The John Whitmer Historical Association 2017 annual conference held in Nauvoo was the largest conference in JWHA history! As my husband commented, in the 1960s this would have been referred to not as an event but as a happening.
A total of 230 attendees included a dozen walk-ons and 62 first-time attendees. The remarkable thing about those for whom it was their first time at a JWHA conference was how at home they felt. More than one said to me, “Everyone knows everyone here!” They said it, not as though they felt out of place because they didn’t know anyone, but as though they, too, knew everyone.
Another frequent observation from first-timers was how congenial everyone was, even when they were discussing conflict-laden issues bedeviling us since ancient times in Mormon history.
I couldn’t help but observe that those conversations took place inside, outside, in the sanctuary, around the breakfast and snack table in the Visitors Center, and especially in the Tabernacle, that wonderful big white tent.
As board member Sharon Wood and I went about our duties as Deacons, checking tablecloths that needed to be flipped or exchanged and saving them from flying away in what I liked to think of as the River Breeze, we noticed that people were having animated exchanges in that Tabernacle, in pairs or groups of three or four or more, sometimes late into the night. As one woman said to us, “I’m sorry if we are in your way but this is a really important conversation.” We, of course, could do our work elsewhere in that large venue until they were ready to leave for their next activity.
Every year I hear people say, “This is the best JWHA conference ever.” As people said that time after time on Sunday morning I knew that it is not the work of just one person or even one committee. To put on a conference of this size and quality takes everyone. It takes scholars who present, other scholars who chair; it takes historians who interpret the walking/shuttle tour stations, and it takes those who check the AV equipment in every venue every day as well as those who cart things around the grounds in the Gator. Many of you did several of those services and thrived.
A successful conference, however, has those who come to listen, ask questions and learn and then discuss among themselves. If you write a book you must have readers; if you paint a picture, you must have viewers; if you compose music, you must have singers. And we did have 100 singers Sunday morning at our traditional hymn fest. Thank you for the contribution of every single one of you. You are the best!
— Sherry Morain, President
(Photos courtesy of Steven L. Mayfield.)