“There’s Wealth in Tulsa—the Spiritual Kind,” Ensign, Apr. 1989, 78–79
Tulsa, Oklahoma, was first a village in the center of the Creek Nation in Indian Territory, then a cow town on the Arkansas River. But its real growth began after oil was discovered nearby in 1901. Now Tulsa is a major center of oil and oil-related businesses, as well as manufacturing.
During the 1800s, LDS missionaries (including Henry Eyring, an ancestor of Bishop Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, and Andrew Kimball, father of President Spencer W. Kimball) gained converts among Indians and non-Indians in the Church’s Indian Territory Mission. But the first enduring branch in the area was not formed until well after 1907, when Oklahoma achieved statehood.
In January 1933, thirty-one members and six nonmembers met for the organization of the first LDS branch in Tulsa. Today the area has more than five thousand members in two stakes (Tulsa Oklahoma and Tulsa Oklahoma East), and Church membership is as diverse as the area’s history.
Abbie Sellers, granddaughter of a Cherokee Indian princess, remembers when early Latter-day Saint meetings were held in her parents’ home. Her father was called to preside over the Tulsa Branch in 1935. His years of faithful service in a variety of callings started a tradition that Abbie and her husband, Alden, continued until Alden’s death. Sister Sellers remains outgoing and active; she is currently a visiting teaching coordinator for her ward’s Relief Society.
Abbie’s kind of devotion to service is not uncommon in Tulsa. “The dedication members show is tremendous,” says President Michael L. Southward of the Tulsa Oklahoma Stake. A softening of Tulsa’s oil-based economy has motivated some Latter-day Saints to move away in recent years, but membership figures have held fairly steady because of new conversions, he explains. Many of those conversions have come because of the examples of faithful members.
One of those members is Bonnie Blamires of the Tulsa Third Ward. Sister Blamires first learned of the Church at sixteen, when someone threw an LDS tract in her wastebasket at work. Baptized at eighteen, she met her husband, Jim, when he was stationed nearby during World War II and attending Church meetings in Tulsa. She has served in the Young Women program for a total of twenty-five years, in the Relief Society for a total of ten years (including three in the stake Relief Society presidency), and in the Sunday School for forty years. She has also served as a district missionary, a stake missionary, and, with her husband, twice as a missionary at the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center.
Joel and Dee Ann Dickerson represent a newer generation in the Church in the Tulsa area, but their spirit of dedication is the same. They attended high school together in Bartlesville, but she was not a member then. Joining Ballet West in Salt Lake City after graduating from college, she was converted through an LDS friend. Her scheduled baptism was a pleasant surprise to Joel when he called on her in Salt Lake after his mission. A year later, they were married in the temple, and within two more years they had returned to Bartlesville to rear their family.
Growth of the Church membership locally means that non–Latter-day Saints know we are here, Joel says. “Much of the information they hear about us is positive, and more important, they know our families. They know the standards we profess to believe.” It’s a challenge to be an example, he adds.
Some of the strongest challenges come to the youth, according to President Terry Nisson of the Tulsa Oklahoma East Stake. But despite some anti-LDS activity among parents and youth around them, they are “especially strong. Probably one of the greatest missionary forces in the area is our youth,” he says.
The willingness of local Latter-day Saints to sacrifice in improving their community and in helping others is also an important factor in the strength and growth of the Church, President Nisson says. He recalls, for example, the favorable impression made during flooding in Tulsa two years ago when many Latter-day Saints sought out opportunities to help others.
Former stake president Walter Bowers, who came to Tulsa in 1947, remembers the warm welcome he received from Saints meeting in their little white chapel on Quincy Street. Today, there are satellite dishes at the stake centers to capture conference sessions from Salt Lake City. There are strong seminary and institute programs, and there is a temple only six hours away in Dallas. But “today we are just as eager and happy to welcome new families and new members,” he says. Latter-day Saints in the Tulsa area still have “that same great spirit.”
Correspondent: Carolyn Downing, Tulsa Oklahoma Region public communications director.