OGDEN -- This city is home to the first deaf branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to a history included in the LDS Deaf Symposium Program Book advertising the event at Weber State University next week.
The Ogden Valley LDS Deaf Branch was formed in 1917, after Max W. Woodbury petitioned church officials that the branch be formed to serve Ogden students at the Utah School for the Deaf, according to the history.
He went on to serve as the president of the branch for 51 years.
The history credits him as the longest-running branch president in the church and for setting a standard for other such church branches throughout the world.
"In the first edition of 'Mormon World Records' (2004) I found the longest-serving branch president of Canada served 38 years," said Roy Cochran, who wrote the branch history and who also served as a branch president for four years.
"I wrote to Paul Skousen (the author) about Pres. Woodbury, who served 51 years. Then the second edition (2008) was printed about him," Cochran said.
Previous to Cochran's documenting efforts, there was no written history of the branch.
Cochran said the history stayed in his own mind for many years as he remembered Woodbury's many talks.
"The most important event in 1917 for the Branch was when the Prophet, President Joseph F. Smith, personally gave the dedicatory prayer for the building and the new Branch," states the history.
"After he finished the dedication, he sat at the rostrum area with tears in his eyes and by inspiration, told President Woodbury that this branch would spread over the United States and throughout the world into many wards, branches, and groups."
The history goes on to state that this vision proved correct.
Utah now has five wards and four branches for the deaf.
This population is served in 15 branches and 59 groups across all other states, according to the historical account.
There are also LDS groups for the deaf in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Italy, Mexico, Venezuela, Philippines, India, South Korea and Taiwan, states the history.
Woodbury's first effort to serve this population began shortly after his 1902 graduation from the University of Utah.
At 25, Woodbury came to Ogden to work at the Utah School for the Deaf because he had become hard of hearing.
He "got a job both as teacher and a part-time boys' dormitory supervisor, and that is where he started learning sign language in earnest," states the history.
Soon after, Woodbury noticed that students at the school had no opportunity to be taught the gospel and he requested a room for a Sunday meeting.
The group attending the meetings grew over time.
In 1917, about 75 to 100 students attended Utah School for the Deaf, mostly LDS members who stayed on campus in the residence halls.
The history states that Woodbury wrote a letter to the First Presidency of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, asking that a building be provided for the LDS deaf members. Woodbury was asked to meet with President Smith and officials at church headquarters to discuss this request, which President Smith approved.
A site was found at the corner of 21st Street and Liberty Avenue, and in 1917, the first building for the branch was constructed.
That building was retired in 1999, when the branch was moved to its current location in South Ogden.
Cochran said branch membership now is at about 150.
He said his favorite events are branch activities, including dinners.
"We gather all together as a family because we are all deaf," he said. "The members are just like family."