Long before George Washington became the great leader Americans are familiar with, he was just a young man, struggling to navigate a world that was challenging and perplexing. It is the same for all of us as we seek to find our way in this often mysterious world.
Most will gain little prominence outside our circle of family and friends, but a rare few will rise to greatness as their names become synonymous with righteousness and integrity. It behooves us as a society and as individuals to learn from such remarkable men and women.
In 1941, the author John Dos Passos wrote, “In easy times history is more or less of an ornamental art, but in times of danger we are driven to the written record by a pressing need to find answers to the riddles of today. We need to know what kind of firm ground other men, belonging to generations before us, have found to stand on. In spite of changing conditions of life they were not very different from ourselves . . . they managed to meet situations as difficult as those we have to face, to meet them sometimes lightheartedly, and in some measure to make their hopes prevail. We need to know how they did it.”
One such remarkable man who stood on the firm ground John Dos Passos mentioned was Wilford Woodruff.
A small group of dedicated researchers, editors, and others have made it their passion to search out and discover all they can about this boy turned prophet, seer, and revelator. The Wilford Woodruff Papers Project has been an extraordinary undertaking that when completed will bring together in one place a collection of private and public discourses and vast archives of previously all-but-forgotten historical data that will place this man’s life in the forefront of great leaders. In doing so, all who study his life will find a legacy of honor, integrity, faithfulness, and unwavering loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Church He established in these latter days.
Bringing that legacy into a cohesive collection from which we can expand our knowledge of Wilford Woodruff has required the skills of lifelong researchers as well as numerous interns. In fact, these dedicated young assistants often carry the lion’s share of the research, data collection, editing, and even the all-important need of marketing what they are doing on all of the social media platforms — all while gaining invaluable experience, wisdom, and firm testimonies of their Savior and His prophets. Through the efforts of these interns, Wilford Woodruff ceases to be just another historical figure, but becomes a very real and approachable man that we can pattern our lives after if we so choose. The technical skills these young apprentices have gained under the tutelage of their seasoned mentors are priceless. They have joyfully discovered that the tutoring they have received has prepared them to be far ahead of many of their peers. They have also discovered a depth of spirituality beyond anything they have ever known.
One young intern, Jacob, came on board after seeing a listing for an internship for the PR/Marketing intern position. It particularly piqued his interest for personal reasons.
“I had the privilege of serving in the England Birmingham Mission from 2017 to 2019. During my time there, one of my areas was Hereford, which is right by Gadfield Elm, Ledbury, Herefordshire Beacon, and Benbow Pond. Those are all places that Wilford Woodruff and other early missionaries had a lot of success. It was cool to serve there as a missionary because of all the history, but it is also cool for me now to learn more about the area I served in,” he said.
After being with the Foundation for over a year and graduating from BYU in Marketing, he was offered the full-time Marketing Manager position. He speaks in awe of the personal and business contacts he has made that have opened so many doors for him. More importantly, he recognizes that he has come to know a prophet of God personally.
He records, “I have had sacred, personal experiences while working on this project that have helped me get to know Wilford Woodruff on a personal level. I know he is involved in the work we are doing.”
Another young man who has taken a slightly different path is Jason. He also began as an intern and, with the experience he gained and the skills he developed, was promoted to lead the Transcription Team. His immersion in the project resulted in being offered a full-time position as General Editor to train new interns, lead the crowdsourced volunteer transcribers, and manage the text editing program utilized by the project.
He shares, “I have been able to work on the various stages that a document goes through from being located in an archive to being published on the Foundation website. Some of those stages include transcription, verification, subject tagging, and stylization… Another aspect of my work has been to work with and train volunteers… I am constantly amazed at the dedication and effort that so many volunteers show in furthering the Foundation’s mission.”
As he has worked on this project his own memories of serving in the British Isles have been enhanced by the service and dedication of Wilford’s mission in places like the Staffordshire Potteries and Herefordshire, where Wilford baptized upwards of 600 persons. Wilford’s humility and his desire to build the kingdom of God on the earth have been incredibly inspiring to Jason as he, and each of us, has also been charged with the same work today. Like his peers, Jason has seen his testimony of Jesus Christ grow exponentially.
Then there is Ellie. She originally joined the project after applying for an internship through the history department of Brigham Young University. It has been an amazing journey for her. She fully credits her internship with the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project for preparing her for a career as a historian. While with the Foundation, she served full time as Historian and presented at the Association of Documentation and Editing Conference in Washington, D.C. about the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project — no easy task. She even made the remarkable discovery that she is a direct descendant of Ann Dutson, one of the members of the United Brethren that Wilford baptized during his mission to the British Isles. She has developed a special love for the Savior’s ability and willingness to arrange little miracles in each of our lives.
If President Woodruff were still here, he would certainly express his profound gratitude for the dedication of these researchers and others who have worked so tirelessly to catalog his life. It is good for Wilford’s words to now be coming forth in a way they never have before.
Keeping a record was a lifelong, divinely inspired passion of Wilford’s that began in 1835 when he set pen to paper in his first journal. He never quit. Indeed, he could not. Said he, “I have been inspired and moved upon to keep a journal and write the affairs of this Church as far as I can. I did not understand why my feelings were exercised so much in the early age of this Church, but I understand it now.”
Through the tireless efforts of these interns, as well as many others, Wilford’s understanding and dedication have given those of us living today a virtual treasure trove of invaluable documents that will enrich our lives for generations to come.