On Sunday, 14 April 1901, the missionary Willard Larson Jones recorded in his diary: “It was nice and clear, not a cloud to be seen. After talking with the brother for a while, I asked him if we could remain during the day as it was Sunday and we did not wish to travel. He went and consulted with his wife and it was agreeable, which we were very thankful to our Heavenly Father for. We spent the day reading, writing, and talking. Had a very good time. We had the parlor all to ourselves most of the time.” At least part of that “writing” included a letter he sent to the Deseret News:
During the past four months and a half I have been laboring with Elder D.S. Rogers of Snowflake, Arizona. We were assigned to labor in Fall County, where we began work on the 1st of December. For three weeks we were among the Germans, and not being able to speak their language, we were unable to hold any public meetings. But we made from house to house canvass and wherever they could read, gave them a small pamphlet. We had the privilege of meeting their minister, and instead of him welcoming us, he began to abuse us and said he wished there was a law that could be enforced to drive us out of the country. We bore our testimony to him and went on our way.
We then commenced our labor among the Americans. We had free access to most of the country school houses, and were blessed with very good congregations. The people as a rule have a curiosity to see a “Mormon.” After distributing 1,700 tracts and selling 175 books, we finished our part of the County and were directed by the President to visit two pair of Elders on our way to Basque County, where we are laboring at the present time. We had been here only a few days, when we came into a large community of Norwegians. Most of them can speak the English language. Most of them belong to the Lutheran Church. We have been treated kindly,.
As a general thing, the people of Texas are kind and hospitable, and as many of them are poor and do not travel much, they take pleasure in entertaining us and asking questions about our people and country, By this means we place the Gospel before them. The Elders of this Conference are in good health and are striving to the best of their ability to present the Gospel to the people. Seventeen months have passed away since I arrived in the missionary field and it has been the happiest part of my life. My testimony has been increased.
The “News” is a welcome visitor, the Church Intelligence being the first to be read.
We know what he did on most of the days of his 2-1/2 year mission – what did he do afterward?
Like most young returned missionaries, his thoughts turned to marriage and earning a living. The “earning a living” part, at least in his earliest days, involved just as much travel as his mission had: He contracted to carry the mail across the desert from his home in Overton, Nevada, in the Moapa Valley (not far from the Utah border) to Goodsprings, a mining camp a few miles from the California border. He did this by horseback for about two years – and since this was before the railroad went through, and before Las Vegas was founded, it must often have been a lonely, rough journey.
In 1904, he and Lois Emily Earl from the nearby town of Bunkerville were married, in the St. George Temple. They began their married life as dairy farmers in the Moapa Valley. Soon after marrying, Willard was called as a counselor to Bishop John M. Bunker. A few years later he was sustained as the ward’s bishop, and in 1912 he became the first stake president of the new Moapa Stake. Our elder served as stake president there for more than 27 years.
Willard and Lois raised six daughters and one son.
During his term as stake president, our elder built a new chapel in every ward, and promoted the building of five high schools in the Moapa Valley. He took office when the area was nearly as primitive as it had been during Brigham Young’s day – before he was released, modern roads had been laid out, the railroad came through, the valley was electrified with power from Hoover Dam, and the telephone finally arrived. He encouraged that modernization every step of the way. He served in the Nevada State Assembly, and on the Clark County Hospital Board.
After his “retirement” as stake president, our elder – then in his 60s – and his bride left Moapa Valley and moved to Salt Lake City, where they both became avid genealogists and ordinance workers in the Salt Lake Temple. Within a few years he had become a counselor in the temple presidency.
When Elder Jones died in Salt Lake on 1 July 1958 (he is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, rather than in his long-term home in southern Nevada), the Deseret News, not surprisingly, published an obituary, which notes that “Mr. Jones served a mission for the LDS Church to the Southwestern States Mission from1899 to 1901.” But I’m glad to see that Nevada did not forget him. The Las Vegas Review-Journal thought his passing was significant enough to note in an editorial headlined “President Jones” – not Farmer, not Assemblyman, not any of the other titles they could have called him, but “President Jones”:
Southern Nevada this week lost another one of its true pioneers when President Willard L. Jones died in Salt Lake City.
President Jones was a true builder and an outstanding civic leader. He served his county, his state and his church with untiring effort and pride, and all three segments were better for him having been a part of them.
The pioneer settled in the Moapa valley, back before the railroad came to Las Vegas and watched his area, as well as that of Clark county, expand to the size it is now. His family was raised in the valley and have followed in the footsteps of their parents to become integral parts of the area in which they live and the LDS church to which they belong.
This section, as well as the entire state of Nevada, ill can afford to lose such outstanding men as Willard L. Jones. His honesty or integrity never were questioned and he served his fellow man to the best of his ability.
One of his works during the latter period of his life was as a member of the Clark county hospital board, back before the elaborate edifices which now are the Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital were constructed on Charleston Boulevard. It was he, along with the late Frank Gusewelle, who envisioned the first Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital building.
President Jones also served his county in the legislature as a member of the assembly and made an outstanding record during his term.
However, it was the church which was his first love. He not only served as a missionary, but also as Bishop in the Moapa valley area. He was the first president of the Moapa stake of the church when it was set up.
President Jones gave his fellow citizens a mark to shoot at during his lifetime and those who knew him will attest that he was a good citizen, excellent man and outstanding public servant.
Is anybody surprised that this was the future of the elder we watched through his travels and testifying as a missionary without purse or scrip in Texas?