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Wendell Bartholomew Christenson, Sr. (1903-1983): Autobiography

Brief autobiography. This sketch was written in several parts, before 1968. The originals are in possession of W. Bart. Christenson, Jr., Provo, Utah.

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I was born October 26, 1903, in Fayette, Sanpete County, Utah. My mother, Sarah Bartholomew, was born in the same house, September 8, 1875, and descendants of the builder, John Bartholomew [her father], still occupy the place.

Sarah Bartholomew married Andrew “B” Christenson in the Manti Temple, July 1, 1896, and they were blessed with eight children: Adelbert, Edythe, myself, Sheldon, Elsie, Luther, Lucile, and Margaret. Adelbert died at age eleven of diphtheria, and Elsie was drowned in the family fish pond when four years old.

One of my earliest recollections was a trip to Europe at age six and a half. Father, who at that time was President of the LDS Academy, in Salt Lake City, took a leave of absence for study in England, France, and Germany, and took the whole family along. It was a wonderful experience. I started to school in Leipzig, Germany, and soon felt at home with the other German children. Father took great pains to take us to all the historic scenes, such as the art galleries, and gave us opportunity to meet some wonderful German couples and their families.

When we returned to America, in 1911, we settled in Provo, Utah, where father was appointed as Head of the Language and Archeological Department in the Brigham Young College. Edythe and I were placed in the BYU Training School.

I was baptized a member of the Church at Provo, June 21, 1912, by Willard F. Russell, and confirmed the same day by Reed Beck.

From Provo, we soon moved to Rexburg, Idaho, where father had been called to be President of the Ricks Junior College. I received the priesthood in Rexburg, being ordained [a deacon] by L.T. Perry, November 26, 1916. I also, along with other members of our family, received a patriarchal blessing in which many wonderful things were promised. This has been a great source of encouragement and guidance all my life, and the fulfillment of many of the promises has strengthened my testimony.

From Idaho, we moved to LaVerkin, Utah—“Dixie,” as it was called—where we spent some eventful years developing a hot springs resort and trying to start an irrigation project to water several thousand acres of what could have been wonderfully productive land. It failed at that time, but was just recently approved by the United States Government after a wait of about fifty years.

From Dixie, we moved to Hinckley, Utah, where father answered a call from the Church to organize the Millard Academy into a junior college. It was about this time that the Church decided to abandon the church school system [academies], with the exception of BYU, LDS College, and Weber College, and father left the teaching profession [after twenty three years in church education] for [fulltime] ranching and business [pursuits].

He acquired the Starr Ranch [between Santaquin and Nephi, Utah] with his brother, Albert, and his brother-in-law, Otis Ercanbrach, and later [also] bought a cattle ranch near Duchesne, Utah. My days as a ranch hand and farmer lasted until the farm depression of 1923, when financial reverses caused the loss of the ranches. The family then moved to Salt Lake City, where father went into business promoting his various mining and metals interests, and we, the older children got jobs. I spent several years in mining, first in Farmington, Utah, and later in California.

It was while living in Salt Lake City and going to school at the University of Utah that I first met Ann Howells, a popular member of our ward’s younger set. We were in a Mutual play together, and our friendship blossomed into love. I was called on a mission to Germany in 1925, and after my farewell party in the ward, I sat on the porch with Ann while the [ward house] almost burned down. A thief had broken into the chapel hoping to find money donated for my mission expenses, and had dropped a match which started the blaze.

We corresponded while I was in Germany, and shortly after I returned we became engaged and were married about a year later (June 26, 1929) in the Salt Lake Temple.

My mission to Germany was a wonderful experience. Because of my earlier trip to Germany, I learned the language rather easily and was blessed with some wonderful missionary companions. I labored first in Dresden, a beautiful city rich in tradition and culture. I met many faithful, warm, and friendly people and learned to love them like my own family. After a few months, I was sent to Breslau as the District President. It was here that I had a remarkable experience.

The mission president had called a conference for the whole mission in Dresden—a distance of about three hundred and twelve miles. It was suggested that the elders from each district walk the whole distance and tract and preach the Gospel on the way. We were all excited at the prospect, but two weeks before the conference, it started to rain and rain and rain, without letup. All over Germany, the crops were being ruined and things were developing into a national emergency. The mission president sent word that we should give up the idea of walking unless things changed well in advance of the date. We all met together, prayed, and discussed the problem and decided that if the Lord wanted us to do His work, the way would be opened. We decided also that we would spend the previous day fasting and then meet on the day of departure for our final prayers and take our separate courses two by two. There were sixteen of us, making eight different groups.

When the final morning arrived, it was raining hard and the skies were leaden. The papers predicted more rain. Undaunted, we met at the appointed place with our knap-sacks filled with Gospel tracts, heavy soles on our shoes, and prepared to depend on the hospitality of the German people during our three hundred mile walking tour. We sang a song together and had our prayer asking the Lord to clear the skies. A few words of encouragement were given to the group and we went down stairs and out into the street. The rain had stopped and blue sky appeared among the clouds. For two weeks, we walked under warm blue skies, and we were welcomed by farmers and villagers who had been thoroughly humbled by prospects of lost crops.

As one hundred sixty foot sore missionaries from all over Germany met in Dresden to commence a three day conference and testimony meeting, the skies suddenly darkened and it started to rain again. I have never heard more wonderful testimonies than those told by these elders relating their experiences—some really miraculous. Meetings, lasting ten hours each day, passed without notice. We wondered where the time went.

When I returned home, our family was having financial problems. Sheldon had been called to Germany on a mission a year after I left, and I had the privilege of being his first district president. Finances for both of us had been mostly earned by mother from sewing burial clothes in partnership with another member of the ward. Her sacrifices and labor will always be remembered with gratitude and love.

I returned home, in March 1928, and left shortly after for Los Angeles to help father with his mining projects. These were not successful, and in June 1929 I returned to Salt Lake City to marry Ann. [Following our wedding, we moved] to Los Angeles where we began keeping house in a small apartment, on Portland Street.

I was unable to support a wife working for father and soon set out on my own. I got a job selling Christmas cards until the holidays ended, [and] then tried selling real estate. I did fairly well, but was unhappy with the people for whom I worked. [I] was finally able to get a job with the Standard Oil Company at their El Segundo plant as a fireman.

[In 1930], I began to sell cooking utensils for the Century Metal Craft Corporation. I became district manager of Los Angeles and Southern California and continued until 1942.

After the war started [WW II], I went to work for the Occidental Life Insurance Company, in Los Angeles, and moved to San Francisco, in 1945 [1944], as assistant manager of the San Francisco branch office. I became branch manager of the company [in San Francisco] in 1947, remaining in that position until 1957, at which time I left to start my own insurance agency with Beneficial Standard Life Insurance Company.

In 1958, I added mutual funds to our insurance business, and as our business grew, I became regional manager for Financial Industrial Fund of Denver, Colorado, and continued my insurance business as part of our estate planning service. In 1966, I changed our name to Estate Programs Associates, with our own dealership and an expanded insurance service.

In recent months [1967], we have effected a merger with Equity Funding Corporation of America in which I am selling my business for stock in the corporation, and I will continue to run the business as division manager of the San Francisco office.

At present [1967], I am a member of the San Mateo Stake High Council, in charge of the 458th Quorum of Seventies and the stake mission program. I also serve as Stake Educational Advisor and Coordinator of the San Mateo and San Francisco Stake seminaries. Previous to this, I taught seminary for 6 years in the San Mateo and Burlingame Wards.

The Lord has given me many wonderful blessings: good health, a good wife and companion, four wonderful children (Wendell B., Jr., Andrew, and my daughters Suzanne and Diane), and we now have five lovely grandchildren [Jody, Jeffrey, Jonathan, and Jennifer Christenson, and John Tannyhill] and hope for many more.

I was blessed with loving parents and brothers and sisters who have been a joy to know. All are faithful members of the Church, and all have accomplished wonderful things.

The Gospel has been the center of our lives and has brought us peace and comfort through all our days. In times of trial, our burdens were made light, and through the Spirit, we have received guidance and help and answer to our prayers.

I often think of how much we owe to our great-grandparents, who gave up all they had to join the Church and come to Zion. How wonderfully their decisions affected our lives and destinies and brought boundless blessings to us, their posterity!

Capsule Summary of the life of WBC, Sr. (as recorded in his own handwriting):

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