Charlottesville Saints: A Heritage of Faith

    “Charlottesville Saints: A Heritage of Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, 108–9

    Charlottesville Saints: A Heritage of Faith

    Nestled in the rolling hills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Charlottesville is a city rich in heritage. Named in 1762 after the wife of England’s King George III, the area was home to three early United States presidents and to explorers Lewis and Clark.

    The city’s most renowned citizen was Thomas Jefferson. As an inspired statesman, he left behind a legacy of achievement that continues to permeate the community of 100,000 citizens—a cosmopolitan cross section of farmers, horse breeders, federal government retirees, university scholars, business people, and shopkeepers.

    The rise of the Church in Charlottesville adds another rich dimension to the area’s history. In 1892 Elder R. A. Harvey met and baptized Garrett and Mary Wells and their daughter, Florence, in nearby Batesville. At the turn of the century, the Deane family joined the Church, and not long after, Latter-day Saint missionaries baptized the eight members of the Knight family and, later, eight more from Brother Knight’s remarriage after his first wife passed away.

    Shortly after Viola Deane married LeRoy White Snow, LeRoy joined the Church. He became president of the first branch in Charlottesville in 1934. His lively personality and gospel radio program endeared him to the community and fostered steady growth in the branch. But despite Brother Snow’s missionary zeal and district president W. E. Larsen’s leadership, that growth was slow. Lamont Dudley was called as branch president in 1954, and Brother Snow became bishop a decade later when the Charlottesville Ward was created by Elder Harold B. Lee as part of the newly formed Richmond Virginia Stake.

    In 1978 Charlottesville’s first stake was created from the ward in Charlottesville and other units in the Shenandoah Valley beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. Today the Waynesboro Virginia Stake includes nearly three thousand members, from eight units in thirteen counties in two states (the other state is West Virginia).

    Many Saints in Charlottesville are newcomers to the area. Peggy Christensen, whose husband is a bishop, lived in six western states before moving to Charlottesville. But she feels at home. “The Church is always there for your family,” she says. “You’re always accepted.”

    Members like Duane and Rena Snow represent a melding of the new and the old. A Church member from Alaska, Rena met Duane at Brigham Young University. They married and moved to Charlottesville. “Since Duane was raised here and everybody knew the Snows,” Rena says, “we are known as the Mormon family. Everywhere we go, people connect us with the Church, which is a good thing—it’s something to live up to.”

    When she was a university student living in New Mexico and majoring in history, Gretchen Patterson was given a copy of the Book of Mormon. She was so fascinated by it that she read it in three days and was soon baptized. Nine years later, she met and married a recent convert, Richard, who had been impressed by the honesty of his LDS coworkers. They now have two children.

    The Pattersons feel good about living in an area where the Church has not been long established. “The Church was my immediate group of friends. It’s wonderful to watch the youth strive to live their religion and be examples to the youth of other faiths around them,” Sister Patterson says.

    Allie Sidwell, a student in Sister Patterson’s seminary class, is one such example. Upset when a local group distributed explicit sex education materials on the high school campus, she expressed her differing views on the subject at a county school board meeting and later on a television news program.

    It may not be easy to live where there are few Church members, Allie says, but “I’ve learned that the strength of a testimony is more precious than numbers of members. And the members here are strong and faithful.”

    Ridge Hicks, president of the LDS Student Association (LDSSA) at the University of Virginia, is active in presenting the group’s views to the student council.

    “The attention is not usually negative,” he says, “because people are very open-minded and accepting here.”

    Sister Christensen agrees: “We’ve seen great growth in our children here, as far as gaining a testimony. They’ve had to stand up for what they believe in, and Charlottesville is an area where people will let you do that.”

    Stake mission president Bobby Snow is a time-management consultant and publisher who has learned from his parents a deep love that helps him overcome obstacles. Despite his father’s murder several years ago, his son’s untimely death while serving a mission, and recent health problems, President Snow remains upbeat and positive. The city is a “special place” where “there’s always been a lot of love one for another,” he says.

    That love can be painful, however; many members—students and military and university families—move to the area and enrich the fellowship of the Saints but soon must move away. Every Fourth of July, President Snow helps renew those bonds of friendship by inviting stake “alumni” to a reunion. The festivities end with fireworks.

    The Church in Charlottesville has produced an enthusiastic group of members that Elder James E. Faust referred to in a recent regional conference as “a band of faithful Saints in the hills of Virginia.” Diverse in background, united in faith and devotion to the gospel, and rooted in a rich colonial heritage, the Saints in Charlottesville feel blessed to have the restored gospel amid the hills, halls, and pillared porches of upland Virginia.

    Photography by Franklin C. Willoughby.

    The city of Charlottesville, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. (Photography by Franklin C. Willoughby.)

    Margaret, Gretchen, and Kate Patterson.

    Some members of the Charlottesville First and Second wards.

    The Vernon Kirby family of the Charlottesville First Ward.