Two years ago, June Norton Ferrel was kneeling in prayer, asking her Heavenly Father for the opportunity to work with the young women in her ward.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh, I wish I could just bear my testimony to them more often,’ ” recalled Sister Ferrel.
As she continued to pray, she longed and hoped that she could have an opportunity to teach the youth, but at age 98, she thought she was too old.
“No one knew that I wanted to be with them, that I longed to be with them,” said Sister Ferrel. “I’ve worked with youth all my life. I was told [in a blessing] that my life would be extended beyond its normal span and to take care of my health so that the Lord could extend my life so I could still teach the youth.”
To her surprise, though, she was soon called to be a young women adviser.
“We felt very strongly that was what we were supposed to do,” said Bishop Kevin Morris of the Lindon 21st Ward, Lindon Utah Stake. “She shared with us [after we called her] that she had been praying for that because her patriarchal blessing talked about her needing to teach the youth, especially the young women, and share her testimony with them.”
On June 6, Sister Ferrel celebrated her 100th birthday — and she is still teaching the young women.
“When I was set apart, I was told to tell them life experiences over and over and over,” said Sister Ferrel, “and I’m 100 years old — I have a lot of life experiences!”
When Bishop Morris attended Sister Ferrel’s first lesson two years ago, he was in for a treat, not only from her, but from the young women, too. “I just saw how quiet the girls were and the respect that they showed her and just listening with real intent. I think it’s really interesting that the things she would talk about early in her life relate to the same things these girls are going through. Here’s this 98-year-old woman telling them how to deal with things they are going to deal with now.”
Sister Ferrel is quick to credit the young women for their respect and love. “My favorite thing is their ability to love and to be good. I have a saying, ‘I have a good-kid list [and] they’re not perfect, but they’re on it.’ ”
Neighbors, grandchildren and, of course, the young women strive to remain on her good-kid list. “I tell them it’s easy to be good if you’re around good people. And then I say, ‘Anyone been mean to you? I can beat them up! You see that muscle?’ ” said Sister Ferrel, laughing and pointing to her upper arm.
The young women have not only been good learners, but have been helpers as well. Legally blind, Sister Ferrel is unable to see to put visuals on the board or read scriptures, though she said she is able to see the smiles of her girls. She relies on the young women to make sure the class runs smoothly.
“There’s never a time that they haven’t been most gracious and sweet. And most of the time, [they say] ‘I’d love to [help]!’ They are so very kind and nice to me,” said Sister Ferrel. “It’s been nothing but a joy. They’re so respectful.”
Each lesson starts out with the young women reciting the first and second “great commandments,” something Sister Ferrel said teaches them about love for God and others.
“The things that the prophets teach are all [encompassed] in these commandments, and if we obtain that, the love for our God and our Savior, then I don’t think we’re going to want to be very bad,” Sister Ferrel told her class as the eight Mia Maids finished reciting those two commandments from memory during a June 22 lesson.
“I think Mother was inspired to do that, especially in this time with our youth because there are so many things they can love other than their Heavenly Father and Savior now,” said Rexine Ferrel Glenn, Sister Ferrel’s daughter.
As each lesson continues, the young women answer questions posed by Sister Ferrel and read the statements on the board, which Sister Glenn types for her mother in preparation for each lesson.
“This is the way it’s done for someone who is legally blind,” Sister Ferrel told her class.
Speaking of how eager the young women are to help in her lessons, Sister Ferrel said, “It’s been a joy for me and a tribute to the girls for their kindness and sweetness and goodness. And I think they don’t feel, and I don’t feel, an age gap.”
Each question posed during a recent lesson saw multiple hands shooting up, the girls squirming in their seats, anxious to answer the question.
“She’s just awesome and amazing,” said Tonja Wade, Young Women president in Sister Ferrel’s ward. “She relates to the girls. They’re willing to give her respect and attention.”
Throughout her life, Sister Ferrel has found it easy to relate to the youth and has felt “young at heart.” Many of the young women, as well as several others, lovingly call her “Grandma June.”
“[She is] helping the girls to learn true love,” said Sister Wade.
Though she has been called to serve the young women, Sister Ferrel has taught several others, including her own family and those in her ward.
“As long as you have something to give, you give it,” Sister Wade said of a lesson Sister Ferrel taught her.
Bishop Morris said, “If there was one thing I would say, as a bishop, [I have learned]... that everyone, no matter age or anything, has something they can share.”
Sister Ferrel closed her lesson with her testimony and reminded her young women, as she often does, “I’ve always had a testimony, never been without it. It’s grown sweeter and sweeter as the years go by.”
And, of course, she reminds them of her love for each of them. “I want to thank all of you and I want to tell all of you how much I appreciate your help. It’s sweet to see the cooperation. And thank you. I love you. And I’m going to say it, I’m proud of my girls.”
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company