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

Rich became a prominent leader in the community and the church, serving in several elected positions and as a stake and mission president. Rich was also instrumental in helping to improve the financial condition of seminary and institute teachers as they reached retirement age, according to President Packer’s biography, “A Watchman on the Tower,” by Lucille Tate.

“I learned much from Brother Rich,” President Packer said in his 2012 talk. “He taught me to consider a problem, determine what gospel principle was involved, and then make a decision. His philosophy was simple: “Do what is right; let the consequence follow.’ ”

It was through Rich that President Packer became acquainted with the “old war horses” of the seminary program. For example, he recalled one teacher, William E. Berrett, walking from town to town to recruit students for the new Uintah Basin seminary.

Elijah Hicken, another early teacher, had his life threatened when he attempted to open a seminary in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming, President Packer said in his 2012 talk. When promised in a blessing that his life would be protected, Hicken returned, “took off the six-shooter he had worn to class each day” and established the program.

As a teacher, President Packer also learned an important lesson from Elder Antoine R. Ivins, then senior president of the First Quorum of the Seventy. In a 2008 talk to religious educators, President Packer said he once told Elder Ivins about a troubled young man in his class whose biggest contribution was not coming to class. He asked the church leader, “How far do we have to go? What do we really owe?”

“He thought for a while and then said, ‘What if it’s your boy?' ” President Packer said. “I learned something. What if it is your boy?”

A teacher's influence

In 1955, John Madsen’s family moved from Maryland to Pullman, Washington. The young man, active in several sports and student government, was just beginning his junior year of high school. His life changed one day when a man he didn’t know walked into Sunday School and announced, “Young people, we’re going to have seminary in our ward.” Madsen had once heard of seminary a few years earlier in Utah but didn’t know what to expect.

“We are going to have seminary every morning at 6 a.m. That was a shock,” Madsen said in an interview with the Deseret News. “The next morning, I attended my first class and didn’t miss a day in the next two years.”

During those early morning hours, Madsen said, some wonderful things began to happen in his life. Most importantly, he gained a strong personal testimony of the gospel.

“I was no longer dependent upon my parents for my testimony, for I knew for myself,” Madsen said. “This, of course, changed everything.”

During those two years, Madsen said, he made three critical decisions that impacted the rest of his life. The first decision was that he would serve a full-time mission “no matter what,” which he did in the North Central States from 1959-61. This decision required him to sacrifice his starting wide receiver position on the Washington State football team.

His second pivotal decision was “when I married, it would be in the temple.” He married Diane Dursteler in the Salt Lake Temple in 1963.

Madsen’s third resolution was “to serve the Lord in whatever capacity he may call.”

His seminary teacher, Dale T. Tingey, later persuaded Madsen to forego dental school to become a seminary teacher. Madsen served in many capacities within the LDS Church Educational System over a 30-year career. In 1968, he was asked to introduce the seminary program to church members in the British Isles. Through the years, Madsen has served the church in numerous capacities. He has been a mission president and a regional representative, and he has served on various church general committees, including the Young Men general board. He was called as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy in 1992 and was sustained as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1997.

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