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The inspiring truth about Ardeth Kapp I want to shout from the rooftops

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Former Young Women General President Ardeth G. Kapp poses for a photo at her home in Bountiful on Thursday, January 11, 2018.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

It was November 10, 1985, when I first remember hearing the voice and testimony of Ardeth Kapp. I was 13 years old sitting in a stake center in Louisville, Kentucky. To this day, I have a deep recollection of being stirred by her words at the first-ever worldwide broadcast just for Young Women.

To every young woman throughout the entire Church, … I see the crest of a great wave forming. … I see a wave forming that will move across the earth, reaching every continent and every shore. I call upon you to stand with me to prepare to take your place in a great forward movement among the young women of the Church—a movement of renewed commitment—a movement in which you are destined to shape history and participate in the fulfillment of prophecy. …

“I can hear a growing chorus of young women’s voices reaching across the land and across the water and heavenward, responding to the call for righteous young women. Who will stand up and lead out in defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ and stand as a witness for Christ at all times and in all places? We invite you to add your commitment to thousands of others in the united chorus. ‘I will. Send me.’”

(Stand As a Witness: The Biography of Ardeth Greene Kapp by Anita Thompson)

As the then-new Young Women theme and values were introduced, I felt the witness that I was a beloved daughter of heavenly parents—a truth that has carried with me since that day. I felt called to step into my foreordained mission to stand as a witness of Christ—a call I have felt committed to since that day.

And I also remember another truth that was confirmed to me: I was listening to a woman unlike other women. I was learning from one of the noble and great ones who had been called for such a time as this. I remember thinking that if I could just meet this leader in person—have a moment with her alone—I would be able to be everything I was meant to be.

I’ve heard and read so many sweet tributes to Ardeth Kapp since her passing on March 30, 2024. Some have commented on her “kind eyes,” her “sweet demeanor,” and her “cheerful optimism.” And while all of those characterizations are accurate depictions, I feel the need to shout from the rooftops the truth about Ardeth Greene Kapp:

She was a force. She was a champion of women. And she is an icon of female leadership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whose service has had a ripple effect on millions.

Ardeth knew her presidency and board had been called during a critical time. She understood the unique needs of young women and the importance of empowering them with an understanding of their identity, purpose, and relevance to the mission of the Church. Her biography recalls the presentation they made to Church leaders early on in her service and after months of praying and preparation:

As Ardeth began the presentation she said boldly, “Brethren, if you want to know about Young Men, you can hear about them at the annual priesthood restoration commemoration. If you want to know about Young Men, you can attend their annual Scouting conference.” Then she said, “But if you want to know about Young Women, the satellite screens are dark and the message vague.”

She then reviewed statistics showing that the attendance of young women at Church meetings was declining. She spoke about the needs of young women, based on the research that had been done by the Church Research and Evaluation Committee. She explained that young women needed a clear sense of their true identity. They also needed additional recognition, which would help to motivate them and which would reinforce them in righteousness. They should also have a clear purpose and a sense of contributing to the mission of the Church. She then presented the program that she and her counselors and general board had worked on for so long. As she concluded the presentation she asked directly, “In what areas do you share our concerns about young women? Are our plans for meeting the needs acceptable? Do we have your approval to proceed with finalizing these recommendations?”

When she finished the presentation, President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “Brethren, I think we should stand in acknowledgment that this is acceptable to the Lord.” Then, just as they were preparing to leave, one of the Brethren said, “Sisters, today you have not only opened our ears, but also our hearts.” It was a direct answer to their prayer.

Ears and hearts were opened and, as a result, a powerful program for young women was initiated and maintained its relevance for nearly 40 years.

Ardeth Kapp influenced my understanding of who I am and who I could be, the entire path of my Church membership, and, most importantly, my deep connection to divinity. And she did the same for hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saint young women who were privileged to be led by her during her tenure as the Young Women General President from 1984 to 1992.

And what of the influence of those hundreds of thousands of young women? Think of the ripple effect of their impact on those they have loved and taught and married and raised since that time. Ardeth Kapp, a woman who was not blessed with the privilege of motherhood in mortality, helped raise hundreds of thousands of young women in this church who went on to collectively raise and influence millions more!

I began working at Deseret Book in 1998. The company had recently released a new book from Ardeth Kapp: Lead, Guide, and Walk Beside. One of my first assignments was to plan a book signing for the author and Deseret Book editorial board member (Ardeth would publish 22 books and serve on that board for 31 years). Thirteen-year-old me was finally having a chance to meet the Sister Kapp.

I don’t remember much of that interaction except that she was as incredible as I hoped she’d be. But I didn’t get to say any of the things that I always thought I would say if I had the chance to meet her.

Fast forward six years later and I found myself in Phoenix, Arizona, assigned to pick Ardeth up from the airport and get her to the hotel so she could participate in a Time Out for Women event. She said she’d love to get something to eat and that led to me finally having some quality time with her all to myself. My little 13-year-old heart poured out as I took the opportunity to tell this remarkable woman all she had meant to me and how she had influenced me. She told me I was and would always be “one of her girls.” And thus began one of the sweetest friendships I’ve ever known.

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Laurel C. Day and Ardeth Kapp on January 26, 2024.
Photo courtesy of Laurel C. Day

There isn’t enough space to share all that I learned from and experienced with Ardeth. She wrote me notes and emails, giving me leadership counsel at every important professional advancement. But more importantly, I was privileged to spend time in her home, reading her journals and getting dating advice (and comfort) during the many years I was single. I was there when young neighborhood children would stop by after school to get a piece of candy from her candy drawer. I shared meals with Ardeth and her good husband Heber and had the chance to read just some of the love letters they wrote to each other over the course of their marriage. And I will forever be grateful for the prayers offered by her and blessings given at the hands of Heber. Their home will always be a sacred place for me.

On one of those visits, I shared the stirrings that I had felt a few times in my life that traditional motherhood was not in the cards for me. I was so sad about the prospect of that being true. I asked Ardeth how she got through the heartache.

She smiled and looked over at Heber and together they shared with me a time early in Ardeth’s call as Young Women General President. She had been at her downtown office until quite late before she made it home, and on this particular night they both had the realization that she could not be doing what she was doing in the way she was doing it had she been blessed with children of her own. They taught me that heaven took her mortal circumstances and magnified her life in another way. Heber told me God could do the same for me.

Ardie then shared: “He gave me hundreds of thousands of daughters I wouldn’t have had otherwise. You are one of them.”

I was. We all were.

And we still are.

One year after that first worldwide broadcast, three hundred thousand teenage girls gathered around the world on October 11, 1986, for another historic event. Latter-day Saint young women in 128 nations came together to send our testimonies, on little cards tied to the strings of helium-filled balloons, out into the world.

Before we launched the balloons, we heard a prerecorded message from President Kapp which further cemented what her leadership and service did for our developing testimonies:

Dear young women, you are a generation known by your Heavenly Father. You are the rising generation and have been reserved and held back until this time. Now you are being called to come forward, to exert your influence, and to become a mighty force for righteousness. You will be able to do this not because you will find yourself suddenly free from temptation, but because you have the moral courage to do what you know to be right. Often, that means being visibly different from the world, and that does take courage. But there is nothing we can’t do or accomplish with the help of the Lord and each other. …

As your balloon rises above the rooftops and the treetops, may you look heavenward as it is finally carried out of sight and may you continue to look heavenward as you begin each new day.

We love you. We pray for you and with you. We join our strength with yours this day to keep our premortal promises and ‘Arise and inspire the inhabitants of the earth as a mighty force for righteousness.’ I promise you that as we do this, we will be blessed.”

(Stand As a Witness: The Biography of Ardeth Greene Kapp by Anita Thompson)

Today some of us who participated in that unique celebration will gather with so many others to honor the life of the woman who blessed and shaped our lives. Following the funeral, we will go to the cemetery to pay our last respects before the mortal chapter of Ardeth G. Kapp is formally closed. And at the end of that service, we will release 38 white balloons in honor of the 38 years since the balloon launch event. Notes will be attached, but instead of our testimonies, they will contain the words Ardeth shared with us that day in 1986. It will be one more chance for the ripple effect of Ardeth’s life to reach a few more souls.

That ripple effect is the truth about Ardeth G. Kapp.

As a part of the celebration of Ardeth’s remarkable life, Deseret Book Company is making her biography, Stand As a Witness, available for free here during the entire month of April.

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