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Matrons, pioneers and special memories: Members share experiences, admire renovated Ogden Utah Temple

Published: Thursday, Sept. 4 2014 11:33 p.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, Sept. 4 2014 11:33 p.m. MDT

A. Reed Halversen and his wife Luana were called as the first temple president and matron of the Ogden Utah Temple.

Provided by the Halversen family

Luana Halversen still remembers how she felt when members of the First Presidency of the LDS Church called her and her late husband, A. Reed Halversen, to be the first matron and president of the Ogden Utah Temple in 1971.

“President Harold B. Lee asked if I was worried. I said, ‘I’m scared to death,’” Halversen said in a recent interview with the Deseret News. “‘But I’ll go in that temple and do my best, give it all I got.’ His answer was to ‘go in and be yourself.’ So we went in and we worked.”

The Halversens served in that capacity until 1976. Looking back four decades later, it was a special assignment during a lifetime of service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In late August, Halversen toured the recently renovated Ogden Utah Temple with members of her family.

“It will be a beautiful symbol of the Lord for all who live in the Ogden area,” Halversen said. “Those who come to visit the temple and serve there will feel a tremendous spirit.”

Halversen is one of many individuals who honor the memory of the Ogden Temple while admiring the beauty and splendor of the newly renovated temple set to be rededicated on Sept. 21.

The Ogden Temple has a rich heritage and set a new standard for accelerated temple work. Elder Kent F. Richards of the Seventy, and recently appointed executive director of the temple department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, feels a special connection to Ogden and the temple through one of his ancestors.

A couple from Brigham City remember the day that temple work was performed for several famous Mormon pioneers. For another couple, the Ogden Temple has been a central part of their lives for many years.

Prior to the rededication, here is a look back at these memories.

Did you know?

Here are some interesting facts about the Ogden area, the LDS Church and the temple.

After President David O. McKay announced in the 1960s that new temples would be built in Ogden and Provo, a site selection committee was formed to find an appropriate location. It considered various elevated spots, such as where McKay-Dee Hospital now stands or near Weber State University, before selecting the downtown location, according to “The First 100 Temples,” by Chad S. Hawkins.

LDS Church architect Emil B. Fetzer was asked to create a design that would maximize efficiency and accommodate a large number of patrons. Additionally, the church found that using the same design for the Provo Utah Temple would allow for faster construction time and at a fraction of the cost, Hawkins wrote.

Three years after the groundbreaking, President Joseph Fielding Smith dedicated the original Ogden Temple in January 1972. It became the 14th temple in the world.

When rededicated later this month, the Ogden Utah Temple will be one of 14 operating temples in Utah and 143 worldwide. It will serve more than 200,000 Latter-day Saints in 76 stakes, 600 wards and 44 branches.

Accelerating the work

The opening of the Ogden Temple marked a new era of temple work, Halversen said.

In 1972, the Ogden and Provo temples were designed to hasten the work. These two temples were among the first to provide instruction through prerecorded media. Instead of patrons progressing from room to room in live sessions, the Ogden Temple allowed patrons to remain in one of six rooms with a new session starting every 20 minutes. Each room held just under 100 people and always seemed packed. Several thousand people came to the temple each day, Halversen said.

The First Presidency asked the Halversens to formulate a plan for calling and training more than 1,000 workers, creating a schedule and making the whole operation run smoothly. Using a poster and colored pencils, Halversen created a schedule for 300 women under her supervision.

“They left it in our hands. We had to figure out how to make it work,” Halversen said. “Making it run smoothly was the challenge, but people were dedicated and it was a beautiful, beautiful experience.”

After its dedication in January 1972, the temple was closed for six weeks so the Halversens could train the new workers. The doors opened in March. Each day, from early morning until evening, the work went forth, Halversen said.

“My husband would call me up to the office around 8 p.m. and ask, ‘Shall we go?’” she said. “I would always say, ‘Give me another half-hour.’ We never got tired. We were so busy.”

They were so busy they barely had time to see their family, said David Halversen, Luana's son.

“About the only time we could see them was a small window on Monday. We would come with children to the temple and they would come out and see us,” said David Halversen, who later served as president of the Orlando Florida Temple.

Besides organizing, training and making daily adjustments, it’s the matron’s duty to see that a loving spirit resides throughout the temple. That wasn’t difficult thanks to those who came to the temple from all over the world, Halversen said.

Once after a little girl was sealed to her family, she asked Halversen an important question: “Now can I get to see Jesus?”

After another little girl was sealed to her family, she walked to the sealer and held her arms up to him for a hug.

Halversen loved taking care of the brides who came to the temple. She remembers helping one young woman who was blind, and she went the extra mile to make her experience memorable. The young woman showed her gratitude by giving Halversen’s hand a gentle squeeze.

Halversen has a book of letters from patrons thanking her for her friendship and service in the Ogden Temple.

“There were so many beautiful memories. The families would come and the children would feel the Spirit,” Halversen said. “That was the most special thing.”

Halversen's family said a unique set of experiences prepared the couple for their calling. In the 1940s, near the end of World War II, the Halversens were called to preside over the New Zealand Mission. The couple had three young children and Halversen was pregnant with the fourth. They sold their home and traveled by ship to New Zealand, where they started with zero missionaries and re-established the church in the country. A. Reed Halversen also helped to locate a site for the temple in Hamilton. All these things set a tone for the future, as well as an example for the family, said grandson David Hansen.

“Grandma and Grandpa have given us an anchor. No matter what was asked of them, they chose the Lord,” Hansen said. “They have set a standard, and we have been lifted because of what they have done.”

A. Reed Halversen died in 1984. Following his death, Luana Halversen served a mission in the Washington D.C. Temple and returned to serve in the Ogden Temple for several more years. She has lived by the advice she gave her son when he was called to be the Orlando Temple president: “When you are called and set apart, the mantle is on your shoulders and the Lord will see you through,” she said.

Ancestral connection

Prior to media tours of the new temple, Elder Richards spoke of a special personal connection to Ogden through his second great-grandfather, Elder Franklin D. Richards, who was appointed to be the presiding apostle there by Brigham Young in the late 1800s.

Elder Richards has read and transcribed his ancestor’s journals. The apostle lived in Ogden for 30 years, from 1869-1899, and had a home on Lincoln Avenue, a few blocks from where the temple stands today. His journals talk about the growth of Ogden and his work as a probate judge. He also traveled to Promontory, Box Elder County, to witness the driving of the Golden Spike.

“I can just imagine how he feels, looking down as it were, upon this beautiful structure as he was so engaged (with life in Ogden),” Elder Richards said. “He had a great love for Ogden, the people who were here and the challenges they faced. It’s always been a special place.”

One special day

John and Kathryn Hadfield served in the Ogden Temple from 1991-1993. After serving a mission, they returned to labor for an additional five years. The couple from Brigham City relish many wonderful memories and friendships made over the years, but one day at the temple stands out.

Around 1992, a large group of church members from the Riverton Wyoming Stake, including young men and women, drove more than six hours to Ogden to perform temple ordinances for pioneers from the 1856 Willie and Martin handcart companies who perished along the trail to Utah. Many now refer to their work as “The Second Rescue.” The Hadfields were in the temple that day and recall the joy and happiness on many faces. They described it as a “special experience.”

Kathryn Hadfield had read some of the pioneer accounts and was especially moved by the story of a 9-year-old Danish girl in the Willie Company named Bodil Mortensen, who was found frozen to death one morning after a blizzard. When asked if she would like to assist with the work for Mortensen, Kathryn Hadfield said she would be honored.

“It was a spiritual experience. We felt that little girl’s spirit,” Hadfield said. “We thought of her heartache and loneliness, the way she left this earth, but I’m sure she was warm, happy and thrilled when the work was done. That was a thrill to me. Christlike love was what I felt that day.”

Family temple

Jerry and Denise Simon are grateful to have access to the Ogden Temple again. The sacred building has been a special part of their lives for decades.

Thirty-five years ago, Jerry proposed to Denise in the Ogden Temple.

While serving as a local church leader, Jerry attended the temple every week for about five years. He found spiritual strength and the answers to many prayers within the walls of the temple, he said.

Denise and most of their six children received their endowments at the Ogden Temple.

“The Ogden Temple is a very special place. It’s had an impact on my life,” Denise Simon said. “To see the change is almost breathtaking. It was beautiful before, but I think any young couple would consider being married there now.”

Denise Simon also remembers attending the temple dedication at age 15 in 1972. She was invited by some friends and said it was one of the most powerful experiences of her young life.

“I remember feeling an overwhelming spirit,” Denise Simon said. “It was probably the leading factor in my conversion.”

While the Ogden Temple was being renovated, the Simons attended the temples in Bountiful, Brigham City and Logan. They are ready to stay closer to home now, Jerry Simon said.

“We have missed it. It was so convenient, I think we took it for granted,” Jerry Simon said. “We’re really excited that the Ogden Temple is going to be open. I don’t want to ever feel like we have taken it for granted again.”

Email: ttoone@deseretnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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