When J. Golden Kimball was called as a missionary in 1883, his gospel knowledge was so incomplete that he thought epistles were wives of apostles.
“The church must be true or ignoramus missionaries like me would have ruined it a long time ago,” he said.
Jim Kimball, Elder Kimball’s great-grand-nephew, recalls the stimulating speaker and church leader in two KUED rebroadcasts airing Thursday, March 7: “Remembering Uncle Golden” at 7 p.m. and its sequel, “On the Road with J. Golden Kimball,” at 9 p.m.
Before his death in 2004, KUED captured portions of a one-man show the descendant popularly presented across the western states on his Uncle Golden, and that loving nickname had been used across church membership to describe the member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Viewers interested in early Utah pioneer folklore will enjoy these programs, as well as anyone needing a good belly laugh.
Known as much for his “cowboy vocabulary” (“If you don’t swear, the animals don’t understand what you’re saying to them”) as his quick wit, J. Golden was a deeply devoted member of the LDS Church and served faithfully under President Heber J. Grant — although President Grant at times chided him for his language.
The programs follow the format of Charles Kuralt’s “On the Road,” with the younger Kimball traveling through Utah and neighboring states to seek interviews with remembrances of J. Golden.
Afton Stuart of Logan retells her father’s story about an Easter sermon given by J. Golden in Logan in the late-1920s: “When J. Golden got up to speak, he went to the pulpit where there was this beautiful arrangement of Easter lilies. He looked at the bouquet, and then he looked at the congregation, then looked at the bouquet again and he picked it up and put it over on the piano. When he came back he said in his rather high-pitched speaking voice, ‘The contrast was too great.’ ”
A Utahn named Lorraine Young relates a story passed down by her mother, who asked the church leader his opinion of cosmetics. “At that time, for women to use make-up was frowned upon. Someone asked J. Golden what he thought about that and he said, ‘Well, a little paint never hurt any old barn,’” she says.
“J. Golden Kimball was a cowboy at heart. For him, traveling the rural parts of the state was like going back to his roots. It rejuvenated him to get out there in rural towns and talk with people — to hear about their cattle herds and alfalfa crops,” Jim Kimball says.
While J. Golden has been compared to Mark Twain and Will Rogers, Jim Golden quotes Utah author Wallace Stegner’s writings: “J. Golden should have never been compared to anyone because J. Golden was an original. Like all originals, he defies description. He was himself, no less, no more, and nobody knew it better than he.”
The unvarnished original is enjoyably glimpsed in “Remembering Uncle Golden” and “On the Road with J. Golden Kimball.”