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“We have a commitment to serve our Lord. We have an assurance that the cause is just and worthy. But, above all, we have a knowledge that God lives and is in His Heavens and that His Son Jesus Christ has laid out a plan for us which will bring us and our loved ones eternal life if we are faithful.”[i]
“Lengthen your stride” and “Do it!” are the two themes President Spencer Woolley Kimball preached to the world and lived by in his own life. Starting out as a child with serious health difficulties and well acquainted with loss, he became a notable, energetic, and determined president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Spencer Woolley Kimball was born to Andrew Kimball and Olive Woolley on March 28, 1895 in Salt Lake City, UT. At the request of the First Presidency, the young family moved to Thatcher, Arizona when Spencer was three years old. His father served as the Stake President while also providing for the family by farming and working in business.[ii]
“As a child, Spencer suffered from typhoid fever and facial paralysis and once nearly drowned. Four of his sisters died in childhood, and his mother died when he was eleven.”[iii] These challenges and losses perhaps gave him the incredible compassion he would later exhibit in his life.
His health problems did not end in childhood though. In 1948, Elder Kimball had a heart attack. He suffered from throat cancer a few years later which resulted in the removal of most of his vocal cords. He had open heart surgery at age seventy-seven and three brain surgeries due to a cerebral hemorrhage.[iv][v]
In his patriarchal blessing (at age eleven), he was promised to perform a great work among the Native Americans. He could not have foreseen his part in the relief efforts for the Navajos during the winter of 1947, nor of his role in the Indian Student Placement Service. President Kimball also stood strongly against racial prejudice and it was in his administration as President of the Church, through the inspiration of the Lord, that the priesthood was offered to all worthy males members.
President Kimball was also an advocate for women’s rights. General meetings for women and young women were started, the Monument to Women was constructed, women were authorized to pray in church meetings, and women leaders began to speak in general conference.
Spencer Kimball graduated with highest honors from Gila Academy at age 19. He then received a mission call to the Swiss-Austrian Mission, but due to World War I served in the Central States Mission. [vi]
After returning home, he attended one semester at the University of Arizona. “He then received an induction notice for army service in World War I. Although expecting to leave any day, he married Camilla Eyring, a school teacher, on November 16, 1917. They eventually had four children: Spencer L., Olive Beth, Andrew E., and Edward L.” [vii]
There were delays in the military unit he was to join and so he was deterred. He began working at a bank. That bank failed, but another bank hired Spencer as the chief teller. With Joseph Greenhalgh in 1927, he started a new business—insurance and real estate. Hard work and perseverance got the Kimball family through the Great Depression. Kimball declared that “he would set up a peanut stand before he would become another person’s employee again.”[viii] The flexibility of setting his own hours allowed him to fulfill church callings and to participate in many community activities—“PTA, library, elections, city council, Red Cross, Boy Scouts, the local college, and the organization of a radio station. He was selected as statewide leader of the Arizona Rotary Club.”[ix]
While an apostle, he wrote Miracle of Forgiveness. His book continues to counsel and comfort members of the Church. Written with the intent to help people understand the path of repentance, the atonement, and of forgiveness, he drew upon his experience of counseling many people as a church leader.
While still very young, Spencer Kimball accepted a challenge to read the entire Bible. At age 14, he was a Sunday School teacher. He was ordained a seventy at nineteen, served as a stake clerk twice, as a counselor to the stake president, as stake president, and at age 48, was ordained an Apostle by President Grant. He became the 12th President of the Church on December 30, 1973. He was 78. He died on November 5, 1985.
In the twelve years of his presidency, many wonderful things were accomplished. Starting with the Washington DC temple, 21 temples were dedicated. Missionary numbers increased dramatically as sisters and couples went forth to serve. The ward meeting schedules were consolidated. The First Quorum of the Seventy was organized. As mentioned earlier, every worthy male in the Church could now hold the priesthood. “He led the Church with spiritual power and energetic determination during a period of dramatic vitality and growth. His administration produced significant advances in doctrinal understanding, member unity, and gospel expansion worldwide.”[x]
A year before he left this life for the next, he gave us his testimony and a promise.
“Knowing full well that before long, in the natural course of events, I must stand before the Lord and give an accounting of my words, I now add my personal and solemn testimony that God, the Eternal Father, and the risen Lord, Jesus Christ, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith. I testify that the Book of Mormon is a translation of an ancient record of nations who once lived in this western hemisphere, where they prospered and became mighty when they kept the commandments of God, but who were largely destroyed through terrible civil wars when they forgot God. This book bears testimony of the living reality of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of mankind.”
“I testify that the holy priesthood, both Aaronic and Melchizedek, with authority to act in the name of God, was restored to the earth by John the Baptist, and Peter, James, and John; that other keys and authority were subsequently restored; and that the power and authority of those various divine bestowals are among us today. Of these things I bear solemn witness to all within the sound of my voice. I promise in the name of the Lord that all who give heed to our message, and accept and live the gospel, will grow in faith and understanding. They will have an added measure of peace in their lives and in their homes and by the power of the Holy Ghost will speak similar words of testimony and truth.”[xi]
Spencer W. Kimball was a gentle, dedicated, humble man. He exhibited such strength and energy that only a prophet of God may do. He is a great example to me of working through challenges and trusting in the Lord. In President Kimball’s words, “We must lengthen our stride and must do it now.” Let that theme continue to ring true for each of us.
[i] Kimball, S. W. “The Cause Is Just and Worthy,” Ensign, 1974, 118
[xi] “Remarks and Dedication of the Fayette, New York, Buildings,” Ensign, May 1980, 54. Italics added.
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