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Jason Swensen
Cattle gather inside corral on Oct. 20, 2016, following annual round up at the Taylor Arizona Stake Cattle Ranch.

TAYLOR, ARIZ.

Located just a few miles south of the majestic Snowflake Arizona Temple is the Taylor Arizona Stake Cattle Ranch. At first glance, these two Church-owned properties seem stark opposites.

The temple rests atop a prominent hill and can be seen far across northeastern Arizona’s vast Navajo County. The cattle ranch’s remote headquarters are found at the end of a lowland red dirt road that even locals say is easy to miss after dark.

The climate-controlled temple is peaceful, orderly and exudes a quiet reverence. The ranch, meanwhile, can be bone chilling cold or blast furnace hot, depending on the month. Dust covers everything here and the constant bellowing of cows halts only when a cowboy whistles and exhorts the stocky bovines to “Keep moving!” or “Hold on up, girls!”

Snowflake temple workers greet patrons with a smile and wish them a good morning or afternoon. Volunteers at the ranch welcome first-time visitors with a warning: Watch where you step. (The ranch floor is a veritable landmine of prickly pears, anthills and, yes, cow pies.)

But a thoughtful examination reveals that the Snowflake Arizona Temple and the nearby Taylor Arizona Stake Cattle Ranch actually share much in common. Both are sacred, dedicated sites where people come together to serve the Lord and assist others in need.

Much of the work happening inside the Snowflake temple allows men, women and children long departed to know the blessings of salvation. Meanwhile, the meat produced at the Taylor stake ranch will sustain and bless families who are hungry and facing hard times.

‘Cut ’em out, Ride ’em in’

Oct. 19 was a big day at the ranch. A team of volunteer Mormon cowboys — and cowgirls — rounded up some 400 head of cattle spread out across the 14,600-acre ranch. The herd’s mature calves were then driven onto awaiting tractor-trailer trucks to be shipped to other Church-owned welfare ranches in the western United States.

Those calves will ultimately be used to stock the meat sections of bishop’s storehouses across the U.S. and Canada. Families and individuals in need will be able to enjoy fresh hamburger, roasts and other top-quality beef products thanks, in great part, to the work happening at the Taylor ranch.

“The beef the Church puts out here is second to none,” said Church agricultural specialist Wade Sperry.

An Arizona legacy

After separating and loading the calves for shipping, the volunteer cowboys spent the rest of their day vaccinating remaining cows and testing them for pregnancy before turning them loose again on the range.

For several of the Taylor Stake cow hands, the annual roundup is a family tradition at the near century-old ranch. Generations here have volunteered their time, talent and equipment. Stake member Quinn Smith has been helping out at the ranch since he was a little boy.

“I can still remember when each elders quorum in the stake would raise funds to buy a heifer for the cattle ranch,” he said.

The Oct. 19 roundup fell just days ahead of Ron Bateman’s 80th birthday. But age could not stop Brother Bateman from once again saddling his horse and spending the day cowboying at the ranch.

“I just felt I needed to help out again, ” he said humbly.

Newly called ranch manager Gary Kirkman spoke to the volunteers as they sat down together for an outdoor lunch.

“I would ask if anyone wanted to say anything — but I’m hungry,” he said, enlisting a bit of cowboy humor. “But we do love and appreciate you. What a fantastic group you are.”

A day of joy and sadness

This year’s cattle roundup was bittersweet for the Taylor stake volunteers. Two of their own were missing. For 17 years, Jay Whipple had served as the volunteer ranch manager. His wife, Sister Lynne Whipple, was his ranch companion.

The Whipples had become synonymous with the Taylor cattle ranch. Their “get-it-done” spirit and devotion to the Church’s welfare program inspired volunteers and fellow members of all ages across eastern Arizona.

But Brother Whipple was battling the final stage of cancer during this year’s roundup and was unable to direct it. Still, several friends and fellow ranch hands, many still dusty from the day’s labor, stopped by the Whipples’ home in Taylor to offer a final report.

When reminded of the many who had been blessed by their steady service, Sister Whipple simply replied that it was she and her husband who had been the beneficiaries of countless blessings.

“We have made oodles of good friends at the ranch as we served our Heavenly Father,” she said. “We’ve done our best to provide quality beef for others.”

Brother Whipple died on Oct. 21, less than 48 hours after the roundup concluded. “He held on long enough to have his last calf crop shipped,” reported his friend, Brother Sperry.

Joyful labor

Taylor Arizona Stake President Wayne Hardy said the Whipples are emblematic of the folks in his stake — and across the globe — who answer the divine call each day to help others.

Operating the stake cattle ranch demands a year-round, Sisyphean effort. But President Hardy said he’s never had to ask twice for help when, say, fences need repairing or water needs to be delivered to thirsty cattle. Others offer their own heavy equipment to blaze or maintain roads across the ranch.

It’s unlikely that any of the ranch volunteers will ever meet the people being fed through to their efforts, he added. No matter. They know the Lord accepts their offerings. The reward is in the service.

“We’re so grateful to have this ranch and so grateful for the men and women who come here to serve,” he said.

jswensen@deseretnews.com @JNSwensen

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