By Elizabeth Saede
July 4th, Independence Day, celebrates the birth of the United States of America, an inspired country with individual freedoms and government representation. The audacious experiment in self-governance continues, almost 250 years later, protecting its citizens’ life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Countless patriots have sacrificed to preserve what we collectively hold sacred at home and around the world.
Dennis Schleicher drove from the East Coast to Utah in July for a series of business meetings. He arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the 24th, a weekday when businesses were closed, and vibrant parades filled the streets. He asked what was going on. “Pioneer Day,” the woman replied with a smile. Floats, decorations, and costumes with an 1860s pioneer theme filled the streets, and everyone seemed happy, so he ordered lunch from a food truck and joined the fun.
Pioneer Day is a celebration of the same individual and collective freedom to live and worship that the U.S. celebrates on July 4th. Weary travelers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah in 1847 after months of crossing uncharted, dangerous territory to escape mortal persecution. The arduous trip cost lives, but what awaited them was priceless. They viewed arrival in a new homeland with immense gratitude, much like the Pilgrims who, in the 1600s, traveled for months across a treacherous ocean to escape state-sponsored religious persecution. In 1776, freedom-loving Patriots fought against Great Britain’s control on this same continent to create a new country. Each of these groups contained farmers and business people willing to sacrifice all they had for the freedom to thrive or fail. Many who undertook the perilous journey into the American West brimmed with faith. Still, Pioneer Day celebrates the strength and courage of all who immigrated to the Salt Lake Valley, regardless of religion or nationality.
What does it take to be a modern-day pioneer? Identify a better direction than your current trajectory and take it, even without support from family or friends. Life changes may involve moving, employment, education, or a new faith, but always require commitment and hard work.
Dennis Schleicher became a pioneer when he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an openly gay man. Was he crazy to make such a big decision? He says, “I learned how the oppression early church members felt was the same as I experienced in public school and my family. Latter-day Saints helped me see and accept myself as a true child of God. They’re my true family and accept me for exactly who I am.” Does Dennis, who lives in New England, embrace the spirit of Pioneer Day? Yes, but not with hot dogs and potato salad. He reflects how his path through hardships and persecution led him to a spiritual place of peace. He hasn’t physically relocated but is worlds removed from when he first visited Utah. Stories of early and modern pioneers inspire him. The Pilgrims, Patriots, and Pioneers forged inspired paths to a brighter future. Courage, in the face of opposition, is something we can all celebrate and choose to emulate. Jello salad is optional.