“LDS Mexican Colonies Mark Centennial,” Ensign, Oct. 1985, 77
Residents, former residents, and visitors whose family roots go back to the LDS colonies in Mexico mingled in Colonia Juarez and Colonia Dublan August 5–11 to celebrate the centennial of the Latter-day Saints’ arrival in northern Mexico. They were looking forward to a unique experience, and they were not disappointed.
“We certainly accomplished what we set out to do. I feel that this will be one of the greatest unifying forces that we’ve had in our stake in many years,” commented Jerald L. Taylor, president of the Colonia Juarez Mexico Stake.
Bessie Bangerter, visiting from Provo, Utah, echoed the compliments of many visitors. “There has been excellence in everything that has been done. I feel that this will prove to be a great missionary tool in this area.”
Missionary work was indeed one of the objectives of the celebration; colonists wanted to call attention to the Church and its contribution to the area’s heritage and culture. They also wanted to honor their forebears and remind themselves of the sacrifice those early pioneers made.
The celebration offered a variety of events to meet those objectives—a historical-themed parade on Tuesday, August 6; a high-energy talent show Tuesday evening that had to be repeated Wednesday to accommodate all who wanted to see it; a twelve-kilometer race for runners in various categories; a historical pageant that ran for three nights to capacity crowds 2,000 strong; a rodeo; a chuckwagon breakfast on the grounds of the historic Juarez Stake Academy; a dance; and two firesides—one in English, the other in Spanish—culminating the week on Sunday night.
Elder J. Thomas Fyans of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy spent most of the week in the colonies. He spoke to those attending the Sunday evening firesides, first reading a letter from the First Presidency acknowledging contributions of Saints in and from the colonies during the past ten decades.
He also talked about the leavening effect the colonies have had on the rest of the Church through the high number of leaders that have come from the area. Elder Fyans told colonists they are “the product of the character of your ancestors.” He indicated that the exodus from the colonies forced by Mexican civil unrest in the second decade of this century was part of the refining process through which the colonists had to pass.
“This spot has been and is a sacred classroom to some of the Lord’s choicest spirits,” he said, reminding the present residents that they are its “caretakers.”
Responding briefly to Elder Fyans’ remarks, President Taylor referred to the role the colonies have played in helping spread the gospel and said: “We pledge to continue to carry out the purposes for which these colonies were established.”
Sister Helen Fyans also spoke to those attending the fireside, reading them a letter from Sister Camilia Kimball, who was born in the colonies.
Events of the centennial celebration were well-received in the community. The parade, featuring family floats depicting the history of the colonies and the lives of ancestors who had lived there, followed a seven kilometer route through the center of Nuevo Casas Grandes to the LDS chapel in adjacent Colonia Dublan. Elder Fyans and President Taylor and their wives were at the head of the parade riding in a two-wheeled ox cart typical of those used in Mexico a hundred years ago. Thousands of local residents lined the parade route, applauding enthusiastically for each of the thirty-five entries.
It was obvious that the centennial celebration was appreciated by non-LDS residents in the community. But centennial planners were also gratified by the responses of those with family ties to the colonies who were drawn back for the celebration. They came from all areas of the United States, and from Canada as well.
James Wilson, whose ancestral roots go back to the colonies, traveled from Asunción, Paraguay. “This has just been beautiful,” he said. “It has turned out to be much more than we expected. This has truly been one of the highlights of my life.”