1 of 3
Stuart Johnson, Deseret Newsscott G. Winterton, Deseret Newsmichael Brandy, Deseret Newsscott G. Winterton, Deseret Newsmichael Brandy, Deseret News
Family members of the trapped miners walk in front of the Desert Edge Christian Chapel on Aug. 19, 2007.

HUNTINGTON — Mayor Hilary Gordon thinks people's prayers around here have become more "deep and meaningful" since separate collapses a year ago claimed the lives of nine men at the Crandall Canyon mine.

The tragedies, she says, haven't driven people to church in droves, but rather made people more reflective.

"Life goes on, so to speak — you hate to say that," Gordon said. "It has made people stop and be grateful for their own blessings."

Wendy Black's husband, Dale "Bird" Black, was one of three people who died Aug. 16 while trying to rescue six miners. Her brother is the Rev. Carl Sitterud, pastor at the Desert Edge Christian Chapel, where families of victims gathered for updates on their loved ones trapped in the mine.

The Rev. Sitterud will be dedicating a monument to the nine men at a private ceremony this month near the sealed mine. He was also asked by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s office to give the opening prayer at a ceremony in September to dedicate another monument near a cemetery in Huntington.

The Rev. Sitterud has seen a difference over the past year in how people approach him.

"People will stop and talk with me now," the Rev. Sitterud said. "The accident has bridged that gap a little bit."

Although the Rev. Sitterud said church attendance could be better, one of the men involved in the rescue effort when three workers were killed Aug. 16 now regularly attends services at Desert Edge.

"He realized at the time that in the blink of an eye life can end," the Rev. Sitterud said. "It made him re-evaluate his life.

"I am thankful he came to Christ," the Rev. Sitterud added. "He's a good man."

Elsewhere in the area there are fresh memorials, including beads and a cross at a bridge about one mile from the mine.

In the days after the Aug. 6 collapse that trapped six miners, whose bodies were never recovered, a community of small towns and cities came together, regardless of what religion anyone practiced.

"When things happen, people do put that aside," Gordon said. "I watched people give generously."

Love was a key ingredient.

"Is the basic part of us loving?" Gordon asked. "Yes, I think it is."

Last September the Rev. Oscar Martinez, a priest from St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Ogden, spoke at a memorial Mass at Mission San Rafael for trapped miners Jose Luis Hernandez and Carlos Payan Villa, who were both born in Mexico but lived in Huntington.

"At this point, the big question ... why? God, why is this happening to them? ... We are not here to explain that. We cannot understand that now ... It takes time to understand," he told those at the mass two miles south of Huntington.

Mission San Rafael's Rev. Donald Hope said back then that it was a "bitter" time of saying goodbye, but that it was also a time for sweet prayers. The Rev. Omar Ontiveros traveled from the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City to help lead in those prayers.

Steve Allred, brother of killed miner Kerry Allred said after the service, "By golly, there's got to be a whole bunch of good come out of this bad."

Julie Jones said her prayers are still with families who lost loved ones in the collapses. She figured her own son Elam Jones, 25, a miner at the now-closed Crandall Canyon Mine, was spared three times, including the incident that killed the six miners Aug. 6. She groups those three incidents as her "personal miracle."

"It's not fair," said Jones, a member of the Huntington City Council. "I truly believe God has a hand in it.

"It wasn't a punishment thing. It was a timing thing," she added, thanking God her son was spared. "How do I say that to those families? I feel for them — I truly feel for them."

Jones, who became known as "The Mom" during dark times here last year, said her family has grown by the nine families left behind by the Crandall Canyon victims.

One of those victims was Don Erickson, one of the six miners trapped Aug. 6. He left behind a wife, Nelda Erickson, who doesn't readily give it all up to being part of God's plan.

"I have a hard time with it," Erickson said. "It's something that could have been prevented."

She doesn't consider herself an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but she's had several blessings from other members.

"I've turned to God to help me get through this," she said. "I pray more than I did before."

Black was baptized LDS and for a while after the collapses was asked a lot to attend church. These days she calls herself "religious in my heart."

"It pulled the community together," Black said. And she'll always be thankful for what she called the "overwhelming" Christian acts of kindness that benefited her and the other eight families.


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com

"