Jake Adolf’s Big Horn Basin Mission
July 1992

“Jake Adolf’s Big Horn Basin Mission,” Ensign, July 1992, 28

Jake Adolf’s Big Horn Basin Mission

A recent convert, 33-year-old Jacob Adolf wasn’t sure what to expect from the deacons quorum he had just been asked to teach. However, after his first Sunday “on the job,” he knew he had only two options—prayer or calling the bishop and suggesting that perhaps the Lord had made a mistake. He went to the bishop first.

“He told me that the Lord didn’t make mistakes,” Brother Adolf explains, smiling as he remembers. “I mulled that over and then decided to teach those deacons something if it killed me.”

What he taught them was the importance of missionary work. There were only four active deacons in a quorum of fourteen. By the time Brother Adolf was released, thirteen of the boys were active and Brother Adolf’s lifetime commitment to member-missionary work had begun.

Forty years and hundreds of baptisms later, Brother Adolf is well known in the Wyoming Big Horn Country. He’s a retired refinery worker who played for years in a local dance band and who still spends hours hunting and fishing with family and friends. But this Lovell native is perhaps best recognized with scriptures and flannel board in hand, teaching the gospel to people who have been touched by his strong testimony, loving heart, and absolute faith.

Brother Adolf’s enthusiasm for missionary work is certainly understandable. Baptized in 1948, he was changed by the gospel. “I wanted to share that change, that joy and love, with others,” he explains.

And he’s been able to. “You can feel the love Jake has for you—it’s almost tangible,” says Sue Walker. Now married with six children, Sue was a teenager when she first met Brother Adolf. She had just moved to Lovell the summer before her senior year in high school and was befriended by some Latter-day Saint youth. She attended a few activities and enrolled in seminary. Within days, Brother Adolf was on her doorstep.

“There was no denying what he taught me,” she reflects. “There was power in his voice and love in his eyes. I already believed everything before he even said it. I was baptized within two weeks; it was the biggest blessing of my life.”

In addition to love, another of Brother Adolf’s missionary strengths is persistence—a trait he learned from stubborn German immigrant parents.

“One of the stake presidents I worked under told me that I was the most persistent guy he’d ever seen,” Brother Adolf observes. “Well, I’m glad for that. It’s paid off more than once.”

One of those occasions was in 1937 when Jake married Fernith Allred, a member who believed him when he assured her he would join her church soon.

“Soon” turned out to be eleven years and three daughters later. The turning point in his conversion was a stake conference presided over by President George Albert Smith—a tender experience that still touches Brother Adolf deeply.

“I sat down four or five rows from the front, and President Smith got up to speak,” he recalls, wiping away a tear. “He asked, ‘Do you think a man as old as I am would deceive any one of you?’

“He was pointing right at me. I know he was. I thought about that. And then, when he sat down, I noticed that on the bottom of his shoes was a pair of stick-on rubber soles. This was quite impressive to me. In all my life, all I’d seen were ministers with the finest apparel. And here sat a man with a pair of stick-on soles that you buy when the bottom of your shoes wear out. That’s when I made a turn and committed to the gospel.”

In 1952, Brother Adolf was called to the position he would hold for the next twenty-plus years—stake missionary. Admittedly nervous about his new responsibilities, Brother Adolf did what had become a natural part of his life—he turned to the Lord for help. He would do that many times during the next few decades of missionary work.

“I don’t know what I would have done without a pair of good knees to kneel on,” Brother Adolf says. “I know the Lord is there. I know he hears our prayers. I never could have done it without good companions, either—faithful men who were willing to go anytime, anyplace to share the gospel.”

Brother Adolf recalls, “I remember when the stake president asked me to visit the man who owned a local bar,” Brother Adolf recalls. “Before I was baptized, I’d spent some time there, and I guess he felt like he could trust me.”

Taking his trusty chalkboard along, Brother Adolf taught Les Thatch the gospel. And Brother Thatch accepted it. “The changes he made in his life were amazing,” Brother Adolf says. Three weeks after he was baptized, Brother Thatch approached Brother Adolf.

“What should I do about the bar, Jake?” he asked. “It’s the only way I have to make a living.”

Brother Adolf was true to form. “Pray and ask the Lord for help,” he counseled. Within weeks, Brother Thatch sold the bar and found other employment.

Other beneficiaries of Brother Adolf’s commitment to missionary work are the Hamptons. Sister Hampton clearly remembers the day he knocked on their door. “The smoke was so thick you could cut it with a knife,” she explains. The family was preparing for a hunting trip and politely turned Brother Adolf and his companion away, assuming they’d never see him again. But see him they did. And with him came love coupled with a faith that couldn’t be denied.

“Jake would look into your eyes as he bore his testimony and there was no doubt about what he was saying,” says Sister Hampton. “Three months after we met Jake, we were baptized.”

And, like many of the people Brother Adolf has taught, the Hamptons continue to return to the Adolf fold for encouragement, support, and “spiritual food.”

“When we came home from our mission, their home was one of the first places we went to,” Brother Hampton comments. “We wanted to share with them the wonderful experiences we’d had.”

The Adolfs have also served a full-time mission. In 1980, they were called to serve eighteen months in Germany, the land of Brother Adolf’s ancestors. Lives continued to change as Brother Adolf persistently preached the gospel “plain and simple.” Serving in Germany as a district high councilor, he was assigned to speak in one branch that had a record of extremely low tithing contributions and fast offering donations.

“I called it like it was,” Brother Adolf recalls. “Germans have a way of nodding when they agree with what is being said. As I spoke, all of a sudden those nods quit. And after the closing prayer was said, everyone left, including the branch president. Fern and I locked up the building and went home. I told Fern we’d probably just served the Church’s shortest mission.”

Brother Adolf was not surprised when he received a phone call two days later. “What did you tell those people Sunday?” the district president asked.

“President, I never tell anyone anything but the truth,” Brother Adolf replied.

“Well, that’s the best thing that ever happened over there,” the branch president said. “I’ve got several tithing checks and a bunch of fast offerings from those members.”

Many of Brother Adolf’s missionary skills are natural ones. But one strength—his gospel knowledge—has come through hours and years of dedicated study. Scattered throughout his conversations are scriptural references clarifying doctrine and illustrating gospel principles.

“Right after he was baptized, Jake immediately started studying,” Sister Adolf points out. “He read every Church book he could get his hands on.”

In addition to sharing that knowledge with investigators, Brother Adolf eagerly shared it with his family. “It was important to me that I teach the children everything they needed to know,” he explains.

Barbara, one of the six Adolf offspring, has fond memories of those teaching sessions. “We had family night before the Church really started to emphasize it,” she explains. “Dad used to practice the missionary discussions on us. There was, of course, a period when we’d roll our eyes and say, ‘Oh, no, here he comes with his flannel board.’ But listening to those discussions and hearing the basics of the gospel over and over again really made an impression.”

That old flannel board, which Brother Adolf still treasures, is only one of several teaching tools he has used through the years.

“I’ve learned six or seven different sets of discussions, used chalkboards, flannel boards, and flip charts, worn out four cars, and driven thousands of miles doing missionary work,” he says. “And I haven’t regretted a minute of it. I’d do it all over again.”

And there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of people who are grateful for that. No one has kept track of the people Brother Adolf has taught since 1972 (the year he was recognized for baptizing more than four hundred people), but everyone agrees this is one man who has made a difference—and who will continue to. For although the Adolfs are growing older, the missionary spirit is alive and well in their home.

Sister Adolf, recovering from a bout with cancer, often shares the miracle of her cure with medical personnel and loved ones of other faiths who express amazement at her health.

“It was more than chemotherapy and radiation,” she testifies. “I believe in priesthood blessings and the power of prayer.”

And Brother Adolf is a dedicated home teacher and a committed gospel doctrine teacher. He has discovered that whether in cottage meetings or Sunday School classes, his missionary zeal can change lives.

“I love teaching,” he says. “There are many members who don’t read the scriptures and who don’t know for themselves that the Book of Mormon is true. We can’t make it without the Lord’s help, and we can’t get that help if we don’t know where to turn. The answers are in the scriptures and in prayer.”

And as Brother Adolf bears his simple, sincere testimony, there truly is no doubt that this is a man with a mission—to share with others the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Photo by Craig Dimond