Thursday, June 7, 2012

Help from the Other Side, Part II

A few weeks after visiting my great grand uncle's gravesite in Raytown (see Part I), I went to a regional meeting for my church. (Stake conference for my LDS readers.) These meetings fill up quickly so even though my older girls and I got there early, the main chapel was already full. We sat in the cultural hall overflow just a few rows back. I was on an inside aisle seat.

During these meetings, various people are called up spontaneously from the congregation to share a brief testimony. About halfway through the meeting, the gentleman sitting across the aisle from me in the same row was called up. His name was Tom, and I had never met him before.

He started by saying how it was amazing to see the growth of our church in this area. He had moved here when he was 6 months old and had lived here for all 67 years since. He said he remembered when our church first organized a stake in the Kansas City, Missouri area. (A stake is like a regional area for our church, similar to a diocese or parish.) He remembered the first stake president of this new stake in the 1950s, Martin Witbeck. Imagine my surprise when I heard that name after just visiting his grave a few weeks before.

Of course, immediately after the meeting, I stepped across the aisle and introduced myself. He said that President Witbeck was a great man. He moved to Kansas City from Utah as part of his employment as a regional sales director for Safeway Stores. He said he was a wealthy man, but you would never know it by the way he treated others.

Tom's mother was a single mom, and she also worked for Safeway. One night, after a long shift, she went out to her car and saw people putting groceries in her car. She went back in to tell them that someone was loading purchases into the wrong vehicle, and Martin Witbeck told her it wasn't a mistake. The food was for her.

Apparently, Martin lived in the Ward Parkway area of Kansas City, which is still a wealthy area. Tom took down my information and promised to try and track down some pictures for me.

How great it is to have an experience where you learn something about the kind of person an ancestor was and not just factual data. When we start to see a story emerge from what was once just dates and places, that is when genealogy becomes something more than a hobby. It becomes a history lesson, and it evolves into a passion.

Watch for my next post about tracking down the house Martin owned here in Kansas...

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