Watching from her Smithfield, Utah, home Sunday afternoon, Barbara Gutke said she “squealed” with delight when President Russell M. Nelson announced plans for her hometown to have temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The 96-year-old, who proudly proclaims to be two months and one day older than President Nelson, was so moved by the Smithfield Temple news that she watched a recording of the announcement multiple times. Then she spent all Monday morning answering the telephone and sending texts messages to dozens of people.
“I cried tears. I couldn’t believe it,” Gutke said. “It’s just unbelievable.”
She wasn’t the only one. Heartfelt reactions like hers resounded in many Latter-day Saint gatherings where a new temple was announced, but particularly in the western United States where nine of the 20 temples will be built.
The nine new western temples include Burley, Idaho; Casper, Wyoming; Elko, Nevada; Eugene, Oregon; Farmington, New Mexico; Grand Junction, Colorado; Helena, Montana; Smithfield; and Yorba Linda, California.
“We want to bring the house of the Lord even closer to our members, that they may have the sacred privilege of attending the temple as often as their circumstances allow,” President Nelson said at the end of general conference.
Gutke’s friend, Linda Sorenson, was at first “amazed” at the large number of temples announced, but on second thought, was not so surprised.
“President Nelson is such a forward-moving prophet and he’s getting the work done,” she said.”
For many Latter-day Saints in these outlining areas, their initial reaction was one of shock and disbelief, followed by jubilation and tears of gratitude in honor of pioneer ancestors, for answered prayers and knowing that in the near future they would not have to drive for hours to attend the temple, especially in winter conditions.
For David Pickett, a Latter-day Saint who lives within a 30-minute drive of Burley, seeing this western push of temples is also a fulfillment of prophecy.
“This is what we’ve known would happened and what we’ve learned our entire lives — that the temples would dot the earth — and we’re seeing it,” Pickett said. “And it’s a beautiful thing to see.”
The Deseret News spoke with several Latter-day Saints from some of the new temple locations. Here are their thoughts.
As President Nelson started down the list of 20 temples Sunday, lifelong Burley resident Clay Handy jokingly added, “Burley, Idaho,” after each one.
When Helena, Montana, and Casper, Wyoming, were mentioned, the 66-year-old former Latter-day Saint bishop thought, “Wow, there’s as much demand in Burley as in those places.”
When he heard Burley named, Handy burst out yelling, joined by his large family. One family member later told him she wished she had captured the moment on video.
“It was pandemonium for a bit,” said Handy, whose great-grandfather moved to the Burley area in the 1890s. “We were just thrilled.”
When the Twin Falls temple was dedicated in 2008, Handy remembers noting the size of the building and thinking it wouldn’t satisfy the demands of the area for very long. With potential growth in the coming years, he wondered if there might be another temple in the Magic Valley one day.
“I never expected it quite this fast,” he said. “But there are a lot of good people in the valley that are regular temple attenders. It’s just part of their life.”
Eric and Nancy Fonnesbeck, also longtime residents, didn’t think a temple would come to Burley in their lifetime.
“We’ve heard in the past year that we might get a temple but Burley is such a small town that we just never thought it was really going to happen,” Nancy said.
Pickett, a former president of the Oakley Idaho Stake, said Latter-day Saints can honor their pioneer ancestors by serving in the new temple.
“We’re absolutely thrilled, obviously, but we also feel an obligation to our rich pioneer heritage,” he said. “We feel like we owe a lot to our pioneer ancestors who did so much to settle this area. So we’re excited and we are ready to go to work in the temple.”
Drew and Kristie Perkins both grew up in Casper, raised a family there, and in the process witnessed the church grow from three branches into two stakes.
At different times over the years the couple’s congregation was assigned to several temple districts — Salt Lake; Ogden; Idaho Falls; Denver; Billings, Montana; and Fort Collins, Colorado. Although there’s a temple in Star Valley, Wyoming, they said it’s difficult to travel there, particularly during the state’s harsh winters.
The Perkins anticipate the new Casper temple will both strengthen members and raise the church’s profile.
“Having this temple will help, I think, to solidify the Saints in central Wyoming because most of us rarely see each other because our missions and our temple districts have all been in different areas,” Drew Perkins said. “I think for the first time we’ll actually start to feel the strength of Saints in Wyoming. … It will be wonderful to see the blessings that come to Casper and throughout central Wyoming — as well as the state — when a temple is built here.”
After the temple announcement Sunday, both Olivia Cobian and Stephanie Payne, Latter-day Saints in the Elko, Nevada, area, recalled when President Gordon B. Hinckley visited Elko in 1997 and “predicted there would be an LDS temple in the town someday,” according to an Associated Press article.
“He told us how proud he was of the church’s growth here and that one day there would be a temple built,” Payne said. “We are so excited to see that prophecy fulfilled. … What a blessing!”
The two closest temples to Elko in Twin Falls (about 160 miles) and Salt Lake (230 miles). The third closest temple is in Reno, about 290 miles away.
Wilde Brough and his wife, who live in Clover Valley, served as temple ordinance workers at the Salt Lake Temple. They arose every Saturday at 4:30 a.m. to make the four-hour drive.
What will a temple in Elko do for church members? Brough believes a local temple will inspire greater church activity among members.
“I’ll bet you see temple recommend numbers increase and stay increased,” he said. “People let them lapse, but if you only have to go over to town to go to the temple, that’s different.”
As a stake Young Women president, Cobian knows there’s great interest from area girls and boys to do temple and family history work. In 2020, young people in Cobian’s stake indexed more than 20,000 names. It’s been difficult to schedule trips to Twin Falls, especially during the pandemic, so they are ready for a temple in Elko.
“I feel like we have been preparing and it’s such a blessing,” she said. “I was crying so much Sunday. Today I am smiling. It’s such happy news.”
Mario and Linda Aguirre have lived in Eugene, Oregon, for just under a decade. Going to the Portland temple is a two-hour dive. They and other Latter-day Saints have prayed for a temple closer to home for years.
“This is something Saints in Eugene have longed for,” Linda Aguirre said.
Aguirre said Eugene is not what you would call a “religious place,” but the Latter-day Saints there are strong. She believes a temple will bring a greater spiritual presence to the community.
“Our numbers are small but our people are mighty,” she said. “What a blessing to have a temple.”
Grand Junction, Colorado
In October 2018, then 11-year-old Mayce Oberg was greatly disappointed when President Nelson didn’t announce a new temple close to where her family lives in Montrose, Colorado.
Their closest temple is in Monticello, Utah, more than three hours away. Provo is within four hours and Denver is about a five-hour drive.
So she wrote a letter to the prophet with a request.
“Having a temple here will change many lives,” she wrote with a pencil. “I’m turning 12 next year and I would like to live closer to one. I don’t mind if its like 25 minutes away in Delta, Colorado, at least its better than 3 hours away! We don’t have as many ward temple trips because it’s so far away. Once I’m 12 I will want to go to the temple every day. … Having a temple closer will make us soo happy. I really hope there is a place closer that is ready for a temple.”
A short time later the family was in northern Utah to see Oberg’s grandmother who was sick with cancer. Elder Gary E. Stevenson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, also came to give their loved one a blessing. Mayce’s parents were surprised when their daughter stepped forward with her temple letter and asked the church leader to pass it along to President Nelson, which he graciously said he would.
“I about died,” said Becka Oberg, Mayce’s mother.
The family doesn’t know if the letter was actually delivered to President Nelson, but they rejoiced when the prophet said a temple was coming to Grand Junction, only an hour from Montrose.
“We would like to think she had a small role in getting the ball rolling,” Becka Oberg said. “It’s such a blessing for us. It makes us so happy.”
Although he now lives in Utah, John Barger served as president of the Great Falls Montana East Stake from 1994-2002. Great Falls is 90 miles from Helena.
In those days, members in Great Falls made the nearly four-hour drive across the U.S.-Canadian border to attend the Cardston Alberta Temple, even after the dedication of the Billings Montana Temple in 1999.
“Obviously in the winter sometimes it was pretty sporty,” Barger said.
Barger guessed that the Helena temple would include stakes in Butte, Helena, Great Falls and perhaps Missoula. Along with a reduction in travel time, the new temple will “lift” the church in these areas and give it a footprint, Barger said.
“It will establish the church as a significant presence in the communities it serves and bring positive attention,” he said. “It gives members a kind of lift in the communities where they live, that they are viewed with something that’s growing and having a positive impact … The practical impact is the shorter travel distance, but I anticipate temple activity will increase and maybe some who have delayed preparing to go to the temple will be motivated to do so now.”
Seth Stoddard, a former bishop who also served in a stake presidency, lives in Dillon, about two hours from Helena. He agreed with Barger that the new temple will be a great benefit.
“We’re excited to have another one here in Montana,” he said.
Kate Hirschi, a transplant from Utah, admitted to taking temples for granted before her family moved to Great Falls. Her children have had the opposite experience. Bad weather has forced them to cancel many temple trips in recent years.
“We’re so grateful to have some new opportunities,” she said.
Once the temple in Smithfield was announced, it didn’t take long for people to begin speculating where it might be built.
Gutke, who turns 97 in July, has her ideas but will be content with whatever the church decides.
“There are a lot of good places where they could put it, so wherever they decide to build the temple will be where we wanted to have it,” she said. “I’m just thrilled about it. I hope to live to see at least where it’s going to be.”
Since the announcement, Gutke has thought of her great-grandfather, Samuel Roskelley, one of Cache Valley’s early pioneers who served as a bishop and the first recorder of the Logan Temple.
“I’m wondering if he would like to help choose where the new temple will be,” she said with a laugh.