This past week was our last full work week with our mentors. As I said in the welcome to our appreciation dinner on Monday, “There are many things at Halloween that send chills up and down. But nothing is as SCARY as knowing you’re leaving town.” It’s hard to imagine it possible to love and respect a group at the level we do in just eight months. We’re excited for their families, but there is a spot in our hearts that will be hard to fill when they leave.
For FHE this week we met at the Work Center to honor each of the 2020 missionaries going home. We chose to make it fun and light-hearted, yet the reality of their departure and the tender feelings we are all experiencing made the tributes meaningful anyway. Each couple was presented with a gift bag containing tokens of our love. The AOA history book I put together was part of that. The men had made a treasure box for each of the sisters and a clip board for the men. Each was pieced from various wood grown and harvested here. Our mentor couples will literally be taking part of Adam-ondi-Ahman home with them. My book was well received. It was a labor of love that was received with love, and all were blessed in the process.
Rather than indexing on Tuesday as usual, each of the 2021 sisters were tutored in our new assignments by the 2020 sister who has been doing it for the past year. I spent the morning with Sister Dabb. It was a treat for me because she is a sweet, mild, kind woman and after watching her for a few minutes I felt confident I will be able to do the work reports and oversee the history book efforts. She moved over and offered suggestions for the next couple of hours. I have felt for a time that at some point the books became more scrap books for the missionaries than a history book for AOA. I hope the Lord will help me share the vision I have and perhaps separate the two beginning in 2022.
Darrel spent some time this week in the house we’ve been assigned for the next year. He’s more aware of what we can do to maintain and improve that part of AOA in the coming year. He’s just the kind of fix-it guy that home needs. He spent a couple of days working on trusses for new pavilion. He spent a day removing mud and hauling gravel in around the new concrete at the work center to improve the parking area. He also spent time in the wood shop cleaning some of the tools and making improvements on the dust collector.
By Thursday morning we had received so much rain that it was decided to just take the day off for personal projects. It rained pretty steady all day. The Grand River is grander than it’s been for weeks right now! The Sisters had committed to help with the Jameson School Halloween party that day. We set up a fishpond in one corner of the school gym, and a station to hand out the treat bags we had filled earlier in the week. Sister Janice Stephensen was the fishpond master mind and gathered all the prizes. Darrel helped me figure out a curtain that would easily hang on the wall, as well as fishing poles with lines and adequate hooks. The children seemed to really enjoy it. We enjoyed sharing their excitement and happiness on a rather dark and dreary day.
Friday we attended the temple as a group for the last time. It was rich in spirit, sprinkled with tender memories and emotions. The image of being in the Celestial Room with the five couples going home is one I will treasure forever. It is a reminder that families are forever, and so are forever friends.
Saturday dawned in complete autumn splendor. My mom gave me a love for the beauty of this time of year. I have made it a pattern to take a day to spend in the mountains and inhale the glory of the canyons in Utah. Saturday was my day to attempt that here. It is different than Utah in that there are spots of beauty rather than large vistas, but it satisfactorily filled that part of my heart. We visited the Watkin’s State Park that morning and toured the old woolen mill. I was amazed that is still intact. It is like the worker’s just left for the day with the intention to come back but never did.
The history of Waltus L. and Mary Ann Watkin’s estate was fascinating to me. The industry of their family reminded me of how the Amish still live. The Watkins were true entrepreneurs in their day. They raised shorthorn cattle, Missouri mules, horses, swine, sheep, and poultry. They grew several kinds of grain and had an extensive orchard. He marketed the service of his mills, kiln, and blacksmith shop. Their nine children helped manage the family businesses. Mary Ann and their four daughters oversaw the dairy, flocks of chickens, large family garden, bees, and smoke house. They sold dried fruit, honey, eggs, vegetables, and smoked ham. The woolen mill was built when Waltus was in his 50’s. It provided rent free homes, a good wage, and a rural place to raise a family for many in the 30 plus years it operated. His estate included a church and school and was in most ways self-sustaining for the little community. One of their children lived there until after the turn of the century.
After leaving the mill we stopped by the Hiram Page grave site as well at the Eight Witnesses Monument. Hiram was one of the eight witnesses. He married Catherine Whitmer and was baptized by Oliver Cowdery. Their family were among the first to settle Far West, but when some of the Whitmers were excommunicated from the Church, Hiram and Catherine withdrew their membership and settled in Ray County. He never denied his witness of the golden plates. He said to a friend in 1847, “As to the Book of Mormon, it would be doing injustice to myself and the work of God of the last days, to say that I could know a thing to be true in 1830, and know the same thing to be false in 1847.” Hiram was killed in a farming accident and buried near their farm.
The Eight Witness monument is on the Michael Arthur Farm. When the saints were driven from Jackson County, many of the saints found refuge on this good man’s farm. He hired some of the men to help make 100,000 bricks to build his family home. Among those hired were John Whitmer, Lyman Wight, and Wilford Woodruff.
Our sacrament meeting was wonderful as usual. Elder Barker spoke of miracles, including many that have happened to him personally while serving here. He defined a miracle as “anything divinely done for the benefit of man” and challenged us to be more aware of the miracles that grace every day. As we enter the Thanksgiving Season it is good to remember that gratitude increases our awareness of God’s tender mercies and small miracles.
Elder Mike Denning spoke to us. He has been here for 3 months and dug 6 wells for AOA at his own expense. This past week he was in a trench on his hands and knees when it caved in on him. He was alone for 1 ½ hours as he struggled to stay above the caving walls and dig himself out. He is bruised and sore, but he is alive! We feel it was another miracle! He spoke of finding happiness through agency. I found wisdom in one of his points. He said that happiness is proportional to our freedom because agency misused results in loss of freedom and thus diminished happiness. To me it affirmed that the principle of liberty and agency are inseparably connected. Happiness here and joy hereafter hinge on them.
We are praying that we all will be blessed with a grateful heart this month.
Sincerely, Darrel and Karen Kenison