On May 22 and 23, members of the Des Moines Iowa Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrate 50th anniversary of the organization of the stake with an arts celebration at the Ashworth Building at 3301 Ashworth Road in West Des Moines. The display is open from 1:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. on Saturday May 22 and 8:00 a.m. through 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 23rd.
The Des Moines Iowa Stake was organized in 1970, but the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a part of the Des Moines, Ankeny, and surrounding communities for much longer than 50 years. From pioneer days to the current day, members of the church have been
These memories from Rebekah Bishop will be featured at the arts celebration along with works of music, visual art, handcraft, photography, and poetry that celebrate the stake’s 50 years along with the growth and changes over the past decades.
Members of the congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that meet in Ankeny, Iowa, are blessed to have among them a handful of such pioneers who have personally witnessed and can recount the history and growth of the Church in that community over the past six decades.
A History of the Beginnings and Growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ankeny, Iowa, as told by Rebecka Bishop
My name is Becky Bishop. My mother is Mary Boyd. We were asked to give a history of the church in the Des Moines area and more specifically, Ankeny, at a recent Relief Society activity. Now I am presenting it in this format for a larger audience. My mother and I are both native Iowans. She has lived here all of her life and, with the exception of a four-year stint at Brigham Young University and living in Germany for several months, I have, too. We live in the country just half a mile apart, 18 miles northeast of Ankeny, where we have lived for more than 50 years.
Almost from the beginning the Church has had a presence in Iowa. As seminary students, Church members learn about the Mormon Trail through Iowa and the settlements that were established to assist the migrating Saints on their journey west. Martin Harris traveled through Des Moines in 1870 when he chose to rejoin the Saints in Utah, and according to a Des Moines newspaper, was given a suit of clothes by the Latter-day Saints living there. The first congregation of the Church in Des Moines was organized in 1936. They met in rented rooms in downtown. By 1951 there were branches in Ames, Des Moines, and I believe, Boone.
This house on Kingman Boulevard, near Drake University, was purchased by the Church and dedicated in 1943 by George Albert Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. My mother joined the Church in 1956 when my family lived in Des Moines. Missionaries were sharing the message of the restored gospel in our neighborhood, and my mother invited them to come in. I was four years old. This home is still standing – I took this picture of it earlier this year. It used to be white.
This photo shows a sacrament meeting at the church building on Kingman Boulevard. My mother, Mary Boyd, is sitting tall in the third row, just to the left of a woman wearing glasses. One of the men standing at the back of the room is the grandfather of Gordon Kusel, a member of the Ankeny Ward. This photo was taken in or around the year 1957.
This was the Junior Sunday School in the church building on Kingman Boulevard. Gordon Kusel’s grandmother is seated in the back, as is my Sunday School teacher. I am sitting fourth from the left in the third row, with the lower half of my face blocked. The boy in the third row from the back whose mouth is slightly agape is Donny Russell, a member of the Ankeny Ward. He recently told me that this building was a funeral home before the Church bought it, and that our Junior Sunday School room was where the bodies were viewed.
We had Pioneer Day parades in Iowa, too. This appeared in the Des Moines newspaper when I was in Primary.
In the late 1950s the Church purchased land on Ashworth Road in West Des Moines. Many wondered why our new building (the current stake center for the Des Moines Stake) was going to be built in the country. (You can see the cornfields in the background.) At that time 22nd Street was a gravel road. We grew corn behind the building to help with the branch budget. In 1970 Spencer W. Kimball, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and later President of the Church, organized the Des Moines Ward. By 1982 there were two wards in Des Moines.
I included this photo to give some context. My oldest son, Jacob, became a Sunbeam in 1978, two years before the Church changed to our current three-hour block schedule. This meant the Primary met on Wednesdays after school. We had church twice on Sundays then. Living where we still live now, we would drive 45 minutes to church in the morning, then rush home, trying to keep everyone awake so they would take naps before returning to church in the evening for sacrament meeting. Attending Primary was a challenge for me because my husband worked nights and I had to borrow my brother’s car to take three-year-old Jacob as well as 18-month-old Michael and two-month-old Joe to West Des Moines. (On the plus side, my brother drove a Camaro!) It was a blessing for all of us when the Church changed to the Sunday three-hour block schedule, but we still dreamed of having something closer.
There were a number of Latter-day Saint families living in the Ankeny area by then, and with our bishop’s blessing, we began socializing as a group, while still busily fulfilling our callings in the ward. We had several missionary firesides at Boyd’s Pond, pictured above. We had picnics and budget dinners. Also, home teaching and visiting teaching routes were primarily in our area.
And then, in February 1983, the organization of the Ankeny Branch was approved by the First Presidency of the Church, with Patrick Bishop (my husband) called as the branch president. Our branch was unique in that Patrick, a convert at age 20, was the only member of the branch who had experience being in a small branch. The rest of us were used to attending church in a large ward in a lovely building which was also the stake center. We took much of the leadership of the Des Moines First Ward with us – three who had served in the bishopric, the elders quorum president and both counselors, the Young Women president, two Relief Society counselors, the service and activities chairman, and even the very musical Primary chorister, who had done the original choreography for The City of Joseph pageant in Nauvoo. We had a lot of experienced leadership in our new little branch.
The American Legion Hall on 3rd and Cherry became our new home, and we were thrilled! We came on Sunday mornings bringing lace tablecloths, flowers, a podium, a portable organ, and hymn books – everything we would need. We brought the Spirit with us as we set up, and for three hours it was as holy as any chapel.
There were about 50 people at our first sacrament meeting, and that number continued to grow. There were inactive members of the Church who began coming and remained active. My mother made the comment that we just needed to “bring the Church to them.” Patrick said that when the branch presidency came early on that first Sunday, the building (which wasn’t very large) was filled with cigarette smoke from the night before. One of his counselors was appalled and felt that they needed to cancel church. Pat assured him that it would be okay. Pat said that as members began arriving and setting things up, the smell completely disappeared. Then later, as everyone had left after the three hours and Pat was locking up, he realized that the small had returned. (We weren’t quite as fortunate on the morning after a big sweet corn dinner – the Legion Hall was filled with flies. I think the Lord wanted to keep us humble. We used our programs as fans and fly swatters, and we managed.)
The Primary was our largest organization and the one where we were most lacking in experience. We met in the bar of the Legion Hall and used the booths as individual classes with posters on the mirrors identifying each class. All other organizations met in the corners of the room that we used for sacrament meeting. Our youth consisted of two young women (who were sisters) and one young man who was a deacon. Since most of us were serving in the Primary, just the sisters in the Relief Society presidency met for Relief Society. My brother Mike, who was in the elders quorum on the other side of the room, used to complain about the sisters in Relief Society always singing.
The bar itself was handy for storage during Primary.
We used the booths in the bar for Primary classes, and it actually worked quite well.
This was the Primary’s first sacrament meeting presentation.
We found many opportunities to do things together as a branch. Sometimes we were able to use the Legion Hall on days other than Sundays, and sometimes we found other places to get together. This was our first birthday party to celebrate the organization of the Ankeny Branch.
At our birthday party for the branch we gave out awards for the branch’s “firsts,” including prayers, talks, etc. Clearly pictured in this photo are several current members of both the Ankeny Ward and the Rock Creek Ward, the two wards that meet in the Ankeny building.
This was our first Relief Society birthday party. A member of the branch lived in a mobile home court in Ankeny, so she was able to reserve their community center for our homemaking meetings. When the community center wasn’t available, we met at someone’s house.
This was the branch’s first Fourth of July breakfast, a tradition that continues today with the Ankeny Ward and the Rock Creek Ward.
In July 1984, about 15 months after we met for the first time as a branch, we had a groundbreaking ceremony for our new building. By then we had an average sacrament meeting attendance of 80. First Street can be seen in the background.
Another photo from the groundbreaking ceremony. Our church was built on a grassy vacant lot.
This is a view of the new chapel from the south. Our building was built in phases and was added onto as we grew. This was the first phase.
We met for the first time in our new building in March 1985. Later, in August, we had an open house for the community. The man fourth from the left is Ollie Weigel, who was mayor of Ankeny at the time.
Here is one of the open house displays.
Pat was pleased to finally have a branch president’s office. Before, he would meet with people either at our house or theirs. Tithing settlement was held in his counselor’s basement. This is now the branch president’s office for the Young Single Adult Branch.
This was our first sacrament meeting in the new building. The first phase of the building ended at the hallway between the current Primary and Relief Society rooms and the nursery. It included the baptismal font that opened into that hallway. As you can see, these rooms were also smaller, being enlarged some years later as the additional phases were added.
This is another photo of our first sacrament meeting in the new building. That is my mother, Mary Boyd, at the organ.
This is a view from the southeast corner of the new building looking across First Street to what was a Wal-Mart at the time. Notice the fields to the east.
This was a Relief Society Christmas party in the new building. Current members of the Ankeny Ward, including me, are clearly visible in this photo.
We frequently found activities to do as a branch, with everyone being invited. This was a branch outing at Garden Grove in southern Iowa.
This, of course, was a scout Pinewood Derby. As I recall, the members of the elders quorum participated, too, with cars they had made.
As soon as we had boys old enough, we had a very active scout troop.
This was our first branch campout at Mount Pisgah on Memorial Day weekend in 1988. Five families participated, although everyone was invited. That evening after supper we had Family Home Evening as we sat on the hillside overlooking the valley.
This is a photo of the branch’s Primary kite activity held at the Ankeny church building in the spring of 1989. The grassy lawn is now the parking lot on the south side of the building.
We had nine families at our next Mount Pisgah Memorial Day weekend campout in 1990. We were a ward by then!
The next day we went to Garden Grove, where we had a picnic and softball game. You can see how our numbers had grown.
We had a tradition for years of a hayride party at Boyd’s Pond, something that actually started when we were still attending church in Des Moines. This photo was taken in the fall of 1990.
This is my mother, Mary Boyd, at the ward’s hayride party at Boyd’s Pond in October 1991.
This is a picture of our young men in the early days of being a ward. Current members of the Ankeny Ward are pictured in this photo.
These boys were the first Eagle Scouts from the Ankeny Ward. I get to be the proud mother and claim the boys on both sides.
This was our ward’s last Memorial Day weekend campout at Mount Pisgah, in 1992. The children were getting older, and weekends were getting busier. Over 50 families came and together we had a special Family Home Evening.
Our program that evening was a baptism performed by our bishop, Mark Cottrel, for his son Brent. This is part of my journal entry from that evening: “Brent’s baptism went very well. We had the songs and talks at our ‘natural amphitheater’ that overlooked the valley. What a beautiful spot! Everything is green and has a hazy appearance in the early evening light. After a talk on baptism and a song by the Primary children, we drove our cars back on a dirt road for a mile until we got to a bridge. The river was far below so we could all stand above and had a great view of Brent being baptized. Their clothes looked especially white in the dark water. (It was a very cool evening – about 60 degrees.) After that, we returned for Patrick’s talk on the Holy Ghost. I found myself with tears in my eyes when he spoke about the spirits who felt it had been a long time since someone had been baptized at that river at Mt. Pisgah.” There is a monument at Mt. Pisgah with some of the names of the more than 150 early Church members who are buried there.
This is a picture of the dedication of the second phase of our building, which included a cultural hall where we met for sacrament meeting. It wasn’t long before the third phase was added and then another addition as the Church continued growing in Ankeny.
This “alumni” picture of Church members who were part of the original Ankeny Branch was taken in 2013 to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ankeny.
In 1980, three years before the Ankeny Branch was organized, the population of Ankeny was a little over 15,000. Altoona’s was less than 6,000 and Bondurant’s was 1200. In 2016 Ankeny’s population was more than 58,000, and the city was identified as the third fastest growing in the United States. Altoona’s population had reached 18,000 and Bondurant’s was almost 4,000. Certainly the Lord knew the Church would grow in this area. And my mother, who for many years dreamed of having a church closer than West Des Moines, is now talking about a branch in Maxwell!
It was fun for me to look through my old pictures and remember so many who have come and gone from our Ankeny congregations in the past 35 years. For those of us who have remained, it has been sad to say goodbye to dear friends, but also exciting to meet the new ones who move in. This is the nature of the Church as we continue to find opportunities to serve and to share the gospel wherever we live.
Special thanks to Rebecka Bishop and Mary Boyd for recording and sharing the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Ankeny area, and to all the early members of the Church in the Ankeny area whose faithfulness blazed a gospel path for thousands of others to follow.