Carl August Ek (1845-1912) was a Swedish convert of 1871, who emigrated to Utah in 1878 and settled in Cache County, where he worked as a stonecutter on the Logan Temple. His leadership talents and devotion to the Church were evident from the very beginning: He began serving as a branch president only two years after his baptism; he returned to Sweden as a missionary in 1882 and ended his mission there as a conference president (roughly equivalent to a stake president), and, not long after his return from that mission, as one of the presidents of his Logan Seventies Quorum. He moved to Salt Lake City, where he was called as bishop of the 25th Ward in 1902, serving until his death in 1912. Bishop Ek was married three times, and has posterity active in the Church today. He supported his family with his skills as a stonecutter, chiefly in the carving of monuments and headstones.
The 25th Ward was on Salt Lake’s west side, with a largely immigrant population and then, as well as now, one of the humbler Salt Lake neighborhoods. It was part of Pioneer Stake, whose budgeting process we recently looked at.
About a year before he died, Bishop Ek reflected on the difficulties of being a bishop in such a ward – and his reflections were entirely different from the challenges of today’s bishops.
“This is a lovely ward,” he wrote, “and I think that you will find just as many honest noble Saints as you could find in any other ward. But unfortunately, they are all poor.” Apparently he had brought up the subject of the ward’s poverty so often to his stake leaders “that I might be looked upon as a little crazy on that point,” but it was a point he was compelled to repeat now.
The 25th Ward had been organized in 1902, and one of its first tasks was to build a chapel. “The first time we did build was in the year 1902.” (LDS Architecture – I wish the blogger had kept up this beautiful blog! – has a photograph of the chapel as it appears today, including a closeup of the 1902 cornerstone.) Ward needs required expanding the original building: “In 1906 we added two classrooms. In 1909 as the population had increased and the Sabbath School, especially, were crowded for room, we again were asked to furnish more room. Had we been justified to consider the people’s finances, we would have said NO, but knowing that the rooms were badly needed we again made an effort, knowing perfectly well that we should have a struggle on our hands. So we went to work and lengthened out the main building, also two classrooms behind, also a first class cement basement under the whole addition, also a steam heater. We can say with a good deal of satisfaction that we have not spent a dollar for any Tower or any extra corners, only plain, substantial work.”
The Church contributed $1,500 to the more than $4,000 debt of 1909, and the bishop worked to raise the rest. “With our best efforts we succeeded to collect among the saints only $619.35.” The ward borrowed the balance from Zions Savings Bank. “I must confess, the gloomy outlook to clear the expenses of this ward, together with my private misfortune [financial reverses were, at the time of this writing, leading to the loss of the Ek family home] has been the means to prepare my mind until I am willing to give up my lovely ward and go out on a lonely piece of land to meet come what may.”
Building expenses weren’t the ward’s only financial trouble. “In building our meetinghouse bigger, it takes fully double of coal and light, and it is more to do for the janitor. Besides, we have interest [of] $30.63 every three months.” And raising the money for the coal, and the interest, and payments on the principle, fell squarely on Bishop Ek.
“If we were in a ward where people had something, it would be easy for some of us are good collectors if there is anything to be had. But when we know that the people can hardly exist, what can we do? I have been through this ward so many times for different reasons, so I know how every family is fixed. A small portion has their homes paid for; the majority is paying now on the installment plan, and I am counting just now 47 families are renting.”
Appeals for donations raised more trouble than money: “We have tried to avoid asking for donations from the stand, as it generally drives away the good spirit, and people, too.”
Fund-raising activities were difficult: “If we have dances to raise money, we often get a class of people from the red light district, and still with that nasty company our gain is very small.”
Door-to-door collections didn’t work well, either: “If we send out collectors, very few get any and they get discouraged and will not try again.”
Bishop Ek tried to act as his own collector: “Sometimes I walked through the Ward from house to house, time and again, and succeeded fairly well in raising money for ward expenses of different kinds, but it has been too often I was hardly through with one bill before I had to start on another. At present I have two excellent counselors to help me, and still it is all we can do to collect all that is needed. In fact, we are behind.”
The critical need to raise money detracted from the bishop’s more important duties: “It has sometime been a question in my mind if it is right for a Bishopric to devote the most of their time collecting in their ward, when there is so many people in the church that needs to be built up spiritually and where our time and energy should be devoted. Still, there has been no other way for us than to pitch in, in any capacity, or else we would have been stuck long ago.
“I think we done very well up to 1909, but after that we have had to explain to the saints from time to time that we needed so much money for that and for other things and never any end to our wants. A good many has lost courage, quite a few have moved away, and our ward has fell behind to some extent.”
Bishop Ek died a few months later, just 67 years old. The ward survived, and became the ward of my mother’s childhood and youth. In 1988, the chapel built at such long-forgotten sacrifice was donated by the Church to the Salvation Army.
And, members in more prosperous days, you and I are spared these struggles.