| Mission History |

A Tradition of Excellence:
A History of the Washington DC North Mission
“The Greatest Mission in the History of Life”

Thank you to Brother J.S. Armstrong, Executive Secretary to President Cooke,
and Sister Adele Connell, full-time Senior Missionary, for putting together
this wonderful history of the evolution of the Washington, D.C. North Mission.

Date: 16 May 2014

The Washington DC North Mission, also known to all who have been privileged to serve therein as the “Greatest Mission in the History of Life”, was created out of what is now the Washington DC South Mission in July of 1986. This was the start of the mission. At that time, it consisted of the City of Washington, along with substantial parts of the State of Maryland west of Chesapeake Bay, totaling approximately eight stakes. This mission serves those whose primary language is English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language. At one point, in the past, the mission also included a Vietnamese-speaking program. Our demographics represent a microcosm of the world. Our ethnic and cultural diversity is representative of the entire global community.

Called to preside over the newly created mission as its first president was Dennis E. Simmons, a practicing attorney in Las Vegas, NV. He served from 1986 to 1989. Following his service as mission president, he was called to the Second Quorum of the Seventy where he served until 2005. As an Emeritus Seventy, he subsequently served as President of the Logan Temple.

President Dennis E. Simmons

In 1986, the mission home and mission office were located in Silver Spring, MD, where they remained until approximately 1990. At that time, the mission home was relocated to its present address in North Potomac; and the mission office was moved to 904 Wind River Lane in an office complex located just off Quince Orchard Road near Kentlands. The move of the mission home was reportedly prompted by the need for a larger home to accommodate the needs of mission presidents with large families and to ensure proximity to the outstanding schools of Montgomery County, which is home to some of the nation’s best public schools. The mission office was moved to its present location at 11700 Falls Road in Potomac in May 2006 at a substantial cost savings to the Church.


Succeeding President Simmons as mission president was President William Robert (Bob) Wright, serving from 1989 to 1992. Prior to his call, he was a practicing attorney in Salt Lake City, Utah. His public service included that of being Chairman of the University of Utah’s Institutional Council and a member of the Utah State School Board. President Wright also served as Chairman of the Utah Republican Party from 1977 to 1979 and was a candidate for governor of Utah. It was during President Wright’s tenure that he met Gregory A. Prince, a prominent dentist and church historian residing in the Washington DC area. These two men began their collaboration on a ten-year project to produce the David O. McKay biography. President Wright was a friend of President Peter S. Cooke, who is currently serving as mission president. He passed away January 13, 2012 after a lengthy struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

President Robert (Bob) and Sister Janet Wright


President Wright was succeeded by President J. Michael Gottfredson, also a practicing attorney from Salt Lake City, who served as mission president from 1992 to 1995.

President J. Michael Gottfredson

Several major developments occurred during President Gottfredson's tenure as the result of the revival of proselyting activity in the City of Washington in the mid-1980s, which gradually led to a significant growth in Church membership. This growth resulted in the establishment of the Capitol Hill Branch about 1991 as well as the creation in early 1992 of the Mt. Pleasant I Branch (English) and Mt. Pleasant II Branch (Spanish).

The two Mt. Pleasant branches joined the Washington DC Ward, which had been established in the mid-1980s. That ward initially met in the J. W. Marriott Flagship Hotel at 14th St. and Pennsylvania Ave., NW before moving next door to the 9th floor of the National Press Club.

The Capitol Hill Branch was established in a rowhouse at 1230 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, whose
upper floors also served as lodging for as many as ten to twelve elders at one time. Legend has
it that Sister Gottfredson likened this living arrangement to a rowdy fraternity house and
permanently shut it down in her final official act as first lady and mission mom.

The two Mt. Pleasant branches were initially housed in a rowhouse on 14th St. NW opposite a
fire station and several blocks north of what is now the Columbia Heights Metro Station.
Missionaries also lived on the upper floors of the rowhouse for a period of time. Over the course
of the past two decades, that entire neighborhood has undergone a gentrification process and
has become a more culturally diverse neighborhood.

The above branches were relocated in early 1997 to the Holmead Chapel on Holmead Place,
approximately one block east and slightly north of the 14th St. rowhouse. This facility (which is
now used solely for district meetings) ceased to be used for Sunday meetings in October 2012 upon completion of the new 16th St. Chapel located at the corner of 16th and Emerson Streets NW. It should be noted that the Washington DC III Ward discontinued Sunday services in the Holmead Chapel in August of 2010 and held those meetings in the Chevy Chase Chapel until completion of the new 16th St. Chapel. The Mt. Pleasant II Branch (Spanish) remained in the Holmead Chapel until completion of the new facility. This move, by the Washington DC III Ward, was needed because of severe space constraints which made sharing a chapel extremely difficult.

Holmead Chapel

At times, correlation meetings were held in the foyer due to space limitations, requiring people to pass among members as the correlation meetings were in progress. Rumor also has it that if you could find a parking spot within a five-mile radius of the building, you were considered extremely blessed. One member (Brother J.S. Armstrong) reports that he would often drop members, missionaries and investigators off at the chapel and then drive to the Washington DC Stake Center to attend Sacrament Meeting (because of the lack of parking space at Holmead).

The 16th St. Chapel, a marvelous facility (which had been years in the planning, approval and construction process), was dedicated by Elder Quentin Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on Sunday, October 28, 2012. The dedication of the facility, which drew widespread attention and publicity (both locally and throughout the entire Church), was attended by a large number of high-profile members and Church leaders who participated in the program.

Approximately one month prior to its formal dedication, the 16th St. Chapel was the venue for an open house and ecumenical community, food-distribution service project.

A satellite unit of the Washington DC Ward was created in the Brightwood neighborhood of Washington DC in early 1993 in a rowhouse located at 720 Ingraham St., NW. It was run by the elders who resided there. In fact, their living room doubled as the chapel for Sunday services. At one point, the summer heat became so insufferable (in 1993) that the elders, by necessity, slept in the basement. The Stake President, Ralph W. Hardy, graciously authorized the purchase of a window air-conditioning unit to help alleviate these virtually unbearable living conditions.

This facility became the Brightwood Branch upon the creation of the District of Columbia District (as named by the brethren in Salt Lake) in May of 1994. The Saints continued to meet at this location for about one year until the branch was relocated to an old bank building at the corner of Georgia and Missouri Avenues, NW, where it remained until its dissolution in August of 2005. At that time, the Brightwood Branch was merged with the former Mt. Pleasant I Branch to create the Washington DC III Ward, which met at the “renowned” Holmead Chapel.

Brightwood Chapel

President Gottfredson was successful in his efforts to establish a mission district for the City of Washington in the spring of 1994, which remained in existence for a period of ten years until it was dissolved in May of 2004. This dissolution resulted in the return of the Capitol Hill and Anacostia Branches to the Suitland Stake. The Anacostia Branch had been created in the spring of 1995 with members taken from the pre-existing Capitol Hill Branch. The remaining units within the City of Washington were returned to the Washington DC Stake upon the dissolution of the District of Columbia District. Those units included the Mt. Pleasant I (English) and Mt. Pleasant II (Spanish) Branches, the Brightwood Branch, and the Chevy Chase Branch (which met at the historical chapel located at 5460 Western Avenue in Chevy Chase).

The spring of 1994 also brought another significant responsibility to President Gottfredson with the announcement by the brethren of the creation of the new Baltimore Maryland Mission, effective as of 1 July of 1994. Along with the monumental task of staffing and managing a newly-created mission district and handling the myriad of day-to-day responsibilities of all mission presidents, President Gottfredson was directed to allocate a certain number of missionaries to the new Baltimore mission. Even though the task was daunting, he welcomed new challenges with great relish and enthusiasm.


Succeeding President Gottfredson was President C. Terry Graff, an Executive with Weyerhaeuser Lumber in the Seattle, WA area, who served from 1995 to 1998. President and Sister Graff are the grandparents of Sister Meghan Graff who is serving as a missionary and trainer from 2013 to 2014 in the Visitors’ Center.

President Graff, as a former Stake President, had earned a stellar reputation for his success in reactivating many less-active members. Both he and Sister Graff devoted a considerable amount of their time, talents and energy to the Anacostia Branch, which had been created just less than three months prior to their arrival. They were often spotted at church services in Anacostia and at various other branch activities and made significant and lasting contributions to that unit of the church. President Graff passed away suddenly on May 23, 2009 while mowing his lawn in Federal Way, Washington.


Succeeding President Graff in July of 1998 and serving until July of 2001 was President Gary W. Farnes, who had been an executive with Intermountain Health Care in Salt Lake City, UT and later with the Holy Cross Health System in South Bend, IN. He worked at Holy Cross for three years prior to being called as Mission President. He often remarked that the Indiana experience of “living out of their comfort zone” in the mission field helped prepare him and Sister Farnes for their service in the Washington DC North Mission.

On a humorous note, President Farnes bore at least a passing resemblance to (then) President Bill Clinton and was mistaken for President Clinton on at least one occasion near the Holmead Chapel. Sister Farnes will always be fondly remembered for her energy, enthusiasm and creativity in helping the missionaries appreciate having the gospel in their lives.

President Gary and Sister Mary Farnes


Succeeding President Farnes in July 2001 and serving until July 2004 was President Michael B. Madsen, a former practicing OB/GYN physician in Salt Lake City. Shortly after his arrival, the horrific events of 9/11 occurred, necessitating the temporary relocation of missionaries living near downtown Washington, DC to safer lodging with other missionaries in more-outlying neighborhoods.

Then, just slightly more than a year later, President Madsen was confronted with the daunting responsibility of safeguarding his missionaries during the three weeks of terror caused by the sniper attacks.

President Michael B. and Sister Joan Madsen

This time period was one in which the entire Washington, DC metropolitan area was held hostage by unknown assailants who indiscriminately shot and killed numerous victims. Two of our sister missionaries were first-hand witnesses to one of these homicidal attacks. They were just a few feet away from one of the victims who was (ironically) a young LDS wife and mother. She was inflating her tires when she was shot while the sisters were pumping gas at the Shell Station on Connecticut Avenue in Kensington across the street from a favorite missionary hang- out, the Continental Sub and Pizza.

Like all their predecessors and successors, the Madsens were strong, nurturing, loving leaders who fulfilled their sacred callings with the greatest of honor. Sister Madsen was even known to go jogging with the young sister missionaries. She was a gracious lady in the truest sense of the term. During their tenure, as well as that of all our mission presidents, any parent could rest assured that their son or daughter was entrusted to the care of inspired servants of the Lord.


Succeeding President Madsen in July of 2004 and serving until July of 2007 was President William D. Price. His career included experience with Dean’s Photography, a family-owned business in San Diego, as well as public service in California State government. He also had experience as a faculty member teaching entrepreneurship in the Marriott School of Management, Brigham Young University.

President William D. Price

This was the third mission for President and Sister Price, who fulfilled a mission to Nauvoo at the time of the 150th anniversary celebration of the Mormon westward migration. They also served as public affairs representatives for the Church for a period of two years in conjunction with the Salt Lake Winter Olympics in 2002.

It was during the tenure of President Price that the current routine for missionaries was set in place with the elimination of the final night spent in the mission home. This change was recommended as a means of trying to help reduce the great responsibility placed on mission presidents’ wives. Another notable event during President Price’s tenure occurred during the fall of 2005 when the Laurel Ward (then a unit within the Columbia Maryland Stake and Baltimore Mission) was annexed by this mission. Subsequently, the Silver Spring Stake annexed the Laurel Ward from the Columbia Maryland Stake.


Succeeding President Price in July of 2007 and serving until July of 2010 was President L. Alma and Sister Marguerita Mansell, whose career in real estate included service as President of the National Board of Realtors. At one time, President Mansell had also served as the President of the Utah State Senate. The overall level of trust and obedience by missionaries was very high during President Mansell’s tenure. As a result of his strong belief in the reward system for exemplary behavior, the number of baptisms increased and obedience to mission rules and guidelines improved.

President L. Alma and Marguerite Mansell

Sister Mansell (who was born in Holland) migrated with her family to Utah as a young child and converted to the Church as a teenager. She’ll always be remembered for her warm, gracious, bubbly and loving personality.


President James R. and Sister Vicki Matsumori

Succeeding President Mansell in July of 2010 and serving until July of 2013 was President James R. Matsumori, whose professional background was in the field of investment banking. Sister Matsumori had previously served for five years as a member of the General Primary Board followed by five years as a counselor in the General Primary Presidency. Because of their Japanese-American heritage, they were instrumental in forging alliances critical to the Church’s future growth.


Succeeding President Matsumori in July of 2013 and serving at the time of this writing is President Peter S. Cooke of Salt Lake City, Utah. His professional background was in the field of commercial real estate, including the successful development of affordable housing. He also served with distinction for 39 years in the US Army Reserve where he was promoted to the rank of Major General. President Cooke commanded the former 96th Regional Readiness Command located at Ft. Douglas, Utah. President Cooke’s ties to the Washington, DC area (as a result of both his civilian career and military service) are great assets to the Church in this part of the Lord’s vineyard.

President Cooke’s military background provides him with vision and perspective. He has moved the missionary work forward at an accelerated pace. President Cooke has forged a newly-energized working alliance between the full-time missionaries and local Church leaders and members through the rollout of his strategic outline based on the Church’s program and website, “Hastening the Work”.

Prior to becoming a mother, Sister Cooke worked as a federal prosecutor and Assistant US Attorney for the District of Utah. She was later appointed as a member of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. Sister Cooke is from a well-known LDS family deeply rooted in the origins of the Church. Her father served as a Mission President in Geneva, Switzerland in the late 1960s. Her great-grandfather was Elder LeGrand Richards, an apostle and author of “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder”; and her great-great grandfather was Hyrum Smith, who was martyred with his brother, the Prophet Joseph Smith, at Carthage Jail.

Elder Richard’s book continues to make a profound contribution to the missionary effort in the Church. “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” was the writing that “sealed the deal” on the conversion of Brother J.S. Armstrong, currently serving as Executive Secretary to President Cooke, a newly-created position in the presidency, and author of this document. The counselors in the current mission presidency (President Marco Lorenzana and President Brian Williams) have served with the last three mission presidents (President Cooke, President Matsumori and President Mansell).

Since the Farneses left in 2001, President and Sister Cooke are the first couple to have presided over this mission with children still at home. The Cookes are highly-energized leaders with kind, open, engaging personalities to all with whom they interact, missionaries and members alike.


The jewels in the crown of this mission are, undoubtedly, the Washington DC Temple and Visitors’ Center. These two edifices are invaluable aids to the furtherance of missionary work in this area. Mission traditions include monthly “Why I Believe” Firesides to which missionaries can bring investigators and new converts. The entire mission also enjoys the opportunity to participate in temple ordinance work once every six weeks.

The annual “Festival of Lights” held each December at the Visitors’ Center annually draws more than 100,000 visitors. Highlights of the festival include nightly performances by outstanding musicians and instrumental groups. More than 600,000 lights illuminate the grounds. An outdoor nativity scene and display of international crèches inside the Visitors’ Center along with numerous Christmas trees decorated with a variety of themes contribute to the beauty and spirit of this annual event.

Festival of Lights

Visitors' Center

The many Senior Missionaries over the years have also played instrumental roles in contributing to the mission’s reputation for excellence through their work in the mission office, the Visitors’ Center and the National Archives. Senior missionaries also work in newly-created programs focusing on family history and military outreach. They also serve in the various wards and branches to which they are assigned. Senior couples who work at the National Archives are responsible for photographing records of our entire nation. Their work can be accessed by anyone.

National Archives


The Washington DC North Mission has historically been known for its high standards of personal behavior and adherence to strict dress codes. The mission is also well known for several traditions which have evolved over time. These standards and traditions have contributed to making this mission such a special place to serve.

The mission song, “Go Ye Therefore and Teach All Nations”, was written about 20 years ago. This established a great tradition which is still in use today. Another tradition of the mission includes annual outings to Washington Nationals baseball games which started in 2005. Additional traditions include semi-annual trips to Arlington National Cemetery for missionaries nearing the completion of their service. All of these traditions have enhanced the enjoyment of the missionary experience and secured the mission’s reputation for high morale and espirit de corps.

No mission history is complete without reference to the light-hearted nature of young missionaries. Notable instances of harmless pranks include a high-spirited Elder’s presentation of a beautifully-wrapped Christmas gift to a senior couple in the mission office. The couple receiving the gift made much ado about the thoughtful gesture. When they opened the lovely gift, everyone was highly amused to find a deer leg in the box! On another occasion, an elder impersonating a senior sister missionary from the mission office made phone calls demanding baptismal records using a female voice. He was so convincing that elders thought he was, in fact, the sister missionary. His comedic skills became infamous in the mission.

Coupled with its history of exemplary leaders, the Washington DC North Mission has the resources, including the implementation in early 2014 of Facebook and iPad technology for proselyting purposes, to ensure its ongoing reputation as a special place in the hearts and minds of all those who pass through its boundaries. All alumni (past, present and future) are steadfast witnesses to the fact that our mission truly is the “Greatest Mission in the History of Life.”