Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
LDS President Thomas S. Monson looks at a painting Thursday at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building of Wilford C. Wood, who was honored for efforts to purchase and preserve LDS historial sites.

Wilford C. Wood had a magificent obsession for historical sites and artifacts.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Thomas S. Monson joined the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation and the LDS Church History Department Thursday in honoring Wood and his family for their role in preserving church history sites and artifacts.

Wood was "a unique individual — and that's putting it mildly," President Monson said to laughter from those who attended the event at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

Wood, who died in 1968, was a pioneer in researching and purchasing important Mormon historical sites, such as the Nauvoo Temple block, Joseph Smith Jr. home in Harmony, Pa., and Liberty Jail in Missouri. He also acquired priceless artifacts, such as a full set of uncut and unbound sheets from the 1830 Book of Mormon and the original clay casts of the death masks of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

"I first became acquainted with Wilford C. Wood when I was the assistant general manager of what was then called the Deseret News Press," President Monson said. He worked with Wood, starting in the late 1950s, on volumes one and two of "Joseph Smith Begins His Work." The books contained reprints of the first edition of the Book of Mormon and other early LDS documents.

Wood and President Monson became friends through the process. President Monson recounted how Wood's ability to make friends and his tenacity enabled him to purchase many early church history sites.

"His wife, Lillian, would comment that he would take fruit, such as strawberries or melons, to his friends and mention how valuable the property would be to the church. And when the property owners were finally ready to sell they would call him first," President Monson said.

Wood had to push harder to make the first purchase of property that had been part of the Nauvoo Temple block. In 1937, the LDS Church had authorized Wood to pay $1,000 for the property — but the bank selling the property was hoping for more.

President Monson said Wood received an impression to say, "Are you going to make us pay an exorbitant price for the blood of a martyred prophet when you know that this property rightfully belongs to the Mormon people?"

The property was purchased for $900.

Over the years, Wood acquired many church sites, some on behalf of the church, some with his own money. Many of the properties eventually were sold to the church at or below his costs.

"He did it for one purpose. He loved the Prophet Joseph and the Book of Mormon, and he wanted to help preserve the … places that had been part of Joseph's life," President Monson said. "What a man. What a man."

At the event, a large painting of Wood by Ken Corbett was unveiled showing him standing in front of one property he purchased, the Newel K. Whitney store in Kirtland, Ohio. Afterward, many of Wood's descendants gathered around to look at it.

One of Wood's grandchildren, Wilford Cannon, was impressed at the outpouring of appreciation for the work of his grandfather. "It's nice to see that the people who knew what he accomplished and what he did recognize the quality of his contribution."