Mary Riggs, Of The Udall Ward, Mesa Stake, Celebrated Her 102nd Birthday In Nauvoo, Ill., Touring The Historical Sites And Participating In Two Sealing Sessions In The Nauvoo Temple. Photo Courtesy John Lewis.

Mary Riggs Celebrates 102nd Birthday with a Trip to Nauvoo

Mary Riggs, of the Udall Ward, Mesa Stake, celebrated her 102nd birthday in Nauvoo, Ill., touring the historical sites and participating in two sealing sessions in the Nauvoo Temple. Photo courtesy John Lewis.

Mary Riggs, of the Udall Ward, Mesa Stake, celebrated her 102nd birthday in Nauvoo, Ill., touring the historical sites and participating in two sealing sessions in the Nauvoo Temple. Photo courtesy John Lewis.

On June 27, 1844, the prophet Joseph Smith was martyred.

On June 27, 2002, the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple was dedicated.

         This year, on June 27, 2013, Mary Riggs, and her son, John Lewis, members of the Udall Ward, Mesa Stake, traveled to Nauvoo to commemorate those two events—and to celebrate another milestone.

It was also on June 27—in 1911, 102 years ago—that Sister Riggs was born.

To mark her 102nd birthday, she and John spent the day touring Nauvoo and attending the Nauvoo Temple where they participated in two sealing sessions.

“I just felt like the trip was something that needed to be accomplished,” says Brother Lewis, who has been a fulltime caregiver for his mother for the past seven years. “Some of our ancestors were there in Nauvoo, and I felt like it was important to go back and take mother for her birthday.”

They flew into St. Louis, rented a car and drove to Keokuk, Iowa, 12 miles outside of Nauvoo, where they stayed in a hotel.

Then, “When we got to Nauvoo, it was like being with family, like being back in the Udall Ward,” John says. They met and were escorted around Nauvoo by John’s cousin, Bethleen Swapp, who had grown up in Mesa, now lives in New Mexico, and was serving a mission with her husband in Nauvoo. Brother Lewis soon learned that Sister Swapp’s parents—Lee Ross and Mabel Jones, from their ward in Mesa, were visiting in Nauvoo at the time, as was Kay Chapman, Sister Riggs’ visiting teacher.

John knew that traveling with a centenarian could be challenging, yet, “Everything worked out so well. The good Lord was really with us all of the way,” John says.

            Brother Lewis also has felt the hand of the Lord while caring for his mother over the years.

            “I owe someone big time for giving me her as a mother,” Brother Lewis says. “She is a little dynamo, just a little precious thing. I get much more from caring for her than I am ever able to give.”

John adds, “She is such a spiritual person; she has always known what the Church was and that’s what she radiates.”

For Sister Riggs, her Church ties and the roots of her testimony go back to her pioneer heritage. Her first great grandfather, Joseph Leland Heywood, was acquainted with Joseph Smith and became the first U.S. Marshall of Utah. She also was related to well-known pioneer, Levi Savage, whose son, Levi Mathers Savage, was a bishop in Woodruff for 25 years.

Mary married Chester Lewis in California in 1933. Together, they had eight children, John being the youngest. Two are now deceased. Chester built the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Ariz., and six additional Wigwam Villages over a 20-year period. The family continues to run the motel in Holbrook. After Chester died in 1986, Mary married Don Lynwood Riggs in 1992. He died about nine years later. Today, Mary has 36 grandchildren, 70 grandchildren and an increasing number of great great-grandchildren.

            Until she fell last year, Sister Riggs was attending the Mesa Temple to do sealing sessions every day it was open. Today, she and John take daily “walks” around the Temple, with John pushing her in her wheelchair. And, she has recovered enough that she and John do sealings together two or three times a week.

“When it comes to spiritual things, she never gets enough. She is hungry for it,” John says, adding that her love of the temple has enriched his life.

            “The temple brings you closer to God,” Mary says.  “It’s the best place in the world to be.”

The Beehive

The Arizona Beehive is a complementary East Phoenix Valley LDS lifestyle and living publication, published six times a year, featuring content on people to meet, places to explore, events to attend and businesses to patronize.