OGDEN -- Visitors to the Ogden Regional Family History Center may be researching their pioneer ancestors, but they're the beneficiaries of the efforts of a modern pioneer.
Since Emil O. Hanson took over as director of the Ogden institution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2001, it's grown to be the largest outside of Salt Lake City.
Since Hanson took over, the 50-volunteer staff and 15-computer facility has grown to include nearly 300 volunteers and 140 computers.
The center grew seemingly despite a lack of resources. Hanson's stories of renovation and acquisition seem to defy all odds.
"I believe it was inspired," he said of one particular donation -- tens of thousands of dollars' worth of office furniture from a man who had purchased the items from Iomega Corp. after it moved.
The man was selling the furniture for a profit, but had experienced a slowing of interest in the materials.
Hanson said the man, a neighbor, offered him the donation one day while he was walking his dog.
"I don't know where we would have gotten the furniture had he not done that," Hanson said. "The church was not interested."
Apparently through some miscommunication, a system of regular checks on the center's needs by a representative of the main offices of the church did not take place, Hanson said.
As a result, Hanson has dozens of stories of how he did the planning, accumulating, landscaping and in some cases even the building himself as he expanded operations next door. He found bargains of large Hewlett Packard printers, a few years ago priced at $7,000 or $8,000, for $125 on the Internet to set up shop in the former Weber State College institute building built in 1942 when the campus was in downtown Ogden.
Hanson said he and a host of volunteers accomplished with a small amount of money, the renovations of the dilapidated and smelly building that had stood vacant for decades.
"The former director had $35,000 in his budget he didn't know what to do with," Hanson said. "Luckily, he hadn't turned it back in to the church in Salt Lake City."
Hanson shares stories of how he expanded the library to a second building next door without any additional money or resources from the church.
At the time, his operation was receiving only $200 a year from each of the 39 stakes in the service area.
Members of the center's board since lobbied to have that fee raised to $400 a year from each of those bodies.
But what those stakes get for $15,600 a year is a lot of bang for their buck.
The center runs about 30 free classes a month for anyone interested on everything from the church's New Family Search program to classes on how to scan and restore old photographs. The classes run on schedule each month, even if only one person shows up for the instruction.
And now that Hanson has transformed the Ogden center into an efficient operation, it appears that officials in Salt Lake City have discovered his success.
He has heard recently that the church plans to build a new facility for family history research in Ogden, likely near the temple.
But well before that, starting soon, the center will become a book-digitizing center for the church.
It will be a large operation requiring 16 new computers where volunteers will type in information now stored in books so it will be available digitally online, Hanson said.
In order for Hanson and his volunteers to be able to make room for the new operation, they had to find a place to move two classrooms that previously operated in that space.
Hanson located a spot where the two rooms would fit in the northwestern corner of the original library. But he didn't have money to make the change.
So he pioneered a new configuration of the book shelves in the library that created walls out of the shelves.
"It's the only way we could do it," Hanson said. "We didn't have enough money to put up partitions."
Perhaps it's this kind of thinking that makes Hanson a true pioneer in family history research.
During a tour of the facility, he points out that each of the rooms in the two-building library are named after a pioneer ancestor of one of the volunteers there.
But none of these rooms are named after one of Hanson's ancestors.
"I don't have any pioneer ancestors," he said. "I'm the only member of the church in my family."
Perhaps that's because he, himself, is a pioneer.