New York: A City full of Changes  
By Dian Thomas

This last week I returned to New York to attend the annual conference for the National Speaker Association of which I am a member. It was held at the Marriot Marquis. This was the first time it had ever been held in New York City.

I not only wanted to attend the conference, but I had not been to the city for four and one-half years, and I wanted to see what had changed.

During the 80's, New York City was my second home. I split my time between the Big Apple and Salt Lake City. I would come in every other week to do a regular segment on the NBC Today Show. I was the Life Style editor from 1980 to 1988. You can just imagine how different my two lives were. I knew when I start the job it would be one of the hardest things I would ever do, but I wanted to have the best possible experience and was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.

On this trip one of my first stops was to drop by the church site (Columbus and 65th ) which is the location of the Manhattan Temple , a chapel and office building. It is right across the street from where I stay when I come to the city. My first question was, “How many wards does Manhattan have now”? I learned that between branches and wards, just on Manhattan, there were 14 congregations and over 5,000 members. This included one deaf branch, two Spanish wards, four singles wards, one Chinese branch and six traditional wards. I could only shake my head in amazement. In the eight years that I worked in New York, there had been only two wards and one Spanish branch. What had happened in the short 20 years?

The City had gone through the most amazing clean up and the Church had gone through an incredible growth. What was so interesting to me was the diversity of the new members. The day I was in New York, I talked with a woman who worked in the new distribution center for the temple. Aneicia Smikle is a black member who had joined the church and come to New York from England . She loves her job, she loves the Church, and is most enthusiastic about the growth of the Church in the New York area.

It was not until Friday that I found time to stop again and learn more about how the Church is now doing in Manhattan . I found the building to be a buzz of activity. For a minute when I walked by the beautiful oak door just inside the temple building I thought I was in the Beehive House in Salt Lake City . I was not in Salt Lake , but the same industrious spirit of the Church in Salt Lake was evident in New York and had been for the past several years.

On the second floor, I found Elder and Sister Howell, senior missionaries working in the Public Affairs Department. They were talking on the phone to a football coach from Harlem . He was going to be dropping by the ABC studio and said that he would come by and share his story with me.

Duke Fergerson, had been a professional football player in the NFL. Five years ago his dream was to start a football program in the high schools in Harlem . He recruited several players in the Harlem area, one being a member of the Church. This young man was the only white member of the team but assured Coach Fergerson that he wanted to play football. As Coach Fergerson gathered his resources and began working with the football players in the area, this young Mormon player reported that former BYU Coach LaVell Edwards was on a mission in New York , and was his home teacher. He was sure that Elder LaVell Edwards would take time to talk to Duke Fergerson about football. Coach Fergerson was so excited to meet LaVell Edwards that he called the Church immediately and set up an appointment.

Coach Edwards became involved with the program and shared ideas, plays and techniques for the game with Coach Fergerson and the team. This all happened around the time that the Church was building a new church house in Harlem . Coach Fergerson said that the Church has become their spiritual mentor. Each year the final football banquet is held at the Harlem LDS meeting house. He said that Coach Edwards is a legend in the football program in Harlem .

The team is called the Harlem Hell Fighters. They do not have a field to play or practice on. All of their games are “away games”. This program has connected the community to the ward in Harlem . Each year after the season is over the players and their parents come to the Harlem LDS meeting house where they celebrate their year at a banquet. Harlem Ward members serve at the banquet. This gives an opportunity for the Church members and the community to come together to support this wonderful football program. The Harlem Hellfighters team does so much to build young men and encourage them to go on to college and be leaders in their community. Coach Fergerson said that Coach Edwards and his wife have attended almost all of the banquets.

Harlem Hellfighters

While I was waiting in the office, I met Pres. John R Stone who is now serving as the Church Representative to the United Nations. A member from the Church in the Salt Lake area also stopped by to see the temple building and to learn more about what tourist sites he should see in New York .

While I was gathering up my papers to leave, I met an intern who is working at the Public Affairs office for two months. Her name is Rosaline Macheke and she is from Zimbabwe . That caught me by surprise. She said that she and her sister are students at BYU Idaho. Her mother had learned about the Church while her family was in Austria . She heard one of the public service announcements, asked for the missionaries and then joined the Church along with her two daughters. Rosaline wanted to go to BYU Hawaii, but it was too expensive. She and her sister settled on BYU Idaho. She said that before going to Idaho , she had never seen snow. Rosaline told me her ambition was to be an ambassador for her country to South Africa.

Rosaline from Zimbabwe

As I left the building I was met by at least a dozen missionaries who had just attended that temple.

Saturday morning I got up and road my bike to Central Park where I made two circles around the park -- about 20 miles. Never had I seen that park so clean and so safe. Earlier in the week I had also taken my bike and ridden up and down the Hudson River Parkway, which is on the West side of Manhattan. It too was amazingly clean.

I must say as I got on the plane later Saturday to fly home that I had never seen so much change in the city. It was cleaned up in a way that I never dreamed was possible and the Church in New York had grown to be an international Church. The Church in New York is one of the gateways for the Church to the World.


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