By Jeremy Goff
I fell in love with the Provo City Center Temple when I first took a tour of it. The first time I went on a tour of the new Provo City Center Temple was on a group date; it was late at night and cold, but it was amazing. A few days later when my sister asked me to go with her (so I could help with her kids), I gladly agreed to go again. It was during the day so I was able to walk around the temple with my nieces and nephew, that is when I saw it…A statue of a child walking from her mother to her father with the Provo City Center Temple was in the background. I felt that was the embodiment of Temples, the Plan of Salvation, and why we came to earth. I felt connected, I loved that statue.
A week later I was working at the Mount Timpanogos temple. And I was talking with another Temple worker, when he decided to share the story of that statue, it was his story. As he told me the story I wept, I asked if I could come and talk with his wife and get the whole story, he agreed. And here is the story behind the statue.
The Story Behind “In The Family Circle” aka “Melissa Walks”
On July 14th, 1976, Keith and Teri Wilson welcomed a new baby girl into their family, Melissa. In September of 1976, they were approached by a member of their ward, Dennis Smith. He had been charged to create a statue for the church; they were preparing to present a tribute to womanhood. Dennis asked Keith and Teri if they would model for him and once Melissa was walking if he could model her as well. The goal was that by the time he was done modeling them Melissa should be about the age to walk. So they started modeling every day. He would work with one of them as he did the jawbone, or the hand, or the hair.
But everything changed on January 10th. Melissa had not been acting normally, so the Wilsons took her to the doctor, where they received the news that Melissa had cerebral palsy.
“Melissa will never walk,” the doctors said.
The Wilsons were devastated. They spent all of their time working and helping Melissa. The thought of the statue did not even cross their mind. After all, Dennis needed a little girl who could walk for this statue.
In the words of Dennis, “Needless to say, I felt very awkward about the sculpture we had been working on together. Up to this time, I had been mulling over a title for the sculpture, though I had not said anything to them about it. I had wanted to call it, ‘Melissa Walks.’ But suddenly that image was filled with painful irony.”
In April of that year, Dennis approached them and asked them to model again. He was ready to finish the statue.
“When it came time to work on the large sculpture, I had them come to the studio and bring Melissa with them. By this time, she had been outfitted with body braces just to hold her up her head…I knew the Relief Society would want a more universal title, and this sculpture became known as ‘In The Family Circle,'” he said.
In the years that have passed this statue has been placed in Nauvoo, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Los Angles, and in other nations around the world including Spain and the German Democratic Republic (For President Monson’s story about that click here.) Along the way it has had some edits to the original design, the most recent edition and the one we all recognize is the one in front of the Provo City Center Temple.
On October 19th, 1995, at the age of 19, Melissa returned to her Father in heaven. On Christmas Day that year Dennis came to Keith and Teri’s house to present them with a gift. The Church had asked him to make a small scale of the statue for President Jimmy Carter, but he requested that they do 3 castings. One for President Carter, one for himself, and one for the Wilsons. He gave them the statue and told the world the story behind the statues name. In the words of Dennis “I told Keith and Teri, for me it would always be ‘Melissa Walks.’
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.