It's really no coincidence that copies of the Pioneer look very similar to copies of the Mormon Church's Ensign magazine.
Susan Lofgren, who is essentially the one-woman band who designs and edits the quarterly magazine for the Sons of the Utah Pioneers, used to work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint's magazines department.
It's Lofgren who has taken what used to be a Sons of the Utah Pioneers black and white newsletter to a glossy, full-color publication that's rich in detail, vibrant in story and elegant in format.
She takes the theme suggestions from the SUP board and finds stories, anecdotes, pictures, poetry and all kinds of interesting bits that she then puts together in readable form, issue after issue.
"We're unique. We think art is important. There are publications out there that are more scholarly, but this is more reader-friendly, not so academic," said Kent V. Lott, the magazine's publisher.
He and other board members come up with the themes for each issues: everyday life, pioneer businesses, frontier education, the railroads, the pony express (coming up in 2010).
They share those ideas with Lofgren, who then researches the stories, ancestor spotlights and editorials and finds people to write them. She finds historical photographs and paintings to include with articles. She haunts archives and libraries. She draws heavily from journals and letters, looking for the fascinating details that help readers truly understand the pioneer struggle.
A Lehi pioneer wrote, "My wife and I ate many weeds during the summer that our skin became tinted with green."
Another recalled going with her grandmother "along the ditch where the willows grew to gather nettles to eat. She would tell me to grip them hard, then they would not sting."
One boy remembered shooting and dressing ducks that sold for 15 cents apiece. "That fall, I shot and sold enough ducks to buy myself a suit of clothes worth $15 besides buying all my ammunition."
Another told about a pioneer woman planting precious pea seeds in her garden only to find a rooster following her path and eating all of the seeds. She promptly killed the bird, reclaimed and replanted her seeds and boiled the rooster for dinner.
"These are fun stories," Lofgren said. "I really love pioneer stories. It's fun to know all this little history and find the obscure. I hear people talk at church and I run up to them to get their story."
All of the stories are painstakingly researched and proofread by Linda Hunter Adams, a retired English professor from BYU. The art is donated or made available from a variety of artists and photographers including Kenny Mays, Liz Lemon Swindle and John Telford.
Historians like Susan Easton Black and Jill Mulvay Derr (who has written a book on Eliza R. Snow and from which excerpts will be published first in the Pioneer) contribute.
Others send in poems, photos, artwork and ideas.
Lofgren's happy to have them and weaves as much information as she can into each issue.
"She has a very good intuitive approach," National SUP President Roger C. Flick said. "You have to have a good balance of pictures and text to make this work."
And it appears to be working, although Flick, Lott and Lofgren would all like to see the magazine's readership expand, particularly to younger readers.
Recent issues focused on the Martin and Willie Handcart companies, the Hole in the Rock and the St. George Temple sold out the run, which is typically about 7,000 copies.
"Everybody loves it, but so many don't know about it," Flick said.
To broaden the "Pioneer" audience, Lofgren is currently upgrading the Web site (www.sonsofutahpioneers.org) to make it more accessible and more closely resemble the magazine's look.
She's trying to let the public know more about the magazine and about the SUP involvement in Lagoon's Pioneer Village.
"We have some really valuable stuff out there," she said. "People don't realize."
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