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Keith Johnson, Deseret News
An ID card issued to one of the early Chilean missionaries is displayed at the reunion.

BOUNTIFUL — More than 100 former LDS missionaries and spouses nibbled on empanadas, listened to traditional folk music, shared photo albums or journals and recounted tales from the earliest years of missionary work in Chile.

The event last April included the attendance of Sister Marne Whitaker Tuttle, widow of the late Elder A. Theodore Tuttle. One of Elder Tuttle's assignments as a general authority was to preside over areas of the church in South America, including Chile. Sister Tuttle recalled traveling around South America and trips to Santiago.

"Chile was one of my favorite places. It was easy to love the Chileans. I liked the climate. It almost had a feeling of home," she said.

Among those in attendance at the reunion were a couple of the first missionaries to take the gospel to Chile. Smiles permeated their faces as memories were recalled.

Verle C. Allred and his companion Joseph Bentley were grateful when their two-prop plane landed safely after turbulence over the towering Andes Mountains.

"At moments it was shaky, but it really was a splendid experience to fly over into Chile," Allred said of the June 1956 flight.

In those days, Allred said knocking doors was fun.

"No one would say no, even if they didn't want to hear your message," Allred said. "They were cordial and friendly. Getting back in a second time was harder."

Dale Zabriskie was a member of the second companionship to arrive. During his 10 months in Chile, 12 people were baptized and branch attendance had reached 70 people per week.

More than 53 years later, Chilean church membership has surpassed 550,000.

"It felt special to be selected to go over there, to see how much success we were having. We knew we were in a different situation," Zabriskie said.

Royden Glade was president of the Andes Mission in 1973 when the government of President Salvador Allende was overthrown by the Chilean military in a coup d'état. Despite difficult political and economic times, the church continued to grow, Glade said.

"Proselyting was not adversely affected, and the missionaries were resilient, respectful and prudent. They were well prepared after the revolution, and the church grew even more than it had before," Glade said.

Among the first sister missionaries to serve in Chile were Hope Carol Kohler Mortensen (1958-60) and Sandi Solie Holland (1966-68). Both married returned missionaries from Chile.

"The mission toughened me up. We had freezing showers in the winter, freezing blood blisters, the constant rain and cold, the fleas (pulgas). … It set the tone for my whole life. I can do anything now because I served in Chile," Holland said.

If there was one person who could relate to the 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile earlier this year, it was Garth Olsen. He was there in 1960 when a magnitude-9.5 earthquake in southern Chile and the ensuing tsunami killed at least 1,700 people.

Olsen said he was miraculously away at a district meeting the weekend the earthquake occurred, but one-third of Concepción was destroyed.

"It was an absolute mess. I kept a pretty good journal until the earthquake hit, then my journal stops because we didn't do anything else but work hard to clean up. It was a memorable experience."

Olsen, a retired Spanish professor at BYU-Idaho, knew only three or four others at the reunion and enjoyed the atmosphere, but had another purpose in attending with his wife. The Rexburg, Idaho, couple is serving a church history mission and wanted to see what documents or journals might surface.

"We made some good contacts and we're going to get some missionary journals and old scriptures," he said.