Prominently displayed at the David E. Sorensen home in Salt Lake City are two bronze sculptures, each about a foot high, one of a cowboy holding a lariat and the other of a cowboy on a bucking bronco. They are more than just decorative.
"I have a lot of empathy for the common man," said Elder Sorensen, who was called to the Second Quorum of the Seventy in June. "I think these sculptures stand for blood, sweat and tears, and I understand that.""The cowboy is symbolic of David's youth," added his wife, Verla Anderson Sorensen. "His family background on a ranch taught him the discipline that has helped him achieve his successes in life. He's extremely disciplined and capable of working for long periods of time."
Such industriousness not only has brought prosperity to the family - despite his having to quit college and go to work before achieving a formal degree - but has benefited the Church wherever Elder Sorensen has served, according to Sister Sorensen.
"He is a builder, she said. "Wherever he's been, the kingdom has always prospered."
While he served as president of the Canada Halifax Mission from 1985 to 1988, for example, 21 meetinghouses were completed in the mission. The Dartmouth Nova Scotia Stake, formed just before Pres. Sorensen's arrival, grew by 25 percent and the Saint John New Brunswick Stake was organized during his presidency.
Born June 29, 1933, in his parents' home in the south-central Utah town of Aurora, Elder Sorensen was one of eight children, two of whom died as toddlers. He was raised to love the gospel, and served from 1954-56 in the Central Atlantic States Mission with headquarters in Roanoke, Va.
Following his mission, he was inducted into the army. He was assigned as an assistant confinement officer at the post stockade at Fort McArthur, Calif.
The experience led to an unanticipated opportunity a few years later when he was approached by the FBI with a job offer. He almost accepted it, attracted by the prospect of a secure income and the opportunity to attend law school. After fasting and prayer, the Sorensens declined the offer. Instead, he followed his heart and pursued a career in business.
It was through an army friend, Al Ludlow, that David Sorensen met his wife. Al was engaged to Verla Anderson's former college roommate, Gwen Chase. The two of them went to Salt Lake City to visit Verla.
The next day Al went to Aurora to visit David, who was out working somewhere on the ranch. Unable to locate David, Al said to David's mother, "Tell David I just met the girl he should marry, and he'd better get up to Salt Lake and meet her before she marries someone else."
He took the advice and soon after meeting her, enrolled at the University of Utah. They were married Dec. 29, 1958, in the temple in her hometown of Manti, seven months after his discharge from the army. She was teaching school in Midvale, Utah, at the time, having graduated from BYU with membership in Phi Kappa Phi honor society and having taught school in Hawaii. She specializes in teaching reading skills.
With nearly four years of education at BYU, Utah State University and the University of Utah, David Sorensen was obliged to go to work to earn money to resolve some debt on the family ranch.
"Fortunately, I was able to get a very good job, and promotions came rapidly," he recalled.
Business opportunities and financial responsibilities made returning to college impractical although both he and Sister Sorensen agree college or other post-high school training is valuable. The Sorensens have always made education a high priority. Elder Sorensen was the founder and president of the South Pasadena Education Foundation, and Sister Sorensen served as a member of the South Pasadena School Board (the community where most of the children grew up).
Elder Sorensen began his career as a salesman for a real estate and construction company. A subsequent opportunity took the family to Southern California, where he worked for a health-care company for eight years. In 1976, he and a partner developed a company specializing in long-term care and psychiatric hospitals for the developmentally disabled.
Meanwhile, following the death of his father in 1977, he had expanded the family ranch into a significant agri-business.
The health-care company was sold in 1984, not long before his call to serve as a mission president.
After his release in 1988, the family moved to Las Vegas, Nev., where he helped organize a bank. He served as vice chairman of the board, a position he held until his recent call to the Second Quorum of the Seventy.
Family life was always a priority with the Sorensens, and with their seven children they established traditions such as singing together, vacation trips to Utah's Lake Powell, and frequent excursions to the ranch.
"But we always stress it's a working ranch," he said. "You have to brand cattle or fix fences or irrigate - all of the chores that come with ranching."
Leavening the Sorensen's lives has been a commitment "to follow the programs of the Church."
"We feel like that's the solution to our problems and it can be the solution to everyone's problems," he said. "By that I mean reading the scriptures, attending our meetings on the Sabbath day and following the counsel of our living prophets.
"One of the reasons I have decided to follow the prophet and spend time working in the Church is the dynamics that the gospel can play in the life of an individual. We've seen the change that can come into the lives of people who live the gospel, both members and prospective members. The gospel's positive influence can cure the ills that beset our society."
He cited Matt. 11:28-30, the Savior's statement that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
"I think we have been very blessed to see miracles through prayer, both in our family and in the lives of others."
While serving as bishop in South Pasadena, Calif., he had occasion to give a blessing to Mildred Pettit, the composer of the music to "I Am a Child of God."
"She had burned herself across the forearm with an iron," he recalled. "She came running to our house with her arm wrapped in a towel, and she said:
Bishop, I need a blessing. You know I'm a diabetic.' I said,Well Mildred, we need to get a doctor.' And she said:
I have two sons who are doctors. I need the priesthood. I need a blessing now.' (Her husband had passed away.) So I called her home teacher, Brother Robert Palowsky, a very sweet, humble man, and together we gave her a blessing. She thanked us, and she said:I'll be all right now. And by the way, I won't need a doctor.' And she was fine."
While serving as mission president, Elder Sorensen was on the receiving end of a priesthood blessing, accompanied by faith and prayers.
Outside the mission home on a cold winter night, he slipped on ice, striking his face against the side of his car. The blow knocked him unconscious for a time. When he regained consciousness, he cried out, and daughter Kathryn helped him into the house. Through prayers and quick action, Kathryn and Sister Sorensen got the bleeding stopped and got him to the hospital.
Physicians felt they would need to perform surgery and place wires into his jaw to keep the face from being distorted. Swelling prevented them from performing the operation immediately. Meanwhile, the assistants to the mission president were summoned.
"I heard them coming down the hall," he recalled. "And I heard Elder Darris Williams say to his companion, Elder Anthony Palmer,
If we have enough faith the Lord will bless Pres. Sorensen so that he doesn't have to have this operation.' You can imagine what that did for my faith. I thought,I surely can't disappoint two missionaries.' "
Ultimately, the surgery was unnecessary. Hospital personnel having mistakenly identified their patient as "reverend" David Sorensen, the doctor said to him, "Reverend, I don't know what kind of connection you've got, but the jaw doesn't have to be set. I don't think we're going to have to wire it."
"And the next day they discharged me," he said. "When I asked how much I owed, the doctor said, `You don't owe me anything; God's got something in mind for you.' "
Apparently, the doctor was correct.
Elder David E. Sorensen
- Family: Born in Aurora, Utah, June 29, 1933, to Alma and Metta Amelia Helquist Sorensen; married Verla Anderson in the Manti Temple, Dec. 29, 1958. Parents of seven children: David Stephen, 32; Alma Gregory, 30; John Leslie, 28; Sheila (Sorensen) Smith, 27; Kristen, 22; Paul James, 20; Kathryn, 17. Ten grandchildren.
- Military service: U.S. Army, assigned as assistant confinement officer at post stockade at Fort McArthur, Calif.
- Education: Attended BYU, 1951-52; Utah State University, 1953-54; and the University of Utah, 1958-60.
- Employment: Board vice chairman of Nevada Community Bank in Las Vegas, chairman of Cal-Utah Feeders, ranch owner. Formerly chairman and chief executive officer of North American Health Care (hospital chain); vice president of Beverly Enterprises, a health care company; president of United Homes Inc.
- Church Service: President of Las Vegas Nevada Stake; president of Canada Halifax Mission, 1985-88; bishop; bishop's counselor; high councilor; seventies president; served in Central Atlantic States Mission, 1954-56.