AFTON, Wyo. — Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Latter-day Saints in Star Valley, Wyoming, held a centennial celebration commemorating their pioneer heritage. It had been 100 years since the Star Valley Stake in Wyoming was created in August 1892.
At the time, then-President Gale L. Haderlie of the Afton Wyoming Stake declared that this legacy is the heart and soul of members of the church here. And the youth, he added, need to “understand that they have a wonderful heritage.”
More than 24 years later, on land that was once known as the Haderlie farm east of Highway 89 in Afton, Wyoming, there now stands what Elder David A. Bednar called a symbol of generations of devotion and faith — the newly dedicated Star Valley Wyoming LDS Temple.
“Successive generations of faithful Latter-day Saints have grown stronger,” said Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We can never live off of the faithfulness of our forefathers. Each generation has to stand on its own holy ground, but there is a continuation, a blessing of that faithfulness for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.”
On a cool, cloudy fall day in this “star of valleys,” Elder Bednar presided over the dedication and traditional cornerstone ceremony Sunday of what is now the church’s 154th operating temple but the first in Wyoming.
Members of the church from throughout the temple district in western Wyoming and parts of Idaho participated in three dedicatory sessions held at the 18,000-square-foot new edifice, which sits on the east bench of Afton. Latter-day Saints also watched dedicatory proceedings broadcast live to meetinghouses in many parts of Wyoming and into southeastern Idaho.
Accompanying Elder Bednar to Star Valley was his wife, Susan K. Bednar, who was raised in Afton and who was — essentially — returning home for the dedication of a temple in her hometown.
“This is just like an amazing dream,” she told the Deseret News. “I’m amazed and thrilled, I’m excited, and I’m just full of appreciation to a loving Heavenly Father who has seen fit to bless these people.”
Also participating in the dedication and cornerstone ceremony were Elder Ulisses Soares of the Presidency of the Seventy, along with General Authority Seventies Elder Wilford W. Andersen, Elder C. Scott Grow and Elder Larry Y. Wilson, who is executive director of the Temple Department.
Wives of the church leaders, Sister Rosana Soares, Sister Kathleen B. Andersen, Sister Lynda Wilson and Sister Rhonda Grow were in also attendance.
Along with Sister Bednar, there was another “daughter of Wyoming” present, Sister Barbara D. Perry, wife of now-deceased beloved church apostle Elder L. Tom Perry, who joined in the cornerstone and dedication proceedings.
With the dedication of the new temple, President Mark Taylor, chair of the local temple committee, declared, “Now it’s time to get down to the business of temple work.”
Relating that he hoped the church’s newest temple would remain busy long after the excitement has died down, he explained, “We’re a temple-going people.”
Members here often refer to the temple prophecy in what was originally known as the Salt River Valley, west of the Salt River Range.
After the first Mormon settlers arrived in the late 1870s, LDS Apostle Moses Thatcher was said to have changed the name to Star Valley and declared that one day a temple would rise.
In fact, The Deseret Weekly (predecessor for The Deseret News) for July 14, 1894, speaks of a “fine tract of bench land on the eastern portion of Afton” which will “afford a beautiful site for a temple hereafter to be built, as per prophecy of Elder Moses Thatcher.”
Commemorating this heritage the evening before the dedication were some 1,200 youths at a cultural celebration entitled “Mountain Heir: Clean and Pure,” held in the gymnasium at Star Valley High School.
In remarks to the youth prior to the performance, Elder Bednar explained that the world is becoming an increasingly challenging place in which to live worthily. The church leader called upon the youth to commit to “living according to the Lord’s standard of happiness.”
“Please be worthy to enter in the Star Valley Wyoming Temple or any other temple in this church so you can perform ordinances for your own ancestors.”
In remarks to the Deseret News, Sister Bednar had a tender message for the youth of her home community. “This is a special place,” she said, “and I hope the youth of this valley will always protect it by the way they live.”
She urged them to “preserve the legacy of faith that has been established in this mountain home.”
Julie Dockstader Heaps is a freelance journalist living in Syracuse, Utah, where she enjoys writing, running, gardening, being involved in her community and, most important, spending time with her husband, David, and their daughter, Hannah Mae.