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Mormon temple dedicated in Arizona

Published: Monday, May 24 2010 12:15 a.m. MDT

President Thomas S. Monson speaks to crowd gathered for cornerstone ceremony Sunday for the Gila Valley Arizona Temple with President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve; and Elder Claudio R.M. Costa (far left) of the Presidency of the Seventy look on.

Gerry Avant, deseret news, Gerry Avant, deseret news

CENTRAL, Ariz. — Locals in the pioneer communities of eastern Arizona pronounced the name of their valley with a capital "The."

It's not Gila Valley or the Gila Valley. It is "The (emphasis added) Gila Valley," plain and simple.

Visitors are quick to pick up on the intonation, which is reflected in the name of the newest temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Thomas S. Monson dedicated The Gila Valley Arizona Temple — the church's 132nd worldwide and third in Arizona — on Sunday in three sessions. The 18,561-square-foot temple will serve some 21,000 Latter-day Saints in the valley, as well as the surrounding areas of southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico.

Mark S. Bryce, coordinator of the local temple committee, said President Spencer W. Kimball, the LDS church's 12th president who grew up in the area, always referred to the valley as "The Gila Valley" or "The Valley."

The name of the temple, he said, reflects President Kimball's emphasis.

And locals won't let visitors forget it.

Upon meeting reporters from Salt Lake City, Bryce shared instant advice: "Make sure you get the name of the temple right," he said.

President Monson told those gathered for the temple cornerstone ceremony Sunday morning that he knew President Kimball well.

"I served with President Kimball," he said. "He was a great leader and he represented this part of the country very well."

Speaking to the boys and girls gathered for the ceremony, President Monson asked the boys to serve missions and told them all to get married in the temple.

"That is why we brought a temple down here," he said.

As part of the ceremony, President Monson put mortar along the edge of the cornerstone, then asked church leaders accompanying him to do the same. President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder Claudio R.M. Costa of the Presidency of the Seventy; and Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy and executive director of the church's temple department followed.

Then President Monson called on several children to apply mortar. Hunter Reidhead, 5, and his brother Jarod Reidhead, 8, of Pomerene, Ariz., each took a turn. So did Davin Judd, 6, of San Pedro, Ariz., and Sophie Welker, 3, and her cousin Danielle Welker, 4, both of Thatcher, Ariz.

President Monson related anecdotes, wiggled his ears and made the children laugh.

When it was time to go back inside the temple, President Monson said, "They are waiting for me to go in, but I am having more fun out here with the kids."

The dedication of The Gila Valley Arizona Temple followed a youth cultural celebration Saturday evening, during which more than 1,600 young people ages 12-18 retold — through song, dance and words — the rich cultural history of eastern Arizona.

In addition, more than 90,000 people — well more than double the 40,000 people who live in the county — visited the temple during a public open house.

"What would ever draw 90,000 people here?" wondered Marlene Sparks of Thatcher, Ariz. "I don't think that you can think of one other thing in the world that would draw that many people here to this little, remote, obscure community."

The Latter-day Saint heritage of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico stretches back to the 1840s, when members of the Mormon Battalion of the U.S. Army marched through the region en route to San Diego — one of the longest military treks in U.S. history. More than 130 years ago, in 1879, a group of 28 Latter-day Saints left their camp in present-day Show Low, Ariz., to settle in The Gila Valley. Then-church President John Taylor organized the St. Joseph Stake in February of 1883. At that time, the St. Joseph Stake stretched from Miami, Ariz., to El Paso, Texas. President Kimball became one of the most notable people of the St. Joseph Stake.

President Kimball's son Andrew Kimball traveled from Utah for the dedication. His father, he said, "loved this area. He loved the people."

Andrew Kimball said his father always wanted the temple in his hometown community to bear one name: "The Gila Valley Temple."

He emphasized "The."

President Kimball, he added, would be "very pleased."

e-mail: sarah@desnews.com

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