As a young returned missionary driving his mission president’s car home to Utah, Donald L. Enders stopped in Nauvoo, Illinois, and saw the lot where the temple had stood.
“It was there that I had the impression — and it was almost like a voice; basically the message to me was, ‘You can be used here if you stay focused and behave yourself,’” Brother Enders recalled Nov. 13, as the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation honored him with its Junius F. Wells Award for a half century of service in preserving the historic sites of the Church, much of that time as director of the Historic Sites Division of the Church History Department.
“The Lord touched him early on, probably during his mission to the Eastern States, which included service in the Rochester area,” said Elder Marlin K. Jensen, former Church Historian and Recorder, in a video tribute to Brother Enders. “But the Lord touched him somehow with a desire to qualify himself to make some significant contributions to the Church.”
Also appearing in the video, Elder Steven E. Snow of the Seventy, current Church Historian and Recorder, said, “I don’t think one can overstate the importance of our historic sites for the membership of the Church. These are places where families can go with their children and receive a real faith-promoting experience as they learn what the pioneers did, what the early members of the Church experienced. The stories we’re so familiar with come alive when we actually walk the ground where they were, and it builds faith.”
Elder Jensen said, “The most advantageous way to build faith is by creating something that the Holy Ghost can testify of. We know that His role is to testify of truth, and whether that truth is contained in a quotation we use from someone out of the past or whether it’s the truth we find in the authenticity of the way something is historically replicated, it’s truth. I think to get the maximum spiritual impact out of historic sites, they have to be truthful.”
That is where Brother Enders shone, Elder Jensen said.
“He acquired an amazing array of skills that enabled him to be sort of Mr. Historic Sites for the Church over the past quarter-century. He became a historian. He became an archaeologist. He became a woodworker. He became a stonemason. And in that way, he qualified himself to be such a valuable tool when it comes to putting the history of the Church back together.”
The award given to Brother Enders is engraved with the names of a few of the projects that foundation chairman Kim R. Wilson said “bear his fingerprints and footprints”: the Smith family log home in Palmyra, New York; the Smith frame home in Manchester, New York; the Newell K. Whitney Store in Kirtland, Ohio; the Deuel log home outside the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City; the Brigham Young home in Nauvoo, Illinois; the Browning home and gun shop in Nauvoo; the E.B. Grandin press (where the Book of Mormon was first printed) in Palmyra, New York; the sawmill and ashery in Kirtland, Ohio; and Cove Fort in Utah.
“Don Enders was the man who not only researched our historic sites but he was the one who figured out how to take these historic sites back to the period,” said Richard E. Turley Jr., Assistant Church Historian and Recorder, in the tribute video. “He was the one who would look at the structures and decide what needed to be done in order to restore historic sites or to take the sites as they still existed and peel off the exterior that had been added and take them back to the way they were at the time.”
In doing this, he at times associated with prophets.
“When we were looking at the cabin that had been restored in Palmyra, in the haste to get it ready for dedication, Don had used a Grabber screw or two to secure a door casing or something on the floor,” Elder Jensen recalled. “The minute President [Gordon B.] Hinckley came into the room, he picked that up and said, ‘Oh, they were using Grabber screws, Don, in the 1820s?’
“Don said, ‘No, President, they’ll go after the dedication.’ But there was that rapport that existed between the two of them. I think it must be because President Hinckley knew that in Don he had someone from whom he could always get the truth unvarnished and that Don brought to historical restoration talents and depth.”
Jennifer Lund, Brother Enders’ successor as current director of the Historic Sites Division, said, “Sometimes I jokingly say it now takes ten of us to do what Don Enders used to do alone. Now that’s quite an exaggeration but in a way that is an accurate statement, because Don was the sole individual who was assigned full time to historic sites, and I think probably more than most of the rest of us he left an impact on the historic sites program and helped build it in a way that now takes ten of us full time to do much of that same work that he was working on for all those years.”
In his acceptance Brother Enders bore witness of the Restoration.
“If we think about the names of Palmyra and Manchester and Hill Cumorah and Harmony and Fayette and Nauvoo and so forth, we pray that it brings a resounding feeling within us of gratitude for the Restoration of the gospel, which can take us back into the presence of God, where we can come to realize our full divine potential.”
The Mormon Historic Sites Foundation is a private organization founded in 1992 as the Ensign Peak Foundation. After raising funds for improvements to Ensign Peak in Salt Lake City, the foundation went on to be involved in numerous other projects, commemorations, publications and exhibits pertaining to Church History.
The Junius F. Wells Award, first bestowed on President Hinckley in 2005, is named after a man known as the father of Church historic sites preservation. It was Brother Wells who in 1905 purchased for the Church the 283 acres in Sharon, Vermont, where the Prophet Jospeh Smith was born. Later, the Joseph Smith Memorial was erected on that site, and still later, Brother Wells oversaw the erection of the monument to the Three Witnesses in Richmond, Missouri.