An Interval of Peace

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(This is an excerpt from the book Howard W. Hunter: Man of Thought and Independence, Prophet of God.)

On the day he was released as the bishop, November 10, 1946, Howard was called as the president of the high priests quorum of the Pasadena Stake. This was a call of considerable significance. Unlike today, when a stake president concurrently serves as the president of the high priests quorum, at that time the president of the high priests quorum presided ecclesiastically over the stake president and all other high priests in the stake—including counselors in the stake presidency, high councilors, and bishoprics. It was this duplication of effort which later resulted in a stake president also being set apart as the president of the high priests quorum. In any event, Howard’s call to this position was considered to be one of importance, perhaps signaling that this young leader, still in his thirties, was destined for high Church responsibility.

While this new calling was important, it was far less demanding than was his role as the bishop. Specifically, it was far less “time-consuming,” as Howard phrased it. A major responsibility of the stake high priest quorum was to provide nurturing services to members of the Church in the Los Angeles County General Hospital. Among other things, this entailed Thursday evening assignments for the high priests to administer blessings to these members. It was also the responsibility of Brother Hunter and his counselors to see that the high priest groups in the various wards of the stake were properly organized and functioning, providing necessary instruction and counseling for their members and families. But with his counselors, group leaders in each ward in the stake, and many high priests in each group, this assignment occupied very little of President Hunter’s time compared to the daily efforts required to direct the affairs of an active ward. He was to enjoy this period of relative peace and quiet for four years, during which time he became more involved in the activities of his family, assuming many of the responsibilities Claire had handled so ably and uncomplainingly throughout his years as bishop.

In 1948 the Hunters moved to the last home they would occupy while living in California. It was a new, ranch-style home located in Arcadia. It had three bedrooms—a master bedroom suite for Howard and Claire and a bedroom for each of the boys. Nearby were the library, living room, dining room, and kitchen. The house was separated from the garage by a breezeway behind which was a guest room which opened onto a patio.

During the nine years Brother Hunter served as the stake president, this guest room was used to accommodate General Authorities who visited Los Angeles for stake conferences. At the time, stake conferences were held each quarter. Over the nine-year period of his service, President and Sister Hunter hosted many of the General Authorities in their home, thereby creating strong bonds of friendship and understanding. It is a curious fact that, generally speaking, the presidents of stakes that live away from the headquarters of the Church become better acquainted with the General Authorities on a personal level than do the stake presidents residing in Salt Lake City. It is a rare thing for a stake president in Salt Lake City to receive a General Authority into his home to stay overnight. Their association is usually limited to the various meetings connected with the conference. Under these circumstances, it is likely that when he was called to the apostleship, President Hunter was better known to the General Authorities than were most of the stake presidents then residing near Church headquarters.

At the time of Howard’s release as bishop, his sons John and Richard were ten and eight years old, respectively. It is unlikely they had more than a scanty recollection, as small children four years of age and under, of family life before their father became the bishop. In their view, it must have seemed he had always been their bishop. As bishop, Howard had been anxious to set the proper example for his ward and so was diligent in leading his family in their prayers, scripture study, and Church attendance. Moreover, the family observed one night a week as a family night, although at the time this was not an extensively followed practice in the Church. This afforded the opportunity for discussion, not only about gospel topics but about the parents’ life experiences. This was enhanced by family prayers and discussions at the dinner table.

In such a setting, the Hunter boys were securely anchored to their family and to the Church from an early age. During their first years while Howard was busy with bishop’s duties and building his legal practice, Claire played the leading role in training and directing their sons. After his release as bishop and call as high priest quorum president, Brother Hunter was pleased to assume full responsibility in this process. Soon after acquiring their new home in Arcadia, Howard and his sons began to convert the guest room into a miniature train depot with intertwined tracks, stop and go signals, signs, and spur sidings. They delighted in each new acquisition of a locomotive or cars, some with bells, whistles, and flashing lights. It was an absorbing pastime for them, made more realistic by visiting the local train depot, studying its makeup, and altering their model to correspond with reality. It was a sad day, indeed, when after Howard’s call as stake president, they dismantled the model depot in order to prepare the guest room for use by visiting General Authorities.

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