When I served on my mission, five of us went together by train from SLC to Chicago, IL; then we flew from Ohare Int'l Airport (ORD) to Washington Dulles Int'l Airport (IAD). A foot of fresh snow had just fallen, so the snow plows were busily preparing for us to land. We stayed at the Mission Home in Bethesda, MD for a few days. President Wilford Burton (brother to Theodore M. Burton, a General Authority) was our Mission President. He and his wife were nearly finished with their 3-year stint. President Norman R. Bowen, who I got to know even better in Hawaii after my mission, was my Mission President for most of the time I served.
I show pictures of 10 of the 11 missionaries I served with. It would be interesting to know where they are today. The only one I had very much contact with following my mission, was Elder Charles Hoyt. I helped convince him to come to BYU, where he met his future wife. I was his "best man," at his wedding, and then we pretty much lost contact with each other, though I knew his wife was from Price, UT, and knew that they settled in Price. We have friended each other on Facebook, so we bump into each other there. Of the five that came out at the same time, interestingly, one became an Assistant to the President (Elder Tanner), one a Zone Leader (Elder Giles, who was also one of my companions), one a District Leader (Elder Durrant), myself a non-leader (but a trainer extraordinaire, according to Pres. Bowen), and then one who aborted his mission and went home early. When I was nearing completion of my mission, the Washington Temple grounds were dedicated. All of the missionaries in the mission field were brought to Washington, D.C. for the occasion. I still vividly recall walking through a wooded area to the site, and hearing from Paul H. Dunn and Hugh B. Brown, both remarkable speakers. Of the five areas I served in, namely Camp Springs/Clinton MD, Butler PA, Norristown PA, Fredonia/Dunkirk NY, and Harrisburg PA, I don't have a favorite. I would have to say that the most transient area was Camp Springs/Clinton, so probably where the average missionary would be likely to have the most success. Interestingly, the people in the Harrisburg area seemed the most “set in their ways,” so to speak...a lot of Amish/Mennonite where we served. I remember once saying, “Hello, we're missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints...” The response, “Well, where's your broad-brimmed hats, boys?” To me, that sort of summed up that area.
My single most favorite conversion story is that of the Cogley family, who lived in Kittanning PA, a referral family who lived a long way from Butler PA, and from our chapel. When we entered the Cogley home and tried to teach them, they all seemed so crude and hillbilly to me. It was a picture right out of Li'l Abner, with a stern woman of the house (Mammy Yokum), her diminutive husband (Pappy Yokum) who was spitting tobacco during the lesson, and a lovely daughter, Vernetta (Daisy Mae). We ended up baptizing the mother and daughter. Fast forward to 1993, 26 years later; Judy and I had just moved from Hawaii and are now living in Provo UT. One day, I get a call from Vernetta, now living in Orem UT with her own family, and with sons reaching missionary age. I have no idea how she found me. Vernetta wants her sons to meet the missionary that baptized her. Judy and I are invited to their home, where, lo and behold, Vernetta's mother (whose name escapes me) was there, having just returned from her Senior Mission, the second one she had served in. This woman could pass as an angel of God, so saintly, kind, and celestial like, exuding pure love. I just melted. I couldn't believe that this relatively crude woman I had known so many years earlier could possibly have transformed into what I witnessed that night. That encounter alone, made my mission well worth the two years I spent serving in it. Of course, I was thrilled that Vernetta, in her own right, was a success story. But, that night, it was her mother that captured me, and helped me appreciate what the gospel can do for those who become truly converted and live it to the fullest.