Chapter Forty-One: Postwar Recovery

“Chapter Forty-One: Postwar Recovery,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 535–49

“Chapter Forty-One,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 535–49

Chapter Forty-One

Postwar Recovery

The horrors1 and devastation of World War II finally ended in 1945. President Heber J. Grant died on 14 May of that year, just one week after the fighting in Europe had ended and three months before the surrender of Japan. His successor, George Albert Smith, faced the challenge of leading the Church during an era when the world needed to rebuild and overcome the hate that existed following the war. Church leaders reminded the Saints and the world that the only hope for an enduring peace was adherence to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Loving Leader for the Postwar Years

President George Albert Smith’s experience and Christlike love for others suited him well for this task. President Smith affirmed, “I do not have an enemy that I know of. … All men and all women are my Father’s children, and I have sought during my life to observe the wise direction of the Redeemer of mankind—to love my neighbor as myself.”2

George Albert Smith was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1903. He represented the fourth generation of the Smith family to serve as a General Authority. At the time of his call, his father, John Henry Smith, was serving as an Apostle. This was the first and only time in Church history that a father and son have served simultaneously in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

George Albert Smith (1870–1951)

From 1919 to 1921, Elder George Albert Smith had presided over the European Mission. In the aftermath of World War I, several countries refused to readmit the missionaries. As Elder Smith negotiated with these governments to gain permission for missionaries to enter their borders, he gained vital experience that proved valuable when the Church faced similar circumstances following the close of World War II.

Upon his return home from the European Mission, Elder Smith was called to preside over the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association. He served in this capacity for over a decade. For years he had been vitally interested in the youth. He was a prime booster of the Boy Scout movement from its earliest days. In 1932 he was elected to the national executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America. Two years later Elder Smith received the Silver Buffalo, the highest award presented by this national organization, in recognition of his outstanding service. His concern for young people assisted President Smith as he counseled returning servicemen about meeting their challenges following the end of World War II.

Beginning with the latter months of 1945, thousands of Latter-day Saints were discharged from military service. The return to civilian life was not without problems, and the Church took steps to help its members successfully make this transition. Bishops interviewed servicemen promptly and saw to it that they received Church callings. Priesthood quorums sponsored welcome home parties for the servicemen and assisted them in finding employment. The Mutual Improvement Association played a key role in fellowshipping veterans through athletic and social activities.

Helping the Saints in War-Torn Europe

A high priority for Church leaders following the close of World War II was reestablishing contact with the Saints in war-devastated Europe, where communication had been cut off for up to six years. Hundreds of Saints were left homeless when cities were destroyed, especially in Germany and Holland. An acute shortage of food after the war greatly compounded their suffering.

Latter-day Saint servicemen in the Allied armies brought the first help to these suffering members. Hugh B. Brown, president of the British Mission, was the first Church official to visit the European continent following the end of the war. Only two months after the hostilities in Europe had ended, President Brown flew to Paris. There, in the large ballroom of an exclusive hotel, he conducted a meeting attended by 350 servicemen and local Saints. He then continued his journey by train to Switzerland for a hectic series of meetings. Everywhere he went he sought to engender faith and hope among his listeners.

In the fall of 1945 the Church was sending relief supplies to Europe. Since they were sent through the regular mail, only small packages were accepted, and the cost was prohibitive; nevertheless, by January 1946 the Church had shipped thirteen thousand of these packages. Many more were mailed by individual members of the Church. In the meantime the Church sought means of shipping larger quantities. This required the cooperation of government officials. Consequently, President George Albert Smith, together with Elders John A. Widtsoe and David O. McKay, went to Washington, D.C., where they spent a considerable amount of time conferring with ambassadors and other officials of some of the foreign nations. President Smith later described his twenty-minute interview on 3 November with President Harry S. Truman at the White House:

“‘I have just come to ascertain from you, Mr. President, what your attitude will be if the Latter-day Saints are prepared to ship food and clothing and bedding to Europe.’

“He smiled and looked at me, and said: ‘Well, what do you want to ship it over there for? Their money isn’t any good.’

“I said: ‘We don’t want their money.’ He looked at me and asked: ‘You don’t mean you are going to give it to them?’

“I said: ‘Of course, we would give it to them. They are our brothers and sisters and are in distress. God has blessed us with a surplus, and we will be glad to send it if we can have the co-operation of the government.’

“He said: ‘You are on the right track,’ and added, ‘we will be glad to help you in any way we can.’”3

On 14 January 1946 the First Presidency announced that Elder Ezra Taft Benson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who had extensive experience in national agricultural organizations, was assigned to reopen the missions in Europe and attend to the spiritual and temporal needs of those Saints. The First Presidency promised, “Your influence [will] be felt for good by all you come in contact with, and … you and they [will] be made to feel that there is a power and spirit accompanying you not of man.”4 Events would amply demonstrate the prophetic nature of this promise.

Elder Benson was accompanied by Frederick W. Babbel, who had served in the Swiss-German Mission just before the outbreak of the war. They left Salt Lake City on 29 January 1946 for England. During this great mission they frequently referred to a scriptural promise, which they regarded as being fulfilled in their behalf: “And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them” (D&C 1:5). Elder Benson related in general conference, “Barriers have melted away. Problems that seemed impossible to solve have been solved, and the work in large measure has been accomplished through the blessings of the Lord.” Two days after arriving in London, they secured ideal facilities for their headquarters, despite a severe housing shortage.5

Frederick W. Babbel and Ezra Taft Benson traveling abroad during a snowstorm.

Elder Ezra Taft Benson became the first civilian American authorized to travel throughout all four occupied zones of Germany. His travels were often characterized by an amazing series of events, enabling him to meet his demanding schedule. He and his associates accepted these circumstances as manifestations of divine intervention. Typical were these experiences as he traveled with LDS chaplain Howard S. Badger from Paris to the Hague. Railway officials in Paris advised him that there would be a day’s delay because Holland could only be entered through the eastern border rather than through a more direct route. Elder Benson noticed a train preparing to leave and asked the stationmaster where it was going. He was told it was going to Antwerp, Belgium.

“I told him we would take that train and he assured me that we would lose an extra day because all connections between Antwerp and Holland had been cut off as a result of the war.

“But I felt impressed to board that train in spite of his protestations. …

“When we arrived at Antwerp, … the stationmaster was very upset and advised us that we would have to back-track somewhat and lose an extra day. Again I saw another train getting ready to leave and inquired where it was going. We were advised that this was a local shuttle-service which stopped at the Dutch border where the large bridge across the Maas river still lay in ruins. I felt impressed that we should board that train in spite of the stationmaster’s protests.

“When we reached the Maas river, we all had to pile out. As we stood picking up our luggage, we noticed an American army truck approaching us. Brother Badger flagged it down and, upon learning that there was a pontoon bridge nearby, he persuaded them to take us into Holland. When we arrived at the first little village on the Dutch side, we were pleasantly surprised to find this local shuttle-service waiting to take us into The Hague.”6

Elder Ezra Taft Benson observing the destruction of war-torn Europe

One of Elder Benson’s early visits was to Karlsruhe, a key German city on the Rhine River. Upon inquiring where the Latter-day Saints might be meeting, Frederick W. Babbel recounted that the group was directed to an area of nearly demolished buildings.

“Parking our car near massive heaps of twisted steel and concrete, we climbed over several large piles of rubble and threaded our way between the naked blasted walls in the general direction which had been pointed out to us. As we viewed the desolation on all sides of us, our task seemed hopeless. Then we heard the distant strains of ‘Come, Come Ye Saints’ being sung in German. …

“We hurried in the direction of the sound of the singing and arrived at a badly scarred building which still had several usable rooms. In one of the rooms we found 260 joyous saints still in conference, although it was already long past their dismissal time. …

“With tears of gratitude streaming down our cheeks, we went as quickly as possible to the improvised stand. Never have I seen President Benson so deeply and visibly moved as on that occasion.”7

Elder Benson later described his feelings during the meeting in this way: “The Saints had been in session for some two hours waiting for us, hoping that we would come because the word had reached them that we might be there for the conference. And then for the first time in my life I saw almost an entire audience in tears as we walked up onto the platform, and they realized that at last, after six or seven long years, representatives from Zion, as they put it, had finally come back to them. Then as the meeting closed, prolonged at their request, they insisted we go to the door and shake hands with each one of them as he left the bombed-out building. And we noted that many of them, after they had passed through the line went back and came through the second and third time, so happy were they to grasp our hands. As I looked into their upturned faces, pale, thin, many of these Saints dressed in rags, some of them barefooted, I could see the light of faith in their eyes as they bore testimony to the divinity of this great latter-day work, and expressed their gratitude for the blessings of the Lord.”8

Elder Benson felt a sense of urgency to visit the scattered Saints in what had been East Prussia (a part of Germany) but now was Polish territory. Repeated visits to the Polish embassy in London, however, failed to secure the needed visas to Warsaw. Brother Babbel reported:

“After a few moments of soul-searching reflection, Elder Benson said quietly but firmly, ‘Let me pray about it.’

“Some two or three hours after President Benson had retired to his room to pray, he stood in my doorway and said with a smile on his face, ‘Pack your bags. We are leaving for Poland in the morning!’

“At first I could scarcely believe my eyes. He stood there enveloped in a beautiful glow of radiant light. His countenance shone as I imagine the Prophet Joseph’s countenance shone when he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.”9

After flying to Berlin, Elder Benson obtained the necessary clearances for his party to go to Poland, although they had been definitely told that the Polish Military Mission in Berlin had no authority to issue them visas without first consulting with Warsaw, a fourteen-day process. Upon arriving in Poland, Elder Benson’s party drove to the small town of Zelbak, where a German branch of the Church had been located. Not a sign of life was visible upon the streets as they entered the village. They asked the only woman in sight where they might find the branch president. Elder Babbel again recalled:

“We had spotted the woman hiding behind a large tree. Her expression was one of fear as we stopped, but upon learning who we were she greeted us with tears of gratitude and joy. …

“… Within minutes the cry went from house to house, ‘The brethren are here! The brethren are here!’ Soon we found ourselves surrounded by about fifty of the happiest people we had ever seen.

“Having seen our strange jeep approaching with what they feared to be Russian or Polish soldiers, they had abandoned the streets as if by magic. Likewise, when they learned of our true identity and mission, the village became alive with joyous women and children—women and children, because only two of our former twenty-nine priesthood holders remained.

“That morning in fast and testimony meeting over one hundred saints had assembled together to bear their testimonies and to petition Almighty God in song, in fasting and prayer, to be merciful to them and let the elders again come to visit them. Our sudden and unheralded arrival, after almost complete isolation from Church and mission headquarters since early 1943, was the long-awaited answer, so wonderful that they could scarcely believe their good fortune.”10

Elder Benson found the European Saints eager to move forward again in promoting the Lord’s work. Nevertheless, substantial problems had to be overcome before Church programs could be reimplemented. Many branches could not be fully organized because so many of their priesthood leaders were lost during the war. Furthermore, when meetinghouses and homes were destroyed, the Saints lost not only material possessions, but items of spiritual importance as well. In some branches, for example, not even copies of the scriptures remained. Nevertheless, Elder Benson reported, “We found that our members had carried on in a marvelous way. Their faith was strong, their devotion greater, and their loyalty unsurpassed.”11

One of Elder Benson’s most important assignments was to supply desperately needed food and clothing for the Saints in Europe. In Germany, where the needs were particularly serious, members had already exhibited courage, faith, and resourcefulness in meeting the emergency. During the last months of the war, they had gathered clothing, hidden it in safe places, and shared it cooperatively. Richard Ranglack, the mission president in Berlin, compared these German members to the early Latter-day Saints who were driven closer together by the difficulties they suffered.12

As the war ended, Dutch Saints planted potatoes wherever they could obtain land. They shared their harvest with their brothers and sisters in Germany even though their nations had recently been enemies. By mid-March, Elder Benson had made the necessary arrangements with government and military authorities in Europe to have additional relief supplies sent from America.

To supplement the supplies already in storage in the United States, the Church had launched drives for used clothing and other goods. President George Albert Smith took the lead in demonstrating his love and concern for the suffering Saints in Europe. He donated at least two suits fresh from the cleaners and several shirts still in their wrappings from the laundry. During a visit to Welfare Square to inspect the results of these clothing drives, he took off his topcoat and laid it on one of the piles of clothing being prepared for shipment to Europe. Despite the protests of his associates he insisted on returning to the office without his coat.13

Military and other officials in Europe were amazed at the speed with which the shipments arrived from the Church in America. European Church leaders openly wept for joy and gratitude as they examined clothing and felt the sacks of grain when visiting the storehouses where the welfare goods arrived. In all, some ninety-three railroad carloads of supplies were sent.

Elder Benson was also instrumental in extending missionary work to Finland. On 16 July 1946, atop a beautiful hill near Larsmo, Finland, he dedicated and blessed that land that it might be receptive to the gospel. The following day, a surprising 245 persons attended a public meeting in Helsinki and manifested genuine interest.14 A separate Finnish Mission was organized the following year.

Elder Benson returned home in December 1946, having traveled more than sixty thousand miles during his ten-month assignment in Europe. By this time newly called presidents were once again directing the missions there.

Reopening the Pacific

Reopening missionary work in the Pacific was not as difficult as it was in Europe. Although missionaries had been withdrawn, except from Hawaii, mission presidents had remained in their assigned countries. Furthermore, most of these areas were never in actual combat zones. Following the end of the hostilities, missionaries were again assigned there without difficulty.

Matthew Cowley (1897–1953) was known as the Apostle of the Polynesians. As a young missionary in New Zealand, he learned the Maori language and translated the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price into that language.

The appointment of Elder Matthew Cowley as president of the Pacific Mission was announced by the First Presidency in late 1946. Prior to this Elder Cowley had presided for eight years over the New Zealand Mission, including the war period, and had been called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles almost immediately following his release from his mission assignment. He fulfilled a function to the missions of the Pacific similar to that of Elder Benson in Europe. During the next three years Elder Cowley traveled widely in the Pacific and had many remarkable experiences. On one occasion, for example, he gave blessings to fifty people. On another day he blessed seventy-six people, many of whom got in line as early as 5:00  a.m.

Elder Cowley noted in his journal, “This seemed the usual thing. …

“And they are made well, such is their faith. … I know that when I lay my hands upon their heads that they are made whole. It is not my faith. I just have faith in their faith.”15 Elder Cowley’s great love for the peoples of the Pacific, his deep faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and his enthusiastic leadership helped provide the impetus for Church growth throughout the area.

The Church faced a particularly great challenge in Japan. The mission there had been closed since 1924. By 1945 only about fifty members remained in the Land of the Rising Sun, but Latter-day Saint servicemen among the American occupation forces made an important contribution to the future of the Church in Japan. Many were anxious to bless the Japanese people with the spirit and message of the gospel. When three Mormon soldiers were offered a cup of tea in a curio shop in the village of Narumi, they declined and took the opportunity to explain the Church’s teachings concerning the sanctity of the body. This led to further gospel conversations with one of the people there, and soon Tatsui Sato and his family became the first postwar converts baptized in Japan. Members of this family became stalwarts in the gospel. Brother Sato served as the Church’s chief translator in Japan. The young serviceman who baptized Mrs. Sato was Boyd K. Packer, a future member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.16 Other convert baptisms followed, and thus foundations were laid for the eventual reopening of the Japanese Mission.

In 1947 the First Presidency called Edward L. Clissold, who had served as a military officer in Japan with the Allied occupation forces, to return and open the mission there. Upon his arrival, he found the climate far more conducive to successful missionary work than in former decades. There was a spiritual void that needed to be filled, and many people actively sought for meaning in life. The first five missionaries assigned to Japan were former servicemen who returned to share the gospel with the nation that had so recently been their enemy. By 1949 there were 135 Church members in Japan.

The years following the close of World War II were years of continued growth in various areas of North America, where Latter-day Saints sought employment during the war. Furthermore, the Church reached a significant milestone in 1947 when membership passed the one million mark. The postwar years were also a period of revitalization for the Church’s varied programs and activities.

Postwar Revival in Church Activities

Missionary work and the construction of Church buildings were undoubtedly the activities most hampered by wartime restrictions. With the ending of hostilities, however, these and other programs were not only revived, they were expanded in order to better meet the needs of the Saints. As wartime restrictions on calling missionaries were lifted, many young men who had been forced to postpone their missions accepted the opportunity to serve. The rapid influx of missionaries pushed their numbers to new highs. From an average of only 477 missionaries serving in 1945, the number soared to 2,244 a year later. As before the war, most of the missionaries were young elders. This meant that there were many new missionaries serving in the field who lacked experience in teaching the gospel and could profit from some help and direction.

The most widely circulated postwar proselyting outline was prepared by Richard L. Anderson in the Northwestern States Mission. He built on methods he had worked out while serving as a stake missionary when he was in the military. According to his plan, the missionary’s goal was not merely to hand out tracts, but to be invited into homes, where the gospel message could be presented. Doctrinal discussions stressed a careful study of the scriptures and were arranged in a logical sequence leading to conversion. As these improved methods were adopted throughout the mission, the results were apparent. In 1949 the Northwestern States Mission had more than one thousand convert baptisms in a single year.

As the pace of missionary work picked up, the administrative load of mission presidents increased. Therefore, in 1947 the General Authorities directed mission presidents around the world to call counselors from among the missionaries and local Melchizedek Priesthood bearers. Elder Spencer W. Kimball later declared that this decision to appoint counselors had been a revelation to the Presidency of the Church.17

While mission organization was being strengthened and proselyting missionaries were refining their methods of teaching the gospel, the Church also took advantage of other means to share its message with the world. With the end of wartime gasoline rationing and the resulting upsurge in travel, Temple Square became a tremendous missionary tool. In 1948 the number of visitors to Temple Square topped the one million mark for the first time.18 That same year the annual Hill Cumorah pageant, “America’s Witness for Christ,” was resumed as a missionary tool that presented the story of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel.

Also during these postwar years the Church became increasingly involved in motion picture production. New Latter-day Saint films were produced during the late 1940s about Church historic sites, Temple Square, and the welfare program. Likewise, as television developed during the postwar years, the Church was quick to make use of it.19 The October 1949 general conference was the first to be telecast.20

The shortage of critical materials had almost halted the Church building program during the war. As supplies once again became available, the Church embarked on an ambitious chapel-building program. By 1949, two hundred local meetinghouses were completed, and the total reached nine hundred only three years later. In the mid-1950s, more than half of all Latter-day Saint buildings in use had been constructed since the end of World War II. Expenditures for these building projects accounted for more than half of the appropriations from general Church funds during these years.

In 1937, President Heber J. Grant had announced plans to build a temple in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and construction began two years later. On 19 October 1941 the capstone was laid, and from the outside the structure appeared to be completed. Less than two months later, however, the attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the United States into war, and the temple’s completion was delayed as building materials suddenly became scarce. By mid-1945 the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple was finally ready for dedication. In his dedicatory prayer, President George Albert Smith expressed gratitude for the cessation of war and prayed that the peoples of the world might be inclined to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, thereby making peace permanent.

The microfilming of vital records for genealogical purposes, interrupted by the war, resumed even before the conflict ended. In March 1945 the Church began microfilming 365 English parish registers. During 1947, Archibald F. Bennett, secretary of the Genealogical Society, spent four months in Europe conferring with government and religious officials, where he obtained permission for the society to microfilm in England, Scotland, Wales, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, northern Italy, and France. In the wake of war most archivists eagerly cooperated with the microfilmers to ensure that a copy of their records would be preserved in case the originals were destroyed. The society also presented each library or church with a copy of the material microfilmed, allowing the public to have access to the information without handling fragile originals.

By early 1950 twenty-two full-time microfilmers were at work in the United States and several European countries. As copies of these vital records became available through the Church’s genealogical library, the Saints were better able to conduct the research necessary to identify those people whom temple ordinances could be performed for.

Postwar social trends placed stress on the family and caused Church leaders to give added attention to the home. The end of the war witnessed a sharp increase in the number of marriages, followed by a postwar baby boom. There were more new families and new parents than at any previous time in the Church’s history. Unfortunately, however, the rate of divorces in the United States almost doubled between 1940 and 1950. Therefore the Church gave considerable attention to the home and family during the postwar years. In 1946 several Church organizations inaugurated programs to strengthen families and promote a regular “family hour.”

The uprooting of families and other wartime pressures posed significant challenges for the youth of the Church, causing General Authorities to instruct local leaders to look out for their welfare. To provide wholesome recreational activities for the youth, the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Associations sponsored road shows and other dramatic presentations, speech contests, and music festivals. Hundreds of colorfully costumed dancers filled football fields in regional dance festivals. Ward softball and basketball teams played for stake, region, and finally Churchwide championships; these Church-sponsored activities were thought to be the largest athletic leagues in the world. The varied programs blessed the Church’s youth and attracted widespread attention and praise.

Church leaders encouraged the Saints to make spiritual growth a priority in their homes. They emphasized honoring Sunday as a holy day of worship. On Sunday morning men and boys attended an hour-long priesthood meeting. Afterward the entire family went to Sunday School; the half-hour “opening exercises” included two-and-a-half–minute talks given by two young people of the ward. The congregation would then have a ten-minute hymn practice followed by nearly an hour of class instruction from the scriptures and other related gospel topics. Families again returned later in the afternoon or evening for sacrament meeting. This meeting also lasted an hour and a half and featured inspirational music, often by the ward choir, and talks on religious subjects given by both the youth and adult members of the Church. On one or more Sunday evenings during the month, youth and adult groups conducted “firesides,” informal discussions followed by refreshments. The Saints’ Church activity increased rapidly during the postwar years.

On President Heber J. Grant’s eighty-second birthday, 22 November 1938, he received a copper box filled with one thousand silver dollars to give to his favorite charity. President Grant had the silver dollars placed in paperweights and sold to raise money for the construction of the new Primary Children’s Hospital.

The Primary Children’s Hospital was completed in 1952 and was dedicated by President David O. McKay.

During the postwar years the Church also continued efforts to enhance the health care of its members. Hospitals in Salt Lake City and Ogden were renovated and enlarged, and the Church cooperated with rural communities in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming to open and operate small hospitals. Construction began in 1949 for the 1.25-million-dollar Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, which was to replace the small facility being used on North Temple Street. This modern facility would provide care to children of all religions and races. Care was given free to families unable to pay.

Concern for the Lamanites

The 1940s brought a significant expansion of Church programs for the American Indians and related groups identified as descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples. Twentieth-century missionary work among the Native Americans began in 1936, when the First Presidency directed the Snowflake Stake in northeastern Arizona to open formal missionary work among the Navajos, Hopis, and Zunis. Soon other stakes became similarly involved.

These efforts received a significant boost in November 1942 when George Jumbo, a Navajo Latter-day Saint, went to Salt Lake City for back surgery. Before returning home, his wife, Mary, expressed the desire to meet President Heber J. Grant. Arrangements were made, and Mary stood before him and “pled with the President for missionaries to be sent amongst her people.” President Grant, with tears running down his cheeks, turned to Elder George Albert Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and said, “‘With all of your great responsibilities as the President of the Council of the Twelve would you please accept one more assignment and get this missionary work started amongst those people … and will you please see to it that it gets started on a permanent basis and that it will grow and increase instead of diminishing and fading away.’”21 Early the following year the Navajo-Zuni Mission was organized. Missionaries were soon sent to other tribes, reaching Indians throughout the United States and Canada.

Beginning in 1945 another group of Lamanites was blessed in quite a different way. Many Spanish-speaking members did not understand the full meaning of the temple ceremonies as presented in English. To assist these members, the Mesa Arizona Temple presented the ordinances in Spanish for the first time. At a special Lamanite conference in Mesa early in November 1945, about two hundred people gathered, some coming from as far as Mexico City. Most of these Saints made a substantial economic sacrifice to travel the long distances to Mesa; some even gave up jobs. President David O. McKay, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, congratulated those who had come. The history-making Spanish-speaking endowment sessions commenced two days later.22 Those who attended the Lamanite conference discovered that the Church included more than just the small branch where they worshipped each week. During succeeding years the Lamanite conference and Spanish-speaking temple sessions at the Mesa Arizona Temple became eagerly anticipated annual events.

In 1946, President George Albert Smith called Elder Spencer W. Kimball to give special attention and leadership to the Lamanite people. Elder Kimball reflected:

“I do not know when I began to love the children of Lehi. … It may have come from my patriarchal blessing which was given to me by Patriarch Samuel Claridge, when I was nine years of age. One line of the blessing reads:

“‘You will preach the gospel to many people, but more especially to the Lamanites. …’

“… and now, forty-two years after the promise, President George Albert Smith called me to this mission, and my blessing was fulfilled.”23

While touring the Mexican Mission in 1947, Elder Kimball envisioned a glorious future for the Lamanite people, which he spoke of at the Lamanite conference in Mesa during November of that year. He saw them not as the servants of others, but as the owners of banks and businesses. He envisioned them as construction engineers, political leaders, lawyers, and doctors. As newspaper publishers and as authors of books or articles, he anticipated that they would have great influence. Elder Kimball stated, “I saw the Church growing in rapid strides and I saw wards and stakes organized. I saw stakes by the hundreds.

“I saw a temple and expect to see it filled with men and women.”24

Thirty years later President Kimball presided over the area conference in Mexico City, where he again told the people of his 1947 vision and remarked that he could see it was well on its way to fulfillment.

One of the Indians’ most critical needs was for education. A unique program to help meet this need had its beginning in central Utah during the late 1940s. Golden R. Buchanan was a member of the Sevier Stake presidency in Richfield, Utah. During the autumn of 1947 he observed the deplorable condition of some migrant Indian agricultural workers in the area. Speaking at a stake conference he admonished the Saints to take better care of their Lamanite brethren.

Shortly afterward a member from a neighboring town came to President Buchanan and told him of a teenage Indian girl named Helen John who did not want to return to the reservation with her family but was determined to remain and go to school. She pleaded with her Latter-day Saint employers, “‘If you’ll let me pitch my tent out back of your house, I promise I won’t be any bother to you. I’ll take care of myself, but I would like to live where I can go to school with your girls.’” President Buchanan was impressed with the idea. He envisioned that “if a program of this sort were undertaken by the Church that literally hundreds of Indian children would have the privilege of living in LDS homes, where they not only could be taught in school but they could be taught the principles of the gospel.” He outlined his ideas in a letter to Elder Spencer W. Kimball. Elder Kimball personally invited the Buchanans to take Helen into their home. Several other Indian youth were also placed in other homes in the area.

From these beginnings the program grew. It became an official Church-sponsored activity in the 1950s. Eventually, as many as five thousand students a year were placed in Latter-day Saint homes, especially throughout the western United States and Canada.

The Pioneer Centennial

In the midst of the postwar revival of Church activity, the celebration of the pioneer centennial in 1947 focused the Saints’ attention on their heritage. President George Albert Smith headed the civic committee planning appropriate observances. Few Church leaders, if any, excelled President Smith’s zeal in commemorating the achievements of the past. During the spring and summer, dozens of musical performances, art exhibits, sporting events, and dramatic productions marked the occasion. The pageant “Message of the Ages,” which had been so popular during the 1930 centennial, was again staged in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Fourteen hundred people were involved in the production, and a total of 135,000 people witnessed the twenty-five performances.

A new musical production, Promised Valley, was presented in the University of Utah stadium for two weeks with more than 85,000 people attending. Featuring original music by Crawford Gates, a noted Latter-day Saint composer, this production depicted the frustrations and dedication of the early pioneers. It was presented throughout the Church by local MIA groups and later became a popular summer attraction in Salt Lake City. A group driving seventy-two automobiles outfitted with canvas covers and plywood oxen to look like covered wagons reenacted the original pioneer trek from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley.

The centennial celebration climaxed on 24 July, exactly one hundred years from the day the first pioneer company entered the Salt Lake Valley. A gigantic “Days of 47” parade included numerous floats honoring these early founders, and the United States post office issued a commemorative stamp in memory of the pioneers. The highlight of the celebration was President George Albert Smith’s dedication of the sixty-foot-high This Is the Place monument near the mouth of Emigration Canyon east of Salt Lake City. The goodwill developing between the Saints and other people on this occasion was symbolized by President Smith’s picture on the cover of Time magazine.

This Is the Place monument

Reflecting on the significance of the pioneer centennial, the First Presidency declared: “As that small group of Pioneers looked upon what appeared to be a sterile desert, so today the Church faces a world lying in moral lethargy and spiritual decline. A sense of responsibility to build up the Kingdom of God … should be and is in the Church today.” The Presidency compared the physical dangers faced by the pioneers with the temptations confronting the Church, particularly the youth, in the twentieth century and charged the Saints to be as prepared to meet these challenges as their forebears were.25

The midpoint of the twentieth century was reached with the end of 1950. Just over three months later, President George Albert Smith died and a new leader was sustained. Both of these milestones provided occasion for the Latter-day Saints to reflect on the Church’s status—what had been accomplished and what still lay ahead.

The first half of the twentieth century was a period of substantial growth for the Church. Membership passed the one million mark only three years before mid-century. At the general conference held in April 1950, President George Albert Smith shared his feelings about this growth: “The Church has increased during the past year more than any other year since it was organized. … How happy we should be, not that we have increased in numbers in the organization that we belong to, but that more of our Father’s children, more of his sons and daughters, have been brought to an understanding of the truth.”26