Hinckley touched lives of Las Vegas members

While speakers at Gordon B. Hinckley's funeral service in Salt Lake City commented on the Mormon church president's worldwide influence, some seated in the pews of Las Vegas recalled an enduring mark he left on Southern Nevada.

Vern Albright, a Las Vegas native, was at the Thomas & Mack Center in 1987 when Hinckley addressed 15,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and told of the decision to build the Las Vegas Temple, which was under construction at the time.

Temples, Mormons' holiest structures, serve a different purpose from more-numerous neighborhood meeting houses.

Then a counselor in the church's First Presidency, Hinckley told the crowd there were some questions among church leaders about how much growth Las Vegas would see. Hinckley traveled to the city to evaluate the proposed site for the temple.

"We flew into the airport, and then took a helicopter to the site" on East Bonanza Road, near Hollywood Boulevard, he told the Thomas & Mack crowd.

"There was not a blade of greenery on it, only rocks. I thought, these are the most expensive boulders I have ever seen. But as I stood there and viewed the area, I caught the vision of a temple on that site on Sunrise Mountain."

Hinckley led the groundbreaking for the building in November 1985, and dedicated it when it was completed in December 1989.

"He spent his whole life going around the world, testifying of his belief in Christ," said Albright, who first met Hinckley while supervising missionaries in Florida. "He had a profound influence for people of all ages."

Albright watched Hinckley's funeral services at the Las Vegas Stake Center on West Charleston Boulevard, one of dozens of valley locations where Southern Nevada Mormons watched the broadcast to 6,000 church buildings worldwide. The funeral was also televised on a church-affiliated cable network, BYU Television.

Ace Robison, the church's spokesman for Southern Nevada, met Hinckley on several occasions and said he "was very much the same one-on-one as he was talking in a huge pavilion. He was warm, humorous, quick-witted and very personable."

For children like 11-year-old Christina Van Blankenstein, who also watched the services at the Las Vegas Stake Center, Hinckley has been the only church president she has known.

"He was a very good prophet," she said of Hinckley, who was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery next to his wife, Marjorie Pay, who died in 2004. "He helped us get involved and asked us to read our scriptures.

"I am sad. But I'm glad he's back with his wife."

Robison said there wasn't concern among Las Vegas church members over who will succeed Hinckley.

At the passing of a church president, the most senior church apostle is selected to fill the vacancy. The next in line would be 80-year-old Thomas S. Monson.

"It's a time of renewal, but not a time of change," Robison said.

The church will continue to focus on and teach its basic tenets like missionary work, strengthening families and building temples, he said.

"Those things will not change. If anything, they will probably accelerate."

Contact reporter Scott Spjut at sspjut @reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0279.