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LDS members celebrate 50th anniversary in North Alabama

MADISON – Hundreds gathered on March 3 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization of Alabama’s first stake, or group of congregations, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Alabama Stake, later renamed the Huntsville Alabama Stake, was organized in spring 1968. Elder Harold B. Lee from Salt Lake City, Utah presided over the conference. Four years later, Lee became the 11th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the 50th anniversary event, current stake president Stephen Vaughan of Huntsville welcomed and honored pioneering members. Friends and family enjoyed a commemorative video, sacred choral performance, historical displays, games and dancing for the whole family, Wendy Reynolds said. Reynolds is Assistant Director of Public Affairs/Huntsville-Madison.

Virginia Brown, 73, of Decatur remembered attending the conference as a young mother, “with a lap full of babies.” Brown joined the church at 11 years old in Lawrenceburg, Tenn. and moved to Decatur in 1966. Her late husband, William G. Brown, served as bishop of the Decatur Ward for nine years and president of the Huntsville Alabama Stake for six years.

“Virginia commented, ‘It is great to be here today … and see old friends,” Reynolds said.

Mormon missionaries first arrived in Alabama in the late 1800s. By 1896, five established Sunday Schools were open. The first formal LDS Sunday School in North Alabama was organized at John Washington Locke’s home on July 28, 1929 at Locke’s Crossroads near Elkmont.

The Elkmont chapel was dedicated later on Nov. 1, 1930. At that time, Alabama had 2,516 church members. “The 1940s brought LDS servicemen to Alabama, strengthening the small, growing congregations. The military and space industry brought an additional influx of members in the 1950s, and the church began building chapels throughout the state,” Reynolds said.

In 1967, Archie and June Garrard moved their family to Huntsville and were instrumental in serving and supporting the growth of the church. At 93 years old, Archie was honored at the celebration as the stake’s oldest member. In June, the Garrards will celebrate 70 years of marriage.

“As we watched the church blossom and grow in Alabama, we watched our children grow too,” June Garrard said. From their six children, their posterity has grown to 109 family members.

The church has grown to more than 37,000 members in Alabama, comprising 45 larger congregations called wards, 30 branches or smaller congregations, and seven stakes. The two North Alabama stakes account for 6,500 members.

“Both join forces yearly, uniting in faith with the community to raise awareness of our great country by hosting a ‘Celebrate America’ concert and at Christmas by hosting a Nativity festival and concert series to celebrate the birth and life of our Savior Jesus Christ,” Reynolds said.

The book, “Huntsville Alabama Stake, Building Zion in the South” gives an historical account and is available on Amazon.

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