A mother, President Packer and an LDS convert: A look at the lives, sacrifices of seminary teachers

Published: Thursday, June 5 2014 8:00 a.m. MDT

Yates, then 42 years old, was not a professional educator or religious expert, Griffiths said. He had served an LDS mission and earned a doctorate degree at Cornell University but hadn’t taught a class in 20 years. At the time, he was working as an engineer on the construction of the Murray power plant, according to Griffiths.

What got him the job, according to Griffiths’ research, was his integrity, his love of the gospel and his passion for the scriptures, along with his willingness to serve.

Yates also had to have a fun personality and talent for connecting with the youths. As a young man, Yates and his friends used to take apart a neighbor’s wagon and reassemble it on top of a nearby shed, Griffiths wrote in his article. Yates also liked to tell big stories about growing up as a cowboy in Scipio, Millard County.

After accepting the position, Yates arranged his schedule so he could ride his horse to the Granite seminary each afternoon to teach two classes. His salary was about $100 a month.

The new building was completed three weeks into the fall of 1912, and 70 students enrolled. There were no air-conditioned rooms, video equipment or electronic scriptures. The building didn’t even have electricity.

There was a blackboard, though. The only textbooks were the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The class was conducted much like Sunday School. Students were given a reading assignment and asked to participate in a class discussion, Griffiths wrote.

“He (Yates) was expected to be not only a teacher but also a guide to show how the gospel could be practically applied in the lives of the students,” Griffiths wrote in his article. “In this bare-bones environment, the teaching strategy boiled down to little more than a steady diet of the scriptures, seasoned with the friendship of a loving teacher.”

In spite of his best efforts, Yates resigned after one year.

“By his own admission, he struggled,” Griffiths said in an interview with the Deseret News. “He ended that first year feeling he was a failure. Guy C. Wilson, a professional teacher, replaced Yates and got seminary firing on all cylinders in the years that followed.”

In a 2010 address to religious educators, President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, said Yates was not a failure.

President Eyring's mother, Mildred Bennion, was one of those original 70 students to enroll in 1912. At that time in her life, the 16-year-old’s father was “less active,” and her mother became a widow shortly thereafter. President Eyring’s grandmother raised and supported his mother and five other children alone on a small farm.

“Somehow that one seminary teacher cared enough about her and prayed fervently enough over that young girl that the Spirit put the gospel down into her heart,” President Eyring said in his remarks. “That one teacher blessed tens of thousands because he taught just one girl in a crowd of 70.”

‘War horses’

As a young U.S. Air Force pilot in World War II, Boyd K. Packer, future president of the Quorum of the Twelve, was stationed near Okinawa, Japan, when he made a pivotal decision. If he was fortunate enough to survive, he wondered, what would he do with his life after the war?

“It was on that night that I decided I wanted to be a teacher,” President Packer said in his 2012 seminary centennial address, “How to Survive in Enemy Territory.” “I reasoned that teachers are always learning. Learning is a basic purpose of life.”

President Packer began teaching seminary in Brigham City in 1949. The faculty consisted of three men: Abel S. Rich, principal; A. Theodore Tuttle, a future general authority; and President Packer. Rich opened the Brigham City seminary, the second released-time seminary in the church, in 1915.

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