff of a rapidly expanding supermarket chain, and the next two decades saw him rising through the ranks of the organization to executive positions in Utah, Idaho, and California. The moves came often, but the Featherstones saw them only as new opportunities to learn and grow.
Bishop Featherstone’s church service kept pace with his increased career responsibilities. A special love has been Scouting. As a youth he made Eagle rank, and later he was called to be Scoutmaster, the first of several calls to this position.
Scouting has been important not only to him but also to the entire family. Four of his five sons have already joined him on the Eagle rolls.
“Above our bed we have a big picture frame, which my wife made, and on it we have all our advancements in Scouting. And we have a ribbon there for Lawrence, who is eleven years old, and his Tenderfoot badge. His brothers will see to it that he makes Eagle, too,” Bishop Featherstone added.
The brothers set good examples for each other in other ways, too. The two oldest sons are serving full-time missions currently. Ronald, 20, is in the Gulf States Mission, and David, 19, is in the North Carolina-Virginia Mission.
“Our boys in the mission field are very close to their Father in heaven,” Sister Featherstone explained. “At the time their father was being called to the Presiding Bishopric, David, who is a district leader in Durham, North Carolina, felt that something was happening at home. He called Ron, who is mission secretary in Shreveport, Louisiana, to talk about it. After their father’s new call was announced, I called them to tell them about it. David had already been impressed that it had happened.”
The other two sons are Joseph, 17, and Scott, 15. Baby of the family is the Featherstones’ only daughter, five-year-old Jill.
Bishop Featherstone has had extensive experience in a wide range of church callings, particularly in the youth programs, where he now will carry a key responsibility. He has also been a stake missionary, stake mission president, bishop’s counselor, a stake high counselor twice, and a member of the YMMIA general board.
From 1965 to 1967, he served on the Church General Missionary Committee, prior to his move to Boise, Idaho. There he was called in October 1970 to be president of the Boise North Stake. He served in that capacity until his call to be a General Authority.
The Boise North stake members responded warmly to his leadership philosophy.
“I think church work should be exciting and fun. I don’t think it should ever be drudgery,” he said. “In Boise, we have tried to put fun in service, like fathers and sons going to the stake farm together. We have had a year-round sports program for boys and girls, including checkers, chess, horseback riding, swimming, golfing, tennis, and fishing, as well as softball, volleyball, and basketball. We have even run the river. This year we are striving for 200 Eagle Scouts in the stake.”
Perhaps one reason people respond to Bishop Featherstone is because underlying his character is a strong spiritual base.
“There are four approaches to spirituality that I try to follow,” he explains. “The first is prayer. I’m a strong believer in the efficacy of prayer. I’ve seen the results many times.
“I remember a particularly trying time in business while we were living in Los Angeles. We had taken over a chain of fourteen stores, and after I got down there we found we had some opposition and two key people had resigned. I found myself doing the work of three men and working nearly around the clock.
“Well, my wife called me aside one night and said, ‘I’m sure you’re very, very tired and don’t have time to talk, but maybe we’d better just talk about this.’ So we got in the car and went for a long drive, and she told me she just would not see me destroying myself that way. We decided to pray together for the answers that I’d been seeking for two months. We received the answers we needed and the problems were finally solved, and after about three months I was back on a normal schedule.
“The company invited me to Boise to speak on how we had been able to solve the problems, and I prepared a report for them. But it sounded shallow, although it included the technical things that had been done. So I went back through to see what was missing, and I realized that I hadn’t said that the way we’d really solved the problems was through prayer. I put this in the talk just at the right place.
“Then I started thinking that I might not have enough courage to mention prayer when I stood in front of that group, so I decided I had better put something in there that would give me enough courage to give the Lord the credit. Right at that point in my talk outline, I added, ‘Vaughn, have you got enough courage to give the credit to whom it belongs?’
“Soon I was standing in front of the company executives in Boise, telling them how the problems were solved. When I got to that part where I was going to talk about prayer, I started thinking, ‘Maybe I’d better not do it—you know, they might make light of it or might not understand.’ Then I saw the next sentence: ‘Do you have enough courage to do it?’ That gave me the courage and I said, ‘I just want all of you to know that it was through the power of prayer that we were able to solve these problems.’
“When I finished, there was absolute silence. I don’t know how the executives from our company took the presentation, but I personally felt satisfied that I had done what the Lord wanted me to do.
“My second approach for gaining spirituality is study. I didn’t go on a full-time mission, so I needed, many years ago, to set up a plan to study. I started studying every evening before I went to bed, regardless of what time I’d come home. I guess I have read the Book of Mormon forty times, the standard works several times, plus many other literary works, following the counsel of some of the Brethren who have adopted this program for themselves.
“Then, third, I would say that a person must make a real quest for spirituality. I think he must want it intensely. He must want with all his heart and soul to become more spiritual; and when he wants it and longs for it and yearns for it, then I think he’ll start doing those things which will bring it about.
“And fourth, I think a person should live so that he will be entitled to spirituality—to be totally virtuous in actions as well as thought, and to try to be pure in heart so that his total life conforms to that dimension he is trying to gain: spirituality.”
—Norman R. Bowen