Nampa 1st Ward celebrates its first century

Members of the LDS congregation recount its early days and evolution, and are holding a reunion.

awebb@idahostatesman.comOctober 19, 2013 

  • NAMPA 1ST WARD REUNION

    Nampa's 1st Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrates its 100th anniversary with a reunion, 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 19 at the Nampa North Stake Center, 6111 Birch Lane.

    The evening includes socializing, hors d'oeuvres and a program that begins at 7 p.m.

    All current and former ward members age 8 and over are invited to attend.

    WHAT IS A WARD?

    Local congregations are called wards. Smaller congregations are called branches.

    Wards and branches are organized geographically so members can attend services near their homes.

    A group of wards forms a stake.

Nancy Higgins has a favorite story about the Nampa 1st Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The year was 1924. A large crowd packed into the ward's tiny clapboard building to hear a speech by a church leader.

During the speech, congregants could hear disconcerting thunks and pounding coming from the church basement.

They later found out that a church member, Ernest Yorgason, had been concerned about the number of people in the building. He had checked the basement and found the floor dangerously bowed by the weight of the congregation.

Yorgason enlisted a crew to go downstairs and pound planks into place to brace the floor.

When the crowd left - no one having fallen through to the basement - the floor popped back into place. The braces clattered to the ground.

Higgins, who has lived in Nampa for 26 years, wrote the history of the Nampa 1st Ward when it celebrated its 90th birthday a decade ago.

Saturday, the 500-person ward will celebrate 100 years in existence with a reunion at the Nampa North Stake Center. The ward formed roughly two decades after the city's incorporation in 1891.

Higgins said the event is likely to attract a lot of older, longtime church members.

"We've been in a lot of wards. There are lots of good people. It doesn't matter what religion they are, but these people are the ones we look up to," Higgins said.

David Hanks grew up in the 1st Ward, served as its bishop (leader), and has deep roots in Nampa.

"The idea of 100 years means a great deal," said Hanks. "In six years, the farm my father bought in Nampa will turn 100 years old."

He noted that at his current age of 75, he's just a quarter-century away from turning 100 himself.

Hanks' father fell in love with the Nampa area when he came through by train, on his way to Fort Lewis to serve in World War I.

"He always said that when he left his home in the Teton Valley, it was 40 below, with 40 feet of snow. But here he saw farmers planting wheat in February," Hanks said.

"He wrote his mother, 'If I come home alive, we're moving here.'"

He did, and they did.

Hanks and his older sister, Lecia Dawn DeCoursey, still live on the land their father bought and began farming 94 years ago.

The Hanks family has grown alfalfa, grain, wheat and oats, sugar beets, seed corn, seed beans and mint.

Through the years, including 1929, when Hanks' and DeCoursey's father managed to hold onto his land despite the Black Friday crash, the farm and the church were constants.

"The church was part of our lives," said DeCoursey. "So much so, I don't know how to put it into words."

MANY HOMES IN MANY BUILDINGS

The Nampa 1st Ward, which now meets at 18486 Middleton Road, has had many homes during its first century. In its earliest days, the ward (which began as a "branch," a smaller unit than a ward), met in rented spaces.

Around 1911, the congregation bought its first building, a small, white, former Catholic church.

Members moved the building through the streets and set it on a new foundation at the corner of 11th Avenue and 5th Street.

All the work - leveling of the land, digging the basement and transforming the building shell into a church - was done by hand, said church historians.

Church leaders dedicated the building in 1912. The ward formed in 1913.

DeCoursey is among the few people in the community who can recall attending services in the ward's first building.

She remembers the large, open upstairs room and green curtains hung on wires, used to separate the space into classrooms.

She and her brother David were small children in the late 1930s when the ward outgrew the white clapboard church. Members built a new brick building just a few feet away.

Church President Heber J. Grant came to Idaho to dedicate the new building in 1939. The Lynch Brothers Hatchery bought the little white church, remodeled it, and moved it again to be part of their hatchery business. It's no longer standing.

Because of changing boundaries, David Hanks is now a member of the Nampa Third Ward. He still feels ties to the ward he knew as a child, and the brick building that still stands on 11th Avenue. Different wards meet there now.

"A few years ago, I told one bishop I was born in that old 1st Ward building. I was blessed in it, baptized in it, married in it and I will have my funeral in it," said Hanks.

The bishop told Hanks he'd reserve the building if Hanks could give him a date.

"I told him I wasn't quite ready to go yet," said Hanks.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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