Monday, December 5, 2011

Berlin, New and Old

Sunday, May 6, 2007 Berlin

We were met by our travel hosts, Jeff and Marie Lawson, and directed to the bus, our new home for 2 weeks. One of our group lost luggage, so we were delayed an hour and a half while they checked and registered the loss. Their luggage finally caught up with us in Vienna, a week later.
In Berlin we had not adjusted to our new routine, nor had we been to our hotel yet, but we set out to see the city. Our agenda included a number of items, but it was fairly vague regarding times or details. We were all taking a lot of pictures, but I hit on the idea of keeping notes to remember what we had seen after several hours of viewing castles and buildings in this remarkable city. As I am interpreting my notes, I hope to reconstruct our experiences with at least some thread of accuracy. The airport was the famed West Berlin Tegel airport used for the Berlin Airlift when the Russians blockaded West Berlin for 9 months in 1949 A new larger airport is being constructed south of the city, to be completed in 2 years.

It’s hard to believe that it has only been 16 years since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. It divided the city since 1961 when the East German communist government in desperation built it to keep citizens from escaping to the West. The daunting task of rebuilding the entire city and particularly East Berlin has been underway for 16 years and the results are already spectacular. The Germans seem to be up to the task, and a large percentage of their national budget is set aside to rebuilding not only Berlin, but the entire former East German area. Since the move of the German Capital from Bonn to Berlin, other countries are also involved heavily in building embassies and support structures. .
The US embassy is a large new structure still under construction just down the street from the Brandenburg Gate and will be completed next year. The British embassy is in an older hotel structure being completely remodeled to handle their staff

The Brandenburg Gate was just inside the wall of the Eastern Zone, and served as a symbol for the East of their success in controlling the city. It served also as a symbol of hope and determination for the West to one day rid the city of its communist oppressors.
Evidences of the Wall are still prevalent all across the former border. Actual sections of the Wall have been preserved for memorials We had to park a few blocks away from the gate and walk back to see and feel the memorials and new buildings.
On the way we passed the Jewish Memorial It is like a cemetery with thousands of large blocks of various heights imitating burial crypts. The number of graves represented by these blocks was indicative of the number of Jews and others lost in the holocaust. We ate lunch at the impressive Sony center, a huge mall like structure with a special glass rotunda constructed in such a way to capture sunlight and amplify it like a kaleidoscope of massive dimensions.

We made our way to the vicinity of Checkpoint Charlie,
one of 5 former places of passage between the two zones. Of checkpoints A through E, C was manned by the Americans and was the scene of numerous escape attempts and ingenious disguise episodes, and of course war movies. The Point is now on an open street, and is manned by volunteers dressed in official US uniforms, with flags and all as it used to be. We even got our passports stamped officially as we passed through.
Our tour guide is an architectural buff and pointed out many of the numerous buildings constructed in the post war period in both the East and West. Only on eastern streets visible to the West had the Russians restored or built impressive facades to show their strength and power. In other areas of the East, the cheapest, Stalinist style was prevalent everywhere. These are being upgraded or completely rebuilt to western standards. The new Reichstag and Parliament buildings have been built in modern style. We stopped at the Charlottenburg Castle,
a beautiful baroque palace, built as a summer residence by Friedrich Wilhelm I, King of Prussia in 1695 for his beloved wife Queen Sophie Charlotte. She was very intelligent and encouraged education and enlightenment among her subjects and her own family. The buildings and gardens are beautiful.
We went into the ballroom but not the gardens as our time was short.
We proceeded east to the old center section of town. We stopped at Humboldt University, the greatest university in the world,
according to our guide, Ari Wöstenfeld (more about him later). The University was founded in 1810, based on the concept of academic and statesman, Wilhelm von Humboldt. The Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm III, donated the first building to the university - the former Palace of Prince Heinrich of Prussia on the splendid boulevard Unter den Linden.

Other institutions that already existed in the city were integrated, including the famous medical establishment Charité hospital.
The University is famous for many scientists such as the chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann, the physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, the mathematicians Ernst Kummer, Leopold Kronecker, Karl Theodor Weierstrass (the "triple star of Mathematics"), and the medical researchers Johannes Müller and Rudolf Virchow became known far beyond Berlin and Germany. A total of 29 Nobel Prize winners did some of their scientific work at the University, including Albert Einstein, Emil Fischer, Max Planck and Fritz Haber. And many famous people such as Heinrich Heine, the Brothers Grimm, Adelbert von Chamisso, Ludwig Feuerbach, Otto von Bismarck, Karl Liebknecht, Franz Mehring, Alice Salomon, Karl Marx and Kurt Tucholsky were also enrolled at the "Alma mater" of Berlin. Today, Humboldt University of Berlin is one of the leading universities in Germany, with about 40 thousand students from over 100 different countries.
Next to the Library at Humboldt University is the famous fabled Bebelplatz.
This was the site of Hitler’s infamous book burning fireside. On May 10, 1933, the Nazi minister for propaganda and public enlightenment, Joseph Goebbels, organized a nationwide book burning, with more than 20,000 books by Jews, Communists, and Pacifists burned on a pyre in the middle of the square. Today, visitors can peer through a glass plate in the ground and view rows of empty bookshelves, a modern monument to freedom of thought, compromised on that awful day.
On the other side is the State Opera House constructed in 1743 by Frederick II (the Great) of King of Prussia, grandson of Charlotte. The Library itself was the former Royal Library of the Kings of Prussia. Also St. Hedwig’s Cathedral is to the back of the square.

We stopped at the Jewish Museum Berlin; Daniel Libeskind’s award-winning building that has become one of the new German capital’s chief tourist magnets. The lightning bolt shape of the entire structure visualizes the crooked path that the Jewish people have traveled throughout their history in order to survive. The slot windows provide little light in some sections, indicative that their path was often dimly light. Although we didn’t have time to go inside we were told that the displays are not intended to provide a guilt trip in any way, but to be positive in displaying the spirit shown by survivors. There is one room however, that is completely bare, dark, and empty - dedicated to the achievements of those who did not survive the holocaust.

We drove down Kurfurstendam past the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche, one of the most haunting symbols of Berlin, the ruins of the memorial church in the heart of the city. The Neo-Romanesque church was given the name in 1895, to honor Wilhelm I. Following damage by severe bombing raids in 1943, the ruins of the tower were left standing as a memorial. Next to it, Egon Eiermann erected a new church in 1957-63. Religious services are now conducted here. We also passed by Alexander Square, the train station where we saw the numbers of thousands etched in markers, who were sent to eastern concentration camps. They saw their last views of Berlin and freedom from this square.

We passed numerous other museums and castles on our way to our hotel at Cöpenick. Before Köpenick (the former spelling) became part of Greater Berlin in 1920, it had a long history as an independent town. Its first known mention is in a document dating back to 1209. In 1906, a shoemaker called Wilhelm Voigt masqueraded as a Prussian Army officer and took over the city hall. He became famous as depicted in the "Captain of Köpenick" (Hauptmann von Köpenick), and the borough is still most well known for this incident.

At our elegant hotel in Cöpenick on the banks of the River Spree we had a gorgeous buffet dinner including white asparagus, fish, pastries, various cheeses, etc. etc.
After dinner we walked down the river to peruse the yacht club boats, ducks and the river and castles across on the other side. We walked over the bridge to a local arts festival that was just closing down.

Newly built in the old style, the Reichstag (Parliament Building), and the new style Bahnhof (Train Station) show the diversity of history and modern contemporary coming together in this great city.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

William Bradford and the First Thanksgiving

The account of the first Thanksgiving, written by William Bradford of the Mayflower, was lost for nearly a century. His record began in 1608 when he with the Pilgrims left England, and found refuge in Holland. It continued with the voyage to the New World in 1620, and on until his death in 1657. The manuscript, called “Of Plymouth Plantation” disappeared during the Revolutionary War, and was finally found in London in 1855 and returned to Boston in 1897.

Thanksgiving with the Wampanoag Indians

William Bradford was an eyewitness to the events that occurred. He was 12 when he joined the Separatist congregation, 18 when he left England for Holland, and 30 when he sailed on the Mayflower for the New World in 1620. He was a religious man and a scholar, well versed in the learning of his day. He read the Bible and works by Milton and Locke, and other great spirits of the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

Statue of William Bradford at Plymouth Plantation

He searched the Bible and was convinced that the Lord had a special purpose for bringing him and his family and friends to the New World. We are especially proud to be his descendants now in the 12th generation in America. He was appointed governor of Plymouth Bay Colony when their first revered Governor Carver died shortly after arriving at Cape Cod. These are his words written to inspire those who follow for centuries:

Their purpose:

“Lastly (and which was not least) a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way there unto, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work”

From his record we learn that he and many others were dissatisfied with the religious dogma of the day and desired to separate themselves from the Church of England having concluded that it was “no true church.” They had been previously associated with the “Puritan” sect which sought to purify the Church from within. When they learned that religious freedom had been established in Holland, they decided to make a complete change and separate themselves by moving to the city of Leiden in Holland in 1609.

There they were free to practice the true religion without persecution. Others joined them over the next few years until 1620 when a plan was put forward to sail to the New World. They lived in Holland for 11 years and found that many of their children were losing the ideals they sought for. They were speaking Dutch and a worldly influence was creeping into their lives. A site was selected and their minister and leader John Robinson arranged for their passage to the northern parts of the colony of Virginia in the New World.

Two ships were secured, and some travelers would be picked up in England and travel with them as well. When time came to leave, some decided they weren’t ready and wanted to wait until they saw how the first group fared. Others called “strangers” were allowed to accompany them. The ships names were the Mayflower and the Speedwell.

Voyage of the Mayflower

They finally departed on the 22nd of July 1620 from Leiden, Holland. Soon after their departure, the captain of the Speedwell found that his ship was leaking and needed repair. Both ships returned to Plymouth, England. They determined that the ship was not seaworthy, so all those that really wanted to go were compacted together in one ship – the Mayflower. They departed the second time September 6, late in the year for such a voyage. They had good winds at first, which gave them encouragement, but then encountered fierce cross winds and storms which caused much misery and discomfort for much of the journey.

The Mayflower by artist William Bradford in the 18th Century

Their arrival at Cape Cod:

“Being thus arrived at Cape Cod the 11th of November 1620, and necessity calling them to look out a place for habitation” they began looking for a place to set up living quarters.

“Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.”

“What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers, rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness…’”

Pilgrim Fathers First Landing by Mike Haywood

They all agreed on a set of rules they would follow after they arrived. They referred to themselves as pilgrims and saints. They signed a document which bound them together into a “civil body politic” It was the first such constitution adopted in America and became known as the “Mayflower Compact” because it was signed on the Mayflower before stepping onto the shore of the New World. Many of the principles later adopted in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States came from the Mayflower Compact.

The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor

Because of the harsh weather much of the winter was spent on board the ship while attempts were made find a location to “construct small cottages for their habitation, and consulted of laws and orders and their civil and military government.”

Their first winter:

“In these hard and difficult beginnings they found some discontents and murmurings arise among some, and mutinous speeches and carriages in others, but they were soon quelled and overcome by the wisdom, patience and just and equal carriages of things by the Governor and better part, which clave faithfully together in the main.

“But that which was most sad and lamentable was, that in the 2 or 3 months time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts, being infected with the scurvy and other diseases which this long voyage and their inaccommodate condition had brought upon them, so as there died some times 2 or 3 of a day, or in the aforesaid time, that of the 100 and odd persons, scarce 50 remained. And of these in the time of most distress, there was but 6 or 7 sound persons, who to their great commendations be it spoken, spared no pains, night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them, in a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named, and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren. A rare example and worthy to be remembered.

Two of these 7 were Mr. William Brewster, their reverend Elder, and Miles Standish, their Captain and military commander, unto whom my self and many others were much beholden in our low and sick condition. And yet the Lord so upheld these persons, as in this general calamity they were not at all infected either with sickness or lameness. And what I have said of these, I may say of many others who died in this general visitation. And others yet living, that while they had health, yea or any strength continuing, they were not wanting to any that had need of them. And I doubt not but their recommence is with the Lord.”

After winter had passed and they were able to build houses and plant crops, and those remaining regained their health and strength. Over the summer they learned to plant crops, explored the coast and became acquainted with two exceptional native men to whom they were indebted for their survival and that of the colony. The first was Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag confederacy, who ensured their political and social survival in the New World, and the second was Squanto, the last survivor of his tribe who showed them how to survive in the wilderness.

Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag, saved the Plymouth Colony from starvation and war by forging critical political and personal ties with the leaders of the colony.

Squanto taught the Pilgrims many things.
He died after their second year in Plymouth. He was captured and taken to England for 5 years where he learned English. He returned to Plymouth in 1619 to discover that his whole tribe had died of Smallpox and other diseases.

William Bradford wrote of Squanto after his death in 1622: “Here [Manamoick Bay] Squanto fell ill of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose, which the Indians take as a symptom of death, and within a few days he died. He begged the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishman's God in heaven, and bequeathed several of his things to his English friends, as remembrances. His death was a great loss.”

Their Harvest and the First Thanksgiving:

“They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength, and had all things in good plenty, for as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod, and bass, and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was not want, and now began to come in store of foul, as winter approached of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides water foul, there was great store of wild turkeys of which they took many besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned, but true reports.”

The First Thanksgiving by Jennie Brownscombe

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Conversion of Ebenezer Bentsil Elegba

Early on a Monday morning in April, 1967 on a busy street corner overlooking the Rhine and Neckar rivers in the city of Mannheim, Germany, Ebenezer Bentsil Elegba approached our missionary street display of the Book of Mormon and the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. He began asking questions.

I was occupied talking to two young men, so he spoke my companion, Elder Bruce Smith in broken German. Elder Smith had been in the country for nearly a full week. He was having difficulty understanding and speaking German to our black, well dressed visitor. When I got a moment, I suggested to Elder Smith that he might try English, since I guessed that the man was either from the United States or Africa where English is widely spoken. My companion’s knowledge of English seemed to fail him at that moment.

I greeted the five-foot-tall black man by shaking his hand and introducing myself and my companion. He told us his name, which I soon forgot, and asked if we had any materials in English. He seemed to be very curious and sincere, and spoke English impeccably. I told him we had an English copy of the Book of Mormon back at our apartment and gave him directions to get there if he would like to come pay us a visit later on that evening.

It was a long day and I forgot about the incident until about 10:30 pm when our land lady knocked on our door. With a frightened look on her face she gestured to the front door of the apartment house, suggesting that we might have a visitor.

I opened the door and there in the darkness stood the man we had encountered earlier in the day. We invited him in, retrieved a copy of the Book of Mormon in English, and a pamphlet of the Joseph Smith Story. While standing there with him in our pajamas, we handed him the materials and challenged him to read them, and to pray about their truthfulness. We assured him that the Lord would manifest the truth of them to him if he was sincere.

He accepted the challenge and on the spot dropped to his knees and began to pray for a testimony. When he arose he asked, “Now what should I do?” We encouraged him to go and study the materials, and then return for further instruction.

Three or four weeks later he returned with a thoroughly studied Book of Mormon and requested baptism. I had the privilege of baptizing him on Friday, the 9th of June 1967 in the baptismal fount at our chapel in Mannheim, Germany.

Ebenezer at his baptism June 9, 1967

Ebenezer Bentsil Elegba was one of 40 grandsons of King Elegba, one of the last chiefs of the Fanti Tribe in West Africa. He was born August 21, 1932 at the village of Ajumako in the Central Region of Ghana. There he grew up, then moved to the nearby city of Abura Dunkwa, capital of the Abura-Asebu-Kwamankese district. He was appointed to the office of chief for the city, and would later be elected king of his district in 1977. His official title was Nana Bentsil I. His extended family ran the government of Ghana, but had limited financial means of support to do so. They owned several hotels which was their principal means of income to run the government.

The British disruption of tribal governments of the Fanti and other tribes in West Africa had set the region in chaos in the late 1800’s. Members of the seven major tribes were all mixed together and were struggling to get food to sustain their lives. Their languages, religions and culture were severely threatened. In an effort to restore order chiefs were installed in villages, and kings in provinces following World War II, and all were required to speak English, and belong to a Christian religion.

By 1967 the countries of Ghana and Nigeria were composed of approximately one third Methodists, a third Catholics or Baptists, and a third Muslims. Most spoke English, but retained usage of their own tribal languages.

Ebenezer accepted a special assignment as a member of the council of chiefs to be ambassador for his country to Germany, and was sent there to try to obtain financial backing to reopen the diamond mines that had been closed by the British during World War II.

His first task after arriving in Germany was to learn German, and something about the German Government in order to determine how best to go about his task. He enrolled in a college course there but was drawn to religious courses as well. He had been educated in Methodist and Catholic parochial schools in Ghana as a young man, and viewed his mission to Germany in spiritual as well as temporal terms.

We began teaching him the discussions, and I contacted the mission president for direction. He told us to continue teaching him and to keep him informed on how things went.

In the course of teaching Ebenezer we learned that he had been appointed to an elite Bible Commission whose assignment was to translate the Bible into the seven major languages of West Africa. He had received first place in a nationwide scripture mastery contest when he was 13. By the time he was 17 he had read the Bible through completely three times. Both the Methodist and Catholic clergy wanted him to study to become a minister or priest. He declined the Catholic offer for reasons I will give hereafter, and also the Methodist offer because he felt the ministers were drunken and corrupt. He longed to teach the scriptures however, and sometimes traveled to various schools to teach the Gospel. He felt his appointment to the Bible commission was truly from God. The Commission completed translations for three of the tribal languages, including his own Fanti language, before it was discontinued.

As we concluded teaching him the missionary discussions, we felt impressed to cover two additional topics that were not emphasized with other converts. The first was polygamy, and the role it played in Church history, and the second was Blacks and the Priesthood, and the role that would play in his life.

We decided to cover polygamy first. After we explained the doctrine and how it has been practiced and rescinded with a revelation to the prophet, Ebenezer replied that our explanation was consistent with the Bible and the Book of Mormon. In his earlier years he was a practicing Methodist, but the Catholic Church desired that he become a Priest in their denomination. His knowledge of the Bible impressed them, and they asked him to prepare a defense of Monogamy from the Bible. This would be used to counteract the strong Muslim proselyting encroachments in West Africa. Muslims can have up to four wives if they qualify in their religion. He lost respect for the Catholic Church in this matter because that doctrine and their position unfortunately could not be proved from the Bible.

Next we approached the subject of the Priesthood and the then current restriction of Blacks with regard to it. We rehearsed the historical restrictions of the Priesthood from the time of the Levites, and read out of the Pearl of Great Price concerning Abraham’s visit to Egypt in which the doctrine of the Priesthood is further explained. We stated clearly that currently in the Church, Blacks were not given the Priesthood. Then I asked him what he thought of this whole matter, to which he replied: “I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that this is the right Church. I must also accept this. I want to be a member of the true Church of God that has true prophets.” After teaching him all the missionary lessons, and these additional doctrines, he was anxious to be baptized, and we felt that he was ready. We asked the mission president for permission to baptize him, to which he agreed.

Ebenezer and Missionaries Steven Blodgett & Bruce Smith, Mannheim, 1967

President Cecil Broadbent wanted to meet this unusual convert from Africa, so he asked us to arrange for Brother Elegba to travel to Frankfurt to meet with him prior to his return home to Ghana. This he did, and the mission president assured him that even though he could not hold the priesthood, he could still be a missionary, for every member was to be a missionary.

Three weeks after his return to Ghana, Nana Bentsil I sent me a letter asking for missionaries to be sent to Ghana to help him teach and baptize converts. He explained that he had 34 people in his office that wanted to be baptized and he told them that authorized missionaries with the priesthood would have to come and baptize them.

I forwarded his letter to my mission president, who in turn forwarded it to the Church Missionary Department. He was told that the time was not right for missionaries to go to Africa. I conveyed the news back to Ghana, and wished him continued faithfulness and promised that the Lord would hear his prayers.

The next letter I received in November, 1967 from Ebenezer arrived just before I returned home to Utah from the mission field. In this letter he explained that he had approximately 2,000 people ready for the gospel. He had organized them into congregations and appointed teachers and leaders over them. He again asked for missionaries to be sent, and said they were anxious to be baptized by priesthood authority, and organized as we were elsewhere in the Church.

After I arrived home to Utah, I took the letter downtown to the Church offices. My cousin Lola Gygi worked there as a secretary to the First Presidency of the Church, and I asked her opinion about who I should talk to. She was surprised to see me, and asked, “Are you one of those people making trouble for the Church?” I said, “No, I hope not!” This was a time in Church history when protests were being staged against the Church for its policy regarding Blacks and the Priesthood. Black armbands were worn by athletes when competing against BYU, picketers were marching around Temple Square holding signs, and numerous news stories occupied local and national audiences regarding the subject. I was told to go home and that the Church did not want to comment on the matter.

My Dad suggested we should send copies of the Book of Mormon to Africa to assist Ebenezer in his efforts. I agreed and we sent many boxes of materials to his address in Abura Dunkwa, Ghana. Included were copies of the Book of Mormon, missionary tracts, lesson manuals, Church news and Church magazines. He replied that he was grateful for the materials and they were used extensively and distributed to all who where interested. We sent several more shipments over the next few months. I tried to explain to him the situation as best I could, but I sensed that he was becoming impatient and was not satisfied with my answers.

I didn’t hear from him for two years, although we heard news reports about activity in Ghana and Nigeria regarding thousands of people who had somehow learned of the Church, had scriptures and other Church literature and were meeting and calling themselves adherents to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In the next letter I received from him in 1977 he indicated that he would be traveling to the United States to try to obtain funding for more mining activities in Ghana. He also informed me that the Church was growing and approximately 4,000 members had been baptized and were actively attending meetings and classes taught by him and James Johnson who he had called to preside over the various congregations. Ebenezer had been promoted to King of his region and it was difficult for him to keep up with those responsibilities and to administer the Church also. He again expressed concern that missionaries had not been sent to Africa.

The revelation to President Spencer W. Kimball was received in June, 1978. In a letter to Church Priesthood holders and members sent on June 9, 1978 he announced that "the day had finally arrived when all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color." This was 11 years to the day since Ebenezer was baptized a member of the Church in Mannheim in 1967.

I immediately sent a letter to Ebenezer with the good news. I invited him to come to Salt Lake City if he were ever in the country again. He replied by return letter that he would be in United States the following year (March, 1979), so we made arrangements for his visit.

Ebenezer and wife Hanna 1979, Angie and Dad, Sandy, Utah

It was a joyous day when he arrived at the airport dressed in his royal warerobe, together with his wife Hanna. We took him to our humble home and my parents graciously offered to have him to stay in their large guest room at their home for his stay in Utah. Now we learned more of what had transpired over the past 11 years since his baptism and conversion to the Gospel in Germany, and after his return to Ghana. We learned of his love for the Lord and His Church, and of his determination to bring the Gospel to his native countrymen despite all obstacles. Despite his involvement with politics and appointment to political offices, he felt his appointment from the Lord to preach the gospel was primary in his life.

He the other leaders began to baptize in preparation for the missionaries they hoped would soon come. His initial congregation in Accra consisted of 600. He had been told that it was not possible to send missionaries into the country, and when he realized that his baptisms were not valid, “many became discouraged”, he said, but others did not falter. They held Sunday School to study the Book of Mormon and Sunday School manuals, organized a Primary and Relief Society, fasted on Fridays and prayed together on the beach Friday evenings before breaking their fast. The first congregation was in Accra and the second in Cape Coast. Brother Bentsil also established a Mormon Kindergarten with 250 students, and in 1976 a secondary school that then had 96 students; a popular system in a country where many of the schools are run by churches.

Ebenezer and Hanna in 1979 at our home in Sandy, Utah

The first missionaries to be sent to Ghana following the June revelation to President Kimball, were Rendall and Rachel Mabey and Edwin Q. and Joan Cannon. They arrived in Nigeria in December 1978 as special representatives of the Church International Mission and had remarkable success, baptizing hundreds of members and establishing 27 branches in Nigeria and Ghana. The Reverend James Johnson, now Brother Johnson, in whose charge he left the schools and Sunday schools, has been traveling with them. President Kimball reported to regional representatives in 1979 that there had been 430 baptisms in Ghana already with 483 baptisms in Nigeria.

Brother Bentsil’s time consuming schedule as Regional King and as consultant to the U.S. government on developing Ghana industries frustratingly kept him out of the country when the missionaries were there.
He recounted to us of the conversion of his wife and children to the Church and her difficulty at first in leaving the Methodist tradition she grew up in. She admired the strict teachings of morality in the Mormon Church and this led to her full conversion to the Gospel. “This one thing is of the greatest need in our country,” she stated.

Nana Bentsil I, 1979 visit to Salt Lake City

His visit to General Conference in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in April of 1979 was a highlight, chronicled in the Church News, together with photos of him in his native royal robes. In the days following the conference I accompanied him to interviews with Elder Jacob de Jager, head of the Missionary department, with Church news and Church Ensign reporters and writers who were anxious to hear his story and report the amazing account of his conversion and efforts to bring the Gospel to West Africa.

Steve Blodgett

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Gabi joins the Church

On my mission in Germany in 1967 we baptized a girl named Gabrielle Christine Kreisel. This is her story.

Gabi was 17 when we knocked on her door. She stayed at home to take care of her baby while her mother and older sister worked. We asked if we could return later when the rest of her family was at home. They belonged to the Catholic Church, and her mother appeared to be very pious. The family treated Gabi with distain because of the embarrassment she had caused the family. She felt miserable because of her sinful past, and wished that there was some way she could change her life. She had prayed every day for many months to heavenly father asking for forgiveness, and for help in changing her life. She told us her family would never listen to us if we came back later, and begged us to come in.

We decided to teach her about prayer, and told her about Joseph Smith. When we handed her the pamphlet of Joseph Smith’s First Vision she began to cry. We said a prayer with her and asked her to read the pamphlet before we returned.

When we came back the next day her face was beaming and she related the following to us:
Each night for many weeks following her prayer,

she experienced the same vivid dream. It was always the same and very clear, and she wondered what it meant. She asked her family, and they told her it was of the devil. Her friends told her she must be going crazy. In her dream she saw a young boy kneeling in prayer, with two glorious people standing above him in the air. No one seemed to know what it meant. She had heard of angels visiting people, and apparitions of angel visits, but wondered what this dream meant for her.

One night she asked heavenly father what the dream meant, and promised him that she would do anything He asked her to do. That night after she went to bed, she dreamed a different dream. This time she saw two young men walking down the street. They stopped and came to her door carrying with them a picture of her dream. She knew that this was an answer to her prayer, but she still didn’t know what it meant.

The next day, as she opened the door to us, she began to cry, for she had seen me and my companion distinctly in her dream the night before. She asked us in. She listened carefully as we told her who we were, and then waited patiently for us to produce the picture she had also seen in her dream.

Then we gave her the pamphlet with the picture of Joseph Smith’s first vision on the front. She knew that it was true before she read it. She cried and read it several times before we returned again the next day. We taught her and her family many times. Her sister and mother usually sat in the kitchen, and would not join the Church, but they appreciated our efforts to try to “save her soul.”

Gabi going to her baptism, Mannheim, August 5, 1967

After she was baptized and her sins had been washed clean through the atonement of Christ, she was a constant fixture in Church, and participated in every activity available. She brought her baby and the Sisters in the branch helped her care for him while she completed her assignments and activities.

Later she introduced us to her boyfriend. He was a young American soldier stationed Mannheim. He agreed to listen to the discussions, and was soon baptized and confirmed a member of the Church. They attended church at the servicemen’s branch, but often came to the German branch as well. They were soon married, and set a date to be sealed in the Swiss Temple a year from their wedding day. Following my return from my mission I received word that they had kept their commitments and were sealed in the Swiss Temple prior to moving to Virginia. It was a great day when she had her baby sealed to them for eternity in the temple. He was still in the military, and their second child, born in the United States, they named Joseph.

Gabi and Fritz, new converts Mannheim, 1967

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A great lady, my aunt JoAn Blodgett, 1931-2011

JoAn was much younger than my mother - twenty years younger, and her large batch of kids younger than us made us very nervous when they came over to play. Her kids were in to everything and we were afraid our toys would be broken and lost in no time. JoAn was not the neat mother who had all of her kids comfortably in tow physically, but she developed the skill of inspiring and empowering them to accomplish things far beyond their apparent abilities. She wasn't a "cool" Mom, either rather one who helped them to see their mistakes and look for a better way to do it next time.

When finances pressed hard on Jack's ability to provide for their growing family, JoAn decided to help by working at home. She asked a new "key-punching" company if she could have one of their key-punch machinges installed in her garage so she could work in her spare time. She learned it so quickly she said "this is easy, I could teach my children to do it." Soon she had 9 machines installed in their garage and she was true to her word. After awhile she asked her husband, "Why should all this tremendous workforce be working for someone else?" She founded the Blodgett Key-Punch company with her husband as president and each of her children as vice-presidents of the company in charge of sales. I don't think she had an official position in the company, but everyone knew who was in charge.

I thought I was her only favorite nephew. It had to be because of genealogy, her first love. She spent hours exploring her family history, but made me feel that the Blodgett side was the most interesting. She expressed such great interest in everything I discovered on the family that I felt I was becoming a great genealogist. Grandma Blodgett had inspired her and me with great family stories, and she did the same for all her posterity.

JoAn Pritchett Blodgett was born January 9, 1931, in Mammoth, Utah, to Ernest Edwin Pritchett and Hannah Zelma Larsen Pritchett. She was the youngest of seven sisters. She was preceded in death by her parents and all six sisters. She loved spending the summers of her youth at her sister's farm in Wanship, Utah. She graduated from East High School in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1948. She married Jack Donald Blodgett on August 10, 1949, in the Salt Lake Temple. They spent just short of 62 years together in mortality. She passed away on Friday, July 22, 2011, at her home in Sandy, Utah. She was surrounded by her family - just the way she wanted it.

JoAn leaves an incredible posterity, which includes nine children and their spouses, 61 grandchildren, and 51 great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by three of her children, Nancy, Jim, and Jack, and one grandson Marques. She was an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her lifetime of service in the church included work as a teacher, Relief Society President, and temple ordinance worker with her husband in the Jordan River Temple. From her earliest years, she was a champion of genealogy and family history work. Her diligent efforts enabled her to discover genealogical gems, including photographs of some of her earliest ancestors. JoAn's love of family history work continued throughout her life and culminated in her final calling in the church as a Family History Missionary.

Her faith was unwavering, and she was an example to all. JoAn began her professional career working for her father as a teenager. She inherited her father's work ethic and his positive outlook on everything. In 1968, JoAn left a career with Mountain Bell to start a business in her home providing keypunching services in the fledgling computer industry. She was a pioneer and an innovator in many areas, including helping other women work in their homes. JoAn's keypunching business eventually grew to be the largest data entry company in the western United States. As the business grew, she never lost her personal touch with people. She was a master motivator, always encouraging others. She saw tremendous potential in everyone she met. Her cheerful, positive outlook endeared her to everyone. Many in the business world will never forget "Mrs. B.," as she was affectionately known.

In 2002, JoAn was awarded the Sandy Woman of Achievement Award. She loved to work, and she worked up until December 2010, when her health prevented her from continuing to work full-time. JoAn was fiercely loyal to her family, always encouraging and inspiring them. She was happiest when she was with her family, and wanted them around as often as possible. She was always improving herself, constantly learning new things and trying new ideas. She was a "high-tech grandma." With her sharp mind, she kept current with the latest technology and gadgets. This only added to her already special bond with young people, particularly her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. JoAn was a friend to all. She was everybody's Mom and everybody's Grandma. She was truly a person without guile. She never held grudges and was the first to forgive and look for the good in everyone. She had the ability to find the positive in everything, even the most difficult situations.

While we will miss her, we know that a glorious reunion has taken place in the spirit world, where JoAn has been reunited with two of her sons and one daughter, a grandson, her parents and sisters, and countless other friends and family. The family expresses gratitude to all who helped care for Mom during her last few months, including Julie, Viviana, Will, Marlen, Anna, and the many doctors, nurses, and others who cared for her. Funeral Services will be held Wednesday, July 27, 2011, at 12:00 p.m. in the Crescent 18th Ward Chapel, 2195 E. Pepperwood Drive (approx. 10800 South), Sandy, Utah 84092. Friends and family may call at the Larkin Sunset Gardens Tuesday, July 26, 2011, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.-1950 East 10600 South, Sandy, Utah and at the church 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. Burial will be in the Holladay Cemetery.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My Grandma Gygi

Liesetta joins the Church

Liesetta was five years of age when she and her family moved to the Imperial city of Nürnberg, Germany eight miles west of the town of Leinburg, where she was born October 16, 1874. Her father found work in a brass foundry there, and there she received her only schooling which consisted of three years in the Volksschule elementary school.

Her father was Johann Carl Paulus Riedelbauch. Born in a village 60 miles to the northeast, in Bavaria, where his family had lived for generations. It was in
Liesetta Gygi Wedding 1892

Nürnberg that the family was introduced to the Gospel and taught by missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. Her father was the first to join the Church, and was baptized and confirmed on the twentieth of November, 1881 at Sünderbühlteich in Nürnberg by Elder A. H. Cannon.

Liesetta’s mother Margaretha was baptized a month later, the 12th of December in the cold waters of the Zeltnerweier Castle by Elder Anton Ilg. Liesetta was then only seven years of age, the oldest of 8 children.

Liesetta's father found better work at the shipyards of the port city of Hamburg, in northern Germany. In July 1882 he was a brass foundryman living at Schulgangstr. 1 in Hamburg Altona. The rest of the family returned to Leinburg, and there lived with grandmother Kunigunde Blendinger, who resented their joining the Church, but softened her heart while living with them. Liesetta’s father sent large food packages to his family in Leinburg. The first oranges, raisins, figs and prunes the children had ever seen arrived in these packages from Hamburg.

The Moat of the Zeltnerweier Castle

While Liesetta and her mother were living in Leinburg, Liesetta was baptized into the Church on March 31st, 1884 at the age of 9, in the Urspring river by Elder F. Mödl. Both her father and mother related fervent testimonies of the truthfulness of the Gospel which were published in 1885 in Der Stern, the official magazine of the Church in Germany.

In July of 1884 Liesetta's father had earned enough money to move the family to Hamburg.
They lived at Peter Strasse 21 in the western section of the city not too far from the docks. They were a long distance from any LDS gathering, but the missionaries visited them regularly.

Peterstrasse 21, Hamburg Today, Restored

Liesetta emigrates to the New World

Persecution of Church members was intense in Hamburg. The children had to remain indoors most of the time to avoid threats, taunting and physical harm. Liesetta's brother Carl had his nose broken and was beaten by ruffians on his way to school. They made the decision to emigrate to America, as soon as they were financially able. They decided Liesetta would go to go first, accompanying other Saints traveling to Zion. On June 16, 1885, Liesetta, the eldest child, aged 10, was placed on a ship bound for the new World. They stopped in Liverpool, England where they were joined by other members of the Church emigrating to Utah. Then sailed from Liverpool the 20th of June, 1885 aboard the SS Wisconsin bound for New York with a group of 541 Saints under the direction of Elder Jorgen Hansen.

The trip lasted a little over two weeks. Seas were very rough and she often became sea sick. Elder Abraham O. Smoot, one of the returning missionaries from Germany, visited her when she was feeling very ill. Once, at the onset of one of the storms a mountainous wave threw her completely across the ship's deck. Though she came close to losing her life she told her grandchildren that she had been preserved by the hand of the Lord.

The ship arrived in New York harbor on the 8th of July, 1885 and passed by the statue of Liberty then under construction, which would be unveiled the following year. From New York City they boarded a train and spent another week traveling to Salt Lake City, far in the western Territory of Utah. Arriving at last in Zion, Liesetta had arms put around her by Sister Katharina Schoenhals, a native of Switzerland, with whom she lived at 45 South, 7th West for the next few months, and attended the Salt Lake 15th Ward until September of that year. She had arrived in this country knowing no one and unable to speak a word of English.Sister Schoenhals was very kind to her and it was difficult to leave, but Liesetta was sent to live with and work for the family of Mr. John Alexander, a native of Gloucester, England, whose farm was located in a section of the city known as Brighton Ward, about two miles west of the Jordan River.

In the early years this area seemed a long way out in the country. Here Liesetta worked hard and long for room, board, and clothing, but received no monetary compensation. She was a servant, and was not entitled to receive schooling, as were the other children in the household. The Alexander family members tended flocks of sheep and would live at the grazing locations for weeks at a time. Liesetta was often left at home to take care of the house, farm and animals. Her chores included milking the cows, cleaning the barns, feeding the animals, doing housework, cooking for the children, and other tasks.

On October 4, 1887 Liesetta's father passed away in Hamburg, Germany at the age of thirty-five years. His wife Margaretha composed a letter of testimony and hope which was published in Der Stern magazine in 1887 She wrote that despite her loss she was at peace and could sing hymn number 36 "Father, Thou givest peace and rest to Thy children who love Thee." She bore testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet, seer and revelator. Who can separate us from the love of God, she wrote, not bitter persecution, pain or death!"

On June 3, 1888 Margaretha and her five remaining children left Hamburg at last for the New World. Word was sent to Liesetta and her next sister Nellie who had also arrived in Salt Lake, that their mother and the other children would arrive on a certain afternoon at the railroad depot in Salt Lake City. When word came, she was alone at the farm, but decided to walk to the train station herself. Nellie arrived first, but was soon joined by Liesetta. The two sisters waited for hours.

Liesetta, standing, and her newly arrived family 1888 Salt Lake City

Finally after dark, since their mother had not arrived, the sisters started the long walk home. The narrow board across the Jordan River was difficult to traverse at that hour. Upon arriving home Liesetta still had to milk the cows and do all the other chores at a late hour. During the night her mother and family did arrive, and were taken to the old tithing office square, where the Hotel Utah now stands. They were shown a small house where they could stay temporarily. Her mother and all of her children then rented a house on 4th west in the 22nd Ward. Later they moved to a log house on the corner of 6th West and 4th North, and finally lived at 336 S. 10th E.

Grandma Gygi and her children Helen, Florence, Alma, Orson, Mary, Ruth, Wilford, Ralph, Berniece, Thelma, and George 1953

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blodgett Ovens

“The year was 1848. James Polk was the 11th president of the United States. Gold was discovered in California. And Gardner S. Blodgett built his first oven for a local Vermont tavern owner. Things would never be the same in California ... or in the foodservice industry.”

Blodgett Deck Oven

I first saw Blodgett ovens while vacationing in Ohio. I read the accolades about Blodgett ovens and their creator, Gardner S. Blodgett. Who was he and how are we related? We looked for Blodgett ovens wherever we traveled, and did indeed seem to find them everywhere.

“Today, the G. S. Blodgett Corporation is the leading manufacturer of commercial ovens in the world. Restaurants, fast-food chains, hotels, hospitals, institutions, small businesses and large corporations alike rely on the Blodgett name. In fact, their ovens have been in demand overseas since the late 1800s - long before global markets and international trade became the focus of our modern world.

Despite widespread success (or maybe because of it) Blodgett has never strayed from its original goal, or its roots. The G. S. Blodgett Corporation is located in Burlington, Vermont - just 1-1/2 miles from where the company founder and namesake forged a cooking revolution in cast iron over 150 years ago. And while the times and foodservice needs have changed since then, their commitment to building the best remains the same.”

Gardner Spring Blodgett, the son of Luther Palmer and Mary Jefferson Blodgett, was born November 10, 1819 in Rochester, Vermont. He married Sarah Ellis in Burlington, Vermont in 1849. Their only son, Frank Jefferson Blodgett was born there in 1857, and went on to become a prominent New York City Medical Doctor.

Gardner S. Blodgett Civil War officer's commissions, 1861-1864.

Two commissions were issued to Gardner S. Blodgett, the first appointing him as Assistant Quartermaster with the rank of captain, on August 6, 1861, and the second appointing him Assistant Quartermaster on July 6, 1864. Both commissions were signed by Abraham Lincoln, while the first commission was also signed by Thomas A. Scott, Acting Secretary of War and the second commission by Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War. The documents both bear engraved images of an eagle, flags, and other military symbols.

He was commissioned as Assistant Quartermaster with the rank of captain on August 6, 1861 and began his duties in Burlington, Vermont, equipping the First Vermont Cavalry Regiment. In 1862 he was ordered to Annapolis to serve as Depot Quartermaster. In 1864 he was sent to Baltimore to serve as Chief Quartermaster of the Eighth Army Corps. He resigned his commission on October 13, 1865. He died in Burlington, Vermont on April 16, 1909.

Gardner Spring Blodgett is a 4th cousin to our Neuman Greenleaf Blodgett, founder of the Mormon branch of the Blodgett family and Utah Pioneer. Their common ancestors are Samuel Blodgett and Huldah Simmons.


G. S. Blodgett Company was founded in 1848 by Gardner Spring Blodgett following his creation of an improved commercial wood-burning oven for a local Vermont tavern owner.
1854 The first patent of an improved product for baking. Created, sold and maintained thousands of ovens throughout the East Coast. Company growth and fame relied on the quality, versatility and reliability of the product. Blodgett ovens were in demand throughout the country, Europe and the world.
1892 John S. Patrick, then secretary and treasurer, purchased the company from G.S. Blodgett. The Patrick family remained involved with the company operations for three generations.

1902 Blodgett began to develop ovens utilizing gas an energy source.
1950s Blodgett pizza deck ovens were introduced.
1960s Convection-style cooking was discovered and Blodgett developed a complete line of gas and electric convection ovens.

Blodgett Rotating Rack Baking Oven

Blodgett Half-size Combi Convection/Steam Oven

1981 Blodgett acquired the assets of J.C. Pitman & Sons, Inc. a New Hampshire based manufacturer of commercial frying equipment. This acquisition was the basis for Pitco Frialator, Inc.

1982 Blodgett acquired Q Industries Food Equipment Company, a small Chicago producer of conveyorized ovens. In 1989, the operation moved to Burlington and is now part of the Blodgett product line.

1985 Blodgett entered into a licensing agreement with a German manufacturer for the distribution of a unique multi-function steamer oven. The first Combi was introduced in the US shortly after. The contract permitted the manufacture of these ovens by Blodgett, which commenced in 1992. When the agreement expired, Blodgett maintained worldwide manufacturing rights. By mid-1994, Blodgett was self sufficient in the manufacture of combinations ovens under the trade name of Blodgett-Combi.

1986 Blodgett purchased MagiKitch'n Equipment Corporation and Quakertown Stove Works, Inc., affiliated companies located near Allentown, Pennsylvania. These companies have been producing high quality commercial broilers for over 50 years. This acquisition continues operating under the MagiKitchn brand name out of Pitco.
1988 J.D. Johnson and Sam Hartwell lead a group of private investors to purchase Blodgett from the Patrick family.

1995 Blodgett International was established as an operating unit of G.S. Blodgett Corporation with a goal to further enhance and expand its export business-an area where it already had over 40 years of experience.

1997 Blodgett was purchased by Maytag Corporation.
1998 Blodgett celebrates its 150th anniversary

2001 Blodgett was purchased by the Middleby Corporation of Elgin, Illinois. At that time, Pitco and MagiKitch'n began to operate as their own entity and Blodgett International was blended into Middleby Worldwide.

2003 The Blodgett Range line was added. The range line includes premium heavy duty ranges, broilers and refrigerated bases.

2004 The Blodgett Steam line was added. The complete line of steam cooking equipment includes convection steamers, steam kettles and braising pans.