Our Pioneer Tapestry…
Our pioneering forefathers and mothers come from disparate backgrounds and cultures, nations from all over the earth, some dreaming of promised lands, others relocated by force or right of birth, but all making up the fabric of the lives we live today.
My own ancestors hail from Scotland and England, Portugal and northern Europe. Through South Carolina, Illinois, Kentucky and Arkansas, they came, eventually making their way to the West, Utah and the wild lands of Wyoming, to my beloved home of California. Trails through forestlands, waterways crossing seas, by wagon and handcart over plains and mountains, even by motor car on Route 66, my ancestors have traversed the world landscape settling where they were set, by the God who guided them. So I stand before you today, all of us gazing upon one another, tapestries of the woven lives our fore-bearers lived and the paths they pioneered.
Of some I know little and some I know more. It is hard to know with certainty the lives that were lived, but we share what we know, and we hope in light to be offered as we seek to know ourselves better.
It is said of my great great grandfather Archie Malcolm that he was born in Scotland and worked in the Glasgow shipyards there. He immigrated to Utah and married my great great grandmother Mary.
The Vieiras and the De Freitas, immigrated to Illinois from a Portuguese island off the coast of Africa called Madeira. Maude Vieira was born in 1890. She met William Baldwin, they married, and eventually made their way to California, where my grandmother Lucile was born.
My grandfather Boyce Kellett was born in 1908 and raised in Arkansas. He worked in stone quarries there, but eventually made his way out to California where he met and married my sweet little half Portuguese grandmother Lucile. They gave life to my mother, Lucille Dorene.
My great great grandmother Mary Ann Walsh was born in 1852, in Lancashire, England. In 1853 she and her parents immigrated with the saints, sailing from Liverpool to New Orleans on the Falcon, and then making a 123 day pioneer trek with the Appleton M. Harmon Company to Utah when she was just one year old. At age 15 she married Robert Bridge. Together they had a son named Arthur, who married Willie Pinkney Mc Donald, and they had a daughter. My grandmother Darl Bridge was born in Salt Lake City in 1912. Darl married Leroy Malcolm, and they gave life to my father, William Richard.
I talk about my ancestors, the pioneers of my heritage, but very few of them do I know well, as most of them passed long before I was here. The pioneers I have known did not come by ship, covered wagon or handcart, spent most of the portions of their lives that I shared with them here in California, but were nonetheless pioneers in their own efforts.
Grandpa Boyce Kellett I only knew until I was nine years old, but of those nine years of knowing I can say that he was of the best men I have ever known. I caught my first fish with Grandpa from a pier on the California coast. For that matter I caught my second fish with him on a little lake in Atascadero.
He was never a man to drink alcohol, but I used to help him roll his cigarettes as he was very frugal and rarely bought them by the pack. I learned a love for the smell of pipe tobacco from being around Grandpa, but I do not remember him smoking around me. I have distinct memories of him working very hard, and sweating like I have never seen anyone else sweat, serving others. When he called on the phone he spoke to me on a child’s level, “Howdie doodie Doodie,” he would say. I always felt a warmth from him that I have rarely known elsewhere. My grandfather was not much of a church going man, but I know he was a follower of Christ, because I always felt peaceful loving charity in his presence, a comfort I can no other way describe but the love of Christ.
My father grew up a child of divorce, and although he had wonderful opportunities living between the farmlands of California and the Grand Teton Mountains of Wyoming, he was a lonely child who did not have all the opportunities of a loving family that so many of us enjoy. Although he was baptized a member of the Church as a young boy it was never part of his immediate family custom to be active, so you could say he learned the faith, and he loved it, but he did not have many examples to follow in his growing up.
He had a brilliant mind for science and mathematics and even as a youth became an accomplished engineer, but he never completed high school, later still achieving remarkable success of invention in works that have and still do benefit mankind.
He served as a United States Marine in the Korean War which had a lifelong impact on his already struggling spirit. When he finally met my mother, Dad had picked up some pretty bad habits which challenged him all of his life, but he taught me the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, made sure I knew it in my ears and mind, and I have been dedicated to it ever since.
My father never much liked going to church, he would rather work any day than rest, but he made sure my brothers, sisters and I always went to church with our mother. Even though he did not live the gospel as he could have, he made sure that we knew he believed. My father blessed our family by going with us to the House of the Lord that we might be sealed together forever. When Dad died at age 60 from the complications of leukemia, I knew from him then, as I always have known, to follow the Lord.
Mom grew up from her own descriptions to me in the idyllic life of a child with loving parents. I am certain that her life was not perfect, but the way she described for me her father, mother and younger sister, and the age in which she grew up, it is much like what we would hope for a child of any era.
She was religious from her youth searching for truths wherever she could find them. She was actually baptized more than once in her growing up as she gained greater understanding of different Christian denominations and sought to follow faithfully. As kids we would often razz her for what she had done to need to be baptized so many times, but we knew her goodness. She was a wonderfully talented photographer, artist and singer, and a light shown from her that I have rarely seen in another.
When she and my father were married Dad was not active in the Church, but he made sure they were married by a Church bishop. That was a must for him. A few years into marriage the missionaries came upon the door of our home and by the time I was born my older siblings and my mom were active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My mom remained faithful to the Lord’s church all her days, and she, through her reading of the scriptures, gospel stories, and singing the hymns of Christ, instilled a witness in me of the veracity of the gospel that has never left me or strayed. I have never doubted what my mother knew. She passed away from the complications of lupus when she was only 62 years old, but I have always felt, as with my father, her love and guiding hand in my life, even since her passing.
My brother Ricky was the first born into our family. He and my mother nearly died at his birth. He was very sickly and struggled much, but he grew to be a young man who I would follow in faith as he lived the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ricky was like any other boy with his challenges and struggles, but he did things that made me want to achieve more.
Ricky became an Eagle Scout, so I became an Eagle Scout. Ricky served a mission, so I served a mission. Ricky was married in the temple, so I was married in the temple. Ricky‘s sweet wife Dorene was the only person who wrote more regularly to me while I served my mission than my mother, who wrote weekly. They purchased my scriptures for me and always encouraged me to follow the rules and do the right things, live up to the man that I needed to be. I have never strayed far from the example that my brother Ricky set for me, and even when he strayed and lost his own witness for a time, I never forgot. It was my great blessing to baptize him when he was ready to return. When he died from complications of the very difficult life that he lived for a long season, he died in the faith, believing.
Grandma Lucile I knew the longest of any person that I have really known on earth. She was only 59 years old when Grandpa died at age 64, and she lived to be 101 and six months to the day, when she passed away seven years ago next month. She lived a hard life and experienced much sorrow. Losing people young in life was unfortunately something of which she had grown accustom.
Her mother died from tuberculosis when Grandma was only four years old. When she lost my mother, and then my brother, it was almost more than she could handle. Her spirit was strained. Although she had always been an anchor to me, this connection between myself and the generations before me, her heart was embittering, and she felt anger towards God. I loved her so much and wanted her to feel that same charity that I knew my grandfather felt for her, that my Heavenly Father felt for her.
We had a sweet conversation, one that I will always cherish, when I reminded her of the love of her dear Boyce, and the Father in Heaven who blessed her with him. I told her by the Spirit that one day she would be looking at me and she would close her eyes, and then she would open them again and be looking at Grandpa, and like a twinkling of an eye all things would be restored to her.
Her countenance changed, I never felt that angry spirit from her again. One day a few years later in my home, a month after I became Bishop, she closed her eyes looking at loved ones here, looking at me, and then opened them to her loved ones passed, and her Lord. I have never doubted what my grandmother knew then in that moment, and knows still.
My dear Monica was born of goodly parents in San Luis Obispo, California, 55 years ago this Saturday. Her father Nemat-ollah Maleksalehi was born and raised in an Islamic family of Esfahan, Iran. He immigrated to the United States as a young student and met his bride Charlene Lewis in college. Charlene was born and raised in the Pentecostal Christian faith of Sanger, California.
Unfortunately, as good as Monica’s mother and father are, their marriage was not sustainable, and Monica became the child of a broken home. She has borne much sadness as a result of divorce, and determined young that she would seek out a life and marriage that would always bless the lives of her children.
I first saw Monica in the choir room at Sanger High School where I was a senior and she was a freshman. I thought of her as a cute kid. Her first recollection of me is dressed up as Superman at the powder puff football game that same year. We did not know of each other again until three years later after I had served a mission and she was a senior in high school. We went to the prom together.
As you could probably understand I was quite taken with her from the very start, but it took a little while for me to grow on her. About a year and a half later she made the determination to be baptized and I had the blessing of performing her baptism. This was not a baptism that was pressed upon her, but an exercise of her faith and desire to lead a life following the Savior Jesus Christ, and lead her family in the same. We were married in the House of the Lord just a little more than a year later.
I have watched Monica in the many decades since then grow stronger and stronger in her faith in Jesus Christ, doing things that she had not done before, putting her foot forward in ways that only a pioneer would do, and leading our family in righteousness and with tender loving Christlike care. Even as she has borne the sorrow of a broken home in childhood, she has also borne our twelve children in courage, happiness and joy in a gospel centered home. She is every much a pioneer as any who have come before, and it is the faith of her pioneering witness that I do also espouse and do not doubt.
As the words of the K. Newell Dayley hymn so wonderfully attest:
A marvelous work has begun to come forth among all the children of men.
O ye that embark in the service of God, give heart, mind and strength unto Him.
For prophets have spoken and angels have come to lift the world from sin,
That Christ may reign over all the earth and bless His gathered kin.
With faith in every footstep, we follow Christ, the Lord,
And filled with hope through His pure love, we sing with one accord.
It is by faith in every footstep that pioneers in days long ago and at present time put forward our feet to serve the Lord and lead in building the kingdom of God on Earth. I do not doubt our fore-bearers knew the things that we need to know now, and we need to teach those who are yet to come and traverse these trails, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
We walk on trails we did not blaze, we benefit from invention that we did not create, we stand upon mountains we did not climb, nevertheless, we can know and we can lead just as faithfully as those who knew and those who lead before us.
The coming generation is counting on our pioneering efforts to continue, that they may have trails to traverse, invention to expand, and high place to stand, even in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. May we honor the lovely tapestry of our pioneer heritage by continuing the weave with which they have so generously blessed our lives. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.