Mormon Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife Harriet were named Humanitarians of the Year by Catholic Community Services. The organization made the award during their annual dinner in November, 2012. They accepted the award on behalf of their church, which they said was the source of their desire to do humanitarian work. The Uchtdorfs are converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are often called Mormons. Prior to their conversion, they were Lutherans, and President Uchtdorf noted the unusualness of two former Lutherans, now Mormons, who were receiving an award from the Catholics, and also that they are Germans receiving an American award.
The Uchtdorfs are Germans who immigrated to the United States when President Uchtdorf became a full-time church leader. Mormon headquarters are in Salt Lake City, Utah. While most leaders are volunteers who work part-time in their own home areas, apostles are full-time volunteers and must relocate to Utah.
Both Uchtdorfs lived through World War II in Europe. President Uchtdorf was born in Czechoslovakia but immigrated to Germany at age four. His family became Mormons in 1947. He joined the German Air Force in 1959 and became a pilot. Today he is noted for his pilot stories, used to illustrate a variety of spiritual points. In 1964, he became a pilot for Lufthansa German Airlines. When called to be a Mormon General Authority, he was the senior vice president of flight operations and chief pilot of Lufthansa German Airlines.
He has a special place in his heart for the Church’s humanitarian aid program. As a child, he was a recipient of that program:
“Sixty-five years ago, shortly after World War II, I experienced firsthand the blessings of the welfare program of the Church. Even though I was a young child, I still remember the sweet taste of canned peaches with cooked wheat and the special smell of the donated clothing sent to the postwar German Saints by caring Church members from the United States. I will never forget and I will always cherish these acts of love and kindness to those of us who were in great need” (Providing in the Lord’s Way, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2011).
His wife Harriet also knew hardship in post-World War II Germany:
“In my early childhood however, times were different. World War II had just ended, and hopelessness and despair filled many lives in war-ravaged Germany. Economic hardship and poverty were ever present. My birthday was coming up just a few weeks before Christmas. In the face of scarcity and shortage all around, I did not expect any Christmas or birthday presents, knowing quite well, even as a young girl, that our parents were struggling to meet our very basic needs. In our big city hunger was always present. It was a sad and dark time of our lives.
On the day of my birthday, to my surprise and delight, a wonderful present — just for me — was placed on the kitchen table. It was the most beautiful present I could have imagined: a tiny little Weihnachtsbaum, just one foot tall, covered with delicate handmade ornaments of tinfoil. The tinfoil reflected the light of our living room in an enchanting way. As I inspected the tinfoil ornaments I realized with amazement that they were filled with small pieces of caramelized sugar. It was like a miracle. Where did my mother get the tiny evergreen tree, the tinfoil and the rarity of sugar?” (Gift Overcomes Post-World War II Poverty and Dispair, LDS Church News, 2009).
Having known need and the challenges of being a refugee, the Uchtdorfs are known for their desire to help others as they themselves were helped.
Read more about the humanitarian award for President Uchtdorf and his wife.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.