I’m not judging whether the following incident is good or bad, or trying to guess what it really says about us as a people. I’m just sayin’ that it’s one of the quirky bits of our history that helps to make us who we are.
Mantua is a small Latter-day Saint town in Little Valley, Box Elder Co., Utah, east of Brigham City. Little Valley was a favorite early herd ground for the settlers of Brigham City, but the place wasn’t permanently settled until 1863 when a few Danish families settled there. Its inhabitants have been largely of Danish descent ever since.
Peter Christian Johnson was the bishop of Mantua in 1916. He encouraged his ward teachers (those we now call “home teachers”) to fulfill their duties – and they did – but he could have had no real idea of the record he was starting.
Beginning in 1916, his ward teachers visited every family in the ward. Every family. Every month. That’s 100% ward teaching.
They kept it up through 1917. And 1918. And 1919 and 1920. Through 1930. Still going strong – 100% ward teaching – through 1940. And 1950. And 1960.
This is the kind of record that could only have been achieved in a small ward, I think, and one tied closely to the land, as were the farmers and ranchers of Mantua, where people didn’t travel far or long. Those conditions certainly helped to create Mantua’s longstanding record of a monthly visit to every family, but that record also required effort on the part of the ward teachers.
But it was inevitable that something sometime would happen that would threaten Mantua’s perfect record.
That “something” was Sister Amelia La Blanche Mortensen Pulsipher Nelson, age 65, widow, and a lifelong resident of Box Elder Stake. Blanche Nelson went out of town for Christmas, 1960, to visit friends in Pasco, Washington.
Early in January 1961, Sister Nelson contacted friends in Mantua to tell them that she was having such a good time that she had decided to stay in Pasco until the spring – would they please keep an eye on her property until she came home? Those friends mentioned Sister Nelson’s plans to other ward members, who probably nodded and said what a good thing that was for Blanche, since she hadn’t had a real vacation for as long as anyone could remember.
And then it registered with someone – Sister Nelson will be gone all of January, and all of February, at least. We can’t visit her! What will happen to our wonderful ward teaching record? Bishop Allston Jensen was crestfallen. Here he was, a brand new bishop, and the first thing that happens on his watch is the end of an outstanding record. Oh, the humanity!
The bishopric and the ward teaching committee counseled together. Bishop Jensen recalled that on an earlier desperate occasion, ward teachers had driven more than 100 miles to make contact with a ward member and preserve the record. But Pasco was more than 800 miles away – no one could go that far.
They consulted Newell Larsen, the chairman of the Stake Committee on Ward Teaching. Could they make a telephone call to Sister Nelson and count that? Or could they contact the ward in Pasco, have someone there visit her, and transfer the credit to the Mantua Ward? Brother Larsen was torn by a conflict of interest – yes, he was chairman of the stake committee, but he was also a member of the Mantua Ward. He didn’t trust his own judgment in this particular case.
So they contacted the Box Elder Stake president, O. Dee Lund. Would he approve either of their proposed solutions? Sadly, he could not. He was sympathetic, but the rules were the rules. Neither proposed alternative would count as a visit for Mantua’s statistics.
Mantua would not give up, however. Not until the last minute of the last hour of January 31 would they admit defeat. First one ward member, then another, then still others, called Sister Nelson in Washington and begged her to change her plans and come home early. Other Mantua ward members wrote cards and letters – please, oh, please come home!
Sister Nelson, it turns out, was a thoroughly loyal member of the Mantua Ward. She knew how much the record meant to the ward, and she agreed to try to make it home before the end of the month.
She did make it. Immediately after reaching home, Sister Nelson was called upon by the ward teachers. And in the words of the Church News reporter,
The record is uninterrupted. The bishopric is pleased, the ward teachers are proud, the members are elated, and Mrs. Nelson is delighted even though her visit was cut short. The Presiding Bishopric commends this type of cooperation on the part of Mrs. Nelson and the dedicated effort of Bishop Jensen and his associates.
No, I don’t know how long the record remained uninterrupted. But I’m glad I wasn’t the one who eventually had to face the ward to confess I had let them down.