“President Hinckley Maintains Busy Schedule,” Ensign, Oct. 1996, 74–77
In a four-day trip that took him to Illinois, New York, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Missouri, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited historical sites, participated in sesquicentennial events, and spoke to members and missionaries about his love for them and the importance of the gospel in their lives. Accompanying President Hinckley throughout the quick trip was Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy, first counselor in the North America Central Area at the time.
Nauvoo and Carthage, Illinois
On 11 July 1996 nearly 3,000 people gathered in Nauvoo, Illinois, for an outdoor fireside. President Hinckley was the main speaker, and he remarked on the importance of Nauvoo in the history of the Church. “Nauvoo always does something for me,” he said. “There is an affinity within me for this soil, for these old homes, for the foundation stones of the temple, and for Carthage, where the Prophet and Hyrum were murdered on June 27, 1844, for their testimony of the truth.”
President Hinckley mentioned his first visit to the area in 1935, when he visited Nauvoo while en route home from his mission to the British Isles. He also talked of his grandfather who worked as a blacksmith at Nauvoo and later headed west with other Church members. He spoke of the history of the city and the suffering of the Saints. “There can be beauty in suffering when there is faith,” he observed. “There is tragedy, yes; there is sorrow, of course. But there is something sublime in suffering for a great cause. There was something magnificent about the way they held up their heads and kept on going notwithstanding the travail through which they passed. But with all of that suffering, there was a certain beauty in the solemnity of it, in the sublimity of their faith, in their resolution to leave Nauvoo behind and re-create it on a grander scale somewhere in the West.”
Palmyra, New York
The next day, President Hinckley arrived in Palmyra, New York, and visited with full-time missionaries serving in the New York Rochester Mission, the president and missionaries of the Hill Cumorah Visitors’ Center, and the cast and crew of the Hill Cumorah Pageant.
“Every claim that we make concerning divine authority, every truth that we offer concerning the validity of this work, all finds its roots in the First Vision of the boy prophet Joseph Smith,” President Hinckley told the missionaries. “I am grateful to come again and feel the Spirit in the sanctity of the wooded grove.”
While speaking to the 600 participants of the Hill Cumorah Pageant, the Church leader recalled the first time he’d seen the pageant, some 61 years ago. He talked of the power of the production and said: “In behalf of the entire Church, I want to thank you for your efforts. Each in our own time and in our own responsibility become a part of the fabric of this great Church. Each of us becomes a thread, and when woven together there comes to the surface beauty and pattern and purpose.”
President Hinckley also attended the opening night of the pageant and visited the Sacred Grove during his time in upstate New York.
Council Bluffs, Iowa
On 13 July President Hinckley traveled to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he participated in the Grand Encampment honoring the Mormon pioneers, dedicated the reconstructed Kanesville Tabernacle, met with media representatives, and spoke to a large fireside gathering.
During the meeting at the tabernacle, President Hinckley spoke of the pioneer migration from Nauvoo to the Council Bluffs (Kanesville) area. “[The pioneers] longed for the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience and wished to extend that same privilege to all others,” he said. “They did what they did because of what they believed.”
While searching for a place where they could enjoy religious freedom, the pioneers settled briefly in this area. A large group gathered for a Church conference on 3–4 December 1847 to sustain the newly organized First Presidency, with President Brigham Young at its head. But the building was so crowded that President Young adjourned the meeting until a larger facility could be built.
In just three weeks, the Kanesville Tabernacle was constructed, and it was in the 60- by 40-foot building that 1,000 members met on 27 December to sustain their new leader.
President Hinckley referred to the old log tabernacle as being composed of “walls and a roof of cottonwood logs, which is a soft wood and rather easy to tool. But it still represented a Herculean task in the circumstances in which they found themselves.”
Later the same evening President Hinckley addressed more than 12,000 people, about a third of whom were estimated to be members of other faiths, during an outdoor fireside on the campus of the Iowa School for the Deaf. The site was where the pioneers gathered during the summer of 1846 before journeying to the Salt Lake Valley the next year.
“This is historic ground,” said President Hinckley. “This is hallowed ground. This is ground where our forebears lived for a season.”
President Hinckley spoke of the sacrifices made by pioneer ancestors and explained the circumstances under which William Clayton wrote the words to “Come, Come, Ye Saints” (Hymns, no. 30). That hymn, President Hinckley observed, “became the theme song of our people crossing the plains, of the tens of thousands who moved through here, this place of grand encampment, this very soil on which you sit this evening. And I tell you it is a reminder of greatness. It is a reminder of faith. It is a reminder of loyalty to one another and to God. It is a reminder of fidelity to a great purpose. It is a reminder of covenants made concerning our relationship to God our Eternal Father and our beloved Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
President Hinckley also read and commented on D&C 136, a revelation received by President Brigham Young in 1847 across the river from Council Bluffs.
The section focuses primarily on the gathering of the Saints and the journey westward.
“May I remind you,” President Hinckley said, “that we are still pioneers in this Church. We are reaching out across the world. We are now established in more than 150 nations with a membership of 9,700,000. We are pioneering still. Let us in our efforts go forward with a … promise to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord our God.”
After participating in Grand Encampment activities, President Hinckley traveled to Oklahoma, where on 14 July he and his party met with almost 2,000 youth and leaders from the Tulsa Oklahoma and Tulsa East Oklahoma Stakes and the Fort Smith Arkansas and Rogers Arkansas Stakes in an early afternoon meeting. The youth were gathered for a youth conference, and President Hinckley’s address was a high point of the three-day activity.
He counseled the young people to be smart, be clean, be true, and be humble. “You know this gospel is true,” he said. “I know this gospel is true. …
“We are not a small Church anymore. We are a big, moving Church,” he continued. “For some of you it does not seem so because you are the only member of the Church in your high school. But actually you are part of a great, throbbing, wonderful organization that reaches across the earth and encompasses people in many, many lands. … I’m so proud of the youth of this Church. Be the best there is at what you want to be.”
Kansas City, Missouri
Just a few hours later in a 14 July evening meeting, President Hinckley was in Kansas City, Missouri, with about 2,800 youth and leaders. In this gathering, the Church leader spoke of the rising generation and the importance of future missionary service. “I hope every young man here has a mission on his list of goals,” he said. “Don’t let anything get in the way of this. The Lord needs you. He needs your voice.”
President Hinckley also spoke to the young women, telling them they were “the future mothers of children yet to come. … You will carry on with great responsibilities in the years to come. I hope there is not a young woman who does not feel she cannot stand equal with her male friends. … You’re very precious to me,” he said in conclusion. “And you’re very important in the plan of the Lord. Live up to your high possibilities.”
After the whirlwind trip, President Hinckley returned to Salt Lake City.
On 26 July 1847, President Brigham Young climbed a small hill in the Salt Lake Valley that he’d seen in a vision and named it Ensign Peak. Exactly 149 years later, President Hinckley dedicated a newly completed park and improved trail to the same place.
“I’m glad to see that things are as they should be, in my judgment, with reference to the peak,” observed President Hinckley in remarks during the 26 July program, “a nature park, a place to which people may go leisurely, learning as they climb, and when they reach the summit, of pondering and thinking and reflecting as they look across this great valley, which has become a metropolis in the mountains.” Accompanying President Hinckley at the dedication ceremonies were his wife, Marjorie; President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Frances; President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Ruth; and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, and his wife, Barbara.
“Through the efforts of many good people, the monument on Ensign Peak has been refurbished and its surroundings beautified,” President Hinckley said during the dedicatory prayer. “Leading to it is a plaza from which a trail goes where the visitor may make his or her leisurely ascent, learning from the appropriate plaques placed along the way. We pray that through the years to come, many thousands of people of all faiths and all denominations, people of this nation and of other nations, may come here to reflect on the history and the efforts of those who pioneered this area. May this be a place of pondering, a place of remembrance, a place of thoughtful gratitude, a place of purposeful resolution.”
Nearly 1,000 people attended the program, during which the Ensign Peak Foundation presented the new park to the city of Salt Lake. The foundation has spent the last seven years raising money for work on the area, which includes a new Ensign Peak Historic Site and Nature Park.
The new park includes an entrance plaza; a vista mound providing an excellent view of Salt Lake Valley for visitors not wanting to make the entire half-mile hike; a trail with resting spots and plaques with various explanations about the peak’s geology, area history, and plants and animals native to the area; a monument and plaza at the top; and an amphitheater near the trail but hidden from the view of passing hikers.
In addition to President Hinckley’s remarks and prayer, the dedication program included several musical numbers, as well as three historical tableaus: one honoring the Native American residents of the area who predated the pioneers; a second showing President Young’s encounter with mountain man Jim Bridger, who shared disheartening comments about the Salt Lake Valley’s fertility; and a third portraying the hike by President Young and eight other men to the top of the peak on 26 July 1847.
On 4 August, President Hinckley was the featured speaker at the Provo City Community Centennial Service held at the Marriott Center at Brigham Young University. During his remarks, President Hinckley spoke of the secularizing of America. He observed that some are questioning whether the words “In God We Trust” should remain on U.S. currency, that New Jersey recently passed a law banning use of the term God from state courtroom oaths, and that the Boy Scouts of America have been attacked for language in the Boy Scout oath that spoke of duty to God.
“It is acknowledgement of the Almighty that gives civility and refinement to our actions,” President Hinckley said. “It is accountability to Him that brings discipline to our lives. It is gratitude for His gracious favors that takes from us the arrogance to which we are so prone.”
President Hinckley mentioned some things that weaken society, including the lack of family prayer and the disregard for marriage. The Church leader spoke of the nation’s children, many of whom are being raised in single-parent homes, and he spoke of the ills of abortion and welfare.
However, “lest you think I am only a man of gloom and doom,” President Hinckley continued, “let me assure you that there is still so much of strength in America. There is so much of goodness in so many of her people. We live under a Constitution that after more than two centuries stands as the greatest bulwark of human freedom to be found anywhere on earth. …
“My great concern, my great interest, is that we preserve for the generations to come those wondrous elements of our society and manner of living that will bequeath to them the strengths and the goodness of which we have been the beneficiaries.”