“Sioux Falls: A Secret Treasure,” Ensign, Jan. 1991, 76–77
On the banks of the Big Sioux River and stretching westward onto the prairie of South Dakota is the city of Sioux Falls. With a population of just over 100,000, the city is a commercial and industrial center for this mainly agricultural state.
Sioux Falls is also the home of two wards and the center for a geographically large stake. Members drive from parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and eastern South Dakota for conferences and stake meetings. Some travel more than forty miles one way to do their home teaching and visiting teaching. But despite the distance, the Saints feel that their lives are blessed with a beauty and safety unmatched in other places. L. D. Andrews, first counselor in the Sioux Falls South Dakota Stake presidency, calls Sioux Falls “the secret treasure of the Church.”
President Andrews was raised in Sioux Falls, a member of the predominant Protestant church there. But when it came time for him to go to college, he chose Brigham Young University. He joined the Church in his freshman year, in spite of a self-proclaimed dislike for change. A collector of antiques and museum-quality art, President Andrews says his most valued possession is the Book of Mormon he received from his friends at the “Y” when he was baptized.
The Church in Sioux Falls began when Hans Adler moved from Germany to the city in 1935. He went to the library searching for information on Christian religions. The librarian said she only had something on non-Christians. Thinking that was as good a place to start as any, Adler read and accepted the book the librarian offered him. It was the Book of Mormon.
Other conversions followed, and Latter-day Saints moved in from Utah. On 19 June 1949, the Sioux Falls Branch was organized with sixty-five members. When a chapel was approved, Hans Adler headed the building committee. Old-timers still call that building, about the size of a house, “the little green church.”
“We were almost breaking out the sides of the church when a new building was approved,” says Roulland Feekes, who was baptized with his wife, Lucille, in 1957. To pay for the building, the Relief Society sold hand-dipped chocolates for five dollars a box. Barbara Bertleson remembers making fondant on marble slabs in the basement of the first meetinghouse to increase the building fund.
Sister Bertleson was at home with a new baby when the missionaries came to her home. “They told me about Joseph Smith, and I knew it was either a far-fetched story or the truth,” she says. After baptism, her life changed. Her friends and family thought she had become too involved with religion. She struggled with parental disapproval but remained faithful. “We are pioneers out here on the frontier of the Church,” she says. “I can’t let go of the things I know.”
The Saints love the social environment in Sioux Falls, citing lack of crime, space to grow, a closeness with the land, and excellent schools. “The sun shines—even on cold days,” claims Carole Larkin. “The beauty here is a well-kept secret.”
Sister Larkin and her husband, Jay, moved to Sioux Falls from Houston, Texas. They were delighted to find that small-town America still exists. “Sioux Falls has everything a big city has,” Sister Larkin says, “but just one or two of it instead of eight or ten.”
What the city lacks for the Larkins and for other transplants is having family nearby. People worry that their children don’t know their grandparents. “But we want our family to move here,” says Brother Larkin. “We don’t want to leave.”
Sioux Falls Saints also miss having a temple nearby. The stake arranges four trips each year to the Chicago Illinois Temple, as well as one for the youth to do baptisms for the dead. “We gird up our loins and enjoy it,” says Nancy Gardner of the Sioux Falls Second Ward. “I marvel at how the Lord helps me catch up on sleep following a full day of temple sessions and the all-night bus rides.”
Like other LDS women in Sioux Falls, Sister Gardner has taken advantage of opportunities to serve in the community. She and two other Church members have been among the past five presidents of the citywide PTA. Another is the current vice president. The sisters’ influence is subtle but important. “When our members are active in the community, it makes a difference in the way people feel about the Church,” says Sister Gardner.
For LDS young people in Sioux Falls, peer pressure in high school is hard, points out Meredith Gardner. Her mother agrees—and is grateful that her children have good friends with goals such as going on missions.
“I wish there were more LDS people here to interact with,” says President Andrews, “especially for the teenagers and young adults. We need to do a better job of bringing our friends to a knowledge of the gospel.”
Sioux Falls Saints love their “secret” home. “We’re a family here,” says Sister Bertleson. “We’re not just friends, but family.” And members want the Church to grow from within because their neighbors are good, caring people.