People and Places
January 1971

“People and Places,” New Era, Jan. 1971, 16

People and Places

Montreal—On the Montreal Star daily newspaper works a young Latter-day Saint, Margaret J. Ellis. Here is her report about what it was like to be in the middle of the recent Canadian crisis:

“As I stood conducting the music for sacrament service, I couldn’t help but notice the somber faces before me. Only a few hours before had come the news that Quebec Labor and Immigration Minister Pierre Laporte had been killed by terrorists. All of Canada was shocked.

After the meeting, everyone stood around and talked. Even now we keep talking about it. Said one youth: ‘I’m surprised this happened in Quebec. I didn’t think the FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec) was serious about things.’ It typified the thoughts of many others.

“‘The Quebec situation reminds me of the tower of Babel—it seems that the French and English can no longer communicate in love and brotherhood. So many think they must use violence,’ said one.

“Said another young adult: ‘I didn’t relate to it because it seemed remote. But then I realized that sick people were behind it, and I tried to imagine how I’d feel if I didn’t have the gospel. We Latter-day Saints stick together because of the gospel, but many others here seemed really tossed to and fro.’ Said another: ‘My two brothers were out until 2:00 A.M. the night of Mr. Laporte’s murder. I’ve never been so concerned for their safety or loved them so much.’

“Many of the Saints turned to speaking about the last days and about the sorrow and trouble and fear that will precede Christ’s second coming. We talked about how it seems to be Satan’s plan to frighten mankind. We talked of the importance of listening to the prophet’s voice and communicating with our Heavenly Father through fasting and prayer so we will know what is best for each of us when troubled times come. As we talked of prophecies, we agreed that, in general, conditions on earth apparently will worsen, but that each of us can be prepared.

“Later I joined the thousands of people who thronged to the stone courthouse in Old Montreal to pay their last respects to Pierre Laporte. I never put enough warm clothes on, I thought for an instant while waiting in the endless line. One hour, two, three. My feet were numb. I could hardly walk. There was still no visible sign of anyone going in.

“I now had time to ponder the events, which had not hit me with complete impact until I stepped out onto a dreary, barren street, lined with dingy warehouses, to hear the tolling bell. There were people from all walks of life—businessmen in suits and mustaches, hippies in long hair and jeans, fashion-conscious models, old ladies moving slower than the rest.

“‘I would have brought a friend along, but everyone I asked was afraid to come,’ one woman said.

“Soldiers paced the pavement, their heels clicking into the awesome silence. French and English mingled together. ‘Pardon, Madame. Avez-vous l’heure?’ ‘Yes, it’s almost 10:30.’

“There’s something humbling about a vast crowd, something that reaffirms the fact that you are one of many and must take your turn.

“As we shuffled on, I noticed that as the multitude thinned and dispersed, a chill went up my back. A cold, biting breeze hit me. Standing alone it seemed a cold world—people were warmed only by getting together. I thought, What can I do to help? How can I best serve a nation?

“To me, service is the act of supporting that in which you believe. I used to feel that because I was not a born leader with a responsible position, I could not serve mankind. But I realized that night on the street in Montreal that most of us must follow, but we can be responsible for choosing what we will support. Montreal still stands. But all Canadians have learned something about supporting one another—and choosing carefully the causes they support.”

Bloomington, Indiana—Few young Latter-day Saints have ever lived behind the Iron Curtain as has twenty-three-year-old Cenek Vrba, who presently studies violin and music performance at the famed University of Indiana School of Music. Already, Cenek is one of the great young violinists of our time.

What was it like living in Czechoslovakia?

“Most people in Canada and the United States to whom I have talked cannot even imagine what kind of life our family had in Czechoslovakia before escaping in 1968. People outside of Communism don’t even realize the value of their fantastic freedom to do as they wish. Freedom—that is the difference.

“My father was branch president and we had a good Mormon home. But in school we were taught that there is no God. We were taught to hate the ‘class enemy,’ or the owners of small shops and businesses. The USSR was held up as the shining example in everything. In school we were shown movies of how Russia won World War II and how they had given the Czech people their freedom and therefore had the right to occupy the country after the war.

“But at home I was taught love and the gospel and about God. We did not doubt God, even though we could not talk to others about the Church. We could not even tell them of our sacrament meetings. Once we told a trusted friend about our meetings and he informed the secret police. They stopped our meetings and interrogated my father. Although my father has three doctorates, he was released from teaching in the university because, he was told, his Mormon ideas would corrupt the students. He was offered wealth and position if he would join the Communist Party.

“When I was six years old our family had to begin to prepare for my baptism two years later. Since it would have been impossible for me to be baptized in a river or a lake, Father built a font in our garden. He worked on it for over two years so that no suspicions would be aroused. When the secret police asked him why he built it, he said it was to keep the children cool. When I was eight, Father baptized me in our 4′ x 4′ font in the middle of the night.

“Freedom is the difference between my life in Czechoslovakia and my life in Canada and the United States. Here I have freedom. I didn’t resent studying Marxism and learning about it, but it was terrible to live in it. It takes some principles that are close to the gospel and twists them into force and great unhappiness.”

And about music?

“Music to me is something almost spiritual, even though it can be material—I practice five hours a day and study much. Music lifts people’s spirits. My goal is to be a concert violinist. I look forward to being known as a Mormon. My life as a concert violinist and all the traveling will present challenges when I marry and children come, but I will stay close to the Church and build a good home. I love the Church and know from experience that God answers our prayers. To me, Jesus Christ and his gospel are wonderful.”

Cenek is close to attaining his professional goal. He was concert-master of a symphony orchestra in Czechoslovakia and won first place in the Czech Beethoven National Violin Competition. After his family moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, he won the Calgary Music Festival’s top award; the $1,000 grand festival award at the Spokane, Washington, Music Festival; and the top two $500 prizes in Alberta, Canada, music competition.

Pocatello, Idaho—She’s a senior at Idaho State University and the reigning Miss Pocatello—but she’s also a young Latter-day Saint deeply committed to the gospel, especially in helping others. During the summer Claire Rich worked nine weeks on the ISU campus helping disadvantaged youth in the U.S. Federal Upward-Bound program, and now continues that same help in the Follow-up Program:

“Since I study physical education, in the Upward-Bound program I taught all sports and modern dancing, my real love. My students were generally high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. They were Indians, blacks, Mexicans, Greeks, and Anglos. Our job was to build confidence in them so they could believe in themselves. I never knew before that some people have lost hope even in themselves. They might come from a family that has never had a high school graduate—all brothers and sisters have dropped out—and they think there is no reason for them to continue in school.”

How do people gain confidence?

“You give them growth opportunities, leadership opportunities; as a group let them set their own rules—such as requiring them to sign out after 6:00 P.M. and to be in by 10:30 P.M.—and they discipline themselves through their own committees.”

Could you see growth and change for the better?

“Definitely. Some of the students now know how to study and that they can do the same things others do, academically.

“Some people think the government shouldn’t be helping these transient youth. Even some Latter-day Saints look down on these programs. I wish they could have seen and experienced what we did. I learned a lot about races, too. I learned that respect and trust and cooperation together can really happen.”

What about being Miss Pocatello?

“It’s fun to ride in parades, judge other contests, attend banquets, cut ribbons; but the most important part is being a good spokesman for today’s youth, to encourage youth to take pride in our city and to help make it better. That is one reason I love the Church. It really encourages us to share our true understanding with others.”

Modesto, California—Members of the Modesto Fourth Ward knew that they could do it. After all, the whole ward was rooting for them. So, after working fifty hours on their own routine, Jan Gaub and Lee Wakefield won the California State Fair Sweepstakes Award at the talent contest. The dance that did it?

“It was a swing dance routine,” said Lee, “We used Herb Alpert music for the fair routine, but we often use music from larger orchestras—Latin and European numbers. Jan and I practice about eight hours a week.”

Where do they get most of their experience?

“The Church! We perform in roadshows, parent and youth nights, and other activities.”

Jan’s thoughts about the Church:

“I’m not a member but I have gone to all the meetings since my friends invited me. Everyone is so friendly; I really feel at home. Your Church programs are okay. I mean, they’re really okay!”