BRIGHAM CITY — Prior to speaking at a meeting here Sunday night commemorating 100 years of LDS seminary in Brigham City, President Boyd K. Packer of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles whispered that he had traveled some 2.5 million miles just to be back home.
The nearly 90-year-old church leader made the comment to Elder Allen F. Packer of the church’s First Quorum of the Seventy, eldest son of President Packer and his wife, Donna, and himself a Brigham City native.
Both Packers spoke at the meeting held in the Brigham City Utah West Stake Center and televised to several other LDS meetinghouses in Brigham City and nearby Willard and Perry.
Just two years ago, the church marked 100 years since the beginning of the seminary program, but 2014 is the centennial of the program in Brigham City, making it the oldest continuous seminary in the church.
The 2.5 million miles referred to the distance that President Packer has traveled since he served as a young seminary teacher in Brigham City, first as a bomber pilot in the military, later as coordinator of the seminary system in the church and ultimately as a church general authority, his son told the congregation consisting primarily of high school students enrolled in seminary and their parents.
“As a young man graduating from Box Elder High School just after the war started, he was pulled into World War II as were most young men that age and went off to boot camp and then training,” Elder Packer said.
“One night, in the middle of the night, as he was being shipped off to the South Pacific, he remembers riding the train through Brigham City. No one knew he was on the train. As he went past the station that we passed as we came in, he looked down, recognized the station manager and thought about family that were sleeping at home as he headed north and eventually went into the Pacific.”
It was his first real trip away from the area, and he didn’t know whether he would come back or not, Elder Packer said.
But he did return, and as a young man was encouraged by his stake president to apply for and was eventually chosen to fill a vacancy in the seminary faculty.
“About the same time frame, the community was trying to decide what to do with the Bushnell Hospital,” Elder Packer recounted. The Army had built the hospital at the south end of town to treat wounded soldiers, and with the end of World War II, it was now closed.
“Through work of local and state leaders, there was an option to use the facility for an Indian school, a school where Native Americans could come and receive an education that they would not have at home, many coming from the south of Utah and the northern part of Arizona.”
President Packer was deeply involved in a community committee that promoted the use of the facility for that purpose.
At a meeting of community leaders to discuss the venture, the president of the church at that time, President George Albert Smith, arrived “having traveled from Salt Lake, as he explained, against his doctor’s counsel, thinking that that was an important enough event for him to come,” Elder Packer said.
The church president told meeting attendees, “When the suggestion was first made that an Indian school be established in one of our Latter-day Saint communities, I wrote the president of the United States, Harry S Truman, and urged him to use his influence and administrative power to consummate this action. In this way the American people would redeem themselves from some of the injustices that had been heaped upon the heads of the American Indians during the history of our country.”
“President Smith promised the citizens of Brigham City that anything they did to help and bless the Indian people would be answered with blessings upon their heads,” Elder Packer recounted. “I think that’s exemplary of the traditions and practices that are part of this community.”
In his talk, President Packer echoed that appreciation for his hometown.
“As I came into Brigham City tonight, I thought, well, this is a perfect place and will remain that way so long and insofar as we as Latter-day Saints live the gospel,” he said. “The town hasn’t changed; there are just more of you here, just as good as they were then and not as good as you are going to be, because we have a ministry to perform. And here ‘in the shadow of the everlasting hills,’ as they saying goes, there’s no better place to live and to raise a family.”
At the beginning of the meeting President Aaron Shepherd of the Brigham City Utah South Stake invited the congregation to view a historic photo projected on a screen of “the first-ever seminary Book of Mormon class taught in 1953, and you can see on the left President Packer as the instructor.”
President Shepherd explained, “In those days history credit was given for seminary courses in Old and New Testament. However no credit would be given for a course on the Book of Mormon. President Packer organized the curriculum and conducted the first-ever Book of Mormon course as a released-time, early morning seminary class.”
The idea of Book of Mormon seminary courses and released-time classes spread and today they are widespread in the church’s seminary system.