In Memoriam, Mary Wallmann


If you look closely in this picture of the Berkeley Ward building, you can find President Grant and a little girl named Mary Wallmann. Mary Wallmann has just passed away.

You may ask, and legitimately, what the death of one old person with an eighty-year connection to my ward has to do with you.

Let me try to explain.

About two years ago when Mary’s health had degraded to the point that she could no longer live in her own home, her family cleared out most of her belongings. To me came some old issues of Dialogue, which deepened a long fascination with Dialogue‘s early issues.

From the second issue, the first published letter to the editors:

From the second issue of Dialogue

Flipping through these old issues I find letters from and articles by stalwarts like Richard Bushman (still with us) and Samuel W. Taylor (dearly departed), as well as a large number of letters-to-the-editor from people I do not know but who resided in cities that neighbor my current home—or previous homes. Heck, the second story published by Dialogue was written by a member of my ward. And much of what I read are concerns we continue to grapple with today.

In other words, I see our cultural and religious family in these pages.

But I’m not mentioning Mary just because she published a letter in Dialogue. Mary means more than that.

Mary started our ward’s tradition of an interlude—a hymn played on the organ between the end of the sacrament and the restarting of the meeting. Practically everyone who visits our ward finds this liminal space valuable. It’s a further moment to reside in the meeting’s most sacred space. It allows those arriving late to enter without the bishopric having to speak over their tread. It gives the songs of Zion a moment to channel our reflection. It bookends sacred ritual with sacred hymnody.

Those who move away miss it terribly.

I imagine more wards will eventually begin this tradition. Perhaps other Marys have already begun it.

But here, it all began with one woman, a high-school librarian, a woman who survived tragedy upon tragedy, a Saint.

Of course this is an arts-and-culture blog and of course I am using arts-and-culture examples. But, if you like, you can spread the argument beyond arts and culture. Ultimately, we can all be like Mary. We can all make a difference. We can be part of something that is widely visible—supporting the modern literary and historical movement by subscribing to the first issue of Dialogue—or we can initiate something small that changes our own local community for the better.

We may or many not see what we have accomplished.

Perhaps only the Lord will see.

But we can all be like Mary.

Memorial service information.

8 thoughts on “In Memoriam, Mary Wallmann”

  1. Theric, the southern CA ward that I grew up in during the 60s and early 70s also had the organist play some interlude music after the sacrament was passed. It was quite common in wards at that time. So rather than starting this tradition it is more likely that sister Wallman was carrying on a tradition she had experienced elsewhere.

    As for more wards beginning this tradition, the church handbook, section 14.4.4, says, “No music should be played during the sacrament prayer, while the sacrament is being passed, or as a postlude after the sacrament is passed.”

  2. I wonder what the rationale for that policy is — because I thought the tradition worked well on both a functional and spiritual level.

    Also: that’s a great letter to the editor. Makes me wish I had a) been able to spend more time attending the Berkeley Ward and b) had made a greater effort to get to know the longtime ward members.

  3. .

    It’s that old-people-dying-is-a-library-burning thing. It’s a neglect we’re all guilty of in every ward, I’m sure.

  4. I can’t help mentioning that Banned Book Week just ended on September 28th. Seems appropriate given the sentiment in her letter to the editor.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. It’s yet another illustration that Mormon culture, Mormon characters, are all around us, rich and well worth celebrating in literature and the arts.

  6. Theric, thank you for this lovely tribute to my mother. I’m glad her back issues of Dialogue found a good home. As I mentioned in my eulogy at the memorial service on Saturday (October 12), my mother was a charter subscriber of Dialogue and she was very proud that the first letter to the editor published after the journal appeared was hers. Craig Stewart, a family friend and member of the stake presidency who also spoke at the service, quoted the “happy ending with no problems in life” passage from the letter and said: “Mary certainly could not have harbored such a false and distorted view of life. She wrote that letter only a year after her husband died. In the next year, her oldest son would be gone. And more recently, her youngest son would tragically be taken.”

    On the organ interlude — or “organ voluntary” as it was called decades ago — my mother told me that it started in the Berkeley Ward when Salt Lake decreed that there was to be no music while the sacrament was being passed. (It seems that some wards had problems featuring appropriate music and so the solution was to have silence.) In Berkeley Ward, the organist simply postponed playing music until the administration of the sacrament was complete. She did not tell me when this took place, but I’m guessing the 1930s or ’40s. Of course, it helps that Berkeley Ward has a fine pipe organ.

    The previous handbook did not specifically permit or prohibit an “organ interlude” after the sacrament. The language of the current handbook seems to go out of its way to prohibit an organ interlude; the logic of this prohibition escapes me.

    Finally, you will not find my mother (then known as Mary Watkinson) in the picture with President Heber J. Grant, Elder (and former Senator) Reed Smoot, and the local ward and stake members with their families. She was eight years old and recently baptized when she sat on the front pew while President Grant dedicated the Berkeley Ward. If I had to guess, she was attending the dedication with her non-member parents and they did not hang around for the picture. I’m pretty sure my grandparents were at the dedication, because my mother said that her father, who had suffered partial hearing loss as a British soldier in the Great War, enjoyed listening to President Grant because he spoke with a loud voice and my grandfather could understand him. Where else would my grandfather have heard Heber J. Grant but at this event? Nor do I see in the picture Billy and Minnie Alice Hicken, the LDS couple who introduced my mother to the gospel.

    Again, thanks.

  7. .

    I admit I was concerned about the photo as I knew she appeared in the photo taken shortly afterward without President Grant, but I was not sure regarding her appearance in this photo, though I did know she had been present. Alas.

    Thank you for the clarification. It was a lovely service. Sadly, I did not know your mother long before her decent, but it was long enough to recognize her greatness.

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