Here's part of a talk I wrote for Pioneer Day a few years back:
I grew up in Utah, always looked forward to the 24th of July as Independence Day round two. There were more BBQ's, more fireworks, and more parades. Maybe the significance of Pioneer Day was lost on me, but as I learned more about my heritage, and the example of the pioneers, I came to appreciate it more. I have some wonderful examples of pioneers in my family.
My great-great-great-great grandmother is Emily Dow Partridge Young, an early convert who crossed the plains. Her father, Edward Partridge, was the first presiding bishop in the church, and had to be away from them most of the time. Consequently, she and her family were driven from place to place to avoid persecution. She describes: “Times were hard and we were very destitute, having been robbed and driven from our homes and possessions so many times, and having had much sickness after we came to Nauvoo, and being afflicted in various ways, consequently we were reduced to extreme poverty. Mother was good at turning her hand to almost anything. She got an old stock, such as men wore at their necks at that time, ripped it up to learn how it was made, and then obtained a block and went to work making stocks to sell. In that way she earned a little to keep her family. My sister Eliza and myself were the oldest of the children, and it seemed necessary that we should do something toward earning a living....The Saints were again driven from their homes, and I crossed the Mississippi River about the middle of February, 1846, and was again without home or shelter, an outcast and a wanderer in the dreary wilderness, without even the necessaries of life. My babe was about three months old. I was not quite twenty-two, and had been driven, with the Saints of God, by mobs, four times, and all for my religion.”
Emily Dow Partridge’s great-great-grandson is my (my grandfather). He married another pioneer of sorts, my grandmother. Hevia Junca was raised Catholic in Melo, Uruguay. Her family owned a ranch and she studied to become a nurse. She would was assigned to give all vaccinations and injections to the missionaries, so had close contact with the church. She was baptized, and later wrote to my grandfather, who had served in as a missionary in Uruguay. Their courtship started through letters, and she came to the states to go to nursing school, and later, to be married. A couple weeks after their wedding, my grandfather left for Japan to serve in the military. My grandma gave birth to my uncle 9 months later, and raised him alone for two years while my grandfather was out of the country. Both of these women had to leave their homes for a new place and a new faith. They are examples of courage and strength to me. They faced those challenges with a steadfast faith in Christ.
Each of us is connected to a pioneer heritage whether we have ancestors who crossed the plains, or if we are the first members of the church in our family. It is thanks to the brave people who came before us that we are able to enjoy the blessings of the gospel, and worship freely. That’s partly why we celebrate pioneer day and the pioneering spirit. As we remember the pioneers this week, I think we could do well to consider the words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks. He said:
"It is not enough to study or reenact the accomplishments of our pioneers. We need to identify the great, eternal principles they applied to achieve all they achieved for our benefit and then apply those principles to the challenges of our day. In that way we honor their pioneering efforts"