Mother Nature knew better than to mess with the Leavitts.
The downpours of recent days cleared up and made way for a flood of Leavitts - 2,000 at last count - gathered for the first-ever national reunion of Leavitt families held this weekend, co-chaired by Gov. Mike Leavitt."It has been a remarkable three days," the governor said Saturday. "It has exceeded our every expectation."
Being a prominent figure has a number of perks. One that the governor didn't expect, though, was the chance to reunite a family divided by thousands of miles, and a new religion.
Dixie Leavitt, the governor's father, tells the story:
"When Mike was elected governor, and his name started to be heard back East, the folks back there started to ask themselves, `Could it be one of us that moved out West and joined the Mormon church?' Well, Mike got in contact with them and invited them to hold a national reunion here in Salt Lake City. Then he called me and said, `Dad, I need your help.' "
Soon after, the Western Association of Leavitt Families was formed with Dixie Leavitt at its head and plans for the reunion began. Gov. Mike Leavitt and Ardeth Kapp, former Young Women's President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were elected co-chairs for the event.
The reunion brought Leavitts from 27 states, Canada and Great Britain, Dixie Leavitt said. It was the first time the Eastern and Western branches of the family had met at a formal reunion since 1800, when a small group split off and moved to Canada. There, the family founded a small branch of the LDS Church. Their faith would eventually lead them on a 14-year trek West to the Salt Lake Valley, where they settled.
The weekend reunion featured programs at the Capitol Rotunda, the Assembly Hall on Temple Square and a Western-style cookout at This is the Place State Park. Along with remarks from Gov. Leavitt, participants in the events included National Association of Leavitt Families President Jonathan Leavitt and Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve of the LDS Church (who also has Leavitt lineage).
Kapp, whose mother was a Leavitt, said the reunion was "a remarkable outpouring of love."
"There is such a spirit of oneness," Kapp said. "We met as strangers and felt an instant kinship. It was inexplicable but undeniable."
She also underscored the importance of bringing families together:
"Through reunions, you establish a strong sense of identity - of who you are. You also develop a sense of roots. I think it was Alex Haley who said, `the need for our identity is bone-marrow deep."'
The reunion brought 124 people from the East Coast, where the Leavitts remain a "prosperous and prominent family," according to Dixie Leavitt.
One Easterner, Thomas Leavitt, vice-president of the National Association of Leavitt Families, said he was impressed by his Western kinsmen and the beauty of the West.
"They are warm, friendly people - much more open than us old fogies in the East are. And, the view here is just overpowering. We have great scenery back East, but this matches it. I don't think you'll see any unhappy people here."
Though national reunions are not expected to be held annually, Dixie Leavitt said, he hopes the family will hold smaller, regional reunions. The next national reunion may not be until the year 2000.
Beverly Leavitt King, a Wisconsin Leavitt, said she had a "fabulous" time at this year's gathering.
"It amazes me that the Western Association could put on a reunion of this magnitude. We've really been wined and dined. The people of Salt Lake City have been so friendly, and it's so clean. We've loved every minute of it."
King was also proud to include the governor's branch on the family tree.
"Gov. Leavitt is really very personable. A true gentleman. I really expect to see his name in national politics."