The story of the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple begins with words of encouragement from President Wilford Woodruff to a small group of frustrated pioneers in 1884, according to Chad Hawkins' book "The First 100 Temples."
Building a life in southeastern Idaho's desolate Snake River basin had been difficult for the Mormon settlers. President Woodruff, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, accompanied by fellow apostle Elder Heber J. Grant, stood in a wagon and kindled hope in good things to come.
"Be not discouraged; be not disheartened, because God's blessing is upon this land," President Woodruff said, promising that the area would develop into a strong community, Hawkins wrote. "As I look into the future of this great valley I can see temples — I can see beautiful temples erected to the name of the Living God where holy labors may be carried on in his name through generations to come."
More than 60 years later, in September 1945, President George Albert Smith dedicated the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple, the eighth operating temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the first in Idaho.
Although the Idaho Falls Temple is currently closed until October 2016 for renovation, this month marks a 70-year milestone for the historic edifice. In honor of this anniversary, here are eight noteworthy facts and stories about the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple.
1. Symbolism and inspired design
The Idaho Falls Temple is located on the banks of the Snake River, surrounded by more than 1,600 pine trees around the temple grounds, according to "The First 100 Temples." The location created a picturesque and symbolic setting for a temple, said John Fetzer, a member of the LDS Church board of temple architects and the main architect for the Idaho Falls Temple, according to Hawkins.
"Set in its wide, green valley, with distant mountains fringing the horizons, this temple is visible for many miles, and its towering, tapering mass, pointing skyward, seems to tell of eternal values, to symbolize the aspiration and strength of the human spirit, rising above material things," Fetzer said.
Fetzer proposed the design for the Idaho Falls Temple after praying for inspiration and seeing "in vision an ancient Nephite temple which he used as the basis for his design," Hawkins wrote.
2. A sure foundation
The Idaho Falls Temple was announced on March 3, 1937.
David Smith, president of the Idaho Falls North Stake, broke ground for the Idaho Falls Temple on Dec. 19, 1939. An 18-foot excavation revealed "a bed of lava rock, which provided a solid foundation" for the temple, Hawkins wrote.
3. Groberg family memories
Elder John H. Groberg grew up in Idaho Falls and served as a member of the First Quorum and presidency of the Seventy from 1976-2005. He was given emeritus general authority status in 2005 and was called as president of the Idaho Falls Temple, where he and his wife, Jean, presided until 2008.
His parents, Delbert V. and Jennie Groberg, also served as Idaho Falls Temple president and matron from 1975-80. When Delbert Groberg was a boy, his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Susan Burnett Brunt, informed him that one day a temple would be built on the sand dune next to the Snake River, according to a 2008 LDS Church News article.
"Don't say anything to anybody until it comes to pass," Brunt said, according to the article. "But just be aware of it."
Years later, Delbert Groberg played a role in helping the LDS Church acquire the land for the temple, the article reported.
President David O. McKay, then a counselor in the First Presidency, came for the temple's cornerstone ceremony and site dedication on Oct. 19, 1940. Prior to starting, President McKay took off his hat and handed it to 6-year-old John Groberg. Delbert captured the moment by grabbing a camera and taking a picture of his oldest son holding the church leader's hat. The photo would become a priceless family treasure, the article said.
More than a decade later, President McKay, then president of the LDS Church, met a group of missionaries in Tonga while on a world tour. Among the missionaries was Elder John Groberg. During the visit, President McKay removed his hat and handed it to Elder Groberg.
"I looked at him and he looked at me," Elder Groberg said in the Church News article. "He could tell I was a little emotional and he said, 'We've done this before, haven't we?'"
In the 2008 article, Elder Groberg recalled how he and Jean were called by President Gordon B. Hinckley to preside over his hometown Idaho Falls Temple.
"I just had the feeling, this will be wonderful. I really had the feeling, 'How could you do better than go home and serve?'" Elder Groberg told President Hinckley. "All of those things went through my mind, 'Isn't the Lord good? Isn't he kind?'"
In June 2005, Elder Groberg also participated in the groundbreaking of the Rexburg Idaho Temple, Idaho's third temple.
4. World War II delays
World War II caused delays in the construction of the Idaho Falls Temple, Hawkins wrote.
When the United States entered the war, the temple's exterior was nearly finished but the interior needed signficant work. First, there was a labor shortage on building projects such as the temple because men and women were entering military service or the defense industry.
Second, wartime restrictions limited the use of needed materials. Fortunately, the church had imported and stored most of the structural materials in advance.
Hawkins referenced another delay.
"A major setback during this period came when it was discovered that mural fabrics in the temple had been damaged by condensation from insufficient insulation from the exterior walls," Hawkins wrote.
Despite the obstacles, the temple was completed and dedicated one month after the war ended. The lifting of gasoline and tire rationing allowed more Latter-day Saints to attend the dedication and helped revitalize regular attendance, Hawkins wrote.
5. Rex and Fern Furness
Rex and Fern Furness attended one of the eight dedicatory sessions of the Idaho Falls Temple, which took place Sept. 23-25, 1945. It was a memorable experience, Fern Furness said.
"I thought the temple was absolutely beautiful," she said.
In the years that followed, the couple served in the temple baptistry, arriving each Saturday at 5 a.m. for about a decade. After her husband died, Fern Furness continued to serve as an ordinance worker for another eight years. She was released at age 87.
"I loved being helpful and doing something good for someone else," Fern Furness said. "There was such a pleasant feeling in the temple, and being there was the highlight of my week."
6. Wadsworth family sealing
Anona Wadsworth and her husband spent a year preparing to be sealed to their two small sons.
On a snowy day in November 1975, the family of four arrived at the Idaho Falls Temple. Anona Wadsworth remembers taking the little boys to the children's room and leaving them in the caring hands of temple workers who would dress them in white.
At the appropriate time, the family entered the sealing room. When Anona Wadsworth saw her husband and sons, it was hard to hold back the tears, she said.
"I just cried," Wadsworth wrote in an email. "We felt the Spirit so strong in that room as everyone started to cry and rejoice with us as we held each other’s hands as a family forever.
"It's been 40 years since that event. Every time I am in that area, I go visit that room for just a moment and my eyes still tear up as I remember that sweet November day so long ago."
7. Angel Moroni
A statue of the angel Moroni was not added to the temple spire until nearly 40 years after the dedication. In the early 1980s, members from the Idaho Falls Temple district sent a request for the First Presidency to consider adding one, according to Hawkins.
The request was granted, and a 12-foot statue of the angel Moroni was installed on Sept. 5, 1983.
8. 'Temple by the river'
In 1995, hundreds gathered at the Idaho Falls North Stake Center, near the temple, to commemorate 50 years of the "temple by the river," the LDS Church News reported.
Elder W. Eugene Hansen, then of the presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the church's temple department, presided over the event, which was broadcast live on local television. The event was attended by current and former temple presidents, matrons and temple workers. Music was provided by the Ricks College Concert Chorale, and during the program, children in the congregation gathered at the podium to sing "I Love to See the Temple."
In his remarks, Elder Hansen recalled the day he married his wife in the Idaho Falls Temple in 1950 and paid tribute to the early Saints of the area.
"And so on the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the `temple by the river,' we remember those early residents, those who tamed the land and made it the beautiful and productive place it is today," Elder Hansen said.
"We remember those who worked so hard, both church members and friends of the church, to bring about the building and dedication of this beautiful edifice. We salute you and express our gratitude. You have our love and respect and our admiration."
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