LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson's family tells of his service

Tuesday , January 16, 2018 - 10:35 AM

JANAE FRANCIS, Standard-Examiner Staff

While some people are questioning how long new LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson will live to lead the church, his nephew says he would not be surprised to see Nelson live past 100.

“I think he’s just reaching the ripe, young age to be our prophet,” said Steven R. Mecham, a former superintendent of the Weber County School District

Mecham said while Nelson, who became 17th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sunday, Jan. 14, is 93, he looks and acts like an active 60-year-old.

WATCH: LDS Church expected to announce new president

“As long as I have known him, he never seems to age,” Mecham said. “He’s always looked like this. He skis. He gardens. He exercises and walks. The lord has preserved him.”

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Nelson’s nephew by marriage, Mecham said he has seen “Uncle Russell” in private, family moments and knows the values of the renowned heart surgeon turned church leader.

Mecham said it’s not coincidental that a man who paved the way for world-renowned heart-saving procedures now is able to change people’s hearts from the inside.

As a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 1985, Nelson worked in Eastern Europe behind what was then described as the Iron Curtain, Nelson said in a recent address.

LDS Church names Russell M. Nelson as new president

Mecham also served in that area from 1987 to 1990 as president of the Finland, Helsinki, mission. With Nelson’s assistance, Mecham said his mission was extended into Russia and the Baltic States.

Mecham said he saw Nelson’s fame open many doors previously shut to Mormonism.

“He’s very well known by leaders of countries,” Mecham said. “They know the Doctor Nelson. He’s had an open passport wherever he’s gone.”

When Mecham helped Nelson open the Soviet Union and the Baltic States, “It was miracle after miracle,” Mecham said. “It was a time when we were accomplishing the impossible.”

“When he walked into a room, everything changed,” Mecham said. “There seemed to be a spirit in the room that provided accommodation.”

An apparently modest man, Nelson gave much credit for those doors opening to the late church president, Thomas S. Monson, at Monson’s funeral.

Story continues following the video below from President Thomas S. Monson’s funeral where Nelson spoke about opening East Berlin to missionary work. 

“In this country that had been closed to missionary work for more than 50 years, we felt impressed to ask permission for missionaries to serve there,” Nelson said.

He told of an Oct. 28, 1988, meeting with Erich Honecker, who Nelson described as chairman of the state counsel for the German Democratic Republic, and his staff.

“Under the flashing of countless cameras, President Monson was invited to speak. He boldly but kindly presented his message of how and why missionaries would be good for that country,” Nelson said. 

President Thomas S. Monson of LDS church dies at 90

“I will never forget chairman Honecker’s reply. ‘Pres. Monson, we know you, we have watched you for many years. We trust you. Your request regarding missionaries is approved.’” 

That acknowledgment aside, Mecham said Nelson deserves much credit in his own right.

Nelson could speak the language of those he met with in foreign lands, earning their respect as he was able to do so, Mecham said.

“If he goes to a foreign country with a different language, he can study it for a few weeks and speak their language,” Mecham said. “I’ve heard him in six or seven different languages. People are just astounded at his language ability and he doesn’t forget.”

Mecham recalled meeting with officials in Leningrad, now known as St. Petersburg, Russia, with Nelson asking to have missionaries there.

“He had a way of making everyone feel so at ease and comfortable,” Mecham said.

> PHOTOS: Remembering LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson

After watching Nelson speak, Mecham said officials told the two men they would announce their decision in a week.

Mecham said when he returned alone, without Nelson who had to be elsewhere, the officials told him they knew Nelson was a man of God who had convinced them to change their minds and allow the missionaries.

“They said ‘because of the feeling of his great spirit, we feel we can give you the opportunity to move forward,” Mecham said.

Officials also told Mecham that their decision was based on their having the KGB follow him for a week to test out whether or not Mecham told the truth.

Mecham believes the same spirit that changed the minds of nations will change the hearts of church followers in the years to come.

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“He will be able to say the right thing at the right time to inspire people along the way,” Mecham said. “That halo just radiates around him as people listen intently to what he has to say.”

The goodness that shines in his countenance comes from adherence to deep values, Mecham said.

Mecham and others in his family told of Nelson’s love of family.

> PHOTOS: LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson’s funeral

“He demonstrates the importance of loving everyone in the family,” Mecham said. “No matter who they are, he loves them all.”

Mecham’s older brother, Roy Mecham, said he’s seen Nelson fly home from all corners of the world for family events because he places such a high priority on attending them. 

Roy Mecham also spoke of a Nelson family monthly newsletter that chronicles many family activities and an extensive list of Nelson’s dealings — often a list that would exhaust younger men.

Donna Mecham, Steven Mecham’s wife of 56 years, spoke of Nelson giving her a blessing at the Huntsman Cancer Institute when she had an illness doctors told her was incurable, but from which she later recovered.

Donna Mecham also said she always felt especially welcomed into the family by Nelson.

A most memorable moment for Donna Mecham was when she witnessed Nelson in 1987 dedicate Russia to missionary work. Because of a cleaning schedule for the Summer Garden in St. Petersburg, she said she and her husband were able to join Nelson and his wife exclusively in witnessing the prophetic blessing. 

Her sister-in-law, Patricia Mecham Wood, said watching Nelson’s kind way with cousins is her favorite memory.

“He would kid around with us and always had a twinkle in his blue eyes,” she said. “Uncle Russell always had a nickname for all of us. I have always treasured mine, which was ‘Princess Patricia.’”

Stephen Mecham also said he’s deeply impressed with the way Nelson has put his late wife, Dantzel White Nelson, and his current wife since 2006, Wendy L. Watson, first in his life.

“I have been behind him in line at wedding receptions and funerals,” Mecham said. “He always signed Dantzel and Russell Nelson, and now he signs Wendy and Russell Nelson. ... He gives credit to Dantzel and now to Wendy for much of what his’ been able to do. The family is number one for him.”

You may reach reporter JaNae Francis at jfrancis@standard.net or 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or on Facebook at Facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis.

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