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Dale Neilson
Rocky Catenzaro, right, and Dick Syverson, outside the old 29th Ward building of the Salt Lake Riverside LDS Stake.

SALT LAKE CITY — The 71-year history of Salt Lake Utah Riverside Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is peppered with colorful stories of amazing people.

The stake was formed March 24, 1940, from the Salt Lake Utah Stake and includes 600 West to the area of the airport and from 1000 North to 200 South. In 1984, the Center Ward was annexed into the Rose Park Utah Stake.

English immigrant Ivy Brooks lived mostly in Rosedale Ward until her 2005 death at age 106, as probably the oldest-ever Riverside member, said Riverside Stake President Rocky Catenzaro. Another achiever is former 29th Ward resident Amanda Gowans, who held the 2005 Guiness Book record for riding a playground swing for 30 consecutive hours until the achievement was bested in June 2010.

In the 1950s, Bishop Edward Bingham of the now-disbanded Airport Ward headed a box-lunch program, according to the late 50-year stake resident and former Rosedale Bishop Phillip Cutright. Box lunches were prepared for LDS Church general conference-goers and sold at Temple Square’s north and west gates. The Center and Rosedale wards coordinated it later, said President Catenzaro.

“We made 500 (lunches) or more sometimes,” said Cutright’s wife, Phyllis, who added vendors were required to keep off church property due to restaurants’ complaints. The program ended in about 1960.

Lifelong stake resident Dick Syverson, 81, played softball for 40 years until his late 40s.

The summer fast-pitch All-Church Softball Tournament saw his 1960s Rosedale and 29th teams finish second and third, respectively.

Syverson recalls in 1960 the stake hog farm at 2300 N. 2200 West also became its softball diamond, and the activity excited the livestock. “The bulls started running around” during diamond construction, he said. “Everybody started scattering. We weren’t sticking around. We always got in our cars.”

When 29th and Center wards realigned boundaries in 1963, offspring Rosedale inherited several of 29th Ward's players, including pitcher Syverson and his reported 95-mph pitches. Rosedale became the Riverside power broker and an All-Church regular, he said.

In a surreal and sorrowful event, Rosedale player Mark Nemelka died during the 1965 All-Church championship game at Salt Lake’s old George Q. Morris ballpark near 2100 S. 200 West. The right fielder, who caught a fly ball, tried to throw home to catch the runner tagging up at third base.

He threw so hard, said the pitcher, the ball landed on the pitcher’s mound of the opposite diamond. Syverson incredulously assumes the herculean launch may have been more than 100 yards. “I’ve never seen any ball thrown that far.”

Meanwhile, Nemelka dropped to the grass, Syverson said.

“Everybody ran out there,” he remembered. “The doctor said (Nemelka) was probably dead before he hit the ground.” Nemelka had a heart condition, said Syverson, but didn’t know if it precipitated death.

Before the play, Rosedale led by one run over the Chandler, Ariz., Second Ward, in “probably the fourth or fifth inning.” Ironically, the runner tied the score under the absolute worst of circumstances.

As a result, Rosedale forfeited for its second loss of the double-elimination tournament and placed second to Chandler, whose players were "all kinda sad about it,” Syverson explained. “They told us they were sorry and gave their condolences.”

Another of Syverson’s unique experiences was playing at the old Utah State Prison, now the site of Sugarhouse Park. The 29th Ward’s “All-Church players were in prison,” he quiped.

Syverson knew he and his players would be treated well there. Otherwise, “they knew we wouldn’t come back. We used to have some pretty good games with the prisoners and some staff.” None except prison personnel and prisoners were allowed at the games.

“We had a couple hundred fans or better come, because they didn’t have anything better to do.” Only lesser-violent criminals were allowed to attend.

Syverson was once approached during a game by someone he knew from West High. “What the heck are you doing here?” he asked the young man. “I’m in for robbery” was the reply.

“You never know who you’re going to meet in prison,” said Syverson

Many of Syverson’s memories aren’t about baseball. For example, his father told him as a youth if he wouldn’t attend church, he must pull weeds. When young Dick said he didn’t like weeding, his dad said, “You don’t have to like it. Just do it.”

In the 29th Ward, during the late 1930s-early '40s, late Scoutmaster Jerry Steenblik took Scouts camping in his hearse. “It was very unusual,” Syverson remembered. With supplies strapped on top, the Scout-mobile invited stares.

Not your typical ride to the cemetery or the campground.

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Syverson said he conducted 57 funerals as Rosedale’s bishop. He oversaw a possible record three funerals in one day with assistance in cemetery duties from his counselors.

Once when a young deacon spilled the sacramental bread on the church stairs and picked it up, some became concerned for health reasons. The bishop asked, “It was blessed, wasn’t it?”

When a boy brought a drink and sandwich weekly to church, Bishop Syverson asked him why. “You never give us enough bread and water,” he said, apparently misunderstanding the purpose of the sacramental ordinances.