PAYSON — Years before the Payson Temple was announced, a local stake president envisioned a temple in southern Utah County.
Although he didn't live to see its completion, President Lyman W. Willardson and other leaders in the Payson Mountain View Stake provided inspired leadership and championed temple work in a way that motivated local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to prepare for the day when it would happen.
Many will likely reflect on President Willardson and his influence when they attend the Payson Temple dedication on Sunday, June 7.
“The stake presidency had a vision of the temple that lit a fire in the members, and we had some wonderful experiences,” said President Willardson's wife, Polly Willardson. “When (the temple) was announced, and later when I walked through it, I couldn’t believe it was really happening.”
Lyman W. Willardson served as president of the Mountain View Stake from 2006 to 2013. He died on Jan. 11, 2014.
Shortly after his call in 2006, President Willardson wrote a letter to Elder Donald J. Butler, an Area Seventy in the Utah South Area, informing him the stake would be putting a strong emphasis on temple work and wanted to be known as “the Temple Stake." They had set goals to increase the number of current temple recommend holders and the amount of temple ordinance work being done, as well as indexing and family history work. They planned to double the number of volunteer workers in the Provo Temple.
“We know the Lord will bless us as we strive to be more diligent in these aspects of temple and family history work,” President Willardson wrote in the letter.
President Willardson, a registered nurse who was battling cancer, then shared a sacred experience he had while driving home from one of his treatments near the hill south of the city.
“I got a strong impression that if we made ourselves worthy in every way, the Lord would bless this area with a temple on that site,” President Willardson wrote. “We know that it will take much sacrifice and work to bring such a thing to pass, but we are committing ourselves to do just that. We wish to be a righteous people who are diligent enough to have such a blessing as a temple in our midst.”
President Todd D. Simmons, who was called as the Mountain View Stake’s president after Willardson was released, said members responded with an increased focus on temple work over the next few years.
“In his mind’s eye, he saw a temple in Payson,” President Simmons said. “From that point on, he felt it was his responsibility to help the people be prepared for the day when a temple would come to Payson.”
LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson has traditionally announced temples in general conference but surprised members on Jan. 25, 2010, with plans for a temple in Payson that would serve 93,000 members living in 27 stakes from Mapleton to Delta. No one was more thrilled than the Willardsons.
“We were elated when word came that we would have our temple,” Polly Willardson said. “We drove right to the site. It was beautiful.”
President Simmons related an interesting fact about the temple site. Before the temple was announced, a farmer raised wheat in a field in the area. Anyone in the ward who was in need of bread or flour was welcome to harvest wheat for free, President Simmons said.
Since the announcement, watching the temple rise through the construction process has been a favorite activity for many families. President Simmons’ daughter wants to be married there someday.
“I love all temples,” President Simmons said. “But this one is our temple, and there is a sense of ownership.”
Polly Willardson knows her husband would agree. She is grateful that his vision of temple work has not been forgotten.
“He was a great man of faith and leadership,” she said. “We have to have a vision in our lives of what we can become, and the temple gives us a vision of eternity. It teaches us the purpose of our existence. It can change the course of our lives and help us to know what we can become in the future. If we don’t have that vision, we perish.”
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