Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Time Travel Tuesdays~A Temple, A Prophet, & Poncho Villa?

A wonderful blessing has occurred for members of my church in the Gilbert, AZ area. A beautiful new temple has been completed and dedicated to the work of the Lord. There has only been one temple in the area for just over 80 years. This will make temple attendance easier for many and relieve some strain on the old temple in Mesa.

The old temple in Mesa...it takes me back, all of this talk of temples and youth cultural celebrations and hosting the prophet. In 1975 the Mesa Arizona Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was closed for renovation and a new addition. I was 17 years old, in my senior year of high school, and very excited about everything that was planned for the re-opening and re-dedication of our temple.

The 1975 construction on the Mesa Temple added much needed locker rooms, laundry, office and lobby space. It was a busy temple as it served much of the southwest as well as Mexico and even farther south into Central and South America. The Sao Paulo, Brazil Temple was under construction but not yet complete. The Mexico City temple wasn't even announced until the following year. I remember many times groups of  Church members from Central and South America would come to Mesa by the busload. They would be taken to the Tri-Stake Center (or Inter-Stake Center as it was officially called). This building is located at 830 E. 2nd Ave. and only about a block south-east of the temple by Ellsworth Park. There they could shower, change, and  were fed by by local Relief Society sisters. They were then taken to the temple where they received their own Endowments, were sealed as couples and as families, attended as many sessions as they could in their allotted time in Mesa. It was usually only a few days then they boarded their buses and returned home. Many of them were never able to attend the temple again in their lives. The Relief Society always gathered donations of new underclothes, and new and used clothing and shoes for these Saints, most of whom were to poor to buy nice enough clothing for temple attendance. It was a labor of love.

Needing more space in the Mesa Temple, President Spencer W. Kimball authorized the construction.
There was great excitement in Mesa when the time neared that the refurbishing was complete. The Prophet was coming to Mesa, along with the rest of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Members of the Seventy, Regional Representatives, and Auxiliary Presidencies were also coming. Temple dedications were extremely rare back in those days. On the evening before the re-dedication of the temple they were all to be hosted at a dinner. It was announced that my church building, the current Lazona Ward building on the corner of Lazona and East University Ave. was to be used. The gym was as large as a Stake Center's and we had a huge kitchen. It was  the largest of the centrally located buildings in Mesa I suppose. All I know is that our ward's youth were chosen to be the servers that night and we were all thrilled! In the week leading up to the event we gathered to clean the building inside and out. My assigned task with others from my age group was to wash exterior windows. We used vinegar and newspapers and I just remember my hands turning black from the ink! We worried that we had done all of that work and our guests would probably not even notice. We were reminded that we should always put forth our very best efforts for the Lord and His servants. It didn't matter whether any of the brethren saw our windows or not. We would know that we had presented our building in its best possible light. The evening did turn out to be very lovely. I had the honor of serving the table where Apostle Mark E. Peterson sat. At the head table in the overflow space, the First Presidency each took a few moments and spoke to us and the guests of the importance of temple work and their feelings on this occasion. President Kimball was an Arizona boy and we were all so proud to claim him.

There was a funny and special memory shared by President Marion G. Romney who had a connection to Arizona as he was raised in Colonia Juarez, Mexico. He told us his memories of being a four year old boy at the time when legendary outlaw Poncho Villa was on a rampage, raiding the Mormon Colonies. He and his siblings were thrown into the back of the family's covered wagon and told to stay back away from the opening of the cover as the family literally fled for their lives. He told us that he was a naughty boy and took a peek through the wagon cover as they were  being bounced and thrown about in the back of the wagon. He saw Poncho Villa himself leading the raid on horseback, guns blazing! I think I realized for the first time how awesome our older generation was with their connection to the Old West and Pioneer days. My own grandparents were just that age.

Before the dinner began all of the youth were given "the talk" about not bothering the Prophet. If we were not chosen to serve that table we needed to stay away. We were not to go up to any of the Brethren of Sisters there and interrupt their evening. The ward members had been told to stay away as well. Soon the word went around the cultural hall like wildfire that the Prophet's car had arrived. My heart was pounding in my chest. I wanted to meet him and shake his hand so badly! They had parked on the west side of the building so I walked over to that foyer, just to peek out of the cultural hall doors and see him and the others come in. I saw, against or organizers' wishes, Primary children in their Sunday best all lined up politely, their mothers behind them, waving to President Kimball. I also saw some our youth outside.  Not many, but tears filled my eyes as I thought I might never be this near a Prophet of God again. One of my Laurel class teachers took me by the hand and said, "Marianne, you go out there and be near the prophet. Don't you miss this chance! Don't you worry about what those bossy ladies said!" I will be forever grateful to her! I went outside and stood back on the sidewalk. I just wanted to see him go by, that was all. I will never forget his smile and kindness as he left his escorts and shook hands with each Primary child, some of whom were my nieces and nephews. He greeted them sweetly and asked the boys if they were saving money for their missions. Then he glanced up and saw me and a few other youth. He came straight for us. I will never forget the warm spirit that flowed through me as I grasped his extended hand. He smiled at me and I said something like"nice to meet you." He was so short I recall placing my left hand on his shoulder as we shook hands and I was looking down into his eyes! That warm spirit has stayed with me all of these years whenever I see or hear one of our prophets speak. I know they are called of God to lead His church on Earth today.

I have never been close enough again, to a President of the Church to shake his hand. I have been in many firesides, BYU and Ricks College devotionals, and Regional Conferences where the prophet was in attendance and spoke, but I will forever cherish that beautiful moment in April of 1975 when I was touched by our prophet and felt the spirit of the Lord confirm to me the truthfulness f the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 15, 1975. L-R President Spencer W. Kimball, 1st Counselor N. Eldon Tanner, 2nd Counselor Marion G. Romney. They are standing outside of the Mesa AZ Temple  on the southwest side to show the two new additions behind them.

Here is an old postcard from the 1930's It show the original entrance on the east side.

 Here is the same views from the mid-1950's

Here is an aerial view showing what the south side of the temple looked like before the addition in '75 which took up all of the lawn and gardens in the foreground of the photo.

This is a view of the new lobby or foyer addition on the east.

 And here it is today. How I love this temple.
 It is where many generations of my family have been sealed together for time and all eternity!


Nancy Face said...

As you can probably imagine, I love this post so much!

I also got to shake President Kimball's hand as a teenager! :)

Cottage and Broome said...

The new church looks beautiful!!! Enjoy, Laura

URFAVE5 said...

What a beautiful post. I loved reading it! Im so glad you got to shake the prophet's hand what an unforgettable special experience!
I also loved ur story that you recall of President Romney and Poncho Villa my great grandpa Burt, my grandpa's dad grew up in Colonia Juarez, Mexico also and he had an experience with Poncho Villa. I'll have to do a time travel Tuesday and share it. Thanks for sharing all of that story it reminded me of that story of my great grandpa.
Thanks again for this beautiful post. I sure love you!