“Denver Saints Claim Spiritual Blessings,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 106–7
Records show a Latter-day Saint family was the first pioneer family to settle near the confluence of Cherry Creek and the Platte River, the site that later became Denver, Colorado. In 1858, the S. M. Rooker family, traveling eastward from Utah, learned of the good fortune of a few gnarled prospectors. New dreams shaped their plans as they detoured down the eastern slope of the snow-covered Rockies. The LDS family arrived at the Cherry Creek diggings 30 August 1858. Others quickly followed.
As stories of gold drifted eastward, the rush to the Rockies gathered force and the isolated colony in Denver was invaded by thousands who came in wagons, on foot, or by horse.
LDS colonies were well established in the San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado by that time, but in Denver the Latter-day Saints were still scattered and loosely organized. They remained that way for decades, until President Wilford Woodruff called Elder John W. Taylor of the Quorum of the Twelve on 14 December 1896 to open the Colorado Mission. Elder Taylor started east by train the next day.
A little over forty years later, in 1940, the first stake in the area was organized, covering a distance of 250 miles from Cheyenne, Wyoming, on the north to Pueblo, Colorado, on the south. Today, that region contains seventeen stakes, ten of which are centered in the Denver metropolitan area. Church membership in the city approaches forty thousand, more than triple the membership in 1960. Recently, Denver’s southern suburbs were among the fastest-growing areas of Church membership in the English-speaking world.
Several Denver-area stakes have helped pioneer the Church’s name-extraction and data-entry programs, which have dramatically helped to increase temple ordinance work.
The members of the Church in Denver have long wanted a temple of their own. They have fasted and prayed toward that end, and one stake put those prayers into action by starting a temple fund years before plans to build the Denver Temple were announced. Members donated enough funds to meet their temple assessment long before it was set.
After the decision to build the temple was announced, local members intensified their efforts. Thousands of Primary children sold baked goods and pizzas, produced talent shows, and participated in walkathons to raise money for decorative benches where newly married couples can pose for photographs. Young women made quilts and toys for the temple nursery, and young men helped plant flowers on the temple grounds and aided in the general cleanup.
The “temple spirit” currently typical of Denver Saints is evident in the lives of many members. John Wheeler, who lives with his wife, Patt, and six children in a suburb north of Denver, is one of many who has donated time and talents to the establishment of the Lord’s house. Brother Wheeler, a welder, volunteered to work one or two days a week to help in the construction of the temple. He began working on the temple in February 1985, driving thirty miles to the site after finishing his weekly shift at his regular job.
“The contractor thought I was crazy to offer to work free,” he recalled. The builder didn’t know it was a dream come true. “I had wanted to work on a temple since the time my wife and I went to the Manti Temple years ago,” Brother Wheeler said. “I had prayed about it, and had a real desire to do it.”
Cliff Rencher, marketing manager at a computer firm, contributed in another way. He learned the art of clockmaking while living in Arizona and has made custom clocks for LDS Church buildings in Arizona, Connecticut, and Colorado. While the Denver Temple was under construction, Brother Rencher approached supervisors with samples of his work, hoping to be permitted to build a clock for the house of the Lord. Instead, he was asked to build twenty-seven, the total number needed for the temple. The clock frames were crafted from scraps of cherrywood trim left over from the temple’s construction; Brother Rencher spent from twelve to fifteen hours building each frame.
When the 27,000-foot Denver Temple is dedicated October 24–28, it will be the realization of a long-held dream for thousands of Saints in the area, including many who have been personally involved.
Grizzled prospectors with gold fever founded Denver, but more than a century and a quarter later, Latter-day Saints seeking eternal riches are staking the most lucrative claims.
Correspondent: Twila Bird serves on the Church’s Denver area public communications council and as a historian on the Denver Temple committee.