“Neighborliness: Daines Style,” Ensign, Apr. 1977, 19
Robert Henry Daines bent over his microscope, looking for fungi. He was a student of ecology at Rutgers University in the early 1930s, long before ecology became a household word. He was also the only Latter-day Saint student in the school.
As he and his fellow class members worked in silence, an older graduate student opened the door and stuck his head in.
“Mr. Daines,” he asked, “which is it—Mormon or moron?”
Robert Daines looked up and cheerfully answered, “Either one is correct.”
He went on: “I’m a Mormon. Which are you?” The graduate student closed the door. Chances are he did not ask that question of another Latter-day Saint.
When Robert Henry Daines and his wife, Anna, first came to New Jersey when Robert was studying for a doctorate, they had every intention of moving back to Utah as soon as possible. As Anna says, “We planned that if Henry graduated at noon on any given day, by 1:00 on the same day we’d be on the road west.” After being brought up in predominantly Latter-day Saint communities, they did not relish the thought of raising their children in an area where, at that time, the Church was only a tiny minority.
But when Robert received his Ph.D. in 1934, the Depression was in full swing and jobs for plant pathologists were hard to find. Out of thirty-six graduates in his class, only Robert and one other man found jobs in their field. But what a job! His achievements had been so noteworthy as a student that Rutgers University asked him to join the faculty. It was too good an offer to refuse.
So instead of packing up and moving back to Utah, the Daineses stayed in New Jersey. That was almost forty-three years ago, and they still live there.
Do they regret it? Not at all. In those four decades they have had a tremendous influence for good. They have worked to keep the standards of the community of Metuchen, where they live, as high as possible. And they have worked to help countless other people see the Church in a favorable light.
“Since we couldn’t go ‘back to Zion,’” they say, “we decided we would make a sort of Zion where we were.”
They looked for a home. A real estate agent showed them a house in Metuchen, New Jersey, but they felt at that time that it was not what they were looking for. They continued renting—and looking—but finally they came back to the agent. “Show us that house in Metuchen again,” they said. “It hasn’t been sold, has it?”
The realtor answered, “Oh, I haven’t even shown that house to anyone else. I knew it was for you.”
But before they moved in, a Latter-day Saint family that had joined the Church while living nearby warned them that after their baptism they had had so much opposition they finally moved away. A series of anti-Mormon speeches in the area had prejudiced many people against Latter-day Saints. “Please don’t try to live there,” the family said. “You could never live in that area and raise your family. They’re so anti-Mormon.”
But they had already signed a contract, and they moved into the house. At first everything seemed fine—the neighbors were very nice, and the children seemed to be accepted in school. After a while, however, they noticed that even though other children came to the Daineses’ house to play, the Daines children didn’t get invited to other houses.
And then there was the local YMCA. For a short time the Metuchen Branch met in the Daineses’ home. As branch president, Brother Daines checked with the YMCA about the possibility of renting a room for church meetings. The executive secretary responded warmly, “Of course. That’s what the Y is for, to help the churches.” He did not call back for several weeks. When Brother Daines contacted him to find out what was happening, the executive secretary explained that he hadn’t called because he was ashamed to tell them that the local board of directors had turned them down. “I’m very sorry,” he said. “But they said they could not have the facilities used by Mormons.”
Robert and Anna Daines discussed the problem for quite a while. They could move, of course, though in those housing-short depression years it wouldn’t be easy.
But they decided not to run away from the situation: they would try to change the community’s attitude toward them and the Church.
They divided their efforts: Robert worked on the school system and Anna worked on the YMCA. They began immediately, for they had no time to lose. Their children needed to grow up in an atmosphere that was not tainted by prejudice. And perhaps if the Daineses could become an influence in the community, they could help maintain the high standards of the local schools.
The YMCA in Metuchen was popular with the young people, the focal point of many of their activities. So they enrolled their oldest son—and Sister Daines joined the Mother’s Auxiliary.
As with any other volunteer organization, there was a lot of work to be done, work that very few people were willing to do. Anna did it. She became indispensable in fund-raising projects, and by the end of the first year she was asked to be president of the auxiliary. When her two-year term ended, she was asked to run for one of the three women’s positions on the YMCA board of directors. She won without opposition, and so joined the very council that only a few years before had refused to let the Saints meet in their building!
But her work wasn’t over yet. She kept on helping in every way she could: many nights either Brother or Sister Daines was at the YMCA chaperoning a dance or cleaning up after a party.
When their oldest son was about to graduate from high school, they ran into a problem. It was the custom in their town that after graduation the seniors would have all-night parties in various homes and then at dawn drive to the beach, some twenty miles away. “We didn’t want our son in the drinking-party atmosphere. We didn’t want him making that dangerous drive after a night without sleep. But we also didn’t want him in the embarrassing position of having the other kids say, ‘Oh, the Daines kid can’t go.’”
So they got the parents together and changed the tradition! They planned an all-night party right at the YMCA. They opened the pool and had a chaperoned swimming party and a dance. At 4:00 A.M. they served breakfast and the seniors went home to sleep before they went to the beach. Many of them didn’t go to the seacoast at all. It was a safer, better quality celebration, and it became a new tradition for graduation parties for many years.
At the end of her first three-year term on the YMCA board, Anna Daines was reelected. Two terms are the most any board member can serve, and a man who had served that amount of time was leaving. They had a farewell dinner for him. After the dinner, this man took Sister Daines aside and said, “I must tell you before I leave that I was the one who spearheaded the campaign not to let the Mormons use this hall. I didn’t know anything good about the Mormons; I had never known a Mormon. But from the things I’d heard about them, I didn’t want to know any.
“I feel that I owe you an apology,” he said. “After seeing what fine people you are, I’m embarrassed to think that I did that.”
While Anna was working in the YMCA, Robert Henry Daines was working in the schools. The approach was the same: service. They joined the Parent-Teacher Association in their local elementary school and worked hard. Soon they became copresidents of that small group.
A great opportunity came when a citywide PTA meeting was held to decide whether the PTA should recommend uniting the Metuchen school system with other school districts in the area or staying separate and going it alone. They realized that they just didn’t have enough evidence to make a recommendation. So the combined PTAs asked Robert Daines to choose a committee and study the question.
After two years of study, Brother Daines’ committee made their report. The recommendation? The Metuchen schools shouldn’t consolidate with others. The studies showed that by maintaining local control, they’d have a better chance of keeping up the high community standards.
Shortly after this quite a few people urged Brother Daines to run for the board of education. Friends got together the sponsoring signatures to put his name on the ballot. But once again prejudice surfaced—there was quite a bit of talk against the idea of a Mormon running the schools.
In spite of the whispers, Robert Daines won. And though to a lesser degree the talk continued, Brother Daines was reelected twice—the last time by the largest majority in the Metuchen board of education history. Whispered rumors could not counteract people’s good experiences with this gifted and dedicated couple.
While Brother Daines was on the board of education, he made a point of becoming friends with the clergy of the various churches. Almost all of them responded well. In fact, only one pastor resisted, and even he signed letters supporting Daines for the board of education.
But sometimes there was friction. For years the leading Protestant church had held the high school baccalaureate services in their meetinghouse. This was years before the “ecumenical movement,” and at that time the local Catholic leaders refused to let their young people enter another church. The result was that a significant minority of the students were completely unable to attend their own high school baccalaureate for religious reasons.
Brother Daines decided that something needed to be done—the situation really wasn’t fair. So he urged the board that the schools should not keep on with a practice that kept half the seniors away from their own baccalaureate. “I think,” he said, “that we have to hold services in the school. We don’t have an assembly room large enough, but we do have a gymnasium. Let’s bring chairs in and have the baccalaureate there.” The board agreed.
The Catholics were pleased, as were several other minority groups, like the Jews and a Black congregation. But many Protestants were upset that the baccalaureate would not be held in a church.
So Brother Daines, as a member of the board, called a meeting of all the town’s ministers. At the start he announced that because it was a school meeting, he would preside. The minister of the leading church didn’t like that much—he didn’t think it was right for a layman to preside over the clergy. But Brother Daines insisted—and he called on himself to open with prayer!
He prayed that everyone there would put the interests of the community first, “that we would be big enough to do the things that were best for all the youth.”
And there was a spirit of harmony—not a dissenting voice in the whole meeting.
At the baccalaureate service in the school gym, all the churches were represented. As a Latter-day Saint, Brother Daines gave the opening prayer. The monsignor of the Catholic Church gave the address. The minister of the Black congregation had a part, as did the Jewish rabbi and the various Protestant ministers. And despite the deep feelings that the change caused at first, this has been the pattern ever since.
Robert and Anna Daines saw the achievement of most of the goals they had set when they were first confronted with anti-Mormon feelings. Not only had they helped eliminate prejudice against the Latter-day Saints, but also they had made a definite contribution to the community.
And there was another way in which Brother Daines brought the Church into favorable light—not only in their community but also throughout the eastern seaboard.
As a plant pathologist, Brother Daines had headed the Rutgers University team that helped develop and apply Standard Oil Company’s product called Captan: It could be used as a broad-range fungicide. After the method of application was perfected by Dr. Daines’s team, Captan became a valuable tool for apple and peach growers throughout the eastern United States. Apple trees that farmers had always thought were biennial began producing a crop every year, and rough, fungus-ridden apples became as smooth as the red delicious apples of the Northwest. Captan also saved the grape crop of France one year, and today it is still widely used throughout the world.
Naturally Brother Daines became prominent in his field. He began to study the effects of air pollution on the crops of New Jersey farmers. Because of his work he was made secretary to a New Jersey legislative committee on pollution. The result was the New Jersey antipollution law, based on his recommendations—the first such comprehensive statewide law in the United States. It became the basis for much of the U.S. Clean Air Act, and Brother Daines was called before a U.S. Senate committee to testify on the effects of air pollution on agriculture. He had been so instrumental in the passage of the act that President Lyndon B. Johnson invited him to the signing of the bill.
Brother Daines was asked to speak about pollution before many groups along the eastern seaboard, and he was seen on television newscasts. He took every opportunity to let it be known that he was a Mormon, which often led to his having a chance to talk privately about the Church.
The Daineses had accomplished much, and they were very happy when, after many years in New Jersey, they were at last offered a chance to return to Utah. The job Brother Daines was offered was a prestigious one, and Sister Daines was overjoyed at the prospect of her children actually attending MIA and Primary, with the full Church program that was not yet available in their area.
But when they visited Utah to be interviewed for the position, President David O. McKay took a few moments to talk with them. “Brother and Sister Daines,” he said, “go back to New Jersey, and be happy there. Raise your children in the Church in New Jersey.” President McKay looked Robert Daines in the eye and said, “Brother Daines, you have a mission to perform in New Jersey.”
Anna couldn’t help being disappointed. She didn’t say anything, but President McKay “was reading my soul,” as she later said, when he took her hand and said, “Sister Daines, you can raise your family to be good Mormons in the East.”
After several incidents which seemed to them to confirm President McKay’s words, Robert and Anna Daines ended their visit to Utah and went back to New Jersey, content to know that the Lord wanted them there.
And President McKay’s promise was fulfilled. When the last of their children to marry went through the temple, all the others were worthy to attend the ceremony. All their sons and sons-in-law served missions. All their children married in the Church. They have served in bishoprics, stake presidencies, and quorum presidencies. And they discovered that even where the Church is weak in numbers, it is strong in the Spirit.
“I had prayed for so long for the Lord to let us go back to Utah where we could raise our family among Mormons,” said Anna Daines. Once she said to a priesthood leader, “The Lord just hasn’t answered my prayer.” But her leader said, “Yes he has. The answer was no.”
The answer was no, they should not go back to Utah. But it was yes, her children could be raised as righteous Latter-day Saints—and would be.
The Church grew in New Jersey. Stakes came. Robert Henry Daines was called to serve as counselor in a new stake presidency and later as president of the New Jersey Central Stake. Just months ago he was released as president of the East Brunswick New Jersey Stake, presiding over the full Church program that they had always dreamed of having in those early years.
Of course, the Daineses were not alone. The goodwill the Church now has in that area comes from the righteous lives of many Latter-day Saints. What matters is that they were never content to insulate themselves from their community, to shelter their children from everyone around them. Instead they reached out into the community and helped other good people make it a wholesome place for all.
Not all their neighbors and friends have joined the Church. But they have felt the impact of the Church in their lives, and the effect has been good.
It is clear to President and Sister Daines now what President McKay meant when he told them they had a mission to perform in New Jersey. It is the same mission the Savior gave to all the Saints:
“Ye are the light of the world. …
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.” (Matt. 5:14, 16.)