Teaching and attending LDS Sunday School helped infuse Alan Ashton with many of the principles he would later use to found and develop one of the world's most successful software companies.
The co-founder and CEO of WordPerfect was a six-year-old boy when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Sunday School back in 1949. Ashton remembers well the ceremonies he attended with his grandfather, then church President David O. McKay, that included opening a time capsule containing memorabilia from the centennial celebration 50 years earlier.He and his cousin, Joyce McKay (now wife of Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah), were part of the celebration as captured by a church photographer (see photo on E1).
During a kickoff ceremony Monday for the church's sesquicentennial celebration of the Sunday School at the LDS Church Museum of History and Art, Ashton shared his thoughts about the organization that he said helped him succeed in business.
"It's helped me in being able to interact with people. . . . As CEO and president of WordPerfect, we attended a lot of conferences and I had people asking about our future plans and what we were trying to accomplish." Having been a Sunday School teacher for many years, Ashton said he was used to explaining the concepts he believed in.
"Many times as students would ask questions, I found that thoughts would come into my mind that I had never thought about before. And those insights were always the right thing at the time. Because of that interaction and being in a position where I needed to explain my views of various scriptures," he gained confidence in his own ability to gain inspiration from God and to use those skills in the business world.
Ashton remembers many conferences and trade shows where his own spiritual training - and that of others he had hired to work with him - paid big dividends. During one trade show, "there was a man at the IBM booth right next to ours, and people kept coming up to talk with us but were kind of ignoring him. After a while, he came over to ask us what we were doing that made such a difference in attracting people.
"I think it was the friendliness of the marketing people who were members of the (LDS) church. As kids, we had all done road shows and been taught to interact with others in Sunday School classes. It was a delightful confirmation to me that using those church experiences helped us in life."
One of Ashton's most satisfying moments in business came one day when he realized the impact that his company's product was having in helping transform people's lives.
"I was especially touched one day when a black woman approached me and thanked me for WordPerfect. She said it had allowed her to stay in her own home with her children and yet earn a decent income. I can't express the feelings of gratitude and the fullness of joy that I had that it was accomplishing good things in other people's lives."
The Sunday School celebration is set to culminate with the opening of a time capsule in April 1999, just prior to LDS General Conference. In the meantime, a display featuring the capsule, along with Sunday School curriculum and music materials and photos from the past 150 years, is on display at the museum.
Included in the exhibit is a children's book, "Leaders of the Scriptures," written by Marion G. Merkley and Gordon B. Hinckley along with a "Deseret Sunday School Reader," published by the Deseret Sunday School Union in 1886.
The organization was founded by church member Richard Ballantyne when he called a group of 50 children together on Dec. 9, 1849, in his home near 200 South and 200 West to offer instruction in gospel principles.
A sculpture commemorating the founding of the Sunday School was crafted by artist Avard Fairbanks in the early 1940s and placed near the home. According to museum curator Glen Leonard, the monument still stands near that address. It has been replicated as part of the museum exhibit.