Primary presidency sustained with general authorities in 2005

Margie Swensen Lifferth
Brigham Young High School
Class of 1965

Margie Swensen Lifferth, left
Margie (left) is Primary First Counselor.

By Erin Stewart
Deseret Morning News
Sunday, April 3, 2005

Seated beneath portraits of past leaders, the newly appointed Primary general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made their first appearance as a trio Saturday during a 5 p.m. news conference.

The presidency was sustained along with 12 new general authorities of the church during the afternoon session of the faith's 175th Annual General Conference.

Sister Cheryl C. Lant will now lead as the 11th president of the Primary, composed of nearly 1 million children from 3 to 12 years old. Sisters Margaret Swensen Lifferth [BYH Class of 1965] and Vicki F. Matsumori will serve as first and second counselors, respectively, in an organization that also oversees tens of thousands of adult teachers worldwide.

"Truly, children have been my life. Their hearts are tender. They are young, but their spirits are mighty," Sister Lant said as the group spoke in the Relief Society Building after Saturday's conference. "We must never underestimate what they can do and learn."

Lant, who raised nine children and co-founded a private school with her husband, said she hopes to live up to the legacy of the previous presidency of Coleen K. Menlove, Sydney S. Reynolds and Gayle M. Clegg, who were released from their positions Saturday.

"They have been marvelous as leaders of the Primary and advocates for children in the church and around the world," she said. "It's humbling. It's so scary, that's probably more truthful."

Her advice for young mothers? "Give it your whole heart," she said. "Young mothers are drawn away from the home. Enjoy every moment, love every moment of being with your children."

Lant studied early childhood development at BYU and developed a phonics-based beginning reading program. In the church, Lant has served as a stake and ward primary president, counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency and ward Young Women president.

Sister Lifferth, first counselor, earned her English degree from Brigham Young University and has served as a ward Relief Society president, ward Young Women president and volunteer docent at the Museum of Church History and Art.

Matsumori, second counselor, received her degree in journalism and English from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. She has served as a ward Primary president, ward Relief Society president and on the stake Relief Society board.

All three women served on the church's Primary General Board.

Greatest joys in life were also
Margie Swensen's greatest lessons
Caring for family, mother,
molded compassionate spirit

By Julie Dockstader Heaps
LDS Church News staff writer
Saturday, July 23, 2005

When Margaret Swensen Lifferth was about 15 years old, she walked into her bedroom one day and found a letter resting on her pillow. Opening it, she recognized the handwriting of her father, who wrote, "If you ever stray off the path you've been taught to be on, you will cause heartache for everybody who loves you, but you will suffer more than anybody."

A typical teenager facing typical teenager challenges , a young Margaret pondered her father's words and began to realize her father's deeper meaning. "It was really my first understanding that obedience is for ourselves," Sister Lifferth recently related. "Obedience is for our own happiness. It's not to please someone else or to make Mom and Dad happy. It's to make us happy. That was kind of an epiphany."

Now a mother and grandmother, Sister Lifferth looks back on how those early lessons molded her testimony and prepared her for her many roles including that as the first counselor in the new Primary general presidency, to which she was sustained April 2 in general conference.

"Overwhelmed, privileged" was how Sister Lifferth described her reaction to her new calling during a Church News interview. "It's a great blessing. It's a great challenge."

But more important, she added, she recognizes her need to rely on the Spirit. "You can't do it alone."

And relying on something or someone greater than yourself is what she learned from the time she was a girl in Provo, Utah. The fifth of six children, she was the daughter of Albert D. and Jennie Romney Swensen and was born in Washington, D.C., where her father was a civilian with the U.S. Navy. As a postwar America settled into peace, Albert Swensen took a job at BYU and moved his family to Utah.

A young Margaret grew up in a family where any night could become family night, where family vacations were picnics and hikes in the mountains with her father and brothers and sisters. And she remembers a soft-spoken mother who joined in as much as she could despite suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

"As I became older I realized what an incredible amount of courage that took to raise a family with pain every day. She was like the iron fist in the velvet glove. Great inner strength but very soft and feminine and youthful. I would love to emulate my mother."

Perhaps it was a softness and youthfulness that Dennis R. Lifferth first noticed when he met Margie Swensen on a blind date at BYU. The young woman had graduated from Brigham Young High in 1965, one of the last classes at what had been the Brigham Young Academy, and had enrolled at BYU, majoring in English. During her junior year, she accepted a date with the man who would became her husband.

But not right away. She had already agreed to attend a semester with a friend at the Church College of Hawaii (now BYU-Hawaii) and decided to follow through with her plans. She left for Hawaii, he left for Iowa State to attend graduate school. Her first clue that he was serious about her came when he sent her an application to attend Iowa State.

She laughed when she described what she did next. The application still came without a marriage proposal, so she filled out the application and sent it back with a note saying, "I don't have $50 (for the application fee) so do whatever you want to do with this."

A young Brother Lifferth paid the fee. They were married on Aug. 16, 1968, in the Salt Lake Temple, and today have seven children and 14 grandchildren.

Sister Lifferth did finish her degree at Iowa State, although she transferred her credits back to BYU. They spent five years in Iowa before Brother Lifferth began to teach at Cornell University in New York. Then, in 1976, with Sister Lifferth's mother seriously ill with cancer, the family packed up and moved back to Utah, where Brother Lifferth got a position with the Church's Welfare Department. It was during this time that the young mother realized her roles with her own mother had changed. Jennie Romney Swensen was dying. "I thought I was coming back (to Utah) to be a daughter. I came back and I was the mother. That role changed, and that was hard."

And yet strengthening, she emphasized. Nurturing her mother and cheering her in those final years molded Sister Lifferth's already cheerful and compassionate nature. Her mother died in 1980, and Brother Lifferth was assigned by the Welfare Department to Southern California for four years. They returned to Utah to stay in 1987.

Through all these years, Sister Lifferth has reared her children and helped rear her grandchildren. "One of her great gifts is her ability to teach," Brother Lifferth told the Church News. But she doesn't just teach with words, he added, she teaches with stories from Church history and from the Bible, and she engages the children. His wife, he explained, keeps a chest full of dress-up clothes for the children to wear as they re-enact Church history and Bible stories. "They enjoy coming over to play at Grandma's house, but they also learn as they're here."

For Sister Lifferth, her family has been her greatest joy in life and also taught her greatest lessons in life. Adjusting as a young mother, she said, "was one of the most difficult adjustments I've ever made."

Her most difficult years, she recalled, were the years in Iowa when her husband was in graduate school and in a branch presidency. And she was home with two small children. "I think about the lessons I learned from those Relief Society sisters (in Iowa). They mentored me. I remember the examples of reaching out, the caring of those sisters, and I thought they were what I wanted to be."

She also realized the importance of opposition in all things. Being able to stay home and nurture children is a privilege and a joy, she said, but added that it is normal to not feel joyful every moment. "It's OK. The worthwhile things in our lives are not designed to be all happiness, all joy. When the scriptures say there is opposition in all things, it means all things, even the wonderful, good parts. The hard parts in our family life gives recognition to the joy."

And emulation worthy of her mother.

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