Juvenile Instructor » In Memoriam: Steven R. Sorensen, 1949-2009
 


In Memoriam: Steven R. Sorensen, 1949-2009

By: Jared T - June 04, 2009

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Steve R. Sorensen, former director of the LDS Church Archives  and co-editor of the 5th volume in the Joseph Smith Papers’ document series passed away on May 29, 2009.  In 1980 he started work as an archivist for the Church and went on to serve 16 years as director of the Archives.[1] In 2006, Steve received the Leonard Arrington Award from the Mormon History Association for his lifetime contributions to Mormon history.[2]

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Steve R. Sorensen receives the Leonard Arrington Award in 2006 from Davis Bitton [2]

His obituary from the Deseret News states:

Steven Ray Sorensen was born Oct. 18, 1949, in Mesa, AZ, to Bert and Raeola Sorensen. His early years were spent at the P.Z. Ranch near Winkelman, AZ. By age five, his family had located to Phoenix, AZ; and at age 14 to Winslow, AZ, where Steve graduated from Winslow High School in 1967. Steve began college at Northern Arizona University on a music scholarship. He interrupted his education to serve as an LDS missionary in the Kentucky/ Tennessee mission. After his mission, he continued his education at Ricks College in Rexburg, ID, and later at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, where he earned a B.S. in history and a M.S. in library science. Steve’s greatest loves were his family, LDS church history and fishing a dry fly. In 1974, Steve married Mareen Peterson in the LDS temple in Provo. In 1980, he began a distinguished career as an archivist for the church, serving many years as the Director of Church Archives, a stimulating job that took him to many areas of the world. Steve’s significant contributions to the preservation of the church’s history were acknowledged by many, including the Mormon History Association, which awarded him its highest distinction in 2006. At the time of his death, he was an editor of the Joseph Smith Papers. Steve’s earthly life ended May 29, 2009, at the Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, CA, where he had been a lung-transplant recipient following a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis. He slipped quietly away surrounded by his wife and seven children. Steve is survived by his wife Mareen; seven children, Dane (Cassandra), Kirsten (Jason) Carson, Andrew (Merilee), Ernest (Melanie), Jon, Annikka (Jason) Fluckiger, Curtis (Emily); 11 grandchildren; five siblings Douglas, Susan Bryson, Andrea Rhoton, Gwen Higginson, Jean Zufelt; and his parents. Steve’s family wishes to thank the doctors and nurses at the Stanford University Medical Center, including the Heart and Lung Transplant team, as well as Dr. Tracy Hill in Provo, UT, who worked tirelessly to allow Steve to spend more precious time with his family and loved ones. Funeral services will be held on Thursday, June 4, at 11 a.m., at the Sharon East Stake Center at 1060 E. 2400 N., Provo, UT. Public viewings will be held on Wednesday, 6-8 p.m., at the Sundberg-Olpin Mortuary, at 495 S. State, Orem, UT; and preceding the funeral service at 9:45-10:45 a.m. Interment will be at the Pineview Cemetery, on Highway 47 in Ashton, ID, on Saturday, June 6, at noon. Condolences at www.sundbergolpinmortuary.com In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis, http:// www.coalition forpf.org/cpf_contribute.php.

On a personal note, I met Steve in April of 2007.  I had heard from my hometeaching companion that his father-in-law had been involved at the Church archives and I always had it in my mind that I wanted to meet him.  I was sitting in the foyer one Sunday morning in a sullen mood.  A man walked into the building with an oxygen apparatus. He asked me if I knew what ward his apartment complex was in.  I referred him to the ward clerk and he came back saying he was in the 9th ward.  “That’s my ward,” I said.  Then my hometeaching companion came to talk with him and I realized that this was the Steve Sorensen he had talked about.  Almost immediately we launched into a discussion about the tensions involved in writing Mormon history.  I found his perspective refreshing and relevant.  Thereafter I looked forward to seeing Steve at church, though his illness often prevented him from attending.  I found him at times at the BYU Special Collections or looking at microfilm in the Religion area of the library.   I had the joy of visiting him once in his home. I had my daughter with me and he pulled out the toys he and his wife had there for their grandchildren and let her play with them while we talked. She could have been his own grandchild. In one of the most meaningful gestures to me, he once took me up to the Church Archives to show me around and introduce me to some of his coworkers.  There he introduced me to a number of people, the first of which was Ron Barney.

I was consistently impressed and edified with the breadth of his knowledge and his candor. Steve was never too busy to entertain questions from a lowly undergraduate who, in 2007, was still very unsure about what direction his life would take.  He always took time to talk, which I appreciated then and cherish now.  Though I only knew him for a brief period, he offered strength and encouragement in a time when I needed it most.  I consider my friendship with him one of many tender mercies the Lord has given me in my own journey of faith and discovery. He will be sorely missed.


[1] See the JSP contributors’ bio page.

[2] See the MHA Awards page.



18 Comments

  1. Thank you for this, Jared. You’ve introduced me to him in a far more intimate way than I ever knew from occasional brief greetings around the building.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — June 4, 2009 @ 8:35 am

  2. Bless his family. And thank you for this.

    Comment by J. Stapley — June 4, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  3. Thanks for this personal post, Jared.

    Comment by Christopher — June 4, 2009 @ 9:54 am

  4. I never met the man, but I’ve only heard great things.

    Comment by Ben — June 4, 2009 @ 10:10 am

  5. Thanks, Jared.

    Comment by David G. — June 4, 2009 @ 10:46 am

  6. Steve Sorenson was always extremely helpful to me and encouraging in my research interests. I’m very sad to hear of his passing.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — June 4, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

  7. Condolences to the family.

    Comment by Edje — June 4, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

  8. Pulmonary fibrosis and lung transplant are a terribly difficult way to go. I hope he is enjoying his well-earned rest.

    Comment by smb — June 4, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

  9. I had the opportunity to attend Steve’s funeral today. The speakers, his younger brother Douglas, his good friend Ron Barney, and his bishop and friend John Peterson all gave very warm and touching remarks twinged appropriately with humor. Two of Steve’s sons spoke briefly. One spoke about his last conversation with his dad about journal keeping and its utility for expressing testimony. A brother David Fritch performed a stirring rendition of “O Divine Redeemer” and Elder Marlin K. Jensen provided closing remarks about the plea for mercy expressed in that song and reminded all of the promises that the Gospel holds for a future reunion with Steve and that through the atonement, even Steve’s suffering through this disease and his death can “make sense”. I was grateful to see many employees of the Church Historical Department and BYU past and present. It reminded me that one by one, we will all come to this same place. I thought about how this would be the first of many such gatherings of Mormon historians around a fallen friend and colleague and how the final such gathering I attend in this body will be my own. Rest well, Steve.

    Comment by Jared T — June 4, 2009 @ 9:34 pm

  10. Anyone with an interest in Western History and the Mormons owes a debt of gratitude to Steve Sorensen. For all the syrupy celebrations of LDS Archives as Camelot in the Arrington years, Sorensen was much more responsible for bringing modern professionalism to the institution–and restoring morale after Mordred and his minions exiled Camelot to BYU in the wake of the Hofmann disasters.

    I last saw Steve years ago at the Bancroft Library, where he was doing research for the church’s Mountain Meadows project. He took all the ribbing I gave him over the absurdity of the undertaking with a wry smile. I was fortunate to attend the first public event at the new LDS Archives building on May 29 held for the different MMM organizations, where Marlin Jensen acknowledged that Sorensen was missing from the long line of people he introduced to the group who had worked and are still working on the MMM project. Elder Jensen suggested that the author of a very good book on the subject might be jealous of the resources the church had dedicated to their MMM project, but nothing could be further from the truth. As one of the archivists told a friend, in the generally open environment Sorensen and other professionals had created, I had seen everything of significance on the subject at LDS Archives by 2001.

    Will

    Comment by Will Bagley — June 8, 2009 @ 1:10 pm

  11. Steve was great person and professional historian of Latter-day Saint history.

    I had numerous personal dealings with Steve after when I arranged for the scanning of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible at the Community of Christ in Independence, Missouri from 1995-2004.

    Steve was an understanding person when he found out that I had arranged for a substantial amount of his Historian’s Office budget.

    May God bless his family and friends. Steve will be sorely missed.

    Comment by Scott H. Faulring — August 18, 2009 @ 7:02 am

  12. Many probably know, but most may not —

    Steve’s parents and wife visited the new Church History Library one morning last week, treated like royalty as everyone told them of the widespread respect for Steve, and they were given a grand tour of this project he had helped to bring to pass. His parents were as proud as they could be of their son, listening to the praise with big smiles.

    Steve’s father became ill while at the library and was taken to the hospital, where he passed away later that day.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 18, 2009 @ 8:52 am

  13. Scott, thank you for stopping by. I’m glad to see that you are feeling well yourself.

    As Ardis said, last Wednesday she and I were sitting at a table when Ron Barney came over and took us to where Steve’s parents and his widow were and we got to tell them briefly, about our interactions with Steve.

    I found it simply amazing that pretty much the last place he got to see was this remarkable facility that Steve had helped envision and who himself had never seen completed.

    Condolences once again to Steve’s family.

    Comment by Jared T — August 18, 2009 @ 9:36 am

  14. Thank you all for the nice comments regarding my father!

    Comment by Dane Sorensen — August 30, 2009 @ 11:09 pm

  15. Dane, thank you for stopping by.

    Comment by Jared T — August 31, 2009 @ 12:11 am

  16. Thank you for all the nice things that were said regarding my dad. My family is trying to compile a small history of my father if anybody has any stories they would like to share please email them to nojman33@hotmail.com. We really don’t know much about him as a historian and would love to learn more about his role in church history and the lives of others. Again thank you for being such great friends of my father.

    Comment by Jon Sorensen — April 26, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

  17. A wise and knowledgeable man!

    Comment by Maplewood Laser Dental Clinic — August 18, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

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