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Primary children are doing well, new leader says

For Sydney Smith Reynolds, the grand summation of life's experiences is the recognition of God's overarching love, and the realization that even in the process of raising 11 children, palpable peace can be found.

"Minimal chaos no longer bothers me," she said.

Sister Reynolds was sustained as first counselor in the Primary general presidency on Oct. 2 during general conference.

She brings to her new assignment a lifelong belief in the gospel, and a refined testimony that was first forged as a 12-year-old. She was living with her family in Southern Calif., at the time, when the bishop of her Burbank Ward surprised her one Sunday by calling her out of the congregation to bear her testimony during sacrament meeting.

"It was common in those days," she said, "for members to be called upon to speak unexpectedly during ward conference. I remember saying that I thought the Book of Mormon was a good book, and that I hoped to read it someday, since I never had.

"The next day, I came down with the German measles and was out of school for four days. During that time I read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover. By the end of the four days, I knew it was a remarkable book and felt it was truly the word of God."

Born in Idaho Falls, Idaho, as the eldest of nine children in the J. Alvin and Marguerite R. Smith family, Sister Reynolds gained an early interest in children by helping with the care of her brothers and sisters. "My mother says I helped raise them."

As a teenager growing up in Southern California, she participated in the Church's active youth program that included road shows, dance festivals, dramas, choral programs and athletics. "All those programs of the Church provided learning experiences, social experiences and bolstered confidence. It definitely had much to do with how I grew up," she said.

Her strong academic performance in high school permitted her to participate in a university program where advanced high school students could attend the University of California instead of completing their senior year in high school.

Sister Reynolds qualified for the program, but instead of attending a California university, opted to enroll at BYU at age 16. She later graduated as the valedictorian of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

"I knew I'd better finish college after being a high school dropout," she said jokingly.

But of all she learned in college, it was the first day of the first class at BYU that would eventually make an eternal difference.

"It was my freshman year," she remembered. "The class met at 8 a.m. every day. I was sitting on the front row of my first political science class as the teacher called out the names on the roll. Each student responded with 'here,' until Noel Reynolds, sitting in the back, broke ranks with 'present.'

"I was intrigued and turned to see who this individualist was. It became obvious during the course of the class that we had a similar political stance and we became friends. We dated only once that year, but four years later, after he had served a mission (for nearly three years in Uruguay), we were married in the Los Angeles Temple. By that time, he was the only guy I knew with a grade point average higher than mine."

Education was important to the young couple. During the next years, Sister Reynolds completed course work for a master's degree but postponed finishing the program to raise their growing young family. They followed Noel to Boston where he earned master's and doctor's degrees. He is currently associate academic vice president of BYU and a professor of political science.

"Although I haven't returned to a degree program, I consider myself an advocate for educated women being full-time homemakers," she said. "It's been my good fortune and blessing to be able to focus on rearing my family."

Over the years, the family has lived in Boston, Edinburgh, Jerusalem and now resides in the Sharon 5th Ward, Orem Utah Sharon Stake.

Prior to her calling in the presidency, Sister Reynolds served as a member of the Primary general board for five years. For two years one of her assignments was to write the monthly Sharing Time page in the Friend magazine. Confirmation that her work was meaningful and was reaching the remote members of the Church came one day in a letter from her son, the ninth missionary from the family, who is currently serving in Argentina.

He described one Sunday when he was teaching the Primary. They were all sitting on his blanket which was spread on the cold floor of a rented house, in a small city on the border of Argentina and Bolivia.

"I used your lesson on Faith," she said, quoting the letter. "You might have written that lesson for the whole world to use, but I guarantee I loved it more than anyone else. Maybe that is why coming to know Christ helps us better love His word."

Sister Reynolds approaches her assignment in the Primary with the same confidence in the Lord that she exhibited in raising her family. "The testimony I get more and more is the testimony of Elder LeGrand Richards who used to say, 'This is the Lord's Church. I'll let Him worry about it.' That implied he was going to work, not worry.

"You can feel good about what the Primary is doing," she continued. "Primary leaders and teachers are wonderful. Primary callings are such important callings. We get to help set the gospel foundation. We help families teach children of the Savior and that following Him is the way to happiness. What could be more important for children to know by the time they are 12 years old?"