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LDS apostle Elder M. Russell Ballard addresses historic gathering of Smith descendants

By Lucy Schouten

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Aug. 5 2013 2:00 p.m. MDT

At the conclusion of the Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith family reunion, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve addressed the Joseph Smith Jr. descendants and their families. To his left is descendant Michael Kennedy, and behind him is a painting of the Smith family by Julie Rogers.

Lucy Schouten, Deseret News

Descendants of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith met in greater force than ever before to both renew family ties and remember history at a reunion in Salt Lake City Aug. 1-4.

Roughly 1,100 Smith descendants from Hyrum, Joseph Jr. and Samuel Smith’s lines came to This Is The Place Heritage Park for the reunion.

“We need to work together as a family to gather our family,” said Michael Kennedy, a Joseph Smith Jr. descendant who has dedicated his life to finding his fellow Joseph Smith Jr. descendants, who are scattered worldwide.

About 200 of the Smith descendants came just to participate in “Joseph’s Miracle Run,” a 5K race on Aug. 3 that celebrated the 1813 experimental surgery that saved young Joseph’s leg.

This topic was further explored later that day by Roy Wirthlin, who presented some of his newly discovered research on the work of the doctor who performed the surgery, Nathan Smith.

The honored guest at the reunion was David Longcope, who is a seventh generation doctor in an unbroken line from Joseph Smith’s surgeon. He and his family participated in the race and especially enjoyed Wirthlin’s lecture. They were presented with the family history work of Nathan Smith as a gift from the family.

While the adults learned more about the courage and love of the Smith family from Wirthlin, their children were experiencing “Zion’s Camp.” The children made swords, learned a pioneer song and tried walking on wooden crutches like Joseph Smith would have needed after his surgery.

Don Lee, a descendant of Hyrum Smith, was the proud maker of the crutches. His wife, Gwen Lee explained, “It just seems like if children have a very firm foundation and know that in their blood they carry this faith in God they can have the courage to go forth and be modern pioneers.”

Meanwhile, the teenagers made a small wreath with 11 red roses, one for each of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith’s children

The wreath adorned the pulpit where, that evening, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke to the gathered family. Elder Ballard is a Hyrum descendant, and when he thanked the reunion’s organizers for their hard work, he remarked, “[Organizing] the Smiths is kind of like herding cats sometimes.”

He shared his testimony with the family and told them that they could best honor the legacy of the remarkable Smith family by being good missionaries.

“We owe our forefathers our loyalty and our willingness to do whatever is necessary in the building up of the kingdom of God,” he said.

The Smith descendants were recognized on the morning of Aug. 4 at the live broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” at the Conference Center.

Other music over the weekend included a concert on the evening of Aug. 2, where Nathan Osmond, among others, performed. The emcee for the evening was Rick Macy, who has portrayed Joseph Smith Sr. in several films.

Referring to the blend of faith-based history and family time that characterized the reunion, Nathan Adams, a reunion organizer, said, “Only in the Smith family do you get to do things like this.”

Lucy Schouten is an Arizona native studying journalism and Middle Eastern studies at Brigham Young University. Contact her at lucy@deseretnews.com.

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