OREM -- What do Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, former BYU and National Football League tight end Chad Lewis, and the late U.S. Sen. Arthur V. Watkins have in common? All three were members of the Sharon Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sharon Stake, the first in Orem, was officially organized 80 years ago - on Sept. 15, 1929 - and took its name from the birthplace of the LDS prophet Joseph Smith - Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont. Old-timers will recognize the Sharon, Windsor and Vermont names as being used for some of the early church and school buildings in the community.

Geographically, the new stake encompassed the area from the Provo City limits on the south to Pleasant Grove on the north, from the mountains on the east to Utah Lake on the west, and up Provo Canyon to the Wasatch County line, according to current stake president L. Robert Webb.

It is estimated that approximately 30 stakes have come from the original Sharon Stake, which has itself been divided at least four times - in 1947, 1952, 1958 and 1985.

Birthday celebration

To commemorate its 80th birthday, stake leaders organized a committee, headed by chairman Larry Heaps, to plan and carry out several activities during the year. A Gold and Green Ball - the culminating event of the celebration - will take place on Friday, Sept. 18, from 7-11 p.m., at the Sharon Stake Center, 545 S. 800 East in Orem.

In addition to a live band, floor show and refreshments, the social will feature displays and memorabilia, said committee member Dick Beeson, retired director of the Orem Library, who has researched some of the history of the stake.

Beeson and those working with him have assembled framed pictures of the nine Sharon Stake presidents - beginning with Arthur V. Watkins, on down to Webb - and have created a time line that places stake historical dates in a setting with church and national events occurring at the same time.

Arthur V. Watkins and history

The formation of the stake took place just before the collapse of the New York stock market in October of 1929, the event credited with marking the onset of the Great Depression.

"You can imagine what Arthur V. Watkins faced as stake president," Beeson said.

But under Watkins's leadership during those difficult years, two institutions at the heart of the Orem community had their founding.

One was Sharon's Cooperative Educational and Recreational Association, or SCERA - a nonprofit organization formed by the stake in 1933 to provide the community with, as the name suggests, more opportunities for recreation and education. (The SCERA name was later modified, with "community" replacing "cooperative" in the acronym.) One member from each of the seven wards of the Sharon Stake formed the first SCERA board of trustees.

A second institution that originated with the stake was the Orem-Geneva Times newspaper. In 1929, Sharon Stake published "The Voice of Sharon," a monthly news publication regarded as Orem's first newspaper. Control of the paper was transferred to the SCERA organization in 1933.

In 1942, Watkins had a controlling interest in the Utah Valley Publishing Company, which printed what was by then a weekly newspaper, and the name was changed to the Orem-Geneva Times, according to Orem's 1978 history book, "It Happened in Orem."

After being released as Sharon Stake president in January of 1946, and elected to the United States Senate in November of that year, Watkins sold the newspaper and the publishing company to M. Neff Smart. Harold B. Sumner then purchased the businesses in 1953, and the Sumner family ran the printing business and published the newspaper until it was sold to the Daily Herald in 2000.

National prominence

As a U.S. senator, Arthur V. Watkins went on to national prominence when he was made chairman of the select committee holding hearings and studying censure charges against Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy. The Eisenhower-era hearings took place in the wake of the Wisconsin senator's controversial accusations about Communist subversives in high places in government.

Watkins feared that he would be given the assignment, which was dubbed "the job no senator wanted" by Beverly Smith, Washington editor of the Saturday Evening Post at the time.

"He had a dream that he was going to be called on the committee, and not only on the committee, but as chairman," said Denise Watkins Burton, Watkins's granddaughter, who grew up in the Sharon Stake and currently is a member of the stake. "He felt very strongly that this was something he was supposed to do, however, and he wasn't going to shirk from it."

Beeson said Watkins had a reputation as a "quiet, gray-haired" man, but was able to stand up to the more flamboyant McCarthy, and keep the hearings in order. Watkins had the distinction of being featured on the cover of Time magazine.

Embracing tradition and celebration

Whether they're aware of the their stake's history, members have embraced the birthday celebration, which began this past spring with cleanup projects held on a ward-by-ward basis.

Stake member Richard Bennett estimated that 60 people donated approximately 1,000 hours of labor to build a float, "Sails to Zion," that was entered in both the Days of '47 parade and Provo's Fourth of July parade. The float won recognition as "best non-commercial" float in the Provo event, and the award will be presented at Friday's Gold and Green Ball.

In August, stake members enjoyed an old-time country fair on the grounds of what used to be the stake welfare farm. At the end of the month, a fireside was held with Elder Richard G. Scott, an LDS apostle, as the speaker. Scott was married to the late Jeanene Watkins Scott, a daughter of Arthur V. Watkins.

Chris Stevenson, second counselor in the Sharon Stake presidency, and a former bishop of the First Ward, said the celebration has caused him to reflect on "the power of traditions" set up from the early times of the stake.

"Each of the wards has a uniqueness that has continued through the years," he said. "The traditions of a ward and stake really do carry on, even amid the change."


See what people are talking about at The Community Table!