Jerry Johnston: Putting T in CTR was right choice

Published: Saturday, Feb. 10 2001 12:00 a.m. MST

The first thing you notice about Norma Nichols is she doesn't wear a CTR ring.

And that's a little like Coco Chanel not wearing perfume.

In 1970, Nichols chaired the committee that invented the ring. They needed some kind of "badge of belief" for both boys and girls.

"Back then boys didn't wear necklaces and earrings," Nichols says slyly, "so a ring seemed like a good idea."

It turned out to be a legendary idea.

Today, at age 90, Norma Nichols has vivid memories of her time on the LDS Primary General Board. She served from 1956 to 1970 — an era that, in hindsight, was the "Golden Age" of Primary.

Nichols was in the room when Naomi Randall was assigned to come up with words for a children's song to be sung at General Conference (she came up with "I Am a Child of God").

Nichols was there to brainstorm new names for classes (Merryhands, Firelights), to redesign the bandelo and to serve popcorn to Australian kids who'd sung "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree" but had never tasted popcorn.

It was a heady time.

Clara McMaster and Mildred Pettit were writing some of the most memorable melodies in Mormon history, penny drives fueled the Primary Children's Hospital and kids waited for the mailman just to get the latest "Children's Friend."

"They were great years," Nichols says. "I was writing assignments all the time."

Amid that grand flurry of creative ideas, however, no one imagined a little ring with the letters CTR would become the emblem of LDS youth.

"I remember we thought about dropping the word 'the' out and having just a CR ring — Choose Right," Nichols says today. "I went home that night to think about it. That's when the inspiration came that the word 'the' was the most important word of all. Choosing right could mean many things, but choosing the right meant there was only one way. We kept the 'T' in CTR."

Surprisingly, the phrase Choose the Right appears nowhere in scripture. The Bible says "choose the day" and "choose the way." It says "choose life" and even "choose death," but "choosing the right" never comes up.

The expression does appear in an 1864 talk by Brigham Young: "God rules and reigns and has made all his children as free as himself to choose the right or the wrong," but it wouldn't be until Joseph Townsend used the expression 14 times in his famous LDS hymn that the words took root in the culture.

Choose the Right would become the CTR class in Primary. And the CTR class is what spawned the ring seen 'round the world.

Coy Miles was contracted to come up with a design for it. Joel Izatt did the artwork.

Nichols and her committee thought a shield would be nice, to "shield" children from temptation. And a green background was chosen to represent the evergreen tree — a tree that stays constant from season to season.

And the price had to be right. After some debate, the committee settled on 35 cents.

Looking back at those years today from her cozy Copperton home, Norma Nichols wouldn't change a thing.

Well, maybe just one thing.

"Because I was the chair of the committee, people always focus on me when it comes to the CTR ring," she says. "I wish the other members of the committee would get some recognition."

No sooner said than done. Thank you Virginia Cannon, Vauna Jacobsen, Ruth Clinger, Virginia Bryner, Jean Hughes and Helen Evans.

And thank you Norma Nichols, for choosing the right and letting us know about them.


E-MAIL: jerjohn@desnews.com