Marion Turley has passed away but he wrote a history of the organization of the stake and his call as the first president of the Yuma Arizona Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This is his account of the experience:
“We served as a District for about three years and in 1958 we were organized into a Stake called the Yuma Stake.
We had three General Authorities to organize Stake: There was Apostle Mark E. Peterson, Eldredge G. Smith, (Church Patriarch,) and Henry D. Taylor who was our mission Pres. and had been just called as one of the General Authorities as Assistant to the quorum of the Twelve.
They asked us to have all of our Branch Presidencies, Quorum Presidencies, District Council to meet in Yuma to be interviewed to see who they would like to be their Stake President, and the General Authorities wanted to interview all of us to see who they would feel should be called.
They had a lot of people to interview and they interviewed nearly all of them, but they hadn’t talked to all of them.
Then they called me in and they told me that it was obvious that they all wanted me to be their Stake President and they felt that they had been inspired that I was to be called to be their Stake President. I had previously told President Taylor that I thought that someone from Yuma should be called, as it was where the Stake headquarters would be. I was overwhelmed and felt inadequate and humbled to be called to such a high position in the Church. It was the 263rd Stake organized in the Church and I was flattered to be called and more was frightened to assume such a
great and important position in our Heavenly Father’s Kingdom.
I was asked to name my Counselors. Don Westover was to by my first Counselor and Robert Sessions as my Second Counselor. Earl Taylor as Stake Clerk.
They then called my two counselors in and told them about my desires to have them as my Counselors. Then the three of us met with the General Authorities and decided whom we would like to have served as our High Councilmen and all of our Bishops, our Auxiliary Organizations, our Quorum Organization. We were up nearly all night working out and calling our people to serve in the Stake. Elder Mark E. Peterson was a real hard worker and stayed with us to the end.
We needed to call a Stake Patriarch and the Authorities are very careful who they call to this position, because a Stake Patriarch must be a person that can listen to the prompting of the Lord and give only those things they are inspired to give in the blessing. They must be one that won’t go overboard and promise them only what they have prompted to say.
Brother Peterson asked me to call three men who I feel would be possible candidates for Stake Patriarch, and have them give prayers in Conference Sessions and then we could see who should be called to be out Patriarch. Elder Peterson felt that William Butler should be called.
6th Ave. Building - No longer in use
Quechan Branch Building - Closed in 1981
On April 25, 1958 several General Authorities arrived in Yuma: Elder Mark E. Peterson of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, Henry D. Taylor, Assistant to the Twelve and California Mission President, and Eldred G. Smith, Patriarch to the Church. Their purpose was to create the Yuma Stake. This was the 263rd stake of the church.
That Friday and Saturday the interviews and activities necessary for calling all the new officers were organized. Calls were made all the way into the night on Saturday. Elder Peterson typed a list of all the names and positions for Sunday morning: it took him until 2:30 in the morning.
There were 910 members present at the conference, 44% of the members living in the stake boundaries. The meeting was held at the Yuma Chapel on 17th Street and 6th Avenue.
Elder Peterson proposed that Blythe, Brawley, El Centro, and Wellton each change from branches to wards in the new stake. He announced that the Yuma Branch would be divided along 16th Street: the northern half would be Yuma Second Ward and the southern half would be the Yuma Ward (later renamed as the Yuma 1st Ward). The Quechan Branch was to be dependent on the 2nd Ward and the Cocopah Branch with the Yuma Ward. Those who had been assigned to these branches were returned to the wards where they were living. Independent branches of the stake would now include Calexico and Parker. The total stake population was 2038.
The following is taken from the Quarterly Historical Report for the Yuma Stake covering April to June 1958:
The conference was highly inspirational, and Elder Petersen’s principal theme was that we must accept our responsibilities with all we have and follow the leadership of those whom the Lord has called to preside over us.
General Authorities in Salt Lake were most helpful to the stake presidency in the various problems of stake organization. The sudden change in activity from a district of the California Mission to a Stake in Zion was almost like a change from a light breeze to a whirlwind. The step-up in activity and responsibility was remarkable and all but overwhelming. On May 10th, Preston Nibley from the Church Historian’s Office, and Walter J. Poelman from the Presiding Bishop’s Office met with the stake presidency, high council, bishoprics and clerks. They gave out materials and instructions relative to the keeping of records in the stake. On May 25th, Brothers Lee A. Palmer and Lorenzo Mitchel from the Presiding Bishop’s Office met with the same group and gave valuable instruction and inspiration regarding the organization and operation of Aaronic Priesthood in the stake and wards. They also gave information concerning Ward Teaching.
On June 7th and 8th we had our first stake conference and it was under the able direction of S. Dilworth Young of the First Council of Seventy. He was very direct in giving specific instructions in many things, especially in the making of decisions and in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. There were present 610 or 30% of stake membership.
The stake organization is almost complete but it is taking a little time to settle down into a consistent pattern of activity; there are so many who are not acquainted with ward and stake organization and operation. However, this is normal in a mission area and already there are definite signs of growth in activity as well as in spirit and in acceptance of Church standards.
Cocopah Branch Building - Closed in 1981
Taken from Earl Taylor’s 1988 compilation A
History: The Yuma Arizona Stake of Zion And A History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Imperial Valley 1929-1992 by the El Centro California Stake.
The desert LDS population was almost non-existent in the early 1900s. Eleven men, possibly all members of the Church, who were convicted of polygamy weresentenced to spend time in the Territorial Prison between 1880-1905.
January 10, 1847: The Mormon Battalion entered California at the Yuma Crossing after marching across the desert from Tucson. They continued westward, going south around the sand dunes and on to San Diego.
In 1929 a Sunday School was organized in El Centro with fifteen members, William T. McClendon as superintendent. There was also a small Sunday School in Calexico with just the Quiroz and Mendez families.
In 1935 a Sunday School was started in the home of Cora Richardson (Sabin) in Brawley and the El Centro group was discontinued. The area members were drawn from Jacumba, Elsinore, Banning, Palm Springs, Indio, Palo Verde Valley, Needles, Parker, and the Yuma Valley. Members went to El Cajon for sacrament meeting; the Brawley Sunday School was a dependent unit of the East San Diego Branch of the California Mission.
September 1935 was the organization of the Brawley Branch with 35 members, meeting in the American Legion Hall.
1937 saw the formation of the Imperial Valley District, Delburt Orson Lunceford as president. “When he first moved to the Brawley area, President Lunceford had been diverted from gospel principles. He received an injury one day while baling hay which threatened his life. As he lay in a hospital in Los Angeles, he was given a priesthood blessing which included a call to repentance if he desired to live to fulfill his earthly mission. He became a stalwart member of the church and administered the affairs of the district during the difficult period of World War II. With great faith and a priesthood blessing, he drove his car approximately 240,000 miles during a time when tires and gasoline were strictly rationed and parts for repairs almost nonexistent. Both he and the saints in the area knew that the Lord was watching over them.”
January 7, 1940 the El Centro Branch was organized with John R. Adams as president. Meetings were held in the Veterans Memorial Hall which had to be cleaned up each Sunday morning. Later, meetings were moved to the Labor Temple and Primary was at the Women’s Ten Thousand Club.
“In 1947 the Imperial Valley District was divided and the Colorado River District was organized; by 1952 there were these two districts as well as the Yuma District which included Gila Bend and Ajo. The Calexico Branch was organized in 1953 with Woodrow Wilkes, a school teacher, as the first branch president. He and his wife Virginia had been promised that they would be able to have children if they became active in the church; they later had a son and daughter.
Blythe’s chapel was dedicated in 1949 by Elder Harold B. Lee. The Yuma 6th Ave. Chapel was dedicated in 1950. A chapel was built in Brawley and dedicated by President Bruce R. McConkie of the Seventy in 1954. The Quechan Branch chapel also came about in 1954 and the Cocopah Branch the next year. A chapel in El Centro at 6th and Desert Garden followed in 1955, as well as one in Parker. The chapel on Beach Street in Calexico was dedicated in 1957.
In October 1956 a conference was held to create a district patterned after a stake to develop leaders. This district included the Colorado River, Imperial Valley, and Yuma Districts. The conference was held in the Joe Hunt Sports Arena since the Yuma Chapel was too small. Chairs were set in a circle around the prize fight ring in the center of the arena which served as the stand. When all the new district officers were sitting on the stand, the ring partially collapsed; no one could doze for the rest of the meeting because of fear that the whole thing would fall. Marion Turley of Brawley was called as president of the new District Presidency with Donald Westover of Yuma as first counselor and Ray L. Jones of Blythe as second counselor.
Seminary began when Yuma was still a branch and spread until it was available to all wards and branches.
In 1956 the Rhythm Kings were organized, a LDS dance band to provide recreation for Yuma’s youth. Band members included: Dave Smith, Tuffy Alvarez, Dick Stanton, Don Albert, Joe Acciani, Bruce Farley, and De Ann Hall.
In 1957, Spencer W. Kimball of the Twelve dedicated the addition to the Yuma Chapel, a special and memorable experience for all involved.
In April 1958 the Yuma District was deemed ready to become a full stake of Zion.
Before Yuma Was a Stake
Becoming a Stake
Excerpts taken from: Yuma Arizona Stake History 1958 - 2008
"We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. "
The Book of Mormon, Introduction
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