The Spokane West Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered in Medical Lake’s Waterfront Park Saturday to celebrate the beginnings of the church – nationally and locally.
The church celebrates Pioneer Day every year to mark the day of July 24, 1847, when Mormon pioneers first arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. They had set out for the West to avoid religious persecution, said stake president Matt McCombie. “Most people traveled by foot, pulling hand carts,” he said.
There were no hand carts in evidence Saturday, but there was some old-fashioned pioneer cooking. More than a dozen cast iron dutch ovens were stacked by the grill, hot coals piled on top and underneath each of them, cooking the chicken and biscuits inside.
People ate, swam and played games before another celebration of history – the 100th birthday of Robert Marx, one of the first two Mormon bishops appointed in Spokane. “He’s kind of our pioneer here,” McCombie said. “When he was called to serve he was very young.”
Marx, who turns 100 next month, was 33 when he was appointed to lead the brand new North Spokane Ward in 1947. In the Mormon church, a ward is like a parish, and a stake is an area that includes multiple wards.“It was a lot of learning, I’ll tell you that,” Marx said. “I came from Montana. We didn’t have wards there. Sometimes we just met in our homes.”
Being the first also meant Marx was in charge of building the first Mormon chapel in Spokane. He and his ward members sold baked goods and Christmas trees and ran garage sales to come up with the money.
“You learned to work together and that was a big asset,” Marx said. “We got to know each other. We were spread all around Spokane County.”
The ward members also bought and dismantled a building on the Farragut Navy Base. They reused whatever they could in their new chapel, including the toilets, and sold the rest. That building still stands at Post Street and Indiana Avenue.
Marx was at the picnic with his daughter, Linda Terry. She said when her dad became a bishop, it was the scariest time in his life.
“But he learned the Lord makes you equal to the task,” she said.