Pondering his recent call as a General Authority, Elder Keith Crockett, a native of Pima, Ariz., smiles, "Sometimes I think, Can any good thing come out of Pima?" (See John 1:46.)
But with an instant's reflection, one realizes that the area has produced plenty of "good things," including President Spencer W. Kimball, his wife, Camilla, and her illustrious brother, Henry Eyring.
In fact, the greatest commodity of Arizona's Gila Valley is not its mining, ranching or farming, but the young people it raises and sends throughout the world, say Elder Crockett, sustained April 1 to the Second Quorum of the Seventy, and his wife Kathleen.
From his childhood in Pima, Elder Crockett has memories of his father being in a bishopric and of his association with the Kimballs and the Eyrings. (His grandmother and Sister Kimball's mother were visiting teaching companions. In adulthood, he would serve as the 10th president of the Thatcher stake; President Kimball's father had been the second.)
"I was quite involved in Scouting," he said. "We hadn't had any Eagle Scouts in our town for years. Three of us went to work and became the first Eagle Scouts they'd had in a long time. It kind of set the tradition for the rest of the young men."
Good influence of parents and leaders led to his serving a mission in Uruguay. His brother, Larry, had gone to the same mission three months earlier, and they got to serve together as companions.
Not long after returning from his mission, he met Kathleen McBride, who lived in Safford, 10 miles away. She was attending Arizona State University. (Later, they learned that their fathers had been school chums while growing up.) They were married a year later, and she transferred to his school, the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she graduated in elementary education.
As for Keith, he had been the first boy to graduate from seminary in the Gila Valley, where Jay Turley had started the program in 1950, and he had some good Institute of Religion instructors, including H. Clyde Davis at the University of Arizona. These teachers were to influence his life and career choice, although not immediately.
He did teach early-morning seminary in Tucson, and thought about being a full-time teacher, but after graduating took a position at Pima High School teaching music and girls' physical education for four years. ("We had a championship volleyball team, too," he noted.)
When the opportunity came again to go into the Church Educational System, he took advantage of it, teaching first at a seminary adjacent to the new Westwood High School in Mesa in 1962. He started the released-time seminary program in Tempe the next year. After a year at the Tempe Institute of Religion he was assigned as the director of the Flagstaff Institute adjacent to Northern Arizona University. In 1971 he was transferred back to Tempe as CES supervisor for Arizona and Mexico.
Regarding the students with whom he associated, he said: "I wish I'd kept all their names. We probably had thousands of students in those 37 years. And we see them everywhere."
It was common in those days for Elder Crockett, who plays the guitar, to have "sing-alongs" with his students at institute activities. Many learned the words to "Gladys," a silly tune about a 10-foot-tall cow with one purple eyeball and 27 "spigots."
A former student, Bishop Lorin Skinner of Flagstaff, and his family were visiting in Provo, Utah, when they heard on the general conference broadcast the announcement of Elder Crockett's new General Authority calling. He loaded the family in the car to drive to Salt Lake City to talk to Brother Crockett. Reunited with his former institute teacher, Brother Flagstaff remembered the "Gladys" song and joked that if the Brethren heard Elder Crockett sing it, they might release him.
His affinity for young people served Elder Crockett well as president of the Argentina Buenos Aires South Mission, 1993-96.
"They were just super young people," he said of his missionaries. "Even the local ones who were converts of not more than a year or two were sharp and as qualified as any."
Sister Crockett added: "Some of them were very, very poor [in terms of wealth]. But their testimonies were very strong."
It was common, she said, for missionaries returning home to leave suits or other extra clothing for incoming missionaries to use who might not be able to afford their own. She tried to talk one elder out of leaving a new suit behind, telling him he would need it when he got home.
Holding back tears, she related: "He said, 'Hermana [Sister] Crockett, this suit needs to be in this mission.' The very next morning a new elder came, and all the clothes he had were the pants he was wearing, and a white shirt and tie. He tried on that suit, and it fit him just perfectly. He was so thrilled!"
Through the years of service in the Church and the Church Educational System, the Crockett's raised six children, with whom they are justifiably pleased. For example, they noted that a son-in-law, David R. Brown, husband of their daughter Tamara, was recently called to preside over the Mexico Tampico Mission.
After the children had started families of their own, the Crocketts introduced the "Crockett Cousin Campout" for the "potty-trained" grandchildren as an incentive for the parents to offer in training their young ones.
Before and since their mission, they have had four such campouts. They are likely to have less leisure time now that full-time Church service beckons.
But the Crocketts, who have a keen sense of consecration, are not complaining, though they may feel a bit daunted.
"To an ordinary old farm boy, it blows your mind almost," Elder Crockett said. "But it's been done by others, and it will be done by us with the help of the Lord. And it's an exciting challenge! We're in a new era, a new millennium. We're so glad to be a part of it."