In her early 20s, Hannah Pearl Wilding's husband Walter asked for her hand in marriage. She told him no. At least not yet.
"'I'm going on a mission,' I told him," Wilding said.
And she did. After two years of missionary service in the Central States Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wilding returned to marry her sweetheart.
Now Wilding, who celebrated her 98th birthday on May 20, is proving that service is just as important to her now as it was more than 75 years ago.
Three days a week, Wilding wakes up at 4:45 a.m. and makes the trek from her home with her daughter, Ronda Coombs in Saratoga Springs, to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
"It's not easy for her to get up in the morning," Coombs said.
But Wilding is resilient. Relying on the support of her walker and her loved ones, she travels with Coombs to Murray and boards TRAX. From there, it's six hours on her feet helping patrons and other missionaries find their ancestors.
And Wilding shows no signs of slowing down.
Wilding's husband passed away in 1994, and to deal with his passing, she became a missionary again.
She started as a full-time Mormon missionary in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and was later sent to the LDS Church's Family History Library.
"I've loved it so much I've never wanted to leave," Wilding said of her current post.
In 2000, Wilding switched to part-time. And even after suffering a stroke, she still continues to contribute 18 hours a week of volunteer service.
Wilding has become the expert for some of the technology in the library, often finding information that other patrons and other missionaries cannot see.
She calls it seeing beneath the black, named from the difficult task of using technology such as a ScanPro to see information under the black areas of the microfilm.
She helps patrons find information about their ancestors through old documents such as journals, census records and marriage licences, to name a few, serving on average 100 people a day.
"We see miracles," she said. "There are always people that come and say 'I found my grandfather or my great-grandfather.'"
And whether it's helping the patrons find a lost flash drive or a lost ancestor, Wilding said that it's because of them that she finds such great joy.
"We take care of those we help," Wilding said. "They are all so wonderful. Only some of them are grumpy."
And the care and the compassion with which Wilding serves has not gone unnoticed. Many patrons inquire about Wilding when they return to the library.
"She's a big inspiration to us," said Elder Barry Fox, who is serving as an assistant zone leader in Wilding's department with his wife, Sister Bonnie Fox.
Wilding said the trick is to help everyone and be pleasant — even to those who may be a little grumpy.
"I have grown so much," she said of her service. "As you come every day to work and you meet people like this — they are so wonderful. They are looking for their ancestors. I'm happy inside."
And while she immerses herself in the service of others, her example to her family may be one of her biggest contributions.
"It's so clear how much they love her," Sister Fox said of Wilding's family. "She is one of the most loved people I know."
Wilding is the mother of seven children, grandmother of 49, great-grandmother of 114 and great-great-grandmother to 16.
"I'm so grateful to come and do what I can do," Wilding said.
Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: email@example.com or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock
- Many Mormon missionaries who return home...
- LDS Church enhances web pages on its history,...
- One year since Sandy Hook: 'Evil did not win'...
- Ask Angela: I'm 24 and I think I'm headed to...
- Mormon missionaries shine shoes, teach the...
- Pres. Monson teaches Christmas is the time to...
- The pipes are calling: Salt Lake Methodist...
- LDS Church alters Christmas devotional tradition
- Many Mormon missionaries who return... 112
- Ask Angela: I'm 24 and I think I'm... 67
- LDS Church enhances web pages on its... 25
- Mormon missionaries shine shoes, teach... 22
- Space and religion: How believers view... 22
- In Our Lovely Deseret: Mark Twain and... 14
- Pres. Monson teaches Christmas is the... 9
- One year since Sandy Hook: 'Evil did... 9