Lee Lyon
LDS young performing missionaries and sister missionaries fill sandbags along the swollen Mississippi River in Niota, Ill.

A call for volunteers to fill sandbags to help protect historic Nauvoo, Ill., and surrounding areas went out last week. It was answered in force by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including BYU Folk Dancers, young performing missionaries and young sister missionaries assigned to Nauvoo.

Employees and missionaries working for NRI or Nauvoo Restoration Inc. — which handles LDS historic preservation and restoration projects in Nauvoo — and senior missionaries from the Illinois Nauvoo Mission also pitched in.

Together the groups worked to fill sandbags and protect the historic Nauvoo House — once home to Joseph Smith Jr. and now owned by the Community of Christ church — and Niota, a small neighboring community, said Sister Donna Whisenant, who is serving as a LDS public affairs missionary with her husband, Vern, in Nauvoo. They are from Provo.

Lachlan Mackay, historic sites director for the Community of Christ church, said Tuesday he woke up knowing that the historic Nauvoo House was going to be threatened by the rising Mississippi. Worse was the fact that he didn't have a plan of action to protect it.

Working with government agencies, the community and the LDS Church, Mackay said they were able to shore up the levee behind the Nauvoo House. The LDS Church responded to his request for help by hauling 150 cubic yards of sand to the historic structure, where members of BYU's Folk Dancers filled the bags.

While there are still concerns that the levee will hold when the river crests today, the BYU students said they felt lucky to help.

"It was cool to work alongside members of another faith with a common goal of serving and protecting our heritage," said Tina Campbell of Hurricane, Washington County.

Kelsie Wagstaff of Holladay echoed her sentiments: "I felt so lucky to be able to help the community prepare for the floods and protect the Community of Christ properties of Joseph Smith."

In the meantime, at the request of Mayor John McCarty of Nauvoo, the young performing missionaries, including the Nauvoo Brass Band that performs in the city during the summer, some senior missionaries, and NRI went to help in Niota.

"I've developed such a deep love for the people of Niota and the surrounding areas. They are hard working people with beautiful homes and farms. It has been a wonderful opportunity to show our love for them by helping to bag dirt and sand for the floods," said Sister Mandi Jensen, a missionary from St. Ignatius, Mont.

LDS missionaries from the Illinois Peoria Mission and the Missouri St. Louis Mission will join the efforts today, working in Quincy, Ill., and Keokuk, Iowa, and on the Hunts Levee, which is located between the two cities and protects Keokuk.


E-mail: sarah@desnews.com