Funeral held for LDS bishop in California

Sep 3 2010 - 11:28pm

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(GARY KAZANJIAN/The Fresno Bee) The casket of lay bishop Clay Sannar is put into the hearse at The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints on Friday in Visalia, Calif. Sannar was shot and killed Sunday at the LDS church he served as lay bishop. The gunman, Kenneth James Ward, 47, of Modesto, was killed in a shootout with police.
(GARY KAZANJIAN/The Fresno Bee) The casket of lay bishop Clay Sannar is put into the hearse at The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints on Friday in Visalia, Calif. Sannar was shot and killed Sunday at the LDS church he served as lay bishop. The gunman, Kenneth James Ward, 47, of Modesto, was killed in a shootout with police.

VISALIA, Calif. -- About 1,000 mourners packed a Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints church in Visalia on Friday to pay final respects to lay bishop Clay Ronald Sannar, 40, who was gunned down less than a week before at another Visalia LDS church.

Friends, church members and members of the community stood silently as more than 85 family members and close friends filed into the chapel and took their seats in roped-off pews.

Sannar is survived by his wife Julie, 39, and their six boys, ages 4 months to 14 years.

The man who killed Sannar -- Kenneth Ward, 47, of Modesto -- was shot dead Sunday by police about a half-hour after Sannar's slaying.

Church dignitary L. Whitney Clayton, a high-ranking church member from Salt Lake City, delivered the sermon.

He said the LDS Church has received well wishes directed to the Sannar family from across the country and even South America. Sannar's senseless death is undeniably tragic, but "the death of Clay will bring much righteousness to this community and indeed throughout the world," Clayton said.

Clay Sannar grew up in Gridley in a farming family with eight brothers and sisters, the son of Ron and Rita Sannar, who still live there.

Blane Sannar, 17 months younger than Clay, described an idyllic childhood of hours spent playing catch in the backyard.

Although his brother behaved mischievously and frequently found himself in trouble, he thrived on challenges, Blane Sannar said.

He excelled at the Pinewood Derby in Cub Scouts, loved sports and, if an overthrown baseball got lost in the backyard ivy, would search until he found it, Blane Sannar said.

As bishop of the Visalia Second Ward, Blane Sannar said, his brother would take time away from work to visit people who were in special need, such as dying of cancer -- and not just for a few minutes, but for hours, helping with whatever tasks needed doing.

He said one of his fondest memories was when his brother got married. The two hugged, said they loved each other and then started crying.

The turning point in Clay Sannar's life came as an LDS missionary to Ireland at age 19, his sister Melisse Sannar Myers said.

"When he returned from his mission, a spiritual leader was born," she said.

From then on, nothing stopped him: He married in college and took a job at Soil Basics in Visalia. By 2004, he and his wife owned the company. Four months ago, he was named bishop of his ward.

But it was his family that he cared about most: "Clay loves his boys and they are everything to him," she said tearfully.

Clay Sannar was always something of a family leader, especially after his mission, she said. Furthermore, "you just knew he had the answer" to any problem, such as which house to buy or the meaning of a Bible passage.

"Clay Sannar will never be forgotten," said his father-in-law, David Daddow.

Although Sannar was a murder victim, Daddow asked that the Ward family be remembered in prayers "because they are suffering as well."

The motive for the slaying remains a mystery, but Ward's family told reporters he was mentally ill and at times had been at odds with the LDS Church. Earlier in his life, he had attended services at the same church where Sannar died.

The family is taking strength from the support of family and friends.

"I will miss him until we meet again," Blane Sannar said.

Sannar will be buried in Gridley at Gridley-Biggs Cemetery. Services at The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints in Gridley will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Contributions to the Sannar Family Trust Fund may be mailed to P.O. Box 3328, Visalia, CA 93278,

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