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Vai's View: Some of best, brightest LDS students gather for weekend of fun, edification

Published: Saturday, March 31 2012 1:15 p.m. MDT

Kasey Strawbridge is a tall, strikingly beautiful African-American young woman from Missouri who studies at Columbia. Convert to the Church, right? Nope. Kasey was raised in the Church, in a St. Louis suburb.

And Victor Salcedo, of Houston, is a business major at Wharton, who recently returned from a mission to Honduras. His Mexican parents are converts — his mother studied engineering at one of the top universities in Mexico and his father graduated from BYU and later got his MBA from the Marriott School of Management.

It was such an honor to be in the presence of such exceptional young single adults and to share my life experiences and testimony with them.

A couple of years ago, a group of my peers who grew up with me in the same LDS ward in Mesa, Ariz., organized a " Mesa 24th Ward Reunion." We're now in our late 40s to early-mid 50s. I wasn't able to attend, but as emails went back and forth trying to locate people, it was fun to reminisce of experiences from our youth.

It got me wondering about some of the people whom we couldn't find but were so instrumental in my life — my first home teaching companion when I was 14, Marty Klein; one of my mother's visiting teachers who often tutored me, Barbara Nielsen, because she taught English and happened to be the faculty advisor of the high school newspaper; my 11-year-old Blazer B teacher, Sally Sue Nelson and her husband, Neal, who would later be my Scoutmaster; Dick Wheeler, my junior high principal, in whose office I spent a lot of time; Anita Hallsted, my best friend Roger's mother, who baked us cookies while we did our homework at their kitchen counter; Arizona millionaire developer and philanthropist Ross Farnsworth Sr., who assisted our family in bringing my younger siblings from Tonga. There were many, many others.

For about a year now, I have been an amateur detective. I've been trying to reach these special angels in my life. Predictably, some have died. One was widowed and remarried so it was difficult to find her because she had a new last name. Another moved away and I would discover, became disenfranchised and drifted from the Church. Keep in mind, these aren't folks who are on Facebook or Twitter, so it made my search more complicated.

Bottom line is I reconnected with nearly all of them, most of whom are now in their 80s. They're scattered around the country and I've flown out to see and meet with them. A few I've stayed in touch with, but many of them I haven't seen in over 30 years! Their stories are fascinating and most were amazed that I found them and that I came with a message: I remembered specific details of lessons they taught me as a youth. They seemed genuinely touched that I returned to thank them. As you might imagine, our reunion was sweet and tender.

Over the course of the year, I will share my experiences and the specific lessons I learned from each of these wonderful people, along with photos of our reunion in a series I will call "Angels From On High" — because that's exactly what these men and women were to me.

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