Friday, April 3, 2020

Herschel Pedersen (1929 - 2020)

My friend and mentor, Herschel Noel Pedersen, died April 1, 2020 at age 91. He was a giant of a man who kindled a spiritual flame inside me that has never dimmed. I was privileged to grow up in the American Fork 12th Ward where Herschel was a larger-than-life hometown hero. A better missionary I have never known. Herschel was fearless and disarmingly self-effacing. He talked the talk and walked the walk with a flair for public speaking that kept audiences spellbound. Miracles large and small hovered around him. His work ethic was legendary. In his prime, his recall was nearly photographic. He read all four standard works multiple times each year and could quote chapter and verse for hours. Herschel was a champion basketball player, a champion steelworker, a champion storyteller, a champion patriarch, a champion Latter-day Saint.
Herschel and Shirley Pedersen
Story #1. American Fork Canyon. When I was young the local seventies proselytized out of staters camping in American Fork Canyon. We looked for interesting license plates and visited with folks, giving them a loaf of homemade bread or a plate of cookies and a copy of the Book of Mormon. When I first heard about this outreach, I was appalled. How dare we Latter-day Saints impose our beliefs on unsuspecting tourists who just happen to be spending part of their vacation in our gorgeous canyon? Herschel persuaded me to be his junior companion. One evening with him visiting around campfires was all it took. We had incredible experiences getting to know amazing sons and daughters of God. Herschel had a knack for asking deep, probing questions such as "Do you know anyone who has actually seen an angel?" I went up the canyon with him many times. It felt a little odd giving copies of the Book of Mormon to campers who were holding a can of Coors in the other hand, but we always left smiling. Herschel endeared himself to his new friends swapping hunting, fishing, or sports stories before bearing his testimony. When I landed in the mission field at age 19, sharing the Gospel was perfectly natural. Peru was a cake walk. I had been a "canyon missionary" with a pro.

Story #2. John Sagers. John was a fellow graduate, American Fork High School, class of '71. He was a bright, handsome, talented young man and a good friend. We had played football together all through junior high and high school. John's family were Episcopalians so he got to drink real wine in their version of the Sacrament. John's dad was the superintendent of the training school, now the Utah State Developmental Center, and they lived in a stately home on the campus grounds. John was dating Ann Richards, a Latter-day Saint girl who got him thinking about the Church. The summer after our high school graduation, he worked alongside DR Gardner and the two of them talked religion. DR gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon and John began to read. His parents wouldn't allow the book in their home, so he hid it inside a plastic bag under a lilac bush near the training school ampitheater. He would read for an hour or so every day after work before returning home. Late one evening, I visited him and all he wanted to talk about was the Book of Mormon. I suggested we visit Herschel. It was after 11 pm when we knocked on Herschel's door and he welcomed us in his pajamas. For about two hours light and spirit and joy filled the Pedersen dining room so powerfully that a couple of high school football buddies couldn't hold back the tears. John went home that night with a spiritual flame inside that never dimmed. He died a few days later on August 5, 1971, in a tragic automobile accident on I-15 in Salt Lake County.

Story #3. Patriarch. Blaine Durrant is Herschel's grandson. Blaine and Caroline were our next-door neighbors for several years. Blaine told me this story. A few years ago, before Herschel and Shirley moved from their home on 850 East, Herschel gathered his posterity together and gave every one of them a father's, grandfather's, or great-grandfather's blessing. His family was so large the process took two days, but he wanted to do what Adam D&C 107:53-56, Jacob (Israel) Genesis chapters 48 and 49, and Lehi 2 Nephi 4:12 had done. He had been a young missionary in Denmark, a bishop, a Regional Representative of the Twelve, a mission president in New Zealand, a senior missionary in Denmark, and a counselor in the Mount Timpanogos Temple Presidency. He was a Temple sealer. Visions and blessings and the scriptures had been his daily fare for decades, but this was special. These were the members of his and Shirley's eternal family. Some of the blessings were prophetic. Some were wake up calls. All were profoundly personal and insightful. Things were communicated spiritually to Herschel acting in his office as patriarch that he could not possibly have known beforehand. It was a sacred revelatory experience none of his family members will ever forget. Herschel kindled many spiritual flames that will never dim.

The year before we all left on our missions, DR Gardner, Paul Terry, Claire  Rinehart, John Lambert, Bruce McDaniel, and I met almost every Sunday night with Herschel around his dining room table for an informal mission prep. Sometimes Shirley would bring out cardboard boxes full of press clippings from his basketball days. Sometimes he would regale us with stories of his Korean War experience playing volleyball all over Japan on some high-ranking general's personal team. He told great stories about courting Shirley and the little dramas of raising a large family. Occasionally, his wife would chime in, "Husband (she always called him "husband"), that's not true!" Herschel was not above a little hyperbole now and again for dramatic effect. Stories from "the plant" (Geneva Steel) were legion and often heart-wrenching. Preaching the Gospel daily to a tough bunch of steelworkers was a dicey proposition. One evening, Herschel inquired about our dates. We were all freshmen at BYU. I volunteered that I wanted to ask out Sharmon Oaks whose father, Dallin, was the new President of BYU, but I was scared to call her. He said in his big booming voice, "That's a problem we can solve!" He picked up the phone, dialed the Oaks residence, asked for Sharmon, and announced, "We have a problem and you're part of it," then handed me the phone.    

American Fork will never be the same without Herschel Pedersen, but oh what glory now attends this great man.
Herschel as a Foreman at Geneva Steel
For a fascinating story about Herschel's constructive role in a curious Book of Mormon plot, see the blog article "Frauds and Hoaxes."
This from DR Gardner: What a blessing to have known Herschel. My testimony received a huge kick start stitting around his table on the Sundays of 1971. He performed the marriage for both of my daughters.
This from Claire Rinehart: I have been recording memories of my youth and I recently wrote thoughts about John Sagers, where I mentioned Herschel. I will need to record more thoughts about him since this message has brought a flood of good memories.
This from Deseret News sportswriter Dick Harmon:
Herschel's Eulogy: