Working the Divine Miracle
by Richard D. Poll
Stan Larson, editor

Stake President

[p.71]In 1927 Henry Moyle was a busy man. He was the father of a young and growing family, a law professor at the University of Utah, a director of several corporations, and an attorney who was beginning to enjoy success and prestige. Then, in his thirty-ninth year, he accepted a position of leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that reordered his life. He was called to be the president of the Cottonwood Stake.

Since his return from his mission, Henry had maintained an active relationship with his church. He attended meetings regularly, gave talks occasionally, tithed his variable and often unpredictable income, and performed such routine priesthood duties as ward teaching. He and Alberta were married in the temple and as the children came along he blessed and christened them according to the Mormon pattern. But he held no positions of congregational leadership, and until he settled in Cottonwood in 1922 he may not have been long enough in any location to be considered for one. Apparently he was content with this state of affairs.

Things began to change, however, with the family location. The death of an infant son reinforced Henry’s sense of responsibility for his living children, and he soon accepted a call to be Sunday school superintendent in the Brinton Ward. Alice remembers sometimes sitting beside him on the stand as he conducted services.

Cottonwood was changing, too, and the changes produced the need and the opportunity for someone like Henry Moyle to take charge. The [p.72]automobile was beginning to convert the area from a bucolic farming community to a suburb for Salt Lake City’s expanding and aspiring middle class, a transformation later impeded by hard times and war. Henry and Alberta represented the new wave—some non-Mormon, some ex-Mormon, some inactive Mormon, and some active and devout. To many of their blue-collar and overall neighbors, they were all suspect, but as it became clear that many of them worshipped the same God and sustained the same prophets, place was found for them. Henry was ordained a high priest and appointed to the Cottonwood Stake High Council in February 1927, and ten months later he was asked to preside over the stake.

The stake offered some challenging problems to its new president. It consisted of ten wards—Bennion, Brinton (where the Moyles lived), Grant, Holladay, Mill Creek, Murray First, Murray Second, South Cottonwood, Taylorsville, and Winder. Geographically it was very large for a Salt Lake stake. Located in the southern half of the valley; it stretched from the Wasatch Mountains in the east to the Oquirrh Mountains in the west. It was bounded on the north by three other stakes-Granite, Grant, and Oquirrh (from east to west)—and on the south by two others—East Jordan and West Jordan. The stake included only one incorporated city, Murray. The majority of the 7,500 Mormons in the area in 1927 were associated with farming, dairying, stock raising, or with labor in Murray’s smelters and other industries. Since the Utah economy was sluggish through the 1920s, low incomes and underemployment were chronic.

Murray was the location of several fraternal orders or lodges. As President Moyle saw the church competing with the lodges for the time, talents, and money of many capable Latter-day Saints, he concluded that Cottonwood Stake had a larger percentage of lodge members than “any of the organized stakes of Zion.” Staffing the two Murray wards and the stake was a constant problem. Indeed, it was one of the factors leading to the resignation of the previous stake leader. Uriah G. Miller had served as the president of Cottonwood Stake since its creation in 1914. At a stake conference held 20 November 1927, Miller and his counselors were honorably released and Henry Dinwoodey Moyle was sustained as president. Ralph B. Cutler and Heber Grant Ivins were installed as first and second counselors, respectively. Heber B. Smith, who had served as stake clerk through the Miller presidency; accepted a call to [p.73]continue in that post. The new officers were set apart by apostles George F. Richards and Stephen L. Richards.

To Henry Moyle, accepting a call meant doing a job, and he lost no time initiating changes. Within three months the Brinton Ward was rechristened “Cottonwood,” the bishopric was reorganized, and according to the stake history; the chapel that had been “in the course of construction for fifteen years was finally completed” and LDS president Heber J. Grant “delivered a very fine sermon and pronounced the dedicatory prayer.” The new bishop was Irvin T. Nelson. So successfully did he respond to his calling that when Grant Ivins had to be released as second counselor in the stake presidency in 1929, Nelson was appointed to fill the vacancy. There were no other changes in the presidency during Henry’s nine-year term.1

Two other bishoprics were reorganized in the first three months and nine new high council members and three high council alternates were sustained. Convinced that the stake would only improve as the leaders led, President Moyle was firm in working with bishops and other priesthood leaders and recommending the release of those whose performance was deemed inadequate after a reasonable period of counsel and encouragement. Bishops had to be individually approved by the First Presidency then, and Henry was no more reluctant to ask President Grant to make a change than he was to press the Presiding Bishop, Sylvester Q. Cannon, for more financial support for his expanding stake operations. The records show that he was well known in the offices and councils at church headquarters before he had been very long in his calling.

Just as Henry expected excellence in his leaders, he supported them as they carried out their responsibilities. On several occasions when questions arose about the conduct of a leader, he heard both sides before making a judgment and then, if he found the leader to have been in the right, he went out of his way to help to defend him. One such incident involved the bishop of the Murray First Ward,2 Samuel E. Bringhurst. The controversy involved a complex set of circumstances and a customer [p.74]who claimed Bringhurst had not fulfilled a business commitment. When she got no satisfaction from him, she went to his stake president and then to the Presiding Bishop. Having satisfied himself that the claim was invalid, Henry convinced Bishop Cannon, too, and Bringhurst was exonerated. A lifelong friendship resulted, and when Henry was released, Samuel Bringhurst succeeded him as stake president.

It is likely that the Presiding Bishop gave Henry’s opinion additional weight because of his skill in presenting a case. On many occasions Henry was able to use his legal training in the service of his stake—executing deeds, offering opinions in property matters, settling disputes in families and among neighbors, and arguing for the stake as if it were a client. There were no fees, however, in these cases.

Since its formation, Cottonwood Stake had functioned without offices, a situation that presented many difficulties. At the same time that the new stake presidency was installed, Murray First Ward was expanding and remodeling its building. Recognizing an opportunity, Henry had the architect plan an annex that would house offices, a records vault, and a high council meeting room. The blueprint was sent to President Grant with a formal request that the annex be built. Like a lawyer’s brief, the letter argued that while it had been possible in the past to hold weekly executive meetings in the stake president’s home, the new presidency all lived away from the center of the stake. Murray was the appropriate place for offices and with a building under construction it was the proper time to provide them. Another improvement would result: high council meetings could be held weekly instead of monthly as heretofore. A follow-up letter in a few days reviewed the arguments, added the architect’s cost estimate of $6,000 and requested that, in view of “recent and contemplated improvements and the remodeling of ward houses throughout the stake” and “financial burdens almost greater than they are able to meet,” the members of the stake not be asked to pay for the annex.

The approach taken by Henry in this matter was typical of his interaction with church leaders regarding financial matters. While he served as stake president, he frequently requested money for improvements or operating expenses seen as necessary. But when he did so, he was thoroughly prepared with a clear assessment of the problem and a well-thought-out plan to correct it. The approach was generally successful, as in this case. The plan for stake offices was accepted and $5,000 was appropriated. The balance for fees and furnishings was to be raised [p.75]within the stake. But as the building progressed, the Presiding Bishopric was even persuaded to make an appropriation for furniture. By the end of the summer, Cottonwood Stake business was being conducted in comfortable new offices, much to the satisfaction of the presidency and their co-workers.

The expansion of the Cottonwood Stake Maternity Home was another major financial project undertaken by the new president, working with the stake Relief Society president and the general authorities of the church. The Cottonwood facility dated back to the late nineteenth century, when the LDS women’s organization sponsored the training of female doctors, nurses, and midwives. Now it needed capital improvements to bring it up to contemporary maternity hospital standards and to meet expanding needs. The initial understanding between the stake and church leaders was that general funds up to a limit of $4,000 would be contributed to match funds raised through the Relief Societies of the stake. President Moyle accepted the conditions and then set out to improve the stake’s position. Because the maternity hospital was used by more women from outside than within the stake, he felt that other church women should help pay for the expansion. The Relief Society general presidency was persuaded to permit such a solicitation. Henry arranged for President Grant to visit the facility and meet with Stake Relief Society president Amanda Bagley, after which the $4,000 in church funds was pledged unconditionally. Arrangements were subsequently made to use general church funds for a second expansion in 1930 and some additional expenditures during the Depression years. Cottonwood Maternity Hospital became an important center for health services in Salt Lake Valley.

President Moyle did not always convince the church leadership that he was right, of course. Considering his confidence in his judgment and his legal training, it is not surprising that he fought for some proposals even after they were initially denied, and that he showed occasional reluctance in carrying out decisions that differed from his own. For example, he and his counselors decided at the outset that the five small seventies quorums in the stake could not provide the strength and unity necessary to keep their members involved. They developed an alternative plan for a single quorum and presented it to the church’s First Council of Seventy. When this plan was rejected, Henry carried his case to Apostle Orson E Whitney at the next stake conference, and at his sugges-[p.76]tion then wrote to Elder Rudger Clawson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve,3 whom he knew from missionary days in Europe. He also wrote to the First Council: “It is our opinion that the Stake Presidency be either allowed to organize the Seventies as they deem desirable in order to make them fit into the general scheme of their stake organization, or be not held responsible for the activities of these quorums.”

The resolution adopted under the influence of the First Presidency was the organization of two quorums and a reaffirmation that these quorums should come under the direct jurisdiction of the First Council of Seventy. Henry acquiesced but subsequent transactions with the First Council suggest that he was still unenthusiastic.

The strength of Henry Moyle’s personality and his general preference for having things done his way were reflected in his relations with the leaders of adjoining stakes. Hugh B. Brown, the Canadian-born head of the Granite Stake, was a fellow lawyer and a fellow Democrat. From 1928, when he and Henry became stake presidents at about the same time, their careers intersected at several points, and eventually they found themselves together in the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency. Different in operational styles but both proud and ambitious, they related comfortably and effectively in their stake roles. With Grant Stake president Joseph J. Daynes, several years Henry’s senior and in office for several years longer, relations were not so smooth. They had to share facilities and expenses for seminary programs, conferences, and other stake functions, and higher authorities occasionally had to mediate differences. Still, both stakes participated in the construction of a new Grant Stake tabernacle and the facility housed Cottonwood Stake conferences for many years. When alternative uses made the Grant Stake tabernacle unavailable to Cottonwood in 1929, conferences were held in the various wards of the stake until the Grant Stake building was ready late in 1930.

As the Cottonwood Stake grew by almost 1,300 members during President Moyle’s term, building needs increased. Depression pressures [p.77]meant that emphasis had to be placed on renovation and enlargement projects, while funds slowly accumulated for new buildings. As his own income increased, Henry contributed substantially to many of them. Early in his tenure he succeeded in averting the foreclosure on a new chapel in Murray, and by the time he left the presidency, a building program for the newly-formed Mt. Olympus Ward was well under way.

Because he was busy and his stake was large, Henry conducted much business by telephone and letter. He knew how to get closure with both, as several examples illustrate.

A musician in one of the wards received this message: “You have been called on a mission by the Stake Presidency and High Council, to act as chorister of Murray Second Ward. They are greatly in need of the assistance which you are able to render them. We hope you will enter into this call wholeheartedly and will report … on Sunday next at the 6:30 sacrament meeting.” He did.

A member with unorthodox views and letter-writing propensities received this reply to a second protracted complaint: “I answered you fully in my last letter. … If you desire to discuss it further with the Stake Presidency, you may feel at liberty to call at any of our Wednesday evening meetings.” He did not.

An architect seeking to collect a claimed $250 fee from one of the bishops took his case to President Moyle. The reply acknowledged the difficulty of settling such matters by mail and invited a meeting when both men were free; however: “If in the meantime you see fit to accept $100 in settlement of the whole thing, I will see that you receive the same immediately.” He did.

On the other hand, when the presidency chose a stake mission president, submitted his name to the local seventies quorum for sustaining, and then instructed him to contact the First Council of Seventy, Henry received this remonstrance: “Now, Brother Moyle, we do not accept of any such method of submitting the name of a mission president to us for our approval. Therefore, let us suggest that you communicate with us by writing, making your recommendation.” And Henry Moyle did.

The duties of a stake president, then as now, are primarily administrative and managerial rather than pastoral. Those who came to President Moyle with individual problems received counsel that was direct, practical, and conservative; the repentant found him compassionate and the needy, helpful. When his stake clerk, Heber Smith, died after more than [p.78]twenty years of dependable service, leaving his widow in temporarily straightened circumstances, Henry persuaded Bishop Cannon that she should receive a small stipend from the stake rather than becoming a charge on her local bishop. He made a somewhat similar arrangement for a ward clerk who was unemployed, noting that the man ought to be spared the embarrassment of recording in the ward minutes that he was receiving help from the poor fund. This concern for human dignity characterized Henry’s approach to other problems that came with the hard times of the 1930s, as will be noted later.

The talks that President Moyle gave in quarterly conferences and from time to time in the wards have not been preserved in transcript. Some of his auditors remember that he presented straightforward instruction and admonition, unadorned with rhetoric or anecdote but sealed with a strong and unequivocal testimony. His children—none yet out of high school while he was their stake president—recall that his talks were hard not to listen to, especially when he seemed to be speaking directly to them.

Henry did more than provide time, money, direction, and counsel. With Alberta’s skilled assistance, leadership groups, firesides, and visiting church authorities were entertained frequently. The home in Cottonwood acquired many pleasant appointments during the 1930s, and the grounds, the lake, and the cottage provided a delightful atmosphere for warm-weather gatherings. Nothing better reflected Henry’s concern for fellowship among the Cottonwood Latter-day Saints than the annual stake outing on the Moyle family property at Brighton. The affair took on special significance in 1932 when a three-day celebration commemorated the Pioneer encampment held at Brighton seventy-five years before, on the eve of the Utah War. A flagpole was erected and a marker honoring the 1857 event was dedicated. About two thousand people participated.

Henry Moyle was fair and foresighted, as well as tough-minded, in handling affairs in his stake. As he did when considering the organization of the seventies, he regularly consulted his counselors, the stake high council, and the bishops of the ten wards in determining policy and solving problems. On one occasion the Sunday school leaders proposed that stake conference sessions be held in the afternoon and evening rather than morning and afternoon, so that a morning Sunday school could also be held. Apparently Sunday school attendance dropped appreciably for several weeks following conference and it was attributed to the break in [p.79]routine. When the stake officers concurred, Henry wrote to President Grant, noting that he would not have requested the change had it not been for “the unanimous concerted action of so many of the leading brethren in the stake.” The request was not granted, and this time Henry did not press the issue.4

This example illustrates another aspect of President Moyle’s leadership—his willingness to adapt or alter existing programs to get better results. He looked for the simplest, most effective way to accomplish the task at hand, and he was not only willing to try new approaches but often encouraged them. To improve the ward teaching program, he proposed to the Presiding Bishop in 1934 that the teachers of the stake take a monthly message into the homes from the Improvement Era, then the church magazine for adults. Then he asked for a monthly appropriation of $9.25 to carry out the plan. To maximize the impact of the new churchwide priesthood lessons introduced in 1928, Cottonwood pioneered with the recommended joint Priesthood and Mutual Improvement Association program on Tuesday nights. But as it became apparent that the Melchizedek priesthood and their partners were not responding, Cottonwood quickly implemented a 1933 suggestion from the Council of the Twelve that a shift of priesthood meetings to Sunday mornings would be permissible.

Other changes in church programs that occurred during Henry’s presidency included the discontinuance of weekday Religion Classes for children, losers in the competition with the Primary, Seminary, and Junior Seminary programs. The convention form of quarterly conference, with the general boards of the church’s auxiliary organizations present, was instituted early in 1936 (and discontinued three years later). Henry’s own Cottonwood Ward was one of the first to move the monthly fast and testimony meeting from Sunday afternoon to morning, right after Sunday School. The new schedule, intended to involve more young people, soon became widespread and then standard in the church.

All of Henry Moyle’s personal and professional skills, as well as his leadership abilities, were brought to bear in handling the major challenge [p.80]of his administration-helping the members of his stake cope with the long-term tragedy of the Great Depression. Cottonwood Stake was severely affected, its people being dependent upon two of the hardest hit economic activities—agriculture and mining. The farmers lost most of their income; in 1934 drought added to the burden of low prices. Those who worked in the smelters of Murray lost their jobs. By 1930 only one blast furnace was in operation there. Unemployment caused by lay-offs at the smelters and related shops and plants became so widespread that in 1932 President Moyle had to appeal to the other wards to help in “relieving the distress.”

As financial difficulties increased for the church members, they naturally turned to their ward leaders—their bishops—for help. When Henry learned how some bishops were responding, he wisely counseled against making personal loans. “There can be only one result ultimately … and that would inevitably be the destruction of the mutually friendly feeling and good will which should exist between the bishop and those over whom he presides.” Instead, he urged the bishops to take care of their people through church sources and new cooperative endeavors.

As early as February 1929, Henry learned that the Presiding Bishopric had formed an employment agency for the six stakes in Salt Lake City, and he requested that Cottonwood be included in the organization. As economic conditions deteriorated after the autumn stock-market crash, demands upon the Deseret Employment Bureau increased. A work director was appointed by each stake “for the purpose of securing all possible employment available in our region for our Latter-day Saint men and women and also to organize practical schools for the training of our young men in various trades,” according to Pioneer Stake president Harold B. Lee, the director of the program. Henry Moyle was elected chairman of the committee of stake presidents and work directors that oversaw the effort.

Another self-help measure adopted in Cottonwood in 1932 was a “labor and commodity exchange bureau.” The concept was suggested by Marvin O. Ashton, who saw it as a way of helping the urban unemployed in Sugarhouse Stake. President Moyle perceived how important it could be for Cottonwood’s many farmers, who had no money to pay workers to cultivate and harvest their crops, but who could exchange produce for labor. He carried the Ashton suggestion to the high council and within two weeks a committee was formed to organize an exchange in the stake.

[p.81]As time passed, the organization for handling relief and welfare problems became more complex and the stake took on more sophisticated projects. Coordination with governmental work and relief programs also became more important. Ezra C. Knowlton was appointed to be the stake relief chairman and a “stake security committee” was formed. Cottonwood Stake built a canning factory and opened a supply storehouse in 1936, both projects completed with very little cost because of donated buildings, materials, and equipment. These enterprises ultimately benefitted all the stakes in the southern part of Salt Lake Valley as the Cottonwood leaders voted to include the East Jordan, West Jordan, and Oquirrh stakes in their operation. In requesting tax exemption for the storehouse, Henry wrote: “We have a very large group of people actively engaged in this relief work, and they are giving an immense amount of volunteer service.”

The success of the Cottonwood Stake in actually carrying out significant relief efforts brought it and its stake president to the attention of the LDS church leadership. By 1936 all the church welfare programs were being coordinated by President Lee, and by now he and Henry were personal friends. After a fishing trip with Lee, Henry wrote to Irvin Nelson: “We are being complimented by the Church generally upon the manner in which we have attacked the relief program. … Harold B. Lee … thinks that there are a great many things of importance that can be accomplished in Cottonwood Stake, and he is willing to have us lead out in the matter.” In fact, the stake’s efforts were so successful that they resulted in President Moyle’s release from the presidency and his appointment to the General Security Committee of the entire church.

During the stake quarterly conference on 29 August 1937, the presidency was reorganized and Henry Moyle and his counselors were released. The general authorities who presided were apostles Melvin J. Ballard and Reed Smoot. That evening, on the lawn of Henry and Alberta’s home, a sunset service was held at which Elder Ballard spoke. Many flattering things were said about the outgoing president, but none more apt than what one of his bishops had written some time before. Bishop Don C. Young, Jr., who apparently thrived under President Moyle’s hard-driving leadership, wrote to Henry in 1933: “There is no use my waiting until you die to tell you how much I appreciate working with you. … The work you have accomplished reflects sacrifice and no end of thought and consideration on your part. I am very proud of our stake.”


1. That the team functioned amiably as well as effectively is witnessed by the fact that when Ralph and Virginia Cutler celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1952, one party included just the family and “the old stake presidency;” according to Henry’s diary notation.

2. In Poll’s typescript he incorrectly wrote “the president of the Murray First Ward” and this has been revised to state that Bringhurst was the bishop of that ward.—Ed.

3. In Poll’s typescript he incorrectly said “Rudger Clawson of the First Presidency,” which has been revised to “Rudger Clawson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve.” Clawson held this position among the apostles until his death in 1943. Actually, Clawson had been in the First Presidency for a mere seven days in 1901, making him the one who served in that position for the shortest period of time. See Stan Larson, ed., A Ministry of Meetings: The Apostolic Diaries of Rudger Clawson (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1993), xi.—Ed.

4. He was never successful in increasing attendance at quarterly conferences very much, and it may be supposed that he would not have objected to the elimination of the afternoon sessions and the shift to a semi-annual stake conference schedule, both of which churchwide policy changes came after his death.