Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Way We Were: March 1961

The Way We Were: March 1961

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 23, 2008

David O. McKay was president of the Church, with counselors J. Reuben Clark and Henry D. Moyle. The twelve apostles were (not in order of seniority): Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Marion G. Romney, Howard W. Hunter, Mark E. Petersen, Hugh B. Brown, Delbert L. Stapley, LeGrand Richards, Richard L. Evans, and George Q. Morris. Joseph L. Wirthlin was the Presiding Bishop.

Joseph T. Bentley was superintendent of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, Bertha Stone Reeder was president of the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association. George R. Hill was superintendent of the Sunday School. LaVern W. Parmley was the Primary president, and Belle Spafford was president of the Relief Society.

There were only twelve temples in operation, in the United States, Canada, England, Switzerland, and New Zealand. There were 1.7 million of us, and about 5,000 of us were serving as missionaries.

On March 2, President McKay, visiting Great Britain to dedicate and chapel and organize stakes, called at his mother’s birthplace in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales and placed a plaque on the house where she was born. On March 5, the Leicester Stake, only the third stake in England and the 326th in the Church, was created, to be followed the next week by creation of the Leeds Stake. On March 12, the very first non-English-speaking stake of the Church was organized in The Hague, The Netherlands. In Londonderry, Ireland, the young men of the branch celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with an early morning swim, followed by a hilltop hike and exploration of an old castle. In Salt Lake City on the 21st, remodeling of State Street required the removal of the old 13-foot stone pillars that had supported the Eagle Gate entrance to Brigham Young’s properties; once the street was widened, new metal pillars supporting a refurbished eagle were erected at the same point. A box embedded in the gate’s pillars from an 1890s repair was opened, but water head leaked in and the papers inside had been destroyed. On the 24th, the Ogden 12th Ward defeated Pioneer 1st (Provo), 54-50, in an overtime game to win the all-Church senior basketball tournament; Utah State University’s 5th Ward defeated BYU’s 8th Ward, 54-44, to win the all-Church college basketball tournament.

Roy Baumgart, a missionary based in Stuttgart, was drawing attention to the Church throughout Germany by using his talents as a ventriloquist with a wooden dummy to draw crowds for street meetings and to perform on German TV. Ezra Taft Benson returned to his desk in the Church Administration Building full time, after completing eight years in President Eisenhower’s cabinet. J. Spencer Kinard, later announcer for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for 18 years but then a 20-year-old missionary in Samoa, wrote an article for the Church News about mission progress throughout Samoa. Sister (Mrs. Joseph) Edlund of Jonkoping, Sweden, fulfilled a dream she had had since her 1929 baptism of visiting Salt Lake City. The older Primary girls of El Paso 1st Ward shipped colorful laprobes they had made to Primary Children’s Hospital. The Spokane Stake honored their nine Eagle Scouts.

The cover of March’s Improvement Era featured a weathered, pioneer-era dwelling at St. Johns, Arizona.. Inside the magazine, you could order a two-volume album of fifty 33-1/3 rpm hi-fi vinyl records, “narrated with ringing sincerity by two of our finest Voices,” recording the text of the Book of Mormon, for $49.95. Don’t have it all now? No worries – just $5 down and $5 monthly payments, and it will soon be yours! If you were blind, or nearly so, your bishop’s signature could get you a free registration with the LDS Record Club, and you could borrow all kinds of church-themed vinyl records. Listen to them while relaxing with a cup of Postum, advertised by Thayer D. Evans and the Evans Quartet, sipping Postum and singing in the reception room of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers Museum (“Have a cup of friendship … so many talented people do.”) And Keepa’s old friend, Beneficial Life, reminds us that “Life is a series of choices” and “More and more families every day are finding that they choose wisely when they spend part of their income for a Beneficial Life Planned Futures program.” Planning for the future also included food storage – there are ads for apple sauce nuggets from Perma-Pak (“Delicious!”), and Idahoan Instant Potato Flakes (if they couldn’t truthfully be advertised as delicious, at least they needed no refrigeration and took “only seconds to prepare”).

More to the point, the Era carried an editorial by President McKay on the “Aspirations of Men,” urging readers to be true to themselves and loyal to God and their fellow-men. Joseph Fielding Smith answered that annoying question about wearing crosses as jewelry by saying that “the wearing of crosses is to most Latter-day Saints in very poor taste and inconsistent to our worship.” Historical articles featured the “Old Sow” cannon and the “Lord’s House at Kirtland” and the paper “Money of the Mountains” (so many historical features in a single issue! Imagine!) Another article examined “Priesthood: Its Nature, Source, and History,” and another offered cooking advice to the couple whose children are now grown, leaving them “Now We Are 2 Again.”

The “Era of Youth,” a section within the Era that pre-dated the separately published New Era of our day, featured tips on dating with such enlightened and raised-consciousness remarks as “Find a flock of females clucking over boys, and you’ll find complete agreement on one thing. The boy who works out all the date details in advance [is the one the girls accept].” Need new dating ideas? “Consider reading aloud from Robert Frost or thoreau or the scriptures.”

“The Last Word,” the Era’s “Funny Bones,” quipped that “To be absolutely honest about it, what we want most in a new car is us” and “If Moses had formed a committee, the Israelites would still be in Egypt.”

The Relief Society Magazine gave a brief and illustrated history of the monuments on Temple Square and printed a talk by a Relief Society board member given at the previous October Conference, about using one’s time wisely to serve family and world, and celebrated the 100th birthday of Mrs. Susan Peacock Richards of Los Angeles. The Children’s Friend celebrated the theme of transportation – everything from early balloon flights to rockets. “A Miss and Her Magic” showed how a little girl could be practically as magical as a genie by helping Mother around the house. And the paperdoll was an oddly androgynous child figure with western outfits to color and cut out.


In Sunday School, the adults recited the Sacrament Gem “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept,” while the youngest children recited “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” The hymn practiced each week in Sr. Sunday School was “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” while in Jr. Sunday School the children learned “If with All Your Hearts,” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah


In March 1961, this picture was made of ye future editore of Keepapitchinin.

And for some reason, which s/he may disclose or conceal at the reader’s discretion, March 1961 was a significant month in the life of one of Keepa’s loyal readers.



  1. Nice picture, ye future editore.

    I think that this weekend I will go “find a flock of females clucking over boys” and read aloud Robert Frost’s Snow. I think it will help my social life.

    “a missionary…was drawing attention to the Church…with a wooden dummy.” I knew there were better things we could be doing than tracting.

    Comment by Edje — October 23, 2008 @ 11:16 am

  2. Very enjoyable post, Ardis. For a second there, I thought you had appeared on the cover of the Instructor.

    “narrated with ringing sincerity by two of our finest Voices.” Do you know the identities of these “Voices”?

    Comment by Justin — October 23, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

  3. My, how times have changed. Makes me wonder what will it be like 47 years from now. (Did I say 47? Surely I meant 37.)

    12 to 124 temples
    1.7 million to 13.2 million members
    5,000 to 53,000 missionaries

    Seems like the missionary force is growing faster than the membership.

    Comment by BruceC — October 23, 2008 @ 12:47 pm

  4. You can tell this was before the days of the Spencer W. Kimball administration. I recall (just barely) his admonitions to clean up properties, repair old fences, tear down old barns, and remove old buildings. What may have been picturesque in 1961 surely would never have appeared on the cover of a church magazine 20 years later.

    But even that weather-beaten old cabin would have been preferable to the dugouts that the early pioneers in St. Johns first constructed.

    Lovely picture, Ardis. I can’t quite see the details, but it looks like you were collecting things even in your tender youth. Toys (?) then, history now.

    Comment by Researcher — October 23, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

  5. Those are ribbons and pieces of wrapping paper. Mini Me was helping to clean up after a birthday party, being as magical as the genie of the Children’s Friend.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 23, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

  6. And no, I don’t know the Voices (love the way they capped that word — they did it, I just copied). I’ll see if I can find out.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 23, 2008 @ 1:21 pm

  7. I find things like this fascinating—thanks!

    Comment by JennyW — October 23, 2008 @ 1:51 pm

  8. They trained us to be house elves! 😀

    Awesome post, Ardis. I love these. My little brother was born that year. I was 3.

    It looks like missionaries, temples, and members have all increased roughly by a factor of 10 since then. I wonder what the church will be like when there are 120 million members, 550 thousand missionaries, and 1240 temples?

    Comment by Tatiana — October 23, 2008 @ 2:19 pm

  9. Just a reminder that if you want a similar post about the month you were born — or any other significant month — you can send that date to me at keepapitchinin at aol dot com (note that it ends “-inin” rather than just -in). And if you dare furnish a picture to illustrate your personal post, send that along to the same address.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 23, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  10. Again, it is fascinating to see where the Church has gone over the past several decades.

    Nice baby picture!

    Comment by Steve C. — October 23, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

  11. I love these, but the pictures at the end are priceless.

    For all of you who might have some memory of that year, I won’t tell you where I was – or believe I was, as the case may be.

    Comment by Ray — October 23, 2008 @ 3:28 pm

  12. I was a blushing bride of six months in March 1961, and had not a clue what was going on in the world or the church. So, thanks for telling me what I was experiencing.

    Comment by Maurine — October 23, 2008 @ 11:03 pm

  13. I was -16 1/2 years old.

    You were a beautiful child.

    I find it odd the church still had adds in 1961. (not alarming, just odd) When was the last year for ads in church mags?

    Comment by Matt W. — October 23, 2008 @ 11:30 pm

  14. “You were a beautiful child.” My mother thanks you.

    I think there were ads right through 1970, when the Era ended, and that there never were any ads in the Ensign, from 1971 forward. I’ll check that when I get to the library this morning to be sure my memory is right.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 24, 2008 @ 7:12 am

  15. I know where I was in 1961–The Pre-Existance. :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — October 24, 2008 @ 8:56 am

  16. That’s the summer I lived a block from the beach, at Playa del Rey (although I never saw him there), and learned to body surf. Sort of.

    Comment by Mark B. — October 24, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

  17. i joined the church in 1961–so much has changed–all for the better

    Comment by tjk — October 26, 2008 @ 9:56 pm

  18. This is great, Ardis. I really enjoy this kind of thing and hope to see more. Thanks again.

    Comment by Hunter — October 26, 2008 @ 10:46 pm

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