Arlene Barlow Darger sat around her kitchen table with her family on June 2, 1978, and all of their ears listened for a ringtone. They were expecting a phone call any minute, announcing the birth of Arlene’s third grandchild, Elizabeth “Liz” Jane Darger.
Sounds chimed through the kitchen, and the family immediately reacted. Arlene answered the phone only to hear the voice of David Arthur Haycock on the other end, asking her to speak with President Spencer W. Kimball.
Instead of receiving news of her granddaughter’s birth, she received an invitation to meet with President Kimball, who would then call her as first counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, linking Liz Darger to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s Young Women program from her birth.
“I’ve always just felt a special connection with my grandmother,” said Liz, BYU’s senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator. “When she passed away four years ago, I was left with a notebook of hers that she used when she was in that presidency and also her nameplate that sat on her desk. And so, I’ve just always felt a connection with her and the Young Women program as a result.”
Liz has spent her entire life around young women. She went straight from being one herself to coaching them in basketball during her time as an undergraduate student at BYU.
After graduating from BYU, Liz coached at both high school and university levels. In addition, she has functioned as a high school guidance counselor, ward Young Women presidency member and BYU sport administrator for several female sports.
“(My roles have allowed me) to be able to hear the hopes and dreams of our young people and help, hopefully, prepare them to be great contributors to society and leaders in the church moving forward as well,” she said.
Emma Munguia, former BYU student-athlete under Liz and current post-graduate intern for Liz, said working with Liz every day is like taking a master’s class in building meaningful relationships, communicating effectively and preparing to be successful in the professional world.
“By example, she has taught me so much about having balance in all aspects of your life, but also about doing everything that is thrown your way to a standard of excellence that you should never relent on,” Munguia said.
Munguia described Liz as “a role model, a mentor and a dear friend.” She said she has never seen anyone take on so much and do it with such grace.
Liz was called to the Young Women general board and set apart by Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder Donald L. Hallstrom on Aug. 26. She and six other women were called by members of the Young Women General Presidency, including president Sister Bonnie H. Cordon, first counselor Sister Michelle Craig and second counselor Sister Becky Craven to form the board.
Board members help the presidency think through the Young Women program and ensure it’s serving the needs of the young women.
A primary role of the board is to visit wards and branches throughout the church to get a sense of how the Young Women program is playing out in the lives of the female Latter-day Saint youth. Board members help the presidency run focus groups, conduct training with stake, regional and ward presidencies and serve on committees with board members from other auxiliaries to facilitate collaboration.
“We’re kind of a small army to help the Young Women General Presidency because there’s only three of them, and they do so much,” Liz said. “So, we are there to help them in any way that we can.”
Liz herself went through the Young Women program, earning her medallion for completing her Personal Progress. She was the only young woman her age in her ward in Boise, despite the approximately 15 other young women who made up the program.
Liz can still list off her Young Women leaders’ names, saying how important they were to her — being the only one her age — and the influence they had on her life.
One leader in particular who had a lasting impact on Liz was Stephany Walker, her Boise East Stake Young Women president growing up. Liz said she felt like she had a lot of interaction with Walker, even though she feels like stake Young Women presidents don’t typically have that with individual women.
Liz said Walker “exuded love” toward her “sulky teenager” self, who was trying to figure out “who (she) was, what (she) wanted out of life and where (she) fit.”
“I remember her grabbing me by the shoulders, shaking them and just saying, ‘Liz, you are loved. You are loved,'” Liz said. “It felt like she wouldn’t let me go until I was convinced of that, and because she seemed to know it, I started to feel it. And, I felt the love of my Heavenly Father through her.”
Liz said Walker, who passed away last December, had a gift of making people feel like they were the most important person in the world. Liz said she hopes to mimic that in both her calling and her job.
“As I have personal interactions, I hope I’m representing our Savior in a way that is pleasing to Him and that people leave my presence feeling more confident in themselves and in their ability to make good choices and tackle the challenges in front of them,” Liz said.
Liz is currently the sport administrator for BYU women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, women’s gymnastics, the spirit squads and men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field. She also serves as a campus Title IX liaison and oversees human resources, student-athlete welfare, gender equity and athletic department diversity and inclusion efforts.
She is a member of both the women’s conference committee and the homecoming committee, as well as the West Coast Conference Executive Council, the West Coast Conference Championships and Sport Administration Cabinet and the NCAA Common Ground Leadership Team.
Liz also entered BYU’s Educational Leadership doctoral program in June, making her a student on top of her duties and calling.
“I felt like my plate was pretty full with (my job and school), and now to have this calling on top of that is quite a bit,” Liz said. “But, I have a testimony that when we carve out time for the Lord, He magnifies not only our service, but He also magnifies our time. And somehow, we are able to get all the things done that we need to and meet those commitments we’ve made.”
Liz said she continually tries to be close to the Lord and to know how He would have her serve and help others.
Hilary Wheeler, Pleasant Grove 2nd Ward Young Women president, had Liz as her first counselor before Liz received her new calling. Wheeler said she knows Liz spends a lot of her time thinking of others — what she can do for them and how to serve them in both her church calling and work.
“I know she relies on the Lord,” Wheeler said. “I also know that she has her priorities in order. I think when you put the Lord first, He is able to help you accomplish what you can’t do on your own. I think Liz is a great example of that. She puts the Lord first and then she’s able to accomplish so much good.”
Munguia said some of this good has come through a current project she is working on with Liz. Munguia said the NCAA will host Common Ground IV on the BYU campus next week, a private conference to provide individuals at public and private colleges and universities, faith-based organizations and LGBT affiliations with an opportunity to discuss what makes them similar and different and how they can work more cohesively within athletics populations.
Munguia said the project is about getting to know people for who they truly are instead of making judgements about the labels they subscribe to.
“I am grateful that Liz followed a prompting to get involved, especially because it has led me to have the privilege to do what I believe is the most fulfilling work out there: showing love to all of God’s children,” Munguia said.
Liz has already utilized her work trips, such as attending conferences and games, as opportunities to visit Young Women programs all over the country. She has been to wards in Wisconsin, Washington and Georgia since receiving her new call two months ago.
Liz said she feels humbled by her calling and has already seen incredible blessings in her own life as a result of this opportunity to serve.
“My grandmother Arlene Darger and Papa, my grandfather, had a phrase,” Liz said. “They always just said, ‘We are grateful, grateful, grateful.’ And I find myself saying that more and more. I am grateful, grateful, grateful for opportunities to serve and the blessings that I feel that have come into my life.”