1. RESIDING AND VISITING Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic
Arrived in Czech Mission, October 1948, in the last group of four allowed in and (unknown til I left) with a 5-day expired entry visa. President Toronto is Norma's oldest brother. Served in Prague and Mnichovo Hradiste. Was given two six-months povoleni k povitu, and departed in November 1949 when the Communist government denied further residence visas for our missionaries. As the youngest of the 36 post-WWII missionaries, I was known as Benjaminek. Transferred and served until March l951 in the British Mission. Served in the Army near Frankfurt til March 1954. Norma and I were married in September. See our 50th Anniversary notice, # 3 below.)
During graduate study at Harvard, I was an exchange student at Moscow University 1959-60. In September I stopped off in Prague and visited several members. In June Norma came for me in Moscow and we flew into Prague for her first visit; more time with the members.
We returned to Czechslovakia in l966 by bus with the BYU students studying in Austria, again visiting members.
On sabbatical study travel alone in 1969, I returned to Prague and Mnichovo Hradiste, while some of the Prague Spring atmosphere lingered. (Spent more time in Russia.)
As the first president of the East European Mission (a thrilling new calling, most unexpected) from 1981 til June 1984, (and l982-84 of the Austria Vienna Mission), I and Norma, visited the CSSR quietly on tourist visas every three months. We counseled with members in Prague, Plzen and Brno, now organized as the Czech District led by President Jiri Snederfler. The marvelous member-missionary efforts in Moravia and Bohemia were very privately adding tens of members. The 1932 edition of the Book of Mormon were all distributed, and Pres. Jiri and I received permission to have it reprinted in the small red pocket version. Taking in the first 20 in the Spring of 1984, the customs official at the Prague airport required us for the only time to open our bags. She picked Norma's, which she searched thoroughly, and ignored my bag full of the books.
We visited again in 1985 on our way to the new Freiburg Temple, in l987 with another study abroad group. In 1990 after the Velvet Revolution, I led a group of adults there, and for the first time joined the members in public worship with the re-recognized Czech Mission under President Richard Winder.
In 1995, we visited Prague during President Phil Bryson's presidency, first with the Lamanite Generation, and later by car. We also met with Jiri and Olga Snederfler in Freiburg, where he was Temple president.
After retiring, and while trying to negotiate a couple mission at Temple Square, we were, again unespectedly, called to preside over the Czech Prague Mission for two years. Wonderful months with devoted missionaries and inspiring members and leaders in Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, including the Cankovi in Prague and Vojkuvkovi in Brno.
Our last visit was in 2000, while in Denmark for the Mormon History Meeting. We saw the building site for the chapel in Brno, and had a visit with President and Sister Watkins.
In 2004, with the rest of you, we obtained the Czech triple combination, so long awaited and worked on so valiantly this past decade.
2. HOSTING AND THE MTC
In l998 we were invited to join the VIP Hosting group, who helped with visitors to the General Authorities. It was expanded in preparation of the SLC Winter olympics. Then we hosted in the front of the Tabernacle and Conference Center through 2002.
Currently we serve at the MTC. Our several branches have had missionaries studying eight Slavic languages: Polish, Czech [Slovak is not now being taught], Slovene, Croation, Serbian, Bulgarian and Ukrainian, plus at times a district preparing in Russian. With raising the bar and now the PREACH MY GOSPEL guide, the young missionaries are having exceptionally inspiring training.
After July 2005, we presided over a third Russian-language branch, preparing elders and sisters during 12 weeks to serve in the eight Russian missions, and the Baltic states and two Ukrainian missions. Since January 2006, to these were added Russian-speaking elders and sisters from Russia, the Baltics, Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia. They have studied for four weeks and returned to serve in missions with Russian speaking missionaries. For us, this was a never-had-before mini-Russian mission, greatly adding to my Gospel vocabulary, speaking and reading in Russian. We were released in October.
These four years at the MTC have reflected the extention our first East European Mission, 1981-84, then active in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Greece (and potential countries east). Over two decades this one mission has become some 22 missions in an Area and a Half -- the Central and East European. It's been an inspiring, faith promoting time for us.
3. OUR 50th WEDDING ANNIVERSAY, September 2004
We were married for time and all eternity on September 10, 1954 in the Salt Lake Temple. We first met in the Autumn of 1948 in the Toronto dining room, prior to Ed’s departure to serve in the Czechoslovak Mission under her brother Wallace.
Nearly six years later, after Ed’s army service, we had been exchanging only brief greetings at University of Utah Institute socials. Then we were brought together at a dinner hosted by Wally and Martha Tronto. We talked about our common, but separate, experiences at East High and the University, and about mutual friends.
It was a month or so thereafter, in June, at a surely inspired chance meeting on South Temple, in front of ZCMI, that we spontaneously agreed to go out to the all-church dance festival at the U of U stadium that week. On our second date, we decided to marry by the end of the summer, before Ed resumed college studies at BYU. Much of our yet unannounced courtship
occurred at the chorus rehearsals for Aida, the outdoor summer opera production that year.
Ever since that September 10th, we have been striving,
eventually with our six exceptional daughters, to keep our Temple covenants and to prove for ourselves that men and women and children truly “are that they might have joy”.
Norma’s parents (her father died that Spring without Ed knowing him) and Ed’s mother (he’d grown up without his father in their home, or even in his life) have been our prime exemplars.
Our foremost desire has been to happily perpetuate our marriage, and our extended family life, through all our Restored Gospel adventures in mortality. . . and into eternity.
Our daughters celebrated the occasion with their and their families' reminiscences. Please email us with a request, and we will send it to you.
It was wonderful to see so many of you at our only all-presidents' reunion on April 1, 2005. By 1998, we hope to join you in a 10-year reunion. Any volunteers to help?
4. RECOGNITION of the CHURCH in SLOVAKIA
We hope you all bave been getting details of the stupendous petition campaign just this past October to collect the 20,000 signatures required for the Slovak government to grant our Church full recognition. It took only 14 days to gather 35,000,
early in September. Jonathan Tichy and other Winder-era missionaries led 90 missionaries from Bohemia and Moravia in gaining signatures on the central streets of 15 cities. The elders and sisters with the least Slovak but humble spirits, often gathered the most. Elder David A. Bednar, whose forebearers came from Slovakia, read the offical declaration of recognition at a Conference in Trencin on October 18th. We join all of you in celebrating these miraculous events . . . at last!