Thursday, November 24, 2016

Alvin Verd Washburn's Mission

[Since this is intended to be primarily about Verd's mission I have left much of the detail about his life before and after out of the narrative. What I have included was done for the sake of understanding what his mission was like for him. - bcrow]

Alvin "Verd" Washburn was born on 16 July 1897 to Jesse and Luella Washburn at Huntington, Utah. Verd was their first child and the family moved around for few years (school in Provo, a mission to Arizona, etc) before homesteading in Duchesne. As the oldest Verd took on more than his share of work. One of those responsibilities led to an accident when he was 16 years old. Although I have found a couple different recollections of the accident, they agree on the most important points. While driving a wagon his right leg was caught in the front wheel. The damage to the bones of his knee & leg were significant and he spent three months in recovery, and some of that in traction. Because of the damage to the flesh, which had to be regularly cleaned to prevent infection, a proper cast could not be used, so the bones did not knit back together properly. The knee joint healed two inches out of place.

Although Verd wrote that his recovery "seemed like an eternity" he did take advantage of the of the time to hone his musical talents. The accident did nothing to hinder his "fine baritone voice." He apparently already knew how to play the trombone and "through considerable sacrifice, the family acquired a piano for him to play." Miraculously, Vern learned to walk again though he did have crutches he used at least part of the time. After graduating from 8th grade, Verd studied music at Brigham Young Academy, where his father went to school.

"Returning to Duchesne at the end of the school year, he was set apart as the Sunday School Superintendent in his local church congregation. Although young, this experience prepared him for the Church mission call to the Southern States Mission which he received in July 1914 at the age of seventeen. The mission headquarters was in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Verd had been promised in a priesthood blessing that he would complete a mission. Luella records, “Had it not been for this promise I wonder if we would have had faith enough, considering the condition of his leg, to have accepted the call.” Before leaving for Tennessee, Verd was fitted with a lift for the shoe on his injured leg. The family reports that he left his crutches behind. Despite his physical limitations, he walked hundreds of miles in the mission field, successfully completing his mission." 

Verd described his mission this way. “The [missionary] work was very difficult and there were few rewards but serving my Heavenly Father was a wonderful experience for me which I have never regretted.” Of course, teasing out what he actually did on his mission is the point of this post so lets get to it.

Elder Alvin Verd Washburn arrived in Chattanooga on October 19th, 1914. According the mission records he was assigned to the East Tennessee Conference. But there was something going on about Elder Washburn's assignment that was different from assignments of other missionaries. It may have been due to physical limitation his leg or it may have been due to how people thought he should be treated because of his leg.
  1. There is no note in the East Tennessee conference report welcoming him into the conference, which is odd since the customary welcome happens so regularly that it was nearly formulaic.
  2. He is not included in many of the reports made on the East Tennessee Conference. When the conference president names people and the places they are working, Elder Washburn is seldom included. For the first six months, I can find no record of where he served within East Tennessee.
  3. In some cases when he is included, he does not appear to have a steady companion, or his work is noted as being done with a member of the mission office staff, or someone who is normally working elsewhere.
  4. He does appear in some photographs of the missionaries in the conference, but not all of them. The first is at the start of his mission. The second shows him with East Tennessee missionaires at a time when he was serving in Georgia, The third doesn't even look very much like him, though that may be due to the poor quality of the image. 
With that said there are some key events that show Elder Washburn had a normal proselyting mission. There were at least six baptisms he performed in Tennessee alone. I don't know of any in Georgia, since I don't have baptism records for that area. He was teaching school while he was there, so he might not have had any.

Verd was in Chattanooga for the 1914 visit by President Joseph F Smith. There weren't many times the President of the Church visited missions, so this one made news all over the Southern States. Verd had been on his mission for only 5 weeks so probably had no idea how big this was. 

In fact although he was assigned to the East Tennessee Conference, he probably stayed the entire first month in Chattanooga. And I don't see him him getting out for several months, though he certainly could have. In the meantime there was a photo taken (based on who is it in) sometime between Oct 29th and Nov 28th which shows all the missionaries in the East Tennessee Conference. My best guess was that it was taken at Chattanooga, either just before or just after Pres Smith's visit. Elder Washburn is on the left in the red box.

For the next five months I see nothing about where Elder Washburn is working. Missionaries were often give different assignments in the winter months, often in the cities instead of the countryside. If I had to speculate as to Verd's whereabouts based on later events on his mission, I would suggest he could have been teaching at one of the mission sponsored schools. These were small one to two person operations. He would teach the following year in Georgia, so it isn't much of a stretch. Not all of these schools were documented, but there was one in Brockdell, Tenn in 1916. The school could have been active in 1915 as well. This could explain why he was not with the other missionaries. Even beginning with that pure speculation, however, I can find nothing to support it.

It is April 1915 when we find Elder Washburn in Cumberland County with Elder Walter H Todd. Todd arrived in East Tennessee from North Carolina and jumped from area to area each month, probably spending only one or two months with Elder Washburn. The reports show the two doing missionary type stuff, meeting people and preaching to some. Elder Todd does not stay around for long. By June Todd was reassigned to Ohio.

In June Elder Washburn appears again where preached five meetings in an unspecified location with the help of Elder Arias G. Belnap who was assigned to work in the mission office. Were they preaching in Chattanooga near the office or somewhere else in East Tennessee requiring Elder Belnap to travel? The record doesn't say.

Two weeks later Elder Washburn and Elder Lewis G. Winter are working in an unnamed community where the missionaries have been preaching for "five years." The report describes a singing master who was teaching the people in the vicinity the songs of Zion. Knowing Verd's love of singing and that he studied music at BYA in Provo, I am tempted to think it is Elder Washburn who is doing the teaching. Elder Winter was a brand new missionary and Elder Washburn was his first companion. By the end of July, Elder Winter in baptizing in Warren county with Elder Workman, so the two did not stay together long.

In early August Elder Washburn has his first two baptisms; a married couple: Matilda Bedwell & Andrew J Bedwell Jr. in Pikeville, Bledsoe county. Elder Washburn reported two more baptisms in Bledsoe County  in September though I haven't identified them yet. It may be that the two in this report were the same as the two from the previous report. 

In November 1915 there were two more baptisms: Nancy Shannon & George Shannon at Soddy in Hamilton county. "A large crowd assembled at the river to witness the baptism, and previous to this ordinance a meeting was held - on the bank of the river." Nancy & George were a young couple - 18 & 22 - with a one year old son named William. George was confirmed by Henry Levi, who was not a missionary, but a neighbor who had joined the church two years earlier. It appears that Henry's wife Amanda was George's sister.

At the end of the month Elder Washburn was transferred to the Georgia Conference where he taught school for the winter in the town of Buchanan, Georgia. While he was there a branch was organized in February 1916 and an M.I.A. was organized. In March 1916 there was a conference held at which Verd played a trombone solo. Below is a photo taken at that conference, sans trombone. 
I have to say that this photo needs some kind of explanation. The record is quite clear that Elder Washburn is teaching in Buchanan, Georgia. Yet here he is in a photo of East Tennessee missionaries. He does not get transferred back to East Tennessee for another month. But there are several possible explanations for this. 1) Verd could have been one of the visitors from Georgia and the photo is therefore just mislabeled. 2) Verd could have been considered still part of the East Tennessee conference and was only on loan to Georgia to teach school. 3) The transfer in April could have really happened in March at this meeting but was incorrectly recorded. Which one is right? Or are none of them right? We may never know.

In April 1916, Elder Washburn was (officially) transferred back into the East Tennessee Conference.

In May, Elder Washburn teamed up with Elder Samuel E. Rockwood in Bledsoe county. Elder Rockwood had been teaching in Brockdell in Bledsoe county for the winter. Later that month Andrew J Bedwell Sr. - father and namesake of an earlier convert - was baptized in Pikeville. Elder Washburn officiated the confirmation.

For June, July and probably most of August, Elder Washburn stayed in Bledsoe county. He had three different companions this month. Elder Joseph F. Mecham was in the first part of June. Elder Mecham became ill and by the first part of July was on his way home. That illness led to Verd getting a new companion. In the later part of June Verd was working with Elder Judson L Tolman, but he too leaves for Fentress county before the middle of July. By August we learn that Verd's third companion is Elder Walter G Willis, and the two of them baptized five people that month; four of them by Elder Washburn, one by Elder Willis, all in Bledsoe county. The two spread out into neighboring Sequatchie county, holding street and hall meetings.

On Aug 29th, Elder Washburn is participating in street meeting being held by Elders Joseph Soelburg and Brigham R Wheeler who were both assigned to the mission office. I can't say whether the two mission office Elders went to Elder Washburn or if he went to Chattanooga. Either would have been quite possible.

At the end of September Elder Washburn and a new companion, Elder Merlin G. Shumway, were transferred together to the Middle Tennessee conference where they preached mainly in Memphis all of October and into November. The two worked closely with the local leadership to strengthen the recently organized Memphis Branch.

After six weeks in Memphis both Elder Washburn and Elder Shumway were released to return home.

Whatever concerns the mission leadership may have had about Elder Washburn and his leg, they appear to have dissipated by the end of his service. He may not have traveled as much as some other missionaries, having spent some time teaching school or preaching mostly in a single county. But he taught, preached, and shared his talents. And that led to more than just a few people joining the Church. 

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