Reader voices: Finding a man while tracting who had already had his own funeral

By Walter Mains

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, June 23 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Above the entrance to the door was a plaque with the words “The Corpse.” It was my wife’s turn to knock but she declined. Thinking it was a joke for Halloween, I became curious. Responding to my knock was an older man. Very graciously, Jim Gernhart invited us inside.

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Many years ago, my wife, Helen, and I were serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an older couple. Tracting door to door was up to our discretion. On one occasion, we decided to do a city block in Burlington, Colo. There was one more house on the block to do.

Above the entrance to the door was a plaque with the words “The Corpse.” It was my wife’s turn to knock but she declined. Thinking it was a joke for Halloween, I became curious. Responding to my knock was an older man. Very graciously, Jim Gernhart invited us inside.

After making the usual introduction, we started our discussion with the film “Man’s Search for Happiness.” Then we began the first lesson on the Joseph Smith story. We introduced the Book of Mormon. During our explanation of the Restoration, we mentioned the need for baptism. He made the statement that he believed much of what we told him was true but would not be baptized because he was afraid of deep water at his age of nearly 90 years.

During the following days, we had several discussions but to no avail. On one visit, we brought up the subject of what the plaque over his door meant. His story of holding his own funeral in 1951 to do a “test run” was intriguing.

Shortly thereafter, we were transferred to another area, jokingly saying we missed having a real baptism for the dead with a living character.

Years after our release, we looked up Jim. We wrote to the local newspaper where he lived to get information about his death — Jim had died in January 1980 at 103 years old.

I wish I had the pictures of his funeral procession taken during his first funeral in 1951. He had the casket displayed on a flatbed truck while he sat in it and waved to the crowd.

When visiting his home, he took me downstairs to see his sleeping quarters. He used a stepladder to get into it. After sleeping in the casket for years, it needed to be relined before its final use.

Walter Mains lived in Danville, Ind., in the Brownsburg Ward, and died last year.

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