On this day – 11 December 1821 – John Rex Winder was born in Biddenden, Kent.
As a six year old boy he was assigned to scare birds away from the grain in the fields – he was a living scarecrow. His assigned field was next to a spooky looking forest. He recalled:
“It was a very lonely spot. Being entirely alone I was somewhat fearful, and I remember that I was impressed to kneel down in the brush and pray to the Lord that His angels might watch over and protect me from harm.”
When he arose his young mind was at peace, and thus began a lifelong understanding that God could direct and protect him. He remembered,
“Although that spot is many thousand miles distant, and it is more than seventy years ago, I could walk straight to that very spot where I knelt down, and where I received that blessing.”
When he was twenty he gained employment in London at the West End Shoe and Grocery Store. Here he met Ellen Walters, a shop girl, who became his wife in November 1845. Their first child joined them in 1847 but she survived only a year. The very next year the young couple moved to Liverpool because he had been offered a much better position in a shoe store in that huge port city. This decision introduced the couple to the Church in a rather unusual way and presented them with a whole new set of adventures.
In 1848 John was managing Mr. Collison’s boot and shoe store in Liverpool when he picked up a torn piece of paper on the shop floor and read the words ‘Latter-day Saints’. “I inquired of one of the clerks what it meant as I had never seen or heard the name before. The man who was in the desk happened to be a Latter-day Saint.” Learning they held meetings at the Music Hall John decided to take a peek.
“I went to their meeting, creeping up a back stair and peeping through the banisters to get a glimpse of the inside.” Elder Orson Spencer – the President of the European Mission was speaking and his sermon cut to John’s soul. He said, “I thought he must know that I was there for every word fitted my case and seemed meant especially for me.”
Decades later that defining moment still rang in his heart,
“I was convinced of the truth when I heard it, and I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God…I am thankful that this testimony has never left me since I first heard the Gospel more than sixty years ago.”
John’s wife Ellen was also converted.
In 1850 John Taylor arrived in England on an unusual mission – to find ideas and machinery that could help build up Utah’s economy. One industry John Taylor was eager to get started was raising Sugar and the purchase of the necessary machinery would cost around $60,000. John found some wealthy British individuals to support him in this venture. A Scottish ship builder called Captain Russell, a Liverpool salt dealer called John W. Coward, and a Liverpool boot and shoe manufacturer Mr Collison – John Rex Winder’s employer.
In 1853 they emigrated to Utah where John continued to be a very able and proficient business man. Whether he was a butcher, banker or leading “Industrial, manufacturing, and mercantile institutions of our state” he was able to keep things straight. One of his lasting legacies was the establishment of Winder Dairy and Winder Farms (started 1880) which still flourish within the family today. The company delivers fresh groceries across Utah, Nevada and California.
Under Wilford Woodruff’s direction John was put in charge of making sure the Salt Lake Temple was completed in time for its fortieth anniversary. When the church was disenfranchised by the US government church leaders decided to put church property in John’s name to protect it.
In 1857 Johnston’s army was sent to invade Utah. John was made Captain in charge of guarding Echo Canyon. One night knowing their numbers were few and knowing that Johnston’s spies were out in the dark trying to determine their strength he ordered his men to keep marching around bonfires to give the false impression that they were legion. This prompted Johnston’s army to not attempt anything that winter.
John went on to serve in the Presiding Bishopric, and in the First Presidency with Joseph F. Smith.
He was much loved as is demonstrated by this next set of images. The first is a Testimonal of thanks presented to John just before he emigrated for his “unwavering diligence in connection with the Church” when he was serving as the Secretary of the Liverpool Conference.
The second and third are shots of his funeral. He died in Salt Lake City in March 1910 and the Tabernacle was full as people said farewell.
He was to be buried in the Salt Lake Cemetery and this final shot shows his procession from temple square. Not a bad send off for this Man of Kent.
Winder, Michael K., John R. Winder: Member of the First Presidency, Pioneer, Temple Builder, Dairyman, (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 1999).