“For Joseph’s Great-Granddaughter, a Happy Day,” Ensign, May 1980, 105
She was poised before television cameras in an elegant red dress—her “happy dress,” she calls it.
Two weeks before, Lorena Horner Normandeau of Roman, Montana, hadn’t known she would be on television as part of the broadcast of general conference. But on April 6, as a descendant of the Prophet Joseph Smith, she was an honored guest at the dedication of the Peter Whitmer property and the Fayette Branch chapel at Fayette, New York. There her great-grandfather and five other men signed the paper that formally organized the Church.
There she sat with Melvin Thomas Smith, a great-grandson of Samuel Harrison Smith; and Elder Eldred G. Smith, a great-great-grandson of Hyrum Smith. The other honored descendants of the Church’s organizers had been members of the Church all their lives. She hadn’t.
Nearly a year before, in May 1979, she had worn her “happy dress” for another significant occasion: her baptism.
Although she has known and believed all her life that her great-grandfather saw heavenly beings and translated the Book of Mormon, she was raised a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and did not believe the “Mormons” could be right. Since her family did not live near an RLDS congregation, she attended other churches. When she decided to join the Latter-day Saint Church, she was an active Methodist.
Her conversion had spanned many years.
“I read an account somewhere of Emma [Smith] going to Nauvoo,” she recalls. The account told of Emma’s journey to Illinois while the Prophet was in Liberty Jail. “She carried a babe in her arm, one piggyback riding on her shoulders, and one hanging on each side of her skirt. And under her skirt she carried a twenty-three pound manuscript of the Inspired Version. She crossed the Mississippi on the ice.”
“When I read that, it came home to me that the baby she carried in her arms was my grandfather, Alexander—and, believe me, I was stirred.”
She was afraid to go against her own religion, and her husband’s Catholic background.
Then Sister Normandeau’s daughter, Gracia Denning of Whitefish, Montana, read the Book of Mormon, was baptized, and became a strong influence in her mother’s conversion. “She is so steadfast,” Sister Normandeau says.
Since her baptism, she has been asked to speak at numerous meetings about her ancestry and conversion. She explains that her membership has not come without adversity.
But that only strengthens her; it only sets her more firmly in her desires. And this May she hopes to be sealed in a temple to her husband, who died nine years ago. She says she senses his approval of her conversion as strongly as she senses the approval of another relative—one who opened this dispensation 150 years ago.