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Joseph Smith Jr. Family Reunion 2011

Written by Angline Washburn and Gracia JonesCreated: 1 March 2012

“Eternally Bound”

Members of the Joseph Smith Jr., Family gathered in the large conference room in the basement of the LDS Visitor’s Center the evening of July 7th for registration. As family members arrived from many parts of the United States, and also from Australia, it was a time of reunion for many and a time of introduction for those who were there for the first time. Pizza was served in the tent pavilion set up on the grounds south of the Center. It was a short night considering the hectic day of travel—wonderful hosts from around Kansas City and Independence picked up their grateful Smith guests—others found their way to prearranged motel rooms. At the registration and throughout the ensuing days, Brad and Joy Stoddard interviewed and took pictures of each of those who attended—their collection is to be compiled and made available in e-book format.

Early on July 8th we returned to the tent where breakfast was served. After breakfast, children from age 3 – up were organized in groups for all day activities and games overseen by Ryan Porritt, Suz Zaugg and her daughters, with some family volunteer helpers. Adults and youth who wished to do so took part in walking tours which included the LDS Visitors’ Center, the Temple Lot, Church of Christ, and the Community of Christ’s beautiful temple. Everyone enjoyed viewing the incredible memorabilia in the Museum, including copies of the original manuscript pages of Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible. At the Church of Christ Temple Lot they viewed the corner stone originally set at the site to mark the corner when the Temple Lot was first dedicated by Joseph Smith Jr., in 1831.

At noon everyone went back to the tent pavilion for Hoggie Sandwiches, cold drinks, and a lot of getting acquainted. Notice the picture of volunteer, Kathy Gulbrandsen, with food boxes waiting to be handed out.

Later, while some folks rested and visited in the shade, many went to see the display of Smith Ancestral History presented by Paul Hokanson in the LDS Stake Center nearby. Some others loaded onto the buses and went to Jesse James Museum and the Truman Library. The Jesse James Museum was small but proved to be very interesting especially to the young folks who learned that Jesse James was a famous outlaw; they had a good time reading the many newspaper clippings of his exploits. At the Truman library they spent a long time because there was so much information on President Harry S. Truman’s life and presidency.

The buses returned everyone to the Tent where the parents collected their little ones just in time to gather in the LDS Church gymnasium for a wonderful Luau prepared by a Polynesian group from the Independence area. The food was incredible and delicious. Skilled Polynesian performers shared their culture through dances, songs, and talks. The symbolism of their dance and the awesome talent they displayed was great fun to watch.

After dinner a PowerPoint program was presented by Gracia Jones on the life of Emma and Joseph’s youngest son, David Hyrum Smith. Nancy Smith, a great granddaughter of David Hyrum was introduced. Music written by David Hyrum was performed by Kim Davis, her son Bryan Davis. Kim’s father, Joseph F. Smith then joined in with some real Blue Grass musical memoires. Ivor Jones provided impromptu entertainment and gave some thoughtful comments on the importance of family.

On July 9th adults loaded into the buses for tours. Again Ryan and Suz kept the children busy and happy so the parents could enjoy the tour. Since there were two buses full, one went first to see Liberty Jail while the other went to see the site of the Kansas City Temple a few miles west of Liberty. Then they each went to the other place—so everyone got to see both locations. At Liberty Jail the family learned of the historic events which had happened to Joseph and Hyrum Smith, (and a number of other men), who were incarcerated there without due cause in the winter of 1838. In one of the groups, Cousin Tom Gleeson, (from Australia) went into the partial jail (where they had mannequin’s of Joseph and Hyrum) and stood next to them while someone snapped pictures. It was fun to see him in there. Notwithstanding the humor of that moment, it was a kind of sobering experience for the descendants to contemplate the awful trials endured there by their ancestors.

It was originally hoped the family could tour the inside of the uncompleted Kansas City Temple being built by the LDS Church. Although safety and insurance issues prevented an inside tour, the family stood outside the fence and took many pictures as they enjoyed having time with some of the family that showed up just to see the temple.

Both busses drove on north to Far West, Missouri, where box lunches were provided for them to eat on the beautiful grounds. At the same time a large group of LDS Youth who had arrived there after a long trek on foot pulling pioneer handcarts were holding a meeting on the grounds. For those who had never seen a handcart, this was a great learning experience concerning that mode of pioneer travel in the 1800’s. A brief stop at Far West’s store provided an opportunity for people to browse and purchase cards, books, and keepsakes. The long bus ride proved time for naps, visiting, and historical stories provided by Andrew F. Ehat and Matthew Brown, historians invited for their expertise in the subject of ancient and modern temple building.

The buses returned the family to Independence in time to get everyone willing to do so involved in group games. All age groups participated in the Stick Pull—there was a winner from each age group. It was hilarious to see our parents and young children pull the stick.

The traditional Tug-o-War also drew every age and size. There was much hilarity, when David Denning, in effort to keep the other side from winning tied the rope around his waist and got down on his hand and knees and pulled with all his might- so close!!!!

Shantel Gardner, dressed in costume, presented a powerful depiction of Emma Hale Smith. Ryan Porritt made a presentation of a special children’s picture/story book he had written entitled, “Emma Hale Smith, An Elect Lady” to each family.

Michael Kennedy indicated that each family present would receive one of the pictures of the artwork by artist Julie Rogers, who had donated her work for the picture book. He also displayed a unique box made of maple and walnut wood, native trees of the area in which Emma and Joseph were born. Inside the box was a beautiful gold necklace. Michael he held the necklace up to show, and then placed it around his wife Darcy’s neck. The necklace is made with two small oval beads engraved with the signatures of Joseph and Emma, attached to the strand made of 1300 stitches of thin gold wire, knitted around tiny beads, (the number of stitches representing the living descendants current at that time); then for added symbolism, a replica of Joseph’s eternity ring hung from the strand. This necklace had been created especially for the family of Joseph and Emma to represent the idea of the family being ‘knitted together in love’. Each woman present 18 years of age and older was given one, as a gift from the Joseph Smith Jr., and Emma Hale Smith Historical Society, of which Michael is president. An insert within the box was read, giving Joseph’s words from a letter he wrote to Emma from Liberty Jail naming her and each of his children expressing the sentiment, “My Heart is Entwined around Yours forever.”

Thus, ended the party, with a wonderful feeling of fellowship and family bonding. The evening was complete when a beautiful (and tasty) birthday cake was served; and everyone sang the Happy Birthday song for Emma, whose 208th birthday was the next day, July 10th.

Early in the morning of July 10th, the farewell meeting convened in the Old Stone Church, built in 1888, beloved of many of the ancestors of those who were present. A video of photos and music, compiled by Angeline and Nathan Washburn was played, Michael spoke a few words, then invited people to come up and say what they might wish to say; many individuals took the opportunity of sharing their feelings about things they had felt, learned and experienced over the three days they were together. Before parting family pictures were taken, last minute hugs exchanged, and the group sang the traditional “God Be With You ‘Till We Meet Again.” Tears were shed. Hugs were exchanged.

As Angeline summed it up, “I have never in my life been around so many strangers that immediately felt like family. The most incredible part of this event, as with all our gatherings, was the time we got to spend together as a family.”

That is exactly what is means to be “Eternally Bound” – through family ties.