“Sanpete Valley Saints Eagerly Await Manti Temple Rededication,” Ensign, June 1985, 72
Travelers on U.S. Highway 89 can see the cream-colored oolite stone walls of the Manti, Utah, temple gleaming in the sun while they are nearly half an hour away, even before arriving at the small city of Ephraim seven miles north of the temple.
By night, the building’s walls gleam in the floodlights that spotlight Temple Hill, the site that Brigham Young dedicated for the temple in April of 1877, only months before his death. The hill offers an imposing view of Sanpete Valley.
It was President Young who had sent the first settlers to the valley in 1849, only two years after the first company of pioneers had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Led by Isaac Morley, Seth Taft, and Charles Shumway, the settlers founded the fourth Latter-day Saint community in the Rocky Mountains. (It was preceded only by Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Provo, Utah.)
Some of the first settlers, struggling against the cold and against primitive conditions, became discouraged and wanted to move away. But when Scandinavian immigrants began to pour into Utah, they found the cold, rigid climate of the Sanpete Valley to their liking, and the area flourished. In time it became known as the “granary of Utah.”
The Saints’ faith flourished too, and on 21 May 1888 they saw the dedication of the third LDS temple in Utah. Then, as now, the life of the community centered on the Church, and the temple was not only a House of the Lord, it was a symbol of faith.
In many ways, things haven’t changed. The small farming communities of Sanpete Valley have remained about the size they were a generation ago.
That is not to say the communities and people have not progressed.
A small electronics plant and a clothing manufacturing plant employ several hundred people. Ephraim has Snow College, a junior college that attracts young people and has a stake of its own. While grain crops are still grown, Sanpete Valley has a thriving sheep industry and is the center of Utah’s turkey industry. Cattle are also important to the area’s economy.
Nevertheless, “the county is not well off,” comments President Joseph C. Nielsen of the Ephraim Utah Stake. “People here are hard-working,” but “there’s not a lot of prosperity.”
But members are attentive to things of the Spirit. President Nielsen’s stake is evidence of that. Strength of the Church in the area allowed the creation of the Ephraim Stake this year; previously, there had been just one stake in the area since 1851.
“Most of them have a real strong testimony of the gospel. I think the temple does that. I think they’re dedicated to the testimony of the Lord.”
One measure of that dedication is the way Saints in the area take part in putting on the annual “Mormon Miracle” pageant on Temple Hill, scheduled this year for July 11–13, 16–20. It is estimated that a majority of the forty-six hundred members of the two stakes are involved in one way or another. The cast and crew number approximately thirteen hundred, others provide support services.
The youth who participate, many of them year after year, draw spiritual strength and learn history, discipline, organization, and cooperation, President Nielsen says.
For young people from communities of a little more than two thousand inhabitants, it can be a heady feeling to perform before nearly twenty-five thousand people in one night. In recent years, the pageant has been drawing more than 110,000 viewers during its run, says Bishop Richard Olson of the Manti first ward, who has played the role of Mormon for fourteen years now. (At first he played Moroni, he smilingly recalls, but now his “white hair” qualifies him for the more mature role of Moroni’s father.) The pageant, and preparation for it, occupy community energies for nearly half the year.
But as central as the pageant is to the communities of the valley, this year there is something more important—preparing for the rededication of the Manti Temple, which has been closed for remodeling. “It’s going to be a great uplift. People are really waiting for it. They’re getting excited,” Bishop Olson says.
Surely that excitement extends beyond the Sanpete Valley, to communities throughout central and southeastern Utah served by the Manti Temple. However, in Manti there’s a community cleanup, fix-up, paint-up campaign to prepare for the rededication, scheduled for sometime this summer. At the same time, members—including some who have never been to the temple before, are seeking to raise their spirituality—to be able to attend the dedication of the refurbished Manti Temple, Bishop Olson says.
“It’s going to be just like opening up the windows and letting the sun come in after you’ve been in the dark for a long time.”