“After you’ve raised 16 children on a farm in Delta, sent them all to college, participated in church and community affairs, what do you do for an encore?
“You work in a hospital, go on a mission, and become Utah’s Mother of the Year.” (Maxine Martz, “Long Record of Service for the 1978 Utah Mother of the Year,” Deseret News, April 1978).
Margaret Church was born 30 March 1914 in Panguitch, Utah to George Newman and Sarah Jane Shakespeare Church. At the age of 12 she prayerfully read the Book of Mormon and gained a lifelong testimony of its truthfulness. She and Joseph Lathel Callister were sealed in the St. George Temple 6 May 1931. They raised their large family on a farm near Delta, Utah. Their “recipe” was to “plan, work and play together, with God our partner in all things.”
In 1957, when the youngest family member was three years old, Marge found a few minutes to pen these thoughts: “We bottle around one thousand quarts of vegetables and fruits during the summer and we have our own butter, cream and meat. I bake nine loaves of bread two or three times a week.” She continued, “Whenever the [grown] children come back home (for holidays, etc.) the highlight is to have Home Evening. This has been a very satisfying project in which each member participates on the program and there are always games and refreshments.
“Our children haven’t been looked down upon because they came from a large family. And they have never been ashamed of their parents or unhappy when there was another baby coming .”
Despite their full-time family and farming commitments, the couple accepted teaching and leadership responsibilities in nearly every church position possible. Further, they encouraged each one of their children in educational pursuits. By 1978 their nine sons and seven daughters had completed a total of 67 years of college.
After sending eight of their children on missions, Marge and Lathel accepted a call in 1977 to the Rapid City South Dakota Mission. It was during this service that she was chosen as Utah’s Mother of the Year. Following are quotes written for that occasion by two of her daughters:
“Having few of the modern conveniences and limited monetary means, my mother could have been easily bogged down by the many demands of her 16 children. Her burdens were lightened by her zest for life and her deep, abiding faith and determination that with the help of her hardworking, devoted husband and the guidance of a wise, loving Heavenly Father, all would work out well.”
“I’ve watched her lovingly talk to and cuddle her new-born infants in her arms with the 16th child getting the same adoration and attention as the first one.”
One of the Callister sons paid tribute in this way:
“Now, with having had some experiences of my own, it is a marvel to me that mother found time to write numerous letters to her children through the years. As a missionary, being in the military, away to school; it didn’t matter, she made the days go much better with her encouragement and inspired words. She would do, and has done so many unselfish and kind acts not only for her family, but for those within her influence.”
Following their mission, Lathel and Marge were called as directors of the Bishops Storehouse in Delta. They also gave volunteer service in numerous other ways.
Lathel was severely burned in 1986. Describing the aid she gave her companion of 55 years, a son stated: “Mom certainly has been the strong spiritual giant, never giving up, ever determined to keep Daddy home, giving constant, dedicated care.” He passed away 26 June 1992.
Marge kept up the couple’s earlier efforts to consistently attend the temple, but added what now continues as a treasured family tradition. Each year she requests that adult family members gather for her birthday to attend an endowment session together. A Callister family highlight came in March 1999 when all 16 of her children, several spouses and a host of grandchildren gathered at the Jordan River Temple in honor of her 85th birthday.
Now in her 95th year, Marge continues to quietly reach out to those beyond her extended family circle. A sister who lives alone recently sent this note to her:
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“There aren’t many people in this world I admire more than you. Your integrity, your caring, your wisdom all encourage me, and I feel very lucky to know you. You bring beauty to so many lives, and you bring love that fills hearts in need. You’re always doing something that makes a difference, and I just want to say thank you. The world is a much better place because of you.”
“She has performed at a high level,” declares one of her sons, “what Father sent her here to earth to do. Many people will yet thank her for her greatness in doing what she was supposed to do. She, in very deed, gave her life, and is still giving her life for the well being of her family.”