This story previously ran on LDS Living in June 2017 but has been updated to include new information.
From winning Olympic medals to creating ornate works of art, many Latter-day Saints have accomplished remarkable feats. A few have even been knighted for their inspiring work and achievements. Here are some of their stories.
Born the last of 11 children to Lilly Annetta Huish and John B. Fairbanks in Provo, Utah, Avard Fairbanks first acquired his love of art in his home. With a father who painted the murals in the Salt Lake Temple and artistic brothers, it's no surprise that Fairbanks created his first sculpture at only 12 years old—a sculpture that took first prize at the 1909 Utah State Fair. A few years later, at 17, he became the youngest artist admitted to the French Salon—an exhibition often considered the greatest art event in the western world.
At 18 years old, Fairbanks received his first major commission and began with his brother J. Leo to sculpt the ornate friezes and statues that decorate the Laie Hawaii Temple. While in Hawaii finishing the project, Fairbanks met, fell in love with and married Maude Fox.
Image from Meridian Magazine
The commissions continued as Fairbanks began studying at the University of Utah. He designed everything from WWI and Civil War memorials to pioneer and Pony Express statues to busts of President Abraham Lincoln. His work can still be seen today at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., Gettysburg, Ft. Lewis, Ford's Theater, and many other significant historical sites.
Though his many historical American works are widely admired, it wasn't until he crafted a statue of Lycurgus, the legendary lawgiver of Sparta, that he was recognized by being knighted by King Paul of Greece.
An insatiable scholar and teacher, Fairbanks earned a fine arts degree from Yale, was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship and studied art in Rome and Florence, taught fine art at the University of Michigan where he received an M.F.A. and Ph.D., and latercreated the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Utah.
Despite his titles, degrees, and accomplishments, however, Fairbanks always saw his work as an extension of his religious beliefs and a way to capture his spiritual ideals. “The gospel was everything to our father,” the Ensign quotes his children as saying. His belief in immortality and the divinity within each of us shines through in his works. In fact, many of his best-known works adorn Latter-day Saint buildings and celebrate significant moments in Church history—such as monuments honoring the Three Witnesses, Winter Quarters, the First Vision, and the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood; reliefs on the Nauvoo Bell Tower and on Temple Square; and the angel Moroni on the Jordan River, Washington, Seattle, and Mexico City temples.
So the next time you see any of these iconic works, be sure to let your friends know they were created by a knight.
Images from mormonwiki.com and fairbanksartbooks.com
A two-time Olympic gold medalist, four-time world champion, and three-time world indoor champion, Valerie Adams doesn't back down from a challenge.
Standing at 6-feet 4-inches, Adams came back from an injury requiring surgery to secure a silver medal in shot put in the 2016 Olympic Games. Just a few months prior to the competition, she married her childhood sweetheart, Gabriel Price, in the Hamilton New Zealand Temple.
"Soon after the wedding, I had to go back into camp. I took Gabriel with me and said: ‘Here we are—this is the honeymoon,'" Adams told The Guardian. About the then-upcoming Olympics, Adams said, "It’s going to be a tough challenge, but anything is possible with a bit of faith. Of course, I want the gold in Rio, but I would like to help inspire people more—whether it’s changing their lifestyle or working hard or winning clean and living honestly. That’s an even greater goal for me.”
Image from vervemagazine.co.nz
And Adams has continued inspiring others, through her sport and her faith.
At the end of December 2016, Valerie Adams was appointed one of New Zealand's highest honors, the Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
About this incredible achievement, Elder S. Gifford Nielsen of the Pacific Area Presidency said, "This prestigious award honoring Valeria is so well deserved. She is not only an amazing athlete but also a powerful example of goodness and kindness. She knows her mission in life is to use her talent to influence many in a very positive way and this recognition exemplifies that quest."
Shortly before becoming Dame Valeria Adams, Adams recorded a video to help promote the Church's 2016 Christmas campaign, "Light the World." "I love Christmas so much. I love spending time with my family, hanging out, having a good old feed like we all like to do, but most importantly I like to remember the birth of our Savior and everything that He has done for us," she says. In discussing how she tries to be more Christlike and share His light,she continues, "I try to give my time to people. I think it's very, very precious to be able to give time to people."
On November 10, 1997, Erlend Peterson, then the dean of admissions and records at BYU, waited nervously in the university parking lot for His Excellency Tom Vraalsen, Ambassador of Norway, to arrive. Peterson's nerves did not stem from the distinguished nature of his guest. Peterson had hosted many notable Norwegians who presented at BYU. Peterson worried that the lecture, which had been organized on short notice, would not attract a big audience.
Erlend Peterson on the day he was knighted. From left to right: Erlend Peterson; Utah Honorary Consul for Norway, Leif Andersen; BYU President Merrill Bateman; Norwegian Ambassador Tom Vraalsen; Norwegian Consul General Hans Ola Urstad. Image courtesy of Erlend Peterson.
When Peterson and Ambassador Vraalsen walked into the Kennedy Center later that day, Peterson was surprised and delighted to see people packed into the room and lining the hallways. But that was far from Peterson's last or biggest surprise of the day.
"I was surprised to see my wife and children and many of our friends [in attendance]," Peterson recalls. "My thought was that Colleen knew how concerned I was about having a good audience that she decided to come, bring our kids, and invite some of our friends."
After introducing Ambassador Vraalsen, Peterson received the greatest shock of all. "His Excellency started talking about me and complimenting me for the work I had done and was doing for Norway," Peterson remembers. Initially, Peterson was touched by the attention, but as Ambassador Vraalsen continued, Peterson grew uncomfortable. "I thought, 'Enough is enough,'" Peterson says. But Ambassador Vraalsen continued, saying, "Not only do I appreciate all that Erlend is doing but so do those above me, including His Majesty the King."
It was then Ambassador Vraalsen invited Peterson on the stand and presented him with the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit, Knight First Class. "I could not have been more surprised about being knighted," Peterson says. "I was shocked. I couldn’t believe what was happening." Speechless, and concerned about how much time this recognition had taken from Ambassador Vraalsen's lecture time, Peterson started back to his seat.
"Don't you want to say something?" Peterson remembers Ambassador Vraalsen asking. Peterson continues, "I said, 'Yes, but I don’t want to take more time away from your lecture.' He told me to take all the time I wanted. Ambassador Vraalsen got what he wanted. He totally surprised me! When I told this story to His Majesty King Harald, he got quite a kick out of it."
Throughout his career at Brigham Young University, Peterson worked to bring international ambassadors as well as Norwegian diplomats, leaders, scholars, artists, and musicians like Sissel to present at BYU. While hosting many of these renowned guests, Peterson would also arrange for them to meet with Church leaders and Utah politicians.
Erlend and Colleen Peterson with Crown Prince Haakon Magnus and Crown Princess Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. Image courtesy of Erlend Peterson.
Peterson says, "There is a strong relationship between my faith and my work. While I am showcasing Norway to all I can, I am also showcasing BYU, the Church, and the state to Norwegian VIPs."
Erlend and Colleen Peterson with His Majesty King Harald at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002. Image courtesy of Erlend Peterson.
Peterson was able to meet with King Harald after receiving his knighthood on May 31, 1999. After following all the proper protocol, Peterson helped break the tension of that meeting by telling the humorous story of his surprise knighting. "It loosened our conversation, and it became very comfortable," Peterson recalls. After all, it's not every day you get to make a king laugh.
From television shows to Broadway to the top of Billboard charts, the Osmond family has made its mark on the entertainment world continuously for more than 50 years. And Merrill Osmond is no exception.
Merrill Osmond started out as the lead singer and bassist for the Osmonds before launching into his solo career. Over the last five decades, Osmond has landed the no. 1 spot on Billboard charts five times, received two People's Choice Awards, and has been nominated for two Grammy Awards.
But Osmond's influence reaches far beyond the music world. As a co-founder of the Children's Miracle Network—which is now one of the largest children's charities in the world—he and the organization help raise much-needed funds for children's hospitals. Osmond also remains heavily involved in other charitable and humanitarian work. When Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans in 2005, leaving 1,245 dead and causingroughly $108 billion in damage, Osmond, then the President of the Morrell Foundation, helped provide relief for the victims.
Due to his philanthropic work, Osmond was honored with two knighthoods, one by the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem and another by the King of Portugal or the Order of Saint Michael of the Wing.
About his knighthood, Osmond wrote on his website, "I was humbled the day the Governor of Utah and I were knighted by the King of Portugal. . . . It’s equivalent to the knighting by the Queen. The Pope at the Vatican approved the knighthood. . . . The King said no one can say that Merrill Osmond isn’t a true Christian. . . . Please know I’m not bragging; I just thought you’d like to see how the Lord is softening the hearts of the Christian sects regarding the Mormons."
Through his example, through his music, and through his work, it's clear that Merrill Osmond continues to share uplifting messages about Latter-day Saints and our beliefs. "[I] love to share the gospel through the media, whether it be through the television, radio, or live performance," Osmond writes on ComeuntoChrist.org. "I love to read the scriptures and to bear my testimony by word and by song. I love to travel throughout the world with my brothers, doing firesides and speaking out on gospel principles. One of the reasons why I love to perform is so that I can invite those who are looking for joy and peace in their lives to learn more about Christ."
All images from merrillosmond.com.
As the second son of His Royal Majesty King Tupou VI, His Royal Highness Prince Ata of Tonga has received many special honors from his nation, among them the Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Royal Order of Pouono, the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown of Tonga, and the Knight Grand Cross with Collar of the Order of Queen Salote Tupou III.
Prince Ata became a member of the Church in 2015 after significant opposition from his family. In 2014, when Prince Ata originally planned to be baptized a member of the Church, King Tupou VI sent his royal guards to intervene. Later, His Majesty also sent the prime minister of Tonga to persuade Prince Ata not to join the Church.
Though these events delayed Prince Ata's baptism, his testimony was not shaken and he continued attending Church and learning about the gospel. Finally, near the beginning of 2015, Prince Ata became baptized a member of the Church in Hawaii.
Since that time, Prince Ata has continued to inspire many with his testimony of faith and his ability to withstand opposition. In 2016, Prince Ata traveled to Utah where he saw significant Church sites, met with Elder Neil L. Andersen and toured Church headquarters, the Church History Museum, the Family History Library, and the Bishop’s Central Storehouse. He also visited several temples and spoke with new missionaries preparing to serve around the world at the Provo MTC.
Though not an official knighting, few can forget the moment when President Gordon B. Hinckley jokingly but lovingly knighted President Henry B. Eyring after he was sustained as a counselor in the First Presidency. While our prophets and apostles do not receive worldly awards or honors, it's encouraging to know each of these men are selected by our Heavenly Father to lead our Church today.