Additional Resource

Members of the Church Part of the Fabric of Texas

White-shirted, bike-riding missionaries are likely the most familiar representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Lone Star State, but others from many walks of life also represent the Church membership in Texas.  A sampling includes a judge in El Paso, an accounting professor at Texas A&M, a school volunteer from Langham Creek High, a television sports anchor from Houston, a trombone player from Klein, a scholarship tennis player from Hurst and a football linebacker from College Station.

Texas Latter-day Saints come in all varieties: native sons, new move-ins, extended families, immigrants from Asia or Latin America, families with busy schedules, kids with energy and motivation, singles pursuing  graduate degrees or beginning careers and established leaders in business, government and education.

“We are accepted here,” says Gifford Nielsen, longtime Houston resident (and local television sports anchor). “We participate in all sorts of activities in school, sports, service, music, government and business.  We have good friends, both in and out of the Church, friends who have great respect for our values. I recently had a friend tell me, ‘I don’t exactly know what you believe, but I never worry about my son when he hangs with your boys; I know they’ll do the right things.’ That’s a real compliment from someone not of our faith. Since I moved here in 1977, we’ve not only grown in number, but even more, we’ve been recognized for how we do things.”

Recognition arrived last weekend for Klein High School senior Heidi McIntosh. A trombonist for her award-winning high school orchestra and a drum major for the marching band, McIntosh walked off with top honors at the closing music department banquet. “I was lucky enough to receive the Spirit of Excellence Award,” McIntosh explains. “I think I was selected not only for my musical leadership but because people have learned they can count on me to do what needs to be done.”

And what McIntosh does each day begins early with family prayer and scripture study, then on to the nearby meetinghouse for 6 a.m. seminary or gospel study with other young people of the Church.

After a busy day of classes and homework, she adds orchestra rehearsals, a part-time job at a bookstore and preparation for a talk she’s presenting at the weekend stake conference (a gathering of all the congregations in the area, probably about 1,000 people). McIntosh does, however, take time to relax in a regular Sunday evening family gathering with planning, discussions, more music and competitive board games.

Sometimes Texas Latter-day Saints can be identified by the unique definition of their families as far as size, values and community and school participation.

David Nixon, a College Station native who now plays linebacker for the Brigham Young University football team, recalls his highly visible upbringing in Texas. Nixon, the youngest of six children in his family and among 50 Church members in his 2,300-student high school, says: “Everyone knew the Nixons. We all played sports and were involved in student council and other activities, our dad was a professor at A&M, was on the school board, and being [Latter-day Saints] really made us stand out in our community.”

Another easy-to-spot Latter-day Saint family, Jayson and Rachelle Wilkinson, live near Austin with their seven children, five of whom are 10-month-old quintuplets. The outpouring of Church and community support to manage this growing family adds up. “We have had volunteers from many congregations helping us with the babies from the day we got here.  In the beginning, we required help around the clock.  Ten months later, I still have help about 10 hours each day,” Rachelle explains.

Rendering service in the community at large is another hallmark of the Latter-day Saint tradition.

Gretchen and Kurt Juergens, whose children attend Langham Creek High School in Houston, regularly show up on the school’s parent volunteer list. “Curt’s always coached in all of the sports our kids have ever played, and I help in the classrooms and with other parent booster activities,” Gretchen reports.

After volunteering to clean up flood damage in Oklahoma, Isaac Hadley of Hurst organized a community project in his hometown to map the location of individual residences and identify them by house number. “There was such confusion trying to locate people after the floods,” his mother, Susan, reported, “that Issac mapped out our community in advance of a possible disaster here.”

Disaster struck in duplicate during the 2005 hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. Members of The Church, often identified by yellow “Helping Hands” shirts, convoyed on weekend work parties to the storm-damaged areas on the Gulf. A group of 160 volunteers from Beaumont, subsequently tagged as “The Get-R-Done Boys,” made a 330-mile trip from Texas to Mississippi. The cleanup crews traveled Friday night, worked for two days, and then returned home Sunday night, arriving in time for Monday morning jobs.

In total, Church members donated more than 330,000 hours to the cleanup efforts.

Latter-day Saints express love and concern for their neighbors of other faiths but also take care of their own in simple and profound ways.

Mary Hadley, also of Hurst, volunteers to alter prom or banquet dresses for her friends who have difficulty finding modest clothing. Scott Santiago, Plano, credits the ongoing financial advice from a fellow member and CFO of a large corporation for “keeping his family afloat” when persistent health problems forced him to give up his job.

Susan Hadley acknowledges the influence of other Latter-day Saint families on her own. “What we see here in Texas is an accumulation of everyone living the gospel in the state we love, of setting high standards and working hard in the Church and in the community.  One family can’t do it alone, but working together now we see that every generation in Texas makes a difference.”

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