NAUVOO, Ill. — Literally below the majestic Nauvoo Temple and figuratively behind the scenes, a fleet of missionaries, employees and interns support a city through service.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founded Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., in 1962 for the purposes of restoring and maintaining its property and sites in Nauvoo and Carthage. Since then, NRI has evolved from a handful of archeologists and landscapers to a service-oriented company of 40 missionaries, 17 full-time employees and four student interns.
Elder Robert Light began as a welder-missionary before he was called as the program director in April. Elder Light said members of NRI are called to facilitate the spirit for visitors who regard Nauvoo as a sacred place.
“A lot of visitors who are members [of The Church of Jesus Christ] will come to Nauvoo and rededicate themselves to the church, so by keeping the grounds and sites here in order, we are doing a form of missionary work,” Light said. “The main purpose of the church’s investment in Nauvoo is for the sustaining and increasing of testimony.”
NRI’s mission statement reads that the organization is responsible for “maintaining the Lord’s property.” To help carry out such a task, the company’s operations compound consists of everything from a cabinet-making shop to antiques storage.
During the summer months, Nauvoo experiences a wave of tourism at which time NRI takes on an additional workforce. A select number of students are chosen to complete summer internships through the program in various disciplines.
Mitchell Cannon, 23, a BYU student from Salt Lake City, is one of four student interns working in Nauvoo this summer. As a landscape management major, Cannon became interested in the program after learning about NRI on a family vacation to Nauvoo.
Landscape interns maintain Church site grounds and gardens while learning about various agricultural strategies. Cannon said the unique atmosphere of Nauvoo has helped him gain a wealth of both intellectual and spiritual knowledge.
“We are all working to the same purpose of beautifying the city and bringing the spirit so people can enjoy their stay, and that kind of unity helps you to be motivated to do your job and do your best at it,” Cannon said.
While the location is inspiring, the up-keep of 91 missionary homes, 32 historical sites and acres upon acres of gardens and lawns is tremendous.
Full-time employee Lee Noe, originally from Keokuk, Iowa, has worked for NRI for six years. He described the environment as demanding, but rewarding.
“It’s like working in Disneyland, you know, it is still hard work,” Noe said. “It can be incredible and at the same time not always the happiest place on earth because we maintain so many different sites and at the same time help the mission. With all of the people, it is kind of like we are a little city within ourselves.”
The NRI team retains focus on its daily stewardships by opening each workday with a spiritual thought, group hymn and prayer. Noe explained that the emphasis on sacred service is a humbling experience.
“If you take a chance to remove yourself from your position, you’ll see that you’re in the middle of where so much history took place,” Noe said. “When you’re walking down the same streets as Joseph and Brigham, you realize that you’re working in that place you read about.”