The branch president without a congregation

Richard Wolfe donned many hats while raising a family in Alaska: bush pilot, chief of police and LDS branch president to a congregation that never met.

Richard took his new bride, Isabelle, on an adventure when they moved to the Alaska Territory in 1956. He used his GI Bill to enroll at the University of Alaska near Fairbanks to pursue a wildlife management degree. The only problem -- absolutely no place to live.

"Not even a motel," they reminisced from their retirement cabin in Hamilton, Mont.

After a fortunate conversation with an electrician working at the university, they rented his 16-by-16-foot cabin by the river that included a closet, a wood stove, an oil heater, a package of sunflower seeds and a front door that almost closed.

Over the next year they traded rent for labor and expanded the home to a "luxury cabin," complete with indoor plumbing, a cellar, a well and a small garden. Isabelle put her industrious nature to work as she accepted a bookkeeping job, fended off moose and become reacquainted with the religion she knew as a child.

Some winter mornings, two inches of frost accumulated on the nail heads of the cabin and their bed spread froze to the wall. They eventually bought a nearby cabin and added a 16-by-20-foot addition with a fireplace and propane stove.

"I painted the cabinets to make it a nice little home for us," Isabelle said.

After becoming active in the local Relief Society, Isabelle casually asked her husband if he would like to meet with the Mormon missionaries.

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