The story of J. Melvin Toone and the Schut family
This cool family history story started on Nov. 9, 2010, when I received an email from a woman named Diana Schut Wall of Acequia, Idaho. She saw my byline on a Deseret News article and asked if I was a relative of J. Melvin Toone, who served as president of the Minidoka LDS Stake in the 1940s? If not, did I know someone who was?
I replied that I was not a direct descendent, but would try to find one and get back to her. That sounded good to her. She then told this story.
She was born in the Netherlands in 1946, shortly after World War II ended. Her parents, Jan and Anna Schut, were converts of the LDS Church. In those days, church members of wards and stakes in the U.S. would send packages with clothing and other survival items to the members in war-torn Europe. One of these packages came to Diana’s family from President J. Melvin Toone in Idaho.
“It contained my first baby clothes and a sweater which fit my father,” Wall wrote. “There was an address in the pocket, which indicated it was donated by Melvin Toone.”
Wall said her father asked some American missionaries to help him write a thank you to President Toone and they opened a correspondence. Her father asked if President Toone would become their sponsor so they could immigrate to the United States in 1948.
“A sponsor was responsible for you for three years to make sure you were employed, etc.,” Wall wrote. “Shortly thereafter my father was employed by the stake to be a custodian of the stake building.”
About a year before her email to me, the Rupert Idaho Stake removed all of the large pictures of former stake presidents from its high council room. The pictures were replaced with smaller versions in the hall near the stake president’s door. One evening while Wall was waiting to see her stake president, she commented that it was scary for her to remember each of the former presidents. The stake president told her they were still looking for a relative of President Toone in order to give away the portrait. If a relative could not be located soon, they would have to throw the picture out.
“I told him, ‘Please don’t,’” Wall wrote. “I would either pursue it further or keep it myself because President Toone was such a major part of our lives.”
I replied with in an email that I would get back to her. But shame on me, I forgot and lost track of her.
Fast forward to last Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. I received another email from Fred L. Schut, Diana’s younger brother. He had the portrait of J. Melvin Toone and was in West Valley City if I wanted to arrange to meet. I made plans to drive over the following day. It was well worth the 15-minute drive.
J. Melvin Toone
First, I wanted to find out a little about J. Melvin Toone. He was born on Sept. 13, 1888, the son of William Henry Toone and Hannah Webb. His grandfather was John Toone, my fifth great-grandfather. He was raised in Croydon, Utah, and served a mission to Great Britain in 1913-1916. He married Jessie Beesley in 1920 in the Salt Lake Temple. They had three children, including two boys and a girl. Jessie died in 1929 and J. Melvin married Anna Hogland in 1935, also in the Salt Lake Temple.
According to a newspaper article, J. Melvin made a living as a farmer/rancher. He served as a county commissioner in Morgan County for eight years. He served three times as an LDS bishop (Croydon, Sunset, Utah and Rupert, Idaho, area, a combined total of 16 years) and once as stake president (Minidoka Stake, 1942-1950) before accepting a call as mission president in Canada (1951-55). He also served as a church patriarch before his death on May 19, 1966.
In a book titled, “History of the Minidoka Stake, 1924-1972,” we learn a little more about President Toone.
“President Toone … was a spiritual man, a dynamic man, who could not rest unless the work of the Lord was moving forward. He, as his predecessor, looked the part of a leader. He was pleasant but stern in seeing the stake move forward,” the history reads. “He was loyal to the counsel of the General Authorities and recognized them to be prophets of the Lord who had been divinely called to lead the church. President Toone accepted the messages of the First Presidency as scripture and often referred to them as the mind and will of the Lord, and he defended the instruction given by them to the letter.”
Another part of the history mentioned that more than one member had compared President Toone to Brigham Young in general physical appearance and certain characteristics.
“President Toone came to be what one would call the ‘Lion of the Lord’ in Minidoka Stake history, just as President Young was labeled in his day,” the history continued.
Following his release as stake president, J. Melvin Toone was called by visiting General Authorities Elder Stephen L. Richards and Elder Marion G. Romney to serve in the Church Welfare Program in Florida, according to the “Minidoka Stake History.”
Today the LDS Church owns a 290,000-acre ranch near Orlando called, “Deseret Ranches.” It is said to be of the most beautiful and productive agricultural/ranching operations in the country over the last have century. It’s one of a number of church-owned operations that provide food and resources to assist humanitarian and religious efforts around the world.
Might have J. Melvin Toone participated in establishing Deseret Ranches? Given his background and experience, I think it’s a good possibility.
Meeting Fred L. Schut
Fred told me a little more about his family and their connection to J. Melvin Toone. His parents joined the church in their youth. His father Jan was baptized at age 13 on Sept. 1, 1923. His mother Anna was baptized on July 27, 1930, also at age 13. They were married on July 14, 1937, and attended an LDS branch in the Netherlands.
The Schuts endured the occupation and the war. At one point Fred said his father was taken and bound for a labor camp. But as the men were being transported, they were attacked and bombed by allied forces. This created an opportunity for Jan to escape and return home. The family kept his return a secret. During the day he would hide beneath the floor of the living room. The children didn’t even know he was there so in the event that someone came looking for him they had plausible deniability.
After the war the missionaries returned. It was around that time they received three packages from different bishops or stake presidents in different locations in the United States. Fred thinks one package came from Spanish Fork. Another one came from Oregon or Washington, and the third came from President Toone in Idaho.
According to the “Minidoka Stake History,” stake conference was held on Dec. 8-9, 1945. At the conference, President Toone announced the opportunity for church members to furnish good, usable clothing and bedding for the saints in Europe whose homes had been ravaged by the war and who were in dire need for warmth during the winter. Each item and package was labeled with the name and mailing address of the stake president.
Returning to Fred’s account, with the help of the missionaries, the family mailed thank you letters back to the U.S., along with a request for sponsorship. Only President Toone of the Minidoka State (later the Rupert stake) responded. He agreed to sponsor the Schuts.
“My parents started the process of selling everything they possibly could because they couldn’t take much and passage to America was expensive,” Schut said. “They borrowed $500 from President Toone and got on a ship in March 1948.”
It took nine days to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Fred said his mother was severely seasick the whole trip. The family boarded a Greyhound bus in New York and rode it day and night until they arrived in Burley, Idaho, where they met President Toone. They didn’t speak English. They stayed with him for a couple of days until he found them a place to live. Jan Schut worked as the custodian of the tabernacle for more than nine years. During that same period, he also worked as a carpenter when time permitted, a skill he had gained in Holland. At the end of the nine years he was able to support his family doing carpentry work, Fred Schut said.
Jan and Anna and three children arrived in Idaho around the first part of April 1948. President Toone also helped arrange for them to be sealed in the Salt Lake Temple on June 14, 1948.
The whole story is also confirmed in the “Minidoka Stake History.” The account reads: “As a result of these labels with President Toone’s name and address which was observed by the Jan Schut family of Holland, President Toone received a letter of appreciation for the warm clothing and bedding from Brother and Sister Schut. As a result of later correspondence between them, the Schut family was ‘sponsored’ by President Toone and thus immigration officials were assured that if the family immigrated to this country they would be provided employment and otherwise would not become a responsibility of the U.S. government, but would be helped to become self-sustaining. As a result of these agreements one of our fine families of the stake of subsequent years was given the privilege of ‘coming to Zion,’ which has been greatly appreciated by the family of Brother and Sister Schut. For several years after their arrival to the Minidoka Stake the family served as custodians to the stake house. In later years, Brother Schut has followed the trade in which he took apprenticeship in the Old Country, carpentry.
“Of their family of five boys and two girls, two boys have served missions back in their homeland of Holland, and their youngest son served a mission in and around Kirtland, Ohio.”
Schut said he was one of four children born in to the family after his parents immigrated to the U.S. He was one of the sons who returned to the Netherlands (Holland) as a missionary. He came away with a deeper appreciate for the sacrifices his parents and President Toone made to bring his family to the United States.
“Having been on my mission to the Netherlands and seen the struggles the members have to this day, living in a society where religion isn’t as important, our family was definitely blessed to be able to come to the United States,” Fred Schut said. “Also to experience everything related to the church, because I don’t know how strong any of us would be have been had we stayed there. I don’t know that we would have been sealed as a family. I think there were only eight temples operating in 1948 (zero in Europe).”
I was honored to accept the portrait of President Toone and a small photo of the family and President Toone upon their arrival in Idaho in 1948. I was even more touched by the story, and honored to be a relative of President Toone. He clearly made a difference in helping this family and future generations.