When I suggested the Giants of San Juan series to Editor Boyle 16 months ago, little did I realize the ramifications of that commitment.
As an avid local history buff, I completely overlooked the time requirements of the project. Instead, I delighted in the thoughts of casual reading and writing about people who I deeply admire… many of whom had played a major role in my own life.
Frankly, the “Giants” series has become an obsession. Some of these great San Juaners have had books and scores of articles written about them.
Research requires more time than I imagined. My lifestyle has been changed and enriched as I have studied their lives and feasted on their character, integrity and dedication.
This week, the “Giant” is Aunt Jody Wood. Previously, it was Walter C. Lyman. I have heard superficial accounts of these two individuals all my life. But when I got into the literature and really discovered their monumental contributions and characters, I was reduced to tears at times. It is unfortunate that I was so busy in my younger years that I failed to take the time to appreciate the magnitude of my legacy.
My first LDS mission president in the British Mission in l963 was Marion D. Hanks. I idolized the man.
His last words to me before he returned to Salt Lake City at the end of his mission were, “Elder Jensen, you come from an area of rich pioneer heritage. Albert R. Lyman taught me in Seminary. I have read his books. I hope you will go back to San Juan and do everything you can to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before.” Those words have had great influence in my life in the intervening 45 years.
In recent weeks, writing about Walter C. and Aunt Jody, I have thought many times, “me stand on these shoulders?” I feel like a mouse wandering around in the darkness of their massive shadows.
Reading and writing about their lives, along with the others in the series, has profoundly affected me.
I defy you to read the account of Jody Wood’s heroic saving of Albert R. Lyman’s first wife and baby and not be brought to tears. Their inspiring stories have reminded me how lacking I am in the matter of “standing on shoulders.” What an inspiration they are. How blessed I am to be able to study their lives.
Perhaps the biggest challenge I have faced is abridging their remarkable lives into a single newspaper page. Books should be written about them, not single newspaper pages. I am so proud to be a San Juaner. I am proud that my pioneer ancestors (on both sides) have been here from the beginning.
I was called to be one of two missionaries to assist Elder Mark E. Petersen, of the Quorum of the Twelve, in September of 1964. He presided over the 14 missions of Western Europe.
The day I arrived at his beautiful home in Leatherhead, Surrey, England, we sat down for my first interview and his first words were: “Elder Jensen, I see you are from Monticello and the San Juan Stake. You may be interested to know that the two wards in Monticello in recent years are among the top three percent in the entire Church in the payment of tithes.”
(You will recall at that time there were folks in Monticello who had made fortunes in uranium and oil and were paying tithing on their fortunes, along with a lot of other successful people) “The San Juan Stake has always been one of the bulwarks of the Church. I will expect a lot from a missionary from such a place.”
For a scared to death kid from Monticello, those were unforgettable words. (I was terrified I might fail in this calling and be sent back to the British Mission, as had my predecessor, who had lasted two weeks of a six-month call.)
When I left that calling in March of l965 President Petersen’s last words were, “go home and build on the legacy of your pioneer forebears.”
Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan. The negative vicissitudes of life have landed hard in my court a few times. But despite all, “Life is (truly) Good.” And much of that “goodness” is because I have been privileged to live in this magnificent land where many of the descendents of Walter C, Aunt Jody and so many others still live today.
The more I study this county and its history and the better I get to know the people who live here, the more appreciative I am to live “in the middle of nowhere.”
Marcia and I have visited every state in the union (except Hawaii and Maine) in the five years since we married. But nowhere brings a lump to my throat when I see it like my beloved Blue Mountains whenever I return from anywhere. There is no place like home.
Thanks to so many of you who have been supportive in my attempts to write the news, my column and this special series on our shared heritage. I pray every time I sit down to write that I will be assisted in distilling the greatness of our heritage in a way that my readers may appreciate its depth, breadth and richness. Perhaps more now than ever before, in these trying times, we need the strength and example of our own “Giants”.