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."
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