The Evolution of Wasatch-Front Units. Part 2.
May 1, 2011 6 Comments
While my present Church unit has changed in composition over the last 20 years, in one way it remains unchanged. It’s still one of the most “active” stakes in the Church.
This stands in sharp contrast with the unit of most of my youth. Populated in significant percentage by immigrants (mostly Germans) it consisted of modest residences housing lower middle class residents. My first home teaching companion was George. A German refugee from Nazi Germany, he seemed ancient to me at the time. He was our ward choir director and he was a tyrant. My father was a former radio singer and enjoyed singing in the choir. I still remember him poking some fun at the elderly sisters. They often had a very long-wave vibrato and he could imitate it with Memorex fidelity. Even my mother would laugh through a frown.
The wards in our stake ran about 35% activity and had about 6-700 members. Our stake was the “Pioneer Stake,” famous as the former residence of Harold B. Lee, it had seen its prime. George and I home taught families who had not attended Church for decades, but he faithfully visited them with me in tow.
As that generation slowly left the scene, I left too, mission, college, marriage, kids, grad school, post-doc, professor, more kids. As my life evolved, so did the stake. As the already mature residents passed on, real estate sank in value. Less active or non-Mormons replaced the stalwarts. Activity rates sank. A few younger families remained, but most moved on. Crime rates increased. The house on the corner became a drug dealer’s outlet when the old couple passed on.
Church leader pools shrank dramatically. My brother, TR, who had lived through the block for years, finally left. My parents saw the handwriting on that old wall and moved 50 miles north. The wards shrank and were dissolved, chapels were sold. The 1st ward, 2nd ward, 3rd ward, 4th ward, 25th ward, 26th ward, 32nd ward and 35th ward melted away into 3+ wards. Stake boundaries expanded as similar surrounding stakes went through the same sorts of decay processes. There was always a significant hispanic population. In fact, the girl who sat by me in 6th grade, Susan, was 1st gen. American. She was beautiful but too smart to take me seriously. Gang inroads became bad and gunfire wasn’t unusual at night. That was one of the things that made the very hard decision for my parents. That and the fact that their friends and fellow travelers had traveled on.
My present neighborhood is still immature by those standards. But in spite of the upscale neighborhoods around us, aging and depreciation is happening both to long-time residences, and residents. Replacement residents are more transient, less affluent. Community planning won’t resolve these issues. In some ways, my old neighborhood mimics the transition Baltimore went through in the 1960s, but my home neighborhood down-slope trajectory happened decades later.
While our present stake and its nearby fellows have been characterized as the bread-basket of the Church in a number of ways, that is changing. And I’ll be watching it happen.
I’m going to revisit this topic, both from the point of view of my childhood stake and my present stake. I’ll come armed with statistics.