Hundreds Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Alabama’s First Organized Stake
On March 3 hundreds of Latter-day Saints gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alabama’s first organized stake. In the spring of 1968, the Alabama Stake, later renamed the Huntsville Alabama Stake, was assembled by Elder Harold B. Lee, who became the 11th President of the Church four years later.
To celebrate the milestone, current stake president Stephen Vaughan of Huntsville honored pioneering members of the original stake. Friends and family enjoyed a commemorative video, a sacred choral performance, historical displays, games, and dancing.
Mormon missionaries first arrived in Alabama in the late 1800s, and by 1896, members had established five Sunday Schools. The first formal Latter-day Saint Sunday School in northern Alabama was organized at the home of John Washington Locke on July 28, 1929, at Locke’s Crossroads near Elkmont, Alabama. The Elkmont chapel was later dedicated on November 1, 1930.
In 1930 there were 2,516 Church members in Alabama. The 1940s brought an influx of LDS servicemen to Alabama, strengthening the small, growing congregations. When the military and space industry ushered in more members in the 1950s, the Church began building chapels throughout the state.
Today, the Church has grown to more than 37,000 members in Alabama, comprising 45 wards, 30 branches, and seven stakes. The two northern Alabama stakes account for 6,500 members. Each year, members in Alabama unite with their community by hosting a Celebrate America concert in July and a nativity festival and concert series in December.
Virginia Brown, 73, of Decatur remembers attending the 1968 conference as a young mother “with a lap full of babies.” She joined the Church at 11 years old in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, and moved to Decatur in 1966. Her late husband, William G. Brown, served as bishop of the Decatur Ward for nine years and as president of the Huntsville Alabama Stake for six years. Virginia commented, “It is great to be here today … and see old friends.”
In 1967 Archie and June Garrard moved their family to Huntsville and were instrumental in supporting the Church’s growth in northern Alabama. At 93 years old, Archie was honored Saturday as the oldest member of the stake. This year in June, the Garrards will be celebrating 70 years of marriage. June shared, “As we watched the Church blossom and grow in Alabama, we watched our children grow too.” The Garrards have six children and 109 family members total.
A historical account of the state’s first stake was compiled into a book, Huntsville Alabama Stake, Building Zion in the South, which can be ordered on Amazon.
Virginia Brown shares memories of the 1968 conference when Alabama’s first stake was organized. Photo by Wendy Reynolds.