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Vai's View: Legendary friend has made lasting impression

Published: Friday, Dec. 16 2011 11:24 a.m. MST

Elder John Hokili Hogle, in full Tongan dress after he was given the chiefly title of Katoakisiuamafuauta.

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Think back to when you were 9 or 10 years old. Were there figures in your life who were bigger than life? A teacher? A church leader? A favorite uncle? At that time, everything seemed bigger than life. Just go back to your elementary school and see how small the classrooms and cafeteria are compared to how you remembered them. Sometimes, we're disappointed when, as adults, we see that people and buildings from our childhood don't quite live up to our memories.

John "Sonny" Hogle was a towering figure in my early years. Forty years later, he's still a legend to me and in many ways, even more so. Out of the blue this week, I got a call from Hogle, or as my family called him, "Hokili" (pronounced, HO-KEE-LEE), the Tongan way of pronouncing "Hogle." Sonny was a legendary missionary in Tonga in the early '70s in the way John Groberg was in the late '50s.

Not long after my eighth birthday, we moved to Mesa, Ariz. We started in a garage-like apartment for about a year until my parents saved enough to move us across town to a brand new home. It was a small, three-bedroom rancher, maybe 1,200 square feet, but of course to my siblings and me it was HUGE. I wouldn't learn until I was older that the home was Section 8 housing for qualified, disadvantaged families.

A few others in our LDS ward also lived on our street. It was our good fortune that local church leaders included a strip of more affluent homes in our ward boundaries, which ran a mile or so along Southern Avenue, the border from the neighboring ward.

They were mostly alfalfa farmers with lots of land and lots of house. The Hogles were among them. Their oldest son, John Jr., or "Sonny" among his family and friends, was at the time in Tonga serving his mission. We wouldn't meet Hokili for another year.

Our family was poor and the Hogles were an affluent and influential family (to us anyway), and because we were Tongans, with their beloved Sonny in Tonga, the Hogles treated us like family. Brother John Hogle Sr. was a happy-go-lucky cowboy who had a hearty laugh and looked like John Wayne. His wife, LeAnn, was an elegant woman who always dressed impeccably. My mother referred to her as Jackie Kennedy Onassis, not in a catty, derogatory way, but as a compliment for the regal way she carried herself. Sis. Hogle was a beautiful woman and paired with her ruggedly handsome Marlboro-Man-husband, predictably, their children were blessed with good looks.

When Sonny left, Elder Hogle's younger brother Monty was about 17 years old and looked like the Michael Landon character, "Little Joe," from the popular Western TV show "Bonanza." Baby sister Melissa was 15 or 16 and older sister Becky was married and in Provo at BYU with her husband.

Melissa Hogle was easily the prettiest girl in our LDS stake and probably all of Mesa as a high school sophomore. Remarkably, she occasionally would come to our home just to hear our stories of Tonga because she missed her older brother so much. Once, I remember my mother teaching her how to make a Tongan dish. I was only 9 or 10, but even then was infatuated with her. It was hard to believe the prettiest girl in our stake, from such a wealthy family, was actually sitting in our home talking to us. I remember my mom throwing a folded blanket over an exposed spring in our ratty couch before I could open the door to let Melissa in, either so she wouldn't see it or so her dress wouldn't get snagged on it.

Melissa's visits had the added benefit for us of learning more about her older brother, Sonny. "Hokili" was the first missionary to represent either side of his parents' lineage. He may not have gone at all but for the untimely drowning death of his best friend, Richard Phelps, when the two boys went swimming in a canal the morning of their high school graduation. Though Sonny hadn't planned or thought much about it, Richard's dream was to serve his mission to Samoa, where his older brother Greg had gone. Now, Sonny would serve a mission for both of them.

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