“Elder John Sonnenberg Of the First Quorum of the Seventy,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 101–2
There will be unhappy dental patients in Elmhurst, Illinois, when they get word that John Sonnenberg is leaving his practice and accepting a new job. After thirty-seven years, he had established a reputation not only as a skilled and careful dentist, but also as a warm, caring man, the kind that people love and trust.
These trademarks—concern for others and dedication to skillful service—will continue to bless the lives of many as Elder John Sonnenberg serves as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
His sensitivity and hard work, he says, are in part a result of his early experiences. John Sonnenberg was born 11 April 1922 in Schneidemuhle, Germany. (“I was in college before I learned to spell it,” he laughs.) His parents, Otto and Lucille Mielke Sonnenberg, had joined the Church a few months earlier, and when John was about five years old they decided to immigrate to America.
Otto made the trip alone in 1928. At first glance, the “land of promise” didn’t look so promising—he found himself in Chicago at the beginning of the Great Depression. When the family arrived a year later, Otto hadn’t learned the language well yet, and times were hard. Young John Sonnenberg had to learn quickly to cope with prejudice and poverty.
He worked his way through college as a lifeguard and graduated with bachelor of science and arts degrees. In 1942 he enlisted in the navy and was sent to the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, where he graduated as a doctor of dental medicine in 1947.
Louisville was a crucial turning point; that’s where he met Graham H. Doxey, president of the mission, and Narvel Scherzinger, his branch president, who helped rekindle his love for the gospel. “I had been somewhat inactive. President Scherzinger saw that I was lonesome and that I needed the Church. Putting a kind arm around me, he let me know I was wanted.” He invited the young dental student to serve as a Sunday School teacher. Now Elder Sonnenberg sees service as a key to testimony: “Any man can know for himself that this gospel is true by giving service. When you serve the Savior, you grow in light and knowledge and intelligence. And as you get to know the people and see the magnitude of their souls, your testimony grows.”
After moving to Chicago, he enjoyed the spiritual influence of John K. Edmunds, Stake president, and continued to grow in the gospel. He served as a stake missionary, high councilor, counselor in a stake presidency (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, now of the Quorum of the Twelve, was the other counselor), and stake president (Elder Oaks was his counselor for a year before leaving to become president of BYU). Since 1980 he has served as a Regional Representative and chairman of the Chicago Illinois Temple Committee.
Another important person John Sonnenberg met in that branch back in Louisville was Sister Joyce Dalton, a missionary from Tooele, Utah. In time they were married in the Salt Lake Temple.
Elder Sonnenberg grins and takes her hand when he talks about his wife: “She’s the greatest joy of my life; the thought of being with her through the eternities is constantly on my mind. She participates with me and supports me in my callings, and she’s been a great architect for our family.”
All seven children—John, Jim, Brent, Joan (Wardell), Dean, Scott, and Clair (Dick)—were married in the temple. “We’ve spent lots of time doing things with them,” says Sister Sonnenberg, “—home evenings, athletic and cultural events, vacations. John played with them and often took them golfing, swimming, fishing, and to ball games.” Even now they often take their twenty-five grandchildren waterskiing.
A life of service and love has taught Elder John Sonnenberg “that the Savior really lives; that the Church is true; that we are led by men of God.”