The LDS Conference Center across from Temple Square was the scene of President Monson’s birthday celebration and was filled to near-capacity with 20,000 well wishers.
NFL Hall of Famer, Steve Young and former network anchor of CBS’s The Early Show, Jane Clayson Johnson narrated the evening.
Scouts holding flags marched down the aisles and onto the stage singing the Trailbuilders’ Hymn, a tribute to President Monson’s service to scouting. Jane Clayson Johnson repeated the Scout Oath and said that President Monson had grown up to embody all of those qualities.
Distinguished American tenor Stanford Olsen, who made his Metropolitan Opera debut at 26, sang “Golden Days” from The Student Prince, a tribute to the golden yesterdays that President Monson has known. President Monson grew up in a home where “love thy neighbor” was a way of life.” This became a foundation for a life marked by good deeds, righteousness and warmth. At his West High School reunion, his nametag read only “Tommy.”
Rebecca Luker, whose award-winning Broadway roles include being Maria in The Sound of Music, sang “Tomorrow” from Annie, a show President Monson likes because he lived through the Depression and knows that the message of hope and faith is universal.
Tommy Monson first saw Frances Johnson at the Hello Dance at the University of Utah, but their courtship would be interrupted by his service in the Navy in World War II. This service only deepened his conviction to live the gospel, refined his character and deepened his love for Frances whom he married Oct. 7, 1948.
Dallyn Vail Bayles sings “There But for You” from Brigadoon, a tribute to President Monson’s ministry of rescue to those in need.
In his early career, President Monson served as the General Manager of the Deseret News Press, which gave him opportunity to rub shoulders frequently with President David O. McKay
President Monson became a bishop at age 22 to a ward that had 85 widows. He endeared himself to his congregation by offering a hand up to the youth who were struggling and help for the widows. At Christmas he visited each widow with bag of candy or a chicken for roasting. In that first bishop’s office he hung a picture of Christ and asked himself in every situation, what would Jesus do? That picture has continued to hang in every office he has had since then.
He would continue to serve and remember these widows until they died.
The Conference Center was festooned with hundreds of yellow roses because President Monson loves to quote, “God gave us memories that we might have June roses in the December of our lives.”
Mack Wilberg, Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, arranged the encouraging “If the Way Be Full of Trial, Weary Not” for the evening.
At 31, President Monson was called upon to be president of the Canadian Mission and at 36, he was called to be an apostle, the youngest one called in 53 years. This picture was taken from video footage of his first testimony as an apostle.
In this shot of a young Thomas S. Monson with the Quorum of the Twelve, six of these would become Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley (slightly off frame on left) and Thomas S. Monson.
The Latter-day Saints behind the Iron Wall were of special ministry for President Monson. At one point in 1968 he prophesied to the Latter-day Saints there who had no buildings, no ward, no stake, no temple and no mission that if they were true and faithful every blessing would be theirs. It seemed impossible, but 20 years later the Latter-day Saints had their own temple in East Germany.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said that for his half a century of service “no one that I know has ever worked harder, worked longer hours, gone more places, sought out more people, taken the extra load the extra assignment and the extra travel to fulfill his callings than has President Monson.” He said that he has been so totally devoted to his calling that he has set a very lofty goal for all of us who have tried to follow along in his footsteps.
President Uchtdorf noted that someone said friends are born, not made. Speaking of President Monson, he said, “You were definitely born a friend. You are acclaimed as one by millions of members of the Church all around the globe.”He also said that President Monson has always been a friend to the German people. “You blessed our people and country behind the Iron Curtain with prophetic promises that seemed impossible at the time. Your faith stretched ours. That faith was rewarded and we witnessed the literal fulfillment of your blessings.”
President Henry B. Eyring remembered a moment with President Monson beside a desert road in Arizona when they were there together for the dedication of the Gila Temple. A couple stood along side the road, hoping to see the prophet, and he asked his driver to pull over so he could shake their hand. Though not a house was in sight, more families began to appear and President Monson greeted them all with a sunny smile. It was only when arriving cars began to clog the narrow road that President Monson gave the direction to return to the cars. “The prophet had given 100’s of people a golden moment to be remembered forever.President Eyring said we can honor the prophet by serving others as he has. “I’ve been the subject of his love and I’ve tried to follow his example,” he said.
The evening ended with the beautiful “If the Way Be Full of Trial, Weary Not” with the soloists joining the choir.
Scores of well-wishers wanted to personally greet President Monson, including this African man, whom the prophet gathered to himself and hugged intently.