Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thirty-Five Years Later: My Personal Conversion and Call to an LDS Mission

Frank Alan Bruno, Summer 1975
As I look back on my life it is amazing that I ever joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and ever went on a mission.  Today I wouldn't be accepted since they have raised the bar.  Even back then it was either a fluke or a miracle that I went for a variety of reasons.  It is a strange story.

Thirty-six years ago I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 7 July 1974.  I was eighteen years old.  I was born in Illinois and lived in La Salle until I was twelve years old.  My family moved to North Las Vegas, Nevada so my dad could pursue his dream of being a boss in a gambling casino.

Queen of the Holy Rosary Church, La Salle, Illinois
I was raised as a Roman Catholic and was fairly active as a kid from 1959 until 1968.  My dad was a compulsive gambler and played poker every day at the local coal mine where he went after working from J.P. Hollerich construction company. I attended the Queen of the Holy Rosary Church in LaSalle, Illinois where from the age of four until nine I attended weekly catechism lessons every Saturday morning from seven a.m. until 10 a.m.  We were also proselytized to be Notre Dame football fans as they showed us weekly reels of their games. My sister Sally and I made our first communion and confirmation under Monsignor (Simon) S. D. Bernardi. I tried to sing in the choir at the age of eight but was kicked out since I sang like a frog. My sister on the other hand had a beautiful soprano voice and had many solos. I was an altar boy when I was around ten years old.  I lasted for a few months but got in trouble when I pour wine a couple of times on the monsignor's fingers. My two brothers and sisters and I attended church every Sunday even though our parents only went on holidays.  I remember when I was twelve attending church in my baseball uniform before a ball game. We would drop a colored envelop in the collection plate every week.  I got in to trouble since whenever the monsignor offered his ring I wouldn't kiss it.  He would laugh since it was an inside joke between us that others didn't get.

First Baptist Church, Boulder City, Nevada

When we moved to North Las Vegas we lived next door to a Southern Baptist family named Ranor. They invited me to their church in Boulder City where I answered an altar call during a revival meeting the only time I ever attended.  During that religious service I actually had a vision and saw Christ crucified on the cross. It was pretty dramatic and altered my life.  I was saved in July 1971. The next year I had a dream where I saw Isaiah the prophet who was writing on a scroll.  He told me that I would have all the knowledge in the world and that was a part of my mission on this earth.  It as a very vivid dream in color.

I knew a lot of Mormons since I went to junior high and high school with several of them. I saw many of them at parties where they would get drunk or wasted.  The funny thing is some have been bishops and other LDS leaders when I haven't despite their wild pasts.  My best friend Ed Bortyny gave me a Book of Mormon my senior year.  I put it in a drawer in my bed stand and it stayed there for several months. We both attended Rancho High School and hung out together on nights and weekends.  Ed was an inactive member who smoke, drank and chased girls with me. I on the other hand didn't drink or smoke but I did chase girls. Ed moved away after our graduation to Des Plaines, Illinois to work in a factory.  When I reconnected a year ago we had switched places he was now a devote Catholic and I was an active Mormon.  He works as an IT manager for Ticketmaster.

I met a girl the summer of 1973 named Julie M. and had a hot romance.  I met her at a LasVegas Outlaws football game.  A Mormon friend Henry R. dared me to make out with her in front of the few thousand fans since she was hitting on me.  I did and she invited me over to her house that night.  I wouldn't have gone to her house but Henry and Robert R. actually picked me up and drove me to her house.  They sat in the car and watched me make out with her. Henry encouraged me to go for it.  I didn't realize she had several boyfriends.  I guess I was naive and thought I was so great she would dump every other guy for me.  She wasn't overly monogamous.

She unfortunately was messing around with three guys at the same time.  One of them Hector R. actually attended Rancho H.S. with me. He was a year behind me and we had played on the soccer team together. When I would go home he would go to her house and pick her up and then do stuff. My brother-in-law Joe Farese told me one day I was being played by her and that this other guy would tell him what he was doing with her in graphic details.  My brother-in-law worked with Hector at Montgomery Ward's in the auto department. Julie became pregnant and had an abortion.  I tried to marry her and run away with her but her family shipped her off to Arlington, Virginia to keep her from destroying her life.  It was a tragedic event for me since I thought I loved her and there was the possibility it could have been my child.

St. Christopher's School and Church, N. Las Vegas, Nevada
I actually contacted the local priest at St. Christopher's Church in North Las Vegas the night before Julie had her abortion to try and stop her.  The priest told me when I went in to see him that he wouldn't help me because I hadn't been to his church more than a few times over the six years I lived there. He really soured me on the Catholic faith that he cared so little for the life of that unborn child over something as stupid as my not going to church for a year or two. My sister was a regular parishioner there every Sunday.  He told me he wasn't getting involved in this matter.  I'm not sure what my sister or father said to him but it was an unpleasant experience that drove me away from the Catholic faith.

Julie eventually returned to Las Vegas. I lost track of her when I joined the LDS Church. I did talk to her at a gas station for an hour after I returned from my mission.  I tried to show her how the church could help her. She told me she had married three men. She was on her third. At the time I talked to her she was 21 and married to a 45 year old pharmacist with a German shepherd and a pickup truck.  I tried to get her to consider joining the church but she told me she had worked in St. George, Utah at a truck stop and slept with a few so-called Mormons.  She always wanted to have a child but had difficulty since she had had an abortion at fifteen.  She offered to have sex with me in an attempt to get pregnant which I declined.  I went away sad that her life was unfilled.  My relationship with her had lasted from June 1973 until August 1973.  It was the only period in my life that I had actually engaged in premarital sexual  intercourse.

With dog Brandi, my typical Church attire prior to 1975 mission

I was so devastated by the outcome of my relationship with Julie M. that I became depressed and despondent.  I went to Clark County Community College that summer and majored in business.  I made friends with the son of the president Steve Wing.  We played on the Mormon softball team for the thirteenth ward.  We were told in order to played that we occasionally had to attend church.  We went in our Hawaiian shirts with Panama hats and either blue jeans with sneakers or shorts with sneakers.  We sat behind a couple of attractive girls Jacki Loveland and Shauna Harper.  They would giggle at our appearance.  Steve dressed this way on purpose to get a reaction in fact he had jeans with huge holes in the rear which he would put bright colored blue or red bandannas.  I didn't own a white shirt until I took my mission picture. We were a couple of bad boys. I had no clue how tolerant the bishop and his counselors must have been to put up with us dress like we were.  We got to know all the members including the stake president James K. Seastrand by playing softball.

One day I took out my Book of Mormon which was in my bedroom dresser and began to read it.  It was so fascinating to me that I read it non-stop for a week.  Steve called me up and I told him I thought it was a true book.  He told me that we should both check out the Mormon religion.  I set up an appointment to take the missionary discussions.  He only showed up the first day  and went with me but then he lost interest.  I took all the discussions over two days.  The law of chastity went by me in a blur as did tithing and the word of wisdom.

When I joined the church in 1974 I repented of my sins but I had a poor baptismal interview which never asked me directly about immorality.  I didn't know much religiously about the LDS Church as I took all seven discussions in a two day period in about a 24-hour period.  The missionaries did a poor job teaching me.  The only thing they told me that stuck with me was Moroni's promise which I applied later after turning them down in the baptismal challenge.  I prayed about it when I got to that part in the Book of Mormon. The holy ghost spoke to me and told me in an audible voice that the Book of Mormon was the word of God, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the only true church on the earth.  I called Steve up and told him about my experience.  He said I needed to follow it and it would be fun to go and see a Mormon baptism.  I told him to come over and we would swing by the missionaries.

I went over to the missionaries house with him and knocked on the door.  When the missionary answered I told him I had come to be baptized.  Steve and I decided I should be baptized by a Mormon apostle since he remembered that from the day he took discussions with me.  When I told the missionary what I wanted  he slammed the door in my face and said he would be right back. We heard him arguing with his companion that they shouldn't baptize me but his companion convinced him to call his mission president.  The mission president told them to offer the stake president instead and that they should baptize me.

The stake president changed it later to be his son but unbeknown to him his son had committed a minor discretion and wasn't able to baptize me. I was baptized by Pressley Drigger, the ward mission leader, and confirmed by James K. Seastrand, the stake president. I knew his son from playing softball that summer.  The guy who interviewed me only asked me if I stole.  I was pretty honest and said I did not. It was a very brief baptismal interview that lasted about five minutes.I attended church in the thirteenth ward which wasn't the ward I lived in.  I had a couple of friends in that ward so I went to church there.  I attended church all day long on Sunday to learn more.  There were three wards that met in that building the 13th, 7th, and 11th wards.  I went to all three sacrament meetings.  I also attended the young adult Sunday School class.  I read all the standard works five times my first year of membership including the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants.  After three months I became the young adult gospel doctrine teacher.  I was also the assistant executive ward clerk assisting Reeves Cook.  I took care of membership and helped on finances when he wasn't there.
James K. and Roselle Seastrand
Over the course of the next year I would see President James K. Seastrand and he would talk to me usually about going on a mission.  In the Fall of 1974 he told me that I reminded him of his convert father who had come over from Sweden.  He invited me over to dinner with his family.  I knew his daughter Pam from being in classes with her at Rancho.  I knew she wasn't interested in me since she dated a bunch of flashy Mormon boys so I tried to avoid going since he kept insisting I should get to know his daughter.  He pestered me until I finally went over.  I think she was away at school He told me that night he thought I should serve a mission.  I told him that my family didn't like me even being a member and would not support me on a mission.

My father who worked as a shift boss in a gambling casino told me when I joined the church that I was deceiving myself to think that Mormons would ever accept me as one of them.  Even if you live your life a Mormon you will be one of them. He said since you weren't born a Mormon they will never give you a break the rest of your life nor call you ever to a position of leadership.  He said he knew hundreds of Mormons and  the majority of Mormons were hypocrites.  He said he should know since Seastrand had slot machines and beer in his Vegas Village stores. Plus he said had hired and trained hundreds of Mormons to work on the crap tables at the Golden Gate Casino and they weren't very dependable. "Most weren't worth a damn."  He then told me suit yourself and you make your own decisions "it is better than your being depressed over your former friend. One day you will wake up I hope it isn't too late in your life."  Since I didn't particularly value much my dad said since he had serious moral, addiction and gambling problems I blew him off.

recent photo of Gordon Bergquist with grandson

I told Bishop Gordon Bergquist that President Seastrand suggested I go on a mission. He wasn't overly impressed at that time that I should go but eventually warm to the idea.  Several of the boys in my ward worked for O.C. Loveland or for the 7th ward Bishop Frehner who owned a construction company.  When Loveland who served in the bishopric heard I wanted to go on a mission he called me in a room and talked with me.  He told me that I was arrogant and offensive to many people in the ward and frankly he didn't like me nor did anyone else in the ward. He personally did not believe I was missionary material.  He told me that he could give me a job to make enough money to go on a mission but he wasn't going to help me nor would anyone in my ward.  If I wanted to go on a mission I would have to do it myself.  He doubted I would ever go on a mission.  It made me angry but I knew that I had a chance of going because President Seastrand was in charge not my bishop nor his counselors.  Loveland told me he doubted I could raise enough money to even go. My bishop was a more laid back guy and was more non-committal.  Loveland didn't realize I had heard crap like that every day of my life from my own father so I didn't exactly care what he said.

President Spencer W. Kimball with Chief Dan George

At the time Spencer W. Kimball was pushing for more missionaries.  It was more impressive if you could send several boys out from a ward.  I was friends with the bishop's son Brad and Charlie McKnight.  Charlie grew up in a single parent home and would call me big dog and if I wanted to go to go.  I should just proceed as though I was going.  I saw President Seastrand a few more times and every time he would ask what I was doing to prepare to go on a mission. On 12 February 1975 I received my patriarchal blessing from W. Brent Hardy who declared I would serve a  full-time mission which be one of many and people would join the church through my ability to speak their language.

1975 Mission Picture Sent with Missionary Papers

In June 1975 shortly before my first year in the church I told President Seastrand that my bishop and his counselors didn't think I should go on a mission. I told him what Loveland told me. He told me that he would handle it and that I was definitely going on a mission.  I was to raise as much money as I could and he would make sure the ward took care of the rest.  On 18 June 1975 Bishop Gordon R. Bergquist called me in to his office and told me I had friends in high places and that even though he had concerns President Seastrand wanted me to go on a mission so he interviewed me that day for a mission.  He asked where I wanted to go.  I said I didn't really have a clue of where to go.  I didn't particularly want to go to Italy since I never learned to speak Italian as a kid even though my grandparents spoke it in their homes.  My father told me that he was forced to speak it as a kid but none of his kids needed to speak it since it caused more problems of people thinking less of you.  Bishop Bergquist said that he recommended that his son go to the Swiss-Austria, that Ron January and Charlie McKnight go to South America, and that he thought since I was Italian I should go to Italy.  He said the brethren sent every boy he gave a specific country recommendation a call to where he suggested.  I just shut my mouth and was glad he was putting in my papers.

Even though my father had health insurance he never gave me a dime since I was fourteen.  We only went to a doctor if we were seriously ill.  I had a paper route from the age of eight to twelve.  My father told us if we wanted money to go out and get ourselves.  My father got me a job as a dishwasher at the Silver Nugget when I was fourteen.  I had been working all my teenage years including at Vegas Village where I was a bag boy from fifteen until seventeen.  In June 1975 a few months prior to my mission I got a job through LDS Employment with a professional cleaning company where I worked ten hours a day.  I sold my stereo and my 1967 Chevy Impala for $500 to pay for my mission. Unfortunately for me I sold my car to a pimp from the west side of Las Vegas.  He told me what he did for a living when he came.  I wasn't thinking and left the plate on the front of the car.  I forgot I left the plate on the car.  Later I went on my mission the man ran up a hundred parking tickets on my plate.  My father had to go to court and tell the judge I was in Italy on an LDS Mission.  The judge reduced the fines down to one saying I was an idiot to leave my plate on a car.  My father a couple of months later that Steve Wing saw my old car on the west side of Las Vegas and followed the guy home.  He came immediately over to North Las Vegas and got my father and brother Gary who was fifteen.  My father stood with a pipe wrench while my brother took the plate off the car.  My dad said they were lucky the guy didn't come out.

On 2 July 1975 I finished everything and was interviewed by President James K. Seastrand who sent in my papers.  I received my call to the Italy Rome Mission which was dated 15 July 1975 but didn't arrive until 24 July 1975.

It was slightly more than one year after I was baptized. I was to report to the Language Training Mission (LTM) on 20 September 1975 which was fourteen months after I joined the church.  I was called to the Italy Rome Mission. I had about $2500 by the time I received my mission call.

A week later I received  a letter to help me to get ready medically and dentally to go on a mission that was signed by S. Dilworth Young, a member of the Seventy and on the missionary committee:

An LDS dentist helped me get my cavities filled and LDS Doctor named Cal Noorda gave me my immunizations.  Both gave me a real price break and I was able to do it all for a couple hundred bucks. I don't remember that Dr. Noorda even charged me.  I took three vaccinations in two different arms on the same visit to get it done. I had a couple of swollen arms for a day or two. I hadn't received any vaccinations after the polio one I received a a kid.

 I also received the following letter to get me ready for my mission:

 I received a letter dated 2 August 1975 from my new mission president Leopoldo Larcher who was from Verona, Italy.   He gave me some words of encouragement:

He also told me what to bring on my mission:

One young man in my ward Doug Atkins was going the same day as I was to the New York Rochester Mission so he helped me to take out my endowment in Utah.  The nearest temple was St. George but his mother who was divorced  from his father Claire.for several years lived in Spanish Fork, Utah. Doug suggested we go up to Utah and take out our endowments together in Salt Lake City Temple.  Helen Loveland was married to Gary Loveland who was the Dolly Madison representative for that area of Utah.  Doug and I drove up on 7 August 1975  in Doug's blue GTO.  It was one of the few times I was almost killed in my life. He went between 90 and 110 mph.  We missed being hit by a semi near Lehi, Utah. Doug drove like a maniac, that GTO was one fast car but the semi actually passed us doing over 100mph. When the semi passed us his back end swayed in front of us and missed our front end by centimeters.  The guy driving was an idiot.  If I hadn't seen it I would have believed a semi could go that fast.

Donny Osmond
The first thing we did when we arrived in the Utah Valley was stop in Provo at the Riveria Apartments to say hi to Jay Osmond and Donny who Doug insisted were his close buddies. I  knew the Osmonds were on TV and supposedly famous singers.  I remember watching them as a kid on the Andy Williams Show but I didn't pay attention to them much after that. Being from Las Vegas and working at the Hilton Hotel in the celebrity dinning room with the likes of Liza Minelli, Liberace and Elvis being my customers it was no big deal to me to know or talk to a celebrity. I thought Marie was cute but she was too young for me and not my type. We didn't see her when we went by. Doug went on most of the trip about about being close friends with the Osmonds and how they wanted to see him any time he was in town.  I tuned most of it out. I didn't say much when I met them.
Jay Osmond

 It seemed like no big deal to me as they would just stand around in front of their apartment talking to people.  The Osmonds seem like any other person our age.  I didn't see what the big deal was.  Donnie was our age but he wasn't going on a mission so I wasn't impressed.  I never bought in to singing was their mission and being a convert of one year I thought ever young man should go on a mission since SWK said so. I think even today David Archueleta should serve a mission. After our missions Doug Atkins, Charlie McKnight, and Brad Bergquist lived at the Riveria Apartments near the Osmonds.  Marie thought Brad was cute and wanted to be set up I don't remember if he went out with her.  She married Steve Arnold a short time later which was the first of her many spousal mistakes.  She would have been better off with Brad in my opinion. We spent an hour there then went over to Doug's mom's place.

Doug had a couple of cute sisters named Patty and Carrie who were very nice. Both had red-necked boyfriends but I wasn't interested in them since I was already headed out for my mission soon.  Carrie wrote me a couple of times on my mission. At that point in life I was madly in love with Shauna Harper from my home ward and thought one day if I was righteous enough she would fall madly in love with me and marry me.  Doug had four other siblings Wally, Mike, Pam and Paula.  He told me his step-father and mother were just becoming active again. So I was impressed when they  all knelt down around their chairs and said a prayer at dinner time.  That was the first time I ever prayed with an LDS family.  We went fishing that evening.  On Sunday we actually read the scriptures as a family which was another first for me.

The week before when I went to my bishop for my temple interview.  They realized that I needed to be made an elder first before I could take out my endowment.  When I told them I was going the following week to Utah, they came up with a creative way for me to be ordained in Utah while being sustained in Las Vegas.  They had my bishop and stake president call the stake president in Spanish Fork and set up my ordination in the Loveland's stake..  I was sustained in my home ward on Sunday, 9 August 1975.  Then I was to go to President Don S. Robertson work office on Monday, 10th August 1975 and be ordained an elder.

A few days later 11 August 1975 Doug and I got up at 4 a.m. and went to the Salt Lake Temple.  I don't remember if his mother went inside with us but I do remember Doug and I taking out our endowments together.  It was an unusual live session that took a few hours.  It was a very interesting session.

We went back to North Las Vegas the next day to get ready for our missions.  That same week one of my friends Billy Fouts from the 20th Ward decided to take out his endowments in the Manti Temple. He asked me to go with him for company. We went in his purple Thunderbird on a Friday night at about nine o'clock.  We drove non-stop from Vegas to Manti arriving around 5 am with no sleep.  There were a handful of people in Manti at that time.  There couldn't have been more than ten or fifteen people at the opening session.  When we sang the Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning I heard an angelic choir singing which freaked me out.  I was either sleep deprived or I really heard an angelic choir.  I am inclined to believe the latter.

On Sunday, 24 August 1975 I had my missionary farewell.  I invited a few people I know to speak including Shauna's dad Murray Harper, Bishop Sam Aston who I played ball with, President James K. Seastrand with concluding remarks by Bishop Gordon R. Bergquist.  I spoke about how if you believed in yourself you could accomplish great things on a mission.  My good friend Doug Atkins gave the invocation and one of my converting Elder, Elder Nybo gave the benediction.  He had been companions with Elder Billy Garrett the previous year when I took the discussions.

I had a special musical number "Create in Me a Clean Heart Oh God" by Rainbow's End which group included Mary Ann Evans, Belinda Duncan, Kennedy Corbett, Beverly Boucher, Beverly Loveland, Lori Gillins, and Patricia Eves.  I originally asked Beverly Loveland to sing Oh That I Were an Angel but she refused saying the group would never perform it again as that was her and Lyn Huntsman's song.

Doug Atkins was going up early to stay with his family so I had to ride a bus up to Provo.  Sister Loveland picked me up and they dropped me off the next morning Saturday, September 20th at the Salt Lake Mission home.  J. Murray Rawson was  the mission president.  I was actually in one of the first groups that didn't have to stay for three days in the mission home.  We reported to the mission home at 9 a.m. There were so many of us that we were taken in in groups.  My group went and visited the church administrative buildings like the Relief Society building.  A few of us went and got hair cuts since the mission president told us most of us wouldn't pass.  Those who didn't were sorry later when he rejected them.  In the afternoon we were taken in a bus down to Provo to the Social Hall and later assigned to our various residences.  I was assigned with the Italian Elders to Allen Hall which was right next to the Elms Apartments.

My first memory of the LTM was being marched by Elder Gary Batchelor, an Italian Elder from Great Britain, down to our hall.  As we went down Heart Attack Hill on the BYU Campus we sang Zippidity Doo Dah in Italian and learned to count to ten. That song was one of the things that sticked with me in the LTM


Bookslinger said...

Great story.

Arlen said...

Frank, we were roommates for several months at BYU, but I never heard your conversion story. I'm impressed. You're a great man.

Anonymous said...

I was intrigued by your story because it mentions Queen of the Holy Rosary Church and Simon Bernardi. I am curious as to what the joke was between the two of you. I also was born and raised in LaSalle and attended Queen of the Holy Rosary. I would love to chat with you. Please leave a post with your email or phone number. Regards, Jerry Querciagrossa