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Standing by for a seat at conference

Published: Tuesday, April 3 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Attendees enjoys the sun on Temple Square during the 182nd Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 31, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of people visited Temple Square to attend the 182nd Annual General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last weekend. Most carried tickets to admit them to a session, but many more came with the hope of getting into the conference center through the standby line.

Michael Whiteley drove 14 hours from Irvine, Calif., with a group of his friends to come to conference. They didn't have tickets for the Saturday afternoon session and decided to give the standby line a try. The reason they came — particularly those among them who are recent converts, he said — was to listen to the prophet speak.

"It strengthens our testimonies to see living prophets here in person," Whiteley said.

The standby line doesn't guarantee anyone a seat in the conference center, but that doesn't keep the line from forming early and growing long.

Clay Zimmerman, a member of the Hilliard Ward in the Evanston Wyoming South Stake, directed people in the standby line on Saturday afternoon. Zimmerman began ushering for conference in 1983 and planned to usher for the last time on Sunday, after completing 30 years of service.

"I've been doing this a while," he said.

The first person to get in the standby line for Saturday morning's session arrived at 4 a.m., Zimmerman said. The willingness people have to line up early doesn't surprise him.

"For some people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the prophet," he said.

Elisa Garcia, an exchange student from Sao Paulo, Brazil, came to conference from Albany, N.Y., with her hosts, Danette and Hal Key. Garcia had wanted to come to conference ever since she watched conference at church in Brazil as a little girl.

"I always thought it would be a privilege to be in the same room as the prophet," she said.

Garcia and the Keys had tickets to two sessions and arrived for Saturday afternoon's session, only to discover their Saturday tickets had been for the morning session. They decided to try the standby line, but weren't too anxious about getting in because they still had tickets for a Sunday session.

Even without conference, Garcia said, the experience of being on Temple Square was "like a dream coming true," because she was able to go inside the Salt Lake Temple earlier in the week.

Hilary Troutner, a member of the Central YSA 1st Ward in the Salt Lake Bonneville YSA Stake, lives only a few minutes away from Temple Square but also joined Saturday's standby line.

"It's hard to get tickets when you're in Utah," Troutner said. "I watch (conference) online, but I think seeing it in person helps you feel the Spirit stronger."

Others traveled greater distances, though everyone stands in the same line. On their way home from a vacation to Las Vegas, Nev., Mandy Winsor and Jennifer Hunt, who are both from Alberta, Canada, decided to stop in Salt Lake City for conference.

"I've seen the broadcast lots of times," Hunt said. "People keep coming to see it live. I want to know why!"

Ana Aldaco came from Gering, Neb., to attend conference with her son, who is about to go on his mission. "I wanted him to have the experience to come to general conference," she said.

Meghan Egbert from Filer, Idaho, had never come to Salt Lake for conference before and was at the end of the standby line for the Saturday morning session. When the session started, rather than going to an overflow location to watch, she decided to stay outside and listen — conference is broadcast on Temple Square over a speaker system — and to be the first in line for the afternoon session.

People in the standby line were directed into the Tabernacle, from which they could go into the conference center if seats became available. Egbert was in the Tabernacle for the afternoon session, but never made it inside the conference center.

"Even though I didn't get in, it was so great. I've never seen so many Mormons in my life," she said. "I still got the whole experience, just not from the actual conference center. … I was a little bit disappointed about that, but still, I'd never been in the tabernacle before."

Many people getting into line asked the ushers what chance they had of getting into the conference center.

"Slim," Zimmerman told one person. "There (are) about 1,000 people in front of you now."

But that didn't stop people from lining up.

Scott Syndergaard, a service missionary from the Draper 1st Ward, Draper Utah Stake, helped facilitate Saturday's standby lines. He said as long as there's a hope of getting in, people will keep coming.

And, he added, "There's always hope."

Email: rbrutsch@desnews.com

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