Stories: Dick Nanto's Talk re Peter Lassig
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I recently gave a talk in Sacrament that included this experience with Elder Lassig. It might be of interest to NFEM.
Let me tell you of another experience that began on my mission in Japan. I arrived in Tokyo after just one week in Salt Lake City. There was no MTC then. The only class I still distinctly remember in Salt Lake was by the Mission Mother who spoke to the topic of Be Ye Clean. The class was on how to do laundry. When I landed in Japan, I could speak hardly any Japanese but was working hard to memorize a testimony. On the second, day, I was invited by the two mission home Elders, Elder Wanless and Elder Peter Lassig, to go out and help in a meeting. Elder Lassig was unique. He looked like a little boy. When he was in his early teens, he had a problem that stopped his growth and development. At 4 feet 11 inches tall, he was one of the few Elders who was shorter than I, and he definitely had a more boyish face. As it turned out, the meeting we went to was with a group belonging to a radical Buddhist sect that is very aggressive. I could tell by the tone of the discussion that things were not going well. At the end, the Elders asked me to bear my testimony, and we departed, three very sad Elders.
I found out later that one of the men had looked at Elder Lassig and said, “If your Church is true, why do you look like that? And if you join Sokkagakkai, their religion, you will be healed.” There certainly was no joy in that meeting, but Elder Lassig was able to take the worst that life had to give. After his mission, he continued studying to prepare himself to become a landscape architect for the church.
During Elder Lassig’s 33 year career working with Church landscaping, he led the restoration of the Sacred Grove and the landscaping of Adam-on- di Aman, He worked under Elder Nelson and drew the plans for landscaping the Washington, DC temple. The next time you go to the Washington temple and walk by those beautiful Japanese lace leaf maple trees, remember that Elder Lassig was the one who insisted that the plan include them. His crowning achievement was becoming Head Gardener for Temple Square. His idea there was to blend colors in such a way that people will see the Lord’s handiwork, not man’s. He considered God to be the designer and himself as a worker in the garden.
Back in April 1991, I opened the Ensign magazine and noticed an article entitled, “Peter Lassig: Gardens to the Lord.” It spoke of the work Brother Lassig was doing in the gardens on Temple Square. As I read the article, I could not help but notice the picture of him. There was a normal sized man, still with the cheerful countenance of the Elder Lassig I once knew. What happened, I wondered.
In the summer of 2012, I talked with Elder Lassig on the telephone. This is what happened. Three years after his mission in Japan, he was called on a mission to be in charge of the gardens at the Mormon Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. At the start of this second mission, he was set apart by Levi Edgar Young, a General Authority of the Church. At that time, all new missionaries were set apart by a General Authority. Before the blessing to set him apart, Elder Lassig told Elder Young that he had been faithful all his life and fulfilled all of his obligations to the Church. He explained that he had a problem with his pituitary gland that had stunted his growth. He asked that when he was set apart to please bless him so that he will grow up. Elder Young replied that he would not bless him to grow tall but that he would bless him that he would develop normally. Until that blessing, Elder Lassig was unable to have children. After the blessing, at age 27, Elder Lassig and his wife had their first child, a girl, then a boy, then a girl, then another boy until they were blessed with eight children. The 4 foot 11 inch Elder Lassig eventually became a 5 foot 6 inch Bishop. (I am 5 foot 6 inches tall, so now Elder Lassig and I can see eye to eye.)
No more little boy Lassig. He was now a man. He said that he would like to go back and see those who ridiculed him at that missionary meeting. Perhaps he would say, “This Church indeed is true; that is why I look the way I do!” Brother Lassig is now retired. However, I noticed that the Deseret News ran an article about the abundant plants he keeps in a special greenhouse he built over his garage, and BYU honored him as one of their distinguished alumni. For me Elder Lassig is an example of one who trusted in the Lord and pressed forward in service regardless of the burdens that life laid upon him. He also bears out the oftquoted words of the baseball player Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”
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