The Evolution of Wasatch-Front Units. Part 2.

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.

6 Responses to The Evolution of Wasatch-Front Units. Part 2.

  1. I wonder if our families knew each other, although my family may have predated yours (they lived there when D. Arthur Haycock was bishop, and Harold B. Lee was stake president — during the prime years).

    I’m probably anticipating your next posts, but don’t wards, like neighborhoods, go through regular cycles? My own current ward has been up and down based on the cycles of the neighborhood, which, 50 years ago, was filled with families and rather prosperous; then decayed; and recently has been gentrified. The better fortunes of the neighborhood haven’t really helped the ward all that much, though, because the gentrification brought an artsy, alternate-lifestyle crowd along with the return of some Latter-day Saints, and there are virtually no children.

    • WVS says:

      Yes, our family was not part of the Lee era. I see our present Orem stake past its tipping point. We’ve demolished the orchards for a research park (which didn’t pan out in some respects) and million dollar properties, but our children are getting older, mostly gone. At this point, prosperous people are tending to leave, not come in. Lots of other interesting forces at work as well.

  2. Tod Robbins says:

    Bill, how would you say the overall health of Orem stakes/wards are?

    • WVS says:

      I don’t have access to the relevant stats, but as far a population is concerned, there is a pretty universal exit of older families in the west ends of some north Orem stakes while the east ends are aging. The replacements are most often Latino it seems. Latino presence in our stake has grown considerably and the Church has been sensitive to this with more live translation especially during stake conferences and some Sunday lessons taught in Spanish. That trend will only continue for the time being I think.

  3. zionssuburb says:

    Interesting demographics notes for highly populated and dense Mormon areas which has some relation to areas outside of the highly dense populations. One of the issues that is brought up whether a stake is drifting, or in other areas, new wards or branches are created, is that of the socio-economic impact to our boundary creation. I think of my own stake, of which I participate in boundary alignments, I am personally frustrated that we have some ward boundaries with large percentages of inner-city members, many inactive. 2 wards in our stake struggle with this issues 40% attendance puts a real strain on leaders, HT and VT – while up the street 10 minutes, there are 2 wards, almost 80% activity rate, highly affluent, they move into the ward because that is where the growth is, and the good schools, etc… In these wards, there is no struggle for leadership, faithful temple attendance, etc…

    My favorite ward I’ve ever lived in had affluent executives and business owners, regular joes like me, and welfare recipients getting back on their feet. It provided a great opportunity to mingle with those who aren’t like you, to serve those you feel didn’t need serving (one assignment I remember was to help clean a MANSION, I never asked why they couldn’t afford to drop the bills themselves, just served) or those you can’t help but stop by regularly to share your bounty.

    I don’t know the answer, but we are separating ourselves into classes in many places in my opinion, and it is a matter of operational design in the church. We need a little more guts to call

  4. zionssuburb says:

    I’d like to see more mixing going on. Assignments made to families to attend other wards, etc… it’s hard on those families, but I personally think we all need a little more ‘asked to sacrifice for the kingdom’ assignments.

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