GARLAND, Box Elder County — After turning 86 years old in June, LaDene Jeppesen was perfectly content with her life.
She had most of her eight children living close by, with 40 grandchildren and 46 great-grandchildren (at last count) to watch over. She was going on 17 years of serving in the Logan LDS Temple and had held the position of Garland Stake librarian for more than a decade. She had quilts and scrapbooks to sew and create. She had widows in her ward — her very dear friends — to visit and care for. There was plenty to keep her busy.
So imagine her surprise when she was summoned to the bishop's office and extended a call to serve as secretary of the Young Women organization.
"Jay Munns, have you forgotten my age?" LaDene said with consternation.
"No," said Brother Munns, ready to bolt for the door.
"That doesn't make any difference?" she asked.
"Nope. You're the one," Brother Munns replied.
LaDene said she imagined Grandpa Jeppesen's old horse in a beautiful green pasture in nearby Mantua.
"My plate was absolutely full. At this stage in life, you think you are out to pasture," said the energetic woman with strawberry blond hair. "I thought that was what comes in this stage of life, but it was a calling from the Lord and I wouldn't dare say no."
What could an 86-year-old offer today's young women? How about experience and perspective, for starters.
LaDene was raised by hard-working farmers during the Great Depression in Park Valley, Utah, a small agricultural community isolated in western Box Elder County. In August 1945, LaDene married Daryl Jeppesen. They lived in California for almost 20 years before moving to the Bear River Valley in 1964. Working side-by-side, Daryl and LaDene carved out a life for their growing family by starting various businesses and serving in the community.
"We wanted to keep the kids busy," she said. "We wanted to teach them how to work, and not complain about it."
Her beloved husband died in 1990.
For years, she had started each day with an early morning two-mile walk, carrying a small weight in each hand. Oats, granola, yogurt and fruit are among her favorite foods. Although she misses her eternal companion, she keeps busy by seeing to the needs of family and friends, serving two days a week in the temple and running errands in her 1995 El Dorado.
"She hasn't changed since I was 10 years old," said Bruce Jeppesen, her fourth-oldest son. "She worries about everyone else but herself. She doesn't do it for show; she just does it."
And like the pioneer woman she is, LaDene continues to tackle such duties as chopping and stacking firewood, gardening and other strenuous jobs — with zero intimidation.
"I had a granddaughter say once, 'Grandma, what do you do all day — watch TV and crochet?'" LaDene laughed. "I almost feel guilty when I sit down."
In addition to her daily routines, LaDene has served in a variety of ward and stake church callings, including Young Women more than 30 years ago.
Why wouldn't the Lord want someone so qualified to put an arm around his impressionable young women?
After Kelly Sederholm was called to be Garland 2nd Ward's Young Women president, she prayerfully compiled a list of possible candidates for the presidency and went to the temple seeking inspiration. While pondering in the temple, the names of two counselors came quickly, but a secretary eluded her. She was debating between two sisters when a strong impression came. In her mind she visualized the location of every family in sacrament meeting. Mentally she scanned the congregation until she came upon LaDene, who usually sits on the bench right in front of her. At first she discounted the impression, but she couldn't shake it. She finally concluded that LaDene was the one the Lord wanted as secretary.
"When I told the bishop, he said, 'Really?' He got the same reaction from his counselors," Sederholm said. "Then he thought about it. 'I think that could work.'"
So the 86-year-old made room in her life for one more responsibility. Not only has the calling been a blessing in LaDene's life, but she has become a shining inspiration to fellow ward members.
LaDene's main duties include recording attendance (she has made a goal to learn how to use a computer for this job), assigning talks and providing support for the presidency. She always wears a big smile to activities and is quick to offer kind words to each young woman. LaDene is also in the process of earning her Young Womanhood medallion, a program that didn't exist in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
"Because of LaDene's example, I will never feel like I can't take a calling," Sederholm said with emotion in her voice. "She can reach the girls in ways the rest of us can't. She has that grandmotherly aura about her and they feel comfortable with her. We wouldn't be complete in the presidency without her. I am fortunate to witness all of it. She is something else."
LaDene proved as much at Young Women camp in July.
Before camp, a ward member said, "I'm sure they won't make you do the hike, LaDene," to which LaDene responded: "Then you don't know the Jeppesens very well, do you?"
After a few days at Logan Canyon's Camp Lomia, the outing concluded with a hike on the Crimson Trail, a grueling march that includes a steep, 2.5-mile climb in return for breathtaking views of the canyon.
"It was kicking my backside, and I'm 48," Sederholm said. "I would have been fine to quit, but she was determined to get to the top."
There were a few rest stops, but everyone eventually made it. As their seasoned secretary made her final approach, the young women began chanting, "LaDene, LaDene, LaDene!"
"It was a good hike," she said. "I did fine."
While she serves in Young Women, LaDene hopes to pass along as much wisdom as she can and be a living example of the Young Women values. She encourages the girls to set goals, learn homemaking skills, be supportive of one another and generally be a good person.
"The girls are amazing. They are smarter than I was at that age. I didn't have a lot of what they have and I tell them they are so fortunate," LaDene said. "At my age, it gives me an uplift, kind of a boost, to know I can still do all these things. I am learning from them."