“Saints in Columbus, Ohio: A Season of Growth,” Ensign, Aug. 1999, 77–78
Dickson Call, a resident of Columbus, Ohio, since 1955, is amazed at the Church growth that has taken place in his city. For many years he was a member of the Columbus Ohio Branch, which encompassed most of central Ohio. “Who would have thought that our one tiny branch would grow to three strong stakes and 30-plus branches and wards?” he marvels now. “And I never dreamed that a temple would be built in Ohio.”
Joe L. Johnson, president of the Ohio Columbus Mission, attributes much of the Church’s success in Columbus to years of diligent missionary work. Missionaries and members in Columbus “have been very successful at baptizing and retaining converts,” he says. “We have now a second generation of members who are living and raising their families here. Together with the western transplants, the Church is doing very well.”
The rapid and sustained growth of the Church in Columbus began after World War II. Many members from the western states came to attend Ohio State University on the GI bill. They graduated, found employment, and raised their families in the area. They also found a community eager to hear the gospel message.
Today, 163 years after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Church members in Ohio are looking forward to a temple once again in their midst.
“The visibility in the community of many of our members really helped us when President Gordon B. Hinckley came to Columbus [in April 1998] and announced a temple,” says Kurt Southam, Columbus Ohio East Stake president.
One of those visible Church members is businessman Dimon R. McFerson. Brother McFerson explains that he and Gregory S. Lashutka, mayor of Columbus, “were casual acquaintances until I asked him in 1992 to host a reception for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which was giving a concert here. He loves music and enjoyed the choir very much. We have been fast friends ever since.”
The mayor frequently asked Brother McFerson about the possibility of a temple being built in the city. Brother McFerson recalls that Mr. Lashutka “was thrilled to greet President Hinckley when he came to visit last year. At that time Mr. Lashutka pledged his personal support to the building of a temple.” In a matter of weeks a permit was issued to build the sacred structure.
Brother Call, originally from Idaho, is among the many Saints eagerly awaiting the new temple. Brother Call came to Columbus in 1955 to attend graduate school at Ohio State. He and his wife, Joann, are grateful to have raised their family here. “When we moved to this area, my oldest daughter was the only member in her school,” Brother Call says. “Now there is a large, active youth group who support each other, and a strong seminary program.”
Another stalwart Church member is Kathleen Smith. Sister Smith has enriched the lives of thousands of people in the Columbus community, both in and out of the Church, with her unique musical and theatrical talents.
For the past five years she has directed Christopher—the Musical of Discovery, produced by the three Columbus stakes in cooperation with the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department. The musical tells the story of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America and is staged each summer aboard a replica of the famous flagship Santa María, which is docked on the banks of the Scioto River in downtown Columbus. The musical attracts approximately a thousand people every year and has become a Columbus tradition.
Sister Smith and her husband, Keith L. Smith—an Area Authority Seventy for the North America Northeast Area—have raised eight children in the gospel. Sister Smith says, “I have seen the Church literally come out of obscurity here in Columbus. We are respected for our solid family values and our commitment to serve the community.”
One favorite Church-sponsored service opportunity is canning. By working in cooperation with other community services and by obtaining donations from businesses, the Church-owned cannery has supplied hundreds of thousands of cans of food to the Mid-Ohio FoodBank, a nonprofit agency that distributes emergency food supplies to the poor and needy in 55 Ohio counties.
For the past several years the three stakes in Columbus have sponsored youth service projects that directly benefit cities and towns within the stake boundaries. The youth have rebuilt several parks and camping areas. One year they painted, repaired, and weeded dozens of homes in the downtown area.
Mayor Lashutka praised local Church members when he spoke at the temple groundbreaking on 12 September 1998: “You are good people, you raise good families, you support humanitarian causes, and you are prominent leaders in the communities. We are glad you are among us.”
And Church members are glad to live in a state steeped in Church history where they can create history of their own. They derive strength from the examples of fellow Church members as well as others in the community with whom they associate. “The strength of the members’ testimonies and the heritage of this land are blessings,” says Columbus Ohio Stake president Samuel J. Kiehl III. “We are grateful to be a part of this great latter-day work.”
Columbus, Ohio, at a Glance
Members in the three Columbus stakes: 10,100
Endowed members: 4,340
Missionaries serving from the Columbus stakes: 95
Seminary students: 425
Institute students: 281
The first stake in the Church was organized in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1834.
The Columbus Ohio Stake was organized from the Great Lakes Mission in 1962.
The Columbus Ohio East Stake was organized in 1976 by dividing the Columbus Ohio Stake.
The Columbus Ohio North Stake was organized in 1986 by dividing the Columbus Ohio and the Columbus Ohio East Stakes.