“Spiritual, Temporal Aid Follows Mine Disaster,” Ensign, Mar. 1985, 76
Priesthood and Relief Society leaders, along with concerned individuals, continue to care for families left grieving in the wake of a disastrous coal mine fire near Castle Dale, Utah, in late December.
The Wilberg Mine fire killed twenty-seven miners, approximately two-thirds of them Latter-day Saints; some of the others were married to LDS women. But Church affiliation didn’t matter when it came to offering aid and comfort. People in the affected communities turned to each other as friends and neighbors; Latter-day Saints helped as individuals and as organized units.
Some of the comfort for bereaved families came at a memorial service sponsored by the Church’s Castle Dale Region on December 26. President Gordon B. Hinckley, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, presided and spoke. Other Church leaders who spoke included Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the First Quorum of the Seventy, president of the Church’s Salt Lake City South area; Pat B. Brian, regional representative; and President Charles Bradshaw of the Wellington Utah Stake.
Ann Bell, mother of Phillip Bell, who died in the fire, expressed the feelings of many family members when she bore testimony that her son’s existence did not end inside the mine, and expressed gratitude for the love that had been shown to those who lost loved ones in the tragedy.
President Hinckley assured Sister Bell and others grieving for their loss that though their loved ones’ mortal bodies may have expired, “the spirit lives on. They are as much individuals today as they were a week ago.
“No one can discount your loss,” he said, noting that millions had been touched by the tragedy.
President Hinckley assured the families that a loving God will “comfort and sustain you, and, as the years pass, the sharpness of today’s pain will soften and a divine balm will heal your broken hearts.”
Elder Pinnock commented on the unselfish love and desire to serve he saw in those who helped with rescue efforts.
That same spirit was evident everywhere. Many Relief Society groups and individuals took food not only to those who were awaiting word about their trapped relatives, but also to rescue workers. The Church helped by contributing items from one of its storehouses to help feed rescuers.
There were numerous stories of generosity. Members of the East Carbon Ward, Wellington Utah Stake—an area hard-hit by unemployment and economic setbacks—purchased a Christmas turkey for each of the bereaved families. Primary children from a ward in Mapleton, Utah, sent hand-painted Christmas cards and $150 they had collected. Several families cashed unemployment checks and gave part of their money anonymously. President Wesley R. Law of the Castle Dale Utah Stake received an unsigned letter from St. George, Utah, containing two $20 bills to help out, with the explanation, “Our love is more important than our names.”
But even more important than the financial support the families received was the love and encouragement they were given. And Church members gave that willingly and constantly, said Mickey Cochran, first counselor in the Huntington Third Ward, Huntington Utah Stake. Widows in his ward “were visited frequently” for several days after the disaster. Now, “they get perhaps a visit a day. Things are taken care of as well as we can.”
One of those who felt the love of other members is Sherry Johansen of the Ferron Fourth Ward, Ferron Utah Stake. She had been home from the hospital with their first child for just three days when her husband, Lee, was killed.
People from her ward, she said, “supplied me with plenty of wood so I would have fuel” for her stove. They continue to check on her periodically. But sometimes Church representatives who call have found that Sister Johansen is out—visiting and encouraging others who lost loved ones. “I’ve gone and offered them friendship, and that’s all you can do,” she said.
A returned missionary, Sister Johansen said she has been “at peace” because of the blessing of her temple marriage and the knowledge of eternal life the gospel provides.