|President and Sister Topham take the incoming missionaries to get a good view of Pittsburgh|
Tell us a bit about yourselves.
We are from Utah. We both grew up in southern Utah but have lived in the Salt Lake City area for most of our adult lives. We have 4 children and 16 grandchildren ranging from 18 to 9 months old. I am a civil engineer by education and worked 30 years for the Utah Department of Transportation in highway planning construction and maintenance. I also spent 11 years as a Senior Vice President and Western Regional Manager of an international engineering firm. My most significant professional achievement was participating in the planning, financing, contracting and reconstruction of I-15 in the Salt Lake Valley. Sister Topham was a cosmetologist but was always first and foremost a wife and mother and practiced most of her profession in our home while raising our family. As for recreation, Sister Topham is a bowler and has participated in several bowling leagues, but her real interest is in her grandchildren. She loves music and likes to play the piano. I like to golf and to spend time at our desert home in St. George, UT. While there I like to ride back-roads and trails in off-road vehicles.
What brought you here to the Pittsburgh area?
In 2011 I retired from work and Sister Topham and I had a desire to serve a mission. We were surprised to be called on a three-year assignment to preside over a mission and were assigned to Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. We have loved our time here and the people we have served and have served with.
What did your responsibilities consist of while you were here?
The main focus of a mission president is to work with the individual missionaries. We have the responsibility to receive the missionaries, to orient them, provide housing and transportation for them, to assign them to their various service areas, and to train and direct them in their missionary work. The Elders serve for 2 years and the Sisters for 18 months, and there is a constant flow of incoming and outgoing missionaries. During our tenure here, the age at which missionaries can serve was lowered, resulting in a significant increase in the number of missionaries assigned to us. When we arrived we had approximately 140 missionaries and we now have about 260. The most significant increase was in our young sister missionaries, which increased from 8 to 80.
What were some of your first impressions of Pittsburgh?
We had visited Pittsburgh several years earlier on a business trip and were favorably impressed, so we came with a positive attitude. We love the green of summer and the colors of fall. I had hoped to serve where the winters weren’t quite as harsh, but the good outweighs the bad by a long way. In the three years we have been here, we have driven approximately 100,000 miles. Our area covers from Lancaster to Williamsport on the east side and from Wheeling, WV, to Erie, PA, and Jamestown, NY, on the west, so it is quite possible that we have seen more of Pennsylvania than many of the natives. Our first impressions of the beauty of the landscapes and the warmth of the people will be our lasting ones as well.
Please tell one or two of your most memorable experiences during your time here.
Because our mission boundaries are so broad and our missionaries so spread out, we didn’t think it would ever be possible to have all of them together in a single meeting. As it turned out, we were able to get everyone together twice, once in June of 2013 and once in May 2014. We were privileged to be visited by apostles David A. Bednar and Jeffrey R.Holland, along with other General Authorities of the church. Each meeting lasted 3 hours and each missionary had the opportunity to individually meet these special men and be taught by them. For us, being able to sit where we could look at all our missionaries in one group and watch each of them as they shook the hand of one of the Lord’s apostles was a real blessing—one that we will never forget.
When you go home and describe Pittsburgh to people, what will you say?
First let me say that we have grown to love the people here. They are friendly and courteous and accepting of people from other cultures and places. A couple of things that really struck us were, first, the courteousness of drivers. We were amazed at how people stop to let others into lines of traffic and allow them to make left turns in front of them, etc. Also, coming from a very rural part of the country, we assumed that Pennsylvania would be more urban. I suppose that if we had served in Philadelphia we would have found that to be true. Instead, we found that central and western Pennsylvania can be as rural, if not more rural, than southern Utah, where we were reared.
Do you have anything else you'd like to say to people of Pittsburgh?
We hope that when we leave it won’t be the end of our relationship with Pittsburgh and that we will have the opportunity to come back or at least keep in contact with those we have grown close to. Sister Topham has been a Pittsburgh Pirates fan since they won the World Series against the Yankees when she was in elementary school and listened to the games on the radio, so we will continue to root for the Pirates. We hope that the prayers of the members will be answered, that more people will hear and accept the message of the restored gospel, and that you will be able to have a temple here in the not too distant future. We hope that our positive memories of Pennsylvania will never leave us.
We in the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Stake are so grateful for the dedicated service of Elder and Sister Topham. We wish them the very best as they return to their family in Utah!