Attending BYU Women’s Conference an annual tradition for many LDS women

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Kristen Hayes Acker and her family attend the 1993 Women’s Conference. (Kristen Acker)

Women’s Conference stands as the largest two-day assembly of LDS women in the world. Since 1976, the annual event has brought women from around the country together to celebrate, learn and grow.

The spirit of Women’s Conference exists whether women attend the conference in person or watch from home. But for many, attending Women’s Conference is an annual tradition.

“For the past 25 years it’s been a family tradition of ours,”  Kristen Hayes Acker said. “My mom started (the tradition) and then little by little we’ve all started joining her.”

Acker’s family includes six sisters plus her mother and one sister-in-law.

“Most everybody (currently) lives in Utah, but we have all lived all over the country before,” Acker said. “We have all flown in for that particular weekend and have gotten together and made it a tradition for several years.”

Acker and her family enjoy the conference’s classes because they are each different.

“We actually go through the schedule and mark our initials on which ones interest us and then we figure out who wants to go to which ones,” she said.

Each class provides a specific message for the attendees.

“I’ve had a sister struggling with divorce … I’ve had a sister who lost a child … I’ve had a sister who struggled to have children,” Acker said. “We would find the classes that were best for them and then we would split up. It is a great weekend and we look forward to it every year.”

The Hayes sisters have been going to Women’s Conference for the last 25 years. (Amy Hayes Eastmond/Facebook)

However, this year Acker’s Women’s Conference plans are different from before.

“This year my mom was diagnosed with leukemia and she is on her second month right now of chemotherapy,” Acker said.

Because of her mother’s health condition, the sisters have arranged to visit their mother in St. George and watch Women’s Conference on the TV with her.

“We are very emotional about the fact that in 25 years this will be the first year that she won’t be attending, but we will all be watching from home,” Acker said. “It is such a strong tradition for us … we will be there from the distance.”

Jennefer Johnson, the 2016 Women’s Conference program administrator, shares similar feelings about the essence of the conference.

“Participants tell me that the conference lifts their spirits, helps them to refocus, to laugh and learn and it gives them an opportunity to spend time with the women in their lives while hearing gospel principles,” Johnson said.

Kristen Acker and her sisters will be watching Women’s Conference this year via TV because of their mother’s leukemia treatment. (Kristen Acker/Facebook)

The 2016 program coordinators expect 15,000 women to attend the conference. To pull off the event, Johnson and her staff work with the Women’s Conference committee, service subcommittee and more than 1,000 volunteers to plan the sessions and all of the logistics for the conference.

Service has been a part of Women’s Conference since 1999. This year the women will help with take, make and return projects and 15 other service opportunities, many of which will help refugees in Utah.

The service portion of the conference takes a lot of logistical planning to be successful.

“With the support of LDS Charities, we hope to prepare 350,000 meal kits, assemble 14,000 hygiene kits, cut 3,500 fleece blankets, stitch 1,200 courage capes, cut and assemble 600 procedures dolls and decorate 500 Christmas stockings,” Johnson said. “Each year the sisters who attend perform service miracles.”

In preparations for the conference, Johnson suggests participants wear good shoes and layer clothing in case of bad weather. If attendees come in a group, Johnson advises splitting up and later sharing notes from the classes with others.

“Come prepared to be inspired, taught and to have a wonderful time,” Johnson said.

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