Thursday, April 3, 2014

Byron T. Geslison

Byron T. Geslison received the Order of the Falcon, the highest honor bestowed by the government of Iceland. Byron helped open missionary work in Iceland in 1975 and has served three missions to that country. The government of Iceland's highest honor - The Order of the Falcon - was presented Aug. 6, 1993.

The Honorable Tomas Tomasson, Ambassador of Iceland, presented the award to Byron T. Geslison at a reception center in Spanish Fork, Utah. The Order of the Falcon is "selectively conferred upon Icelandic and foreign subjects, men and women, who above all others have furthered the welfare and honor of the Fatherland or have accomplished achievements in the interest of mankind. 

Before pinning the award on Byron, Ambassador Tomasson told those present: "I am here on official errand of the government of Iceland. It is a pleasure indeed for me to be here with you tonight in Spanish Fork, the oldest Icelandic settlement in the United States. . . ." He added that the president of Iceland, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, had commissioned him to "honor one of the outstanding western Icelanders, Byron T. Geslison. I want to tell you that the great missionary work that Byron has done - both as a missionary from Utah in Iceland and as a missionary of Iceland in Utah - has been highly valued by the authorities in Iceland. "We value highly both the fostering of family bonds, and also the promoting of the Icelandic culture and heritage here in Utah and the Western Icelandic identity here," he added.

After the ambassador pinned the award on his lapel, Byron said, "I accept this honor, but not entirely on my own behalf." He then beckoned to his wife Melva to stand beside him as they received applause from the audience. "I couldn't do much of anything without her," he added. Continuing, Byron asked the Icelandic ambassador to "please convey to the government my great and deep appreciation for this honor that has been bestowed upon me. ”I'd like to thank those on this side of the ocean as well as those in the old land. I love the Icelandic people dearly." In speaking of the former Icelandic president, Byron said: "He gave great service to us. He was one of the first we met when we arrived in Iceland. We became friends, and I'm grateful for what he did.”

Byron Theodore Geslison was born in Spanish Fork, Utah on May 15, 1914 the son of Sigmundur Geslison and Sveinmsina Arnadottir known as Sina and Mund. They were both born in Iceland and came, when they were young, to America and settled in Spanish Fork, Utah.

Byron’s grandmother, Steinnun Thorstiensdottir Geslison, a widow lived next door. She who was also an Icelandic emigrant taught him about Iceland and the Icelandic language. She spoke mostly Icelandic to him and told many tales of Iceland and happenings she remembered. He developed a strong desire for Byron to go to this rugged land of his forbearers. She passed away when he was 10 years of age.

Byron’s boyhood was spent playing and working in the fields thinning, weeding and topping beets. He spent several summers working with his uncle Gil.

Byron became ill in the 9th grade and had to miss a month of school. It may have been rheumatic fever. He was advised by the doctor to take it easy that summer. He had been studying the Old Testament in seminary; he decided that he would read the entire Old Testament that summer. It was a large undertaking for a fifteen year old, but he did it and this was blessing throughout his life.

He graduated from seminary as a junior in 1931 and from Spanish Fork High School in 1932. That fall he entered Brigham Young University. He started working summers at the Del Monte Cannery, near Spanish Fork. He worked there until he went on his Church Mission.

He received his call to go to the German-Austrian Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1935. This is where he wanted to go. His departure was delayed because of Hitler’s threats and Mussolini’s antics in Ethiopia, but was finally allowed to depart. Byron asked permission to visit Iceland following his missionary service. He had to go through the President of the Church. President Grant gave his permission and asked that he study conditions there as to the advisability of starting missionary work there. When he returned home he gave him his report and it was very positive.

The summer of 1938 Byron spent in Iceland with his cousins and their families. His family took him too many part of the country and he grew to love it. He was able to meet people in important positions and heads of Churches; this was good material for his report to President Grant. He developed a great interest in the land of his forefathers and maintained a life-long bond with family and friends.

Byron graduated from BYU in the spring of 1939 in secondary education and German. He continued school seeking a M. A. degree. He went to California with his brother, Arthur, with the intention of joining the Navy Air force.  He was unable to pass their requirements. He returned to Spanish Fork and went to work for the Nebo School District and continue his work on his M. A. degree at BYU. He took ill and went to a hospital in Ogden, Utah where he spent the next year. This is where he fell in love with one of the nurses that he describes as “a beautiful dark haired, brown eyed nurse.”

Melva Ilene Holt was called to serve a mission to the Northern California Mission just about the time Byron was released from the hospital. He waited for her and they were married December 1, 1943 in the Salt Lake Temple. Byron and Melva made their home in Spanish Fork next to his parents. Their children are; Elaine, Allen, Mary Kathleen, David and Daniel. Byron and Melva also had Earl Riggs, a Navajo Indian, live with them for several years, as well as Rose Eichler, a German girl that stayed with them for two years.

Byron was appointed Bishop of the Spanish Fork Fifth Ward in September 1946 and served there for ten years until 1956, at which time he was called as 1st counselor in the Spanish Fork Stake Presidency, a position he held for nearly sixteen years.

His work included working for Spanish Fork City as City Clerk and Treasurer, school teacher in Spanish Fork, Electrolux Corp., National Public Services Insurance, teaching Seminary and Principal of the Spanish Fork LDS Seminary.

In 1954 he was appointed to the executive committee for the Icelandic Centennial Celebration along with J. Victor Leifson and John Y. Bearnson. This was an outstanding event that even brought Icelanders form Iceland and Canada to Spanish Fork.

 In November of 1974 a call came from Elder Hartman Rector Jr. to determine his circumstances with regard to accepting a subsequent call to go to Iceland and open this land to missionary work. After the first of the year they were called into the Church offices to discuss the matter further. Byron and Melva were asked if they could accept such a call. Their response was we would go were ever the Lord wanted us. They then asked if there were any problems. The first response was the language. The answer was “You can brush up, can’t you?” The next concern were their twin boys David and Daniel serving missions in the Far East, one in Japan and the other in Korea who were soon to be released. These two young men were called to serve an additional two years, to go to Iceland with their parents.

One of the first things Byron did when he arrived in Iceland was to go to the officials of the nation and let them know who they were and their purpose for being in Iceland and invite their cooperation, and promised blessings for so doing, and leave his testimony with them. Byron and his family visited with; the President of Iceland, the Prime Minister, The Mayor of Reykjavik, The Bishop of Iceland, the President of the University and others. An extra bonus was a State visit by the King of Sweden; the Geslison family was invited to his reception and they gave him a Book of Mormon in Swedish.

Sveinbjörg Guðmundsdóttir was the first to be baptized after his arrival. Byron said; “The Lord picked her and prepared her to be the official translator, which they needed so much. Her willingness and her qualities have helped her become a great strength to the work in many ways.” A Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was soon organized and became fully functional so the investigators could see how a Mormon Branch really worked.

In 1977 Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sent word for Byron to find a suitable place overlooking Reykjavik were the dedication of this land to missionary work, could take place. Öskjuhlíð was selected. They were holding the morning session of Conference in a hall at the University. The weather was bad, raining and blowing. It was decided that the dedication would be moved inside, so at the end of the morning session Byron announced the decision. A young teenager, Trudy, came up to him asked; “where his faith was”. “We have an appointment with the Lord at Öskjuhlíð and it will not rain”. Byron felt the power of her faith and they went to Öskjuhlíð and it stopped raining and Elder Wirthlin gave a marvelous blessing to the land, its people and leaders as well as to the work of establishing his Church in Iceland. They returned to the University for the afternoon session of Conference and again the rain began.

Byron and Melva returned home about three years after Elder Rector’s first call, feeling that the work was now established and in good hands. Young elders had been called to serve in Iceland and the work was going well.

In 1981, Byron returned to Iceland on request of the Church's Translation Department to help review Icelandic translations of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. In 1983 and 1987, he and Melva served 18-month missions to Iceland.

On New Year’s Day of 1983 a tragedy occurred. Two priesthood leaders, the Branch president and the former Branch president, were killed when they fell while hiking. This triggered another call for Byron and Melva to return to Iceland. One of Byron’s goals set by the Church leaders was to have the government of Iceland officially recognize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Iceland. This was accomplished on November 1, 1983 when visiting General Authority, Elder Hales was in Iceland. This official recognition was a great step forward for the Mormon Church in Iceland.

In 1987 Byron and Melva was called a third time to Iceland to help in organizing a Branch of the Mormon Church in Akureyri. Of this experience Byron said; “My testimony is that the work will continue to advance here and that other branches will be organized.”

Byron was active in the Icelandic Association of Utah all his life. He was often asked to translate old letters and books into English. He was a devote Mormon Church Leader, having a guiding influence on many of the young Western Icelanders in Spanish Fork as their spiritual leader. Weather it was serving as their local Bishop, in the Stake Presidency and/or as their Seminary teacher. He lived his life as a humble servant of his Heavenly Father.

Byron T Geslison died on October 10, 2001 at 87 years old. He is buried in the Spanish Fork City Cemetery.