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267 13 Creating Community Telling the Story of the Mormons in Fort Collins, Colorado linda m. meyer Historian Linda M. Meyer examines one religious community, a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in Fort Collins, Colorado. Unlike many towns and cities in the Intermountain West, Fort Collins was not settled by Mormons, and members of the LDS Church were relative newcomers to the area. Although the LDS Church Library provides rich primary sources about Mormon congregations in other locations, it offers very little information related to Fort Collins. Oral history provided one of the few ways to find out about the Mormons who settled on Colorado’s Front Range. Through her interviews, Meyer found that the experience of being part of a religious minority created a greater sense of community among church members. This was further influenced by the volunteer work necessary to build the local chapel. The interviews also corrected some misinformation from a few printed sources. Most significant, the interviews provided stories that enhance understanding of the community. The Mormon community has continued to grow in Fort Collins and surrounding areas to the point that Church President Thomas S. Monson announced in April 2011 that a temple will be built in that city. during the past half a century, many rural towns in America disappeared as an increasing number of their younger generations 268 linda m. meyer moved to the cities. Some people may interpret this loss of small towns to mean that the nation’s sense of community is breaking down. In his book Community and Social Change in America, Thomas Bender proposes new definitions of community that do not rely on a specific location but instead focus on mutual interest and emotional ties.1 According to Bender and others, experiences of community exist even within the impersonal setting of a large urban area. A community was once defined as a group of people who lived in close geographic proximity and participated in interdependent relationships, sharing significant portions of their lives. The concepts of interdependent relationships and sharing remain an essential part of the new definitions, which involve deep feelings of connectedness to others within the group. As Philip Gulley expresses it, “Community isn’t so much a locale as it is a state of mind. You find it whenever folks ask how you’re doing because they care, and not because they’re getting paid to inquire.”2 Oral histories proved to be a rich source of information as I set out to study the ways members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in Fort Collins, Colorado, interacted to create an identifiable cultural community during the twentieth century .3 In the late 1990s, I conducted nineteen oral history interviews with individuals involved in the early years of the Fort Collins LDS Church.4 These oral histories provided context and valuable insights concerning the creation of the LDS community in this northern Colorado city. Brigham Young’s followers colonized many areas throughout the western United States, but northern Colorado was not among them. Thus, the community experiences of the first Latter-day Saints in Fort Collins differed greatly from those of their counterparts in Mormon colonies located outside of Utah, such as Rexburg , Idaho, or Mesa, Arizona. The Latter-day Saint immigrants who founded Rexburg, Mesa, and other early LDS towns brought well-established church traditions to their new settlements and enjoyed the advantages of being part of the dominant culture, whereas the early Fort Collins Mormons struggled to define themselves as members of a tiny minority. The stories of the LDS “old timers” supply interesting details regarding their community-building activities in the mid-twentieth century. Those who participated in the Creating Community 269 Fort Collins congregation during the 1940s told of church meetings and socials in the local Odd Fellows’ Hall, small gatherings of Mormon women for activities of the Relief Society (the LDS women ’s organization), and the beginnings of a sense of religious identity in this mostly non-Mormon college town. In addition to fleshing out the lean framework provided by written records, in some cases the oral histories provided the only source of information concerning past events. An interview with one individual often led to contact with a person who had not been on my original list of potential narrators. Some provided information concerning the locations of additional historical documents and other primary source materials or offered new names to research...


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