Helping bridge a religious divide

Woman hoping to unite FLDS, ex-FLDS through new library

Deseret Morning News, Utah/February 1, 2008

Colorado City, Arizona - The log building on the corner of Central and Johnson streets has sat empty for years. Now, it's going to become the new Hildale/Colorado City public library.

"We're dang excited," Stefanie Colgrove said Thursday as she carried another heavy box of books into the building. "Thank you to everyone who donated. It's wonderful. It's just amazing."

Thousands of books have been donated to help rebuild the library, which closed years ago and the books disappeared. Some claim Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs had them destroyed.

Colgrove hatched the idea to rebuild the library, and local nonprofit groups started a community book drive. After a story appeared in the Deseret Morning News, they were flooded with book donations from all over. Paul Murphy, the Utah Attorney General's Safety Net coordinator, filled the back of a pickup truck with boxes of books and drove them to Colgrove's Hildale home.

"I didn't even bring them all," Murphy told her. "There's probably another truck full."

"Can you believe how many people?" she said.

"And there's more wanting to donate."

Colgrove's mother asked the fiduciary for the court-controlled United Effort Plan Trust to give her an old school building built by her father to serve as the library. The UEP Trust controls homes, businesses and property in these border communities. The courts took control in 2005 after allegations surfaced that Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders mismanaged it.

"It's been sitting six years with nothing happening, cobwebs growing," she said as she stood inside the chilly, empty building. "My mother went to Bruce (Wisan) and said, 'I need this building. I want to do something with it."'

Colgrove said Mohave County's library system has agreed to help set the library up, and it will be open to everyone.

"This is a great opportunity to bring the community together," said Jane Irvine, the director of community outreach for the Arizona Attorney General's Office. She helped carry boxes of books into the new library.

It's Colgrove's latest effort to bridge the religious divide between FLDS and ex-FLDS in this community. At times, it seems the divide could better be described as a canyon.

Colgrove grew up Stefanie Williams in Colorado City and was married into a plural family at age 19.

"I just didn't mesh, so I left," she said in a recent interview with the Deseret Morning News.

She eventually wound up in Pahrump, Nev., where she met her husband, Brad.

"The first time he came to meet my family, I said, 'This is my mother and this is my other mother.' And he says, 'Oh, that's what polygamy is,"' she said with a chuckle.

The couple has seven children of their own. Eventually, they moved back to Hildale where she also took in her cousin.

"My roots are probably as deep as anybody. My great-grandpa's Leroy S. Johnson, one of the founders of the society," she said. "My roots are deep. I like it here."

Living in Hildale hasn't been easy at times. As an outsider now back in, she was first ostracized by diehard FLDS members. Colgrove blames Jeffs for creating the divide, saying he broke apart families and cast others out of the faith.

"He took a lot away. He put the fear of God into people instead of the love of God," she said. "God doesn't want people to fear him. He wants people to love him."

Jeffs is now serving prison time for rape as an accomplice, having been convicted of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. Lately, Colgrove says people on both sides of the fence are starting to talk to each other. Murphy praised Colgrove for doing her part to help.

"Stefanie is someone who is making a difference in her community," he said. "She is showing that one person can make a difference."

The Colgroves live in a large home in Hilldale they acquired by signing papers with the UEP fiduciary. She named it "Affinity House" and originally planned to open the lending library there. "Affinity, it means kinship," she said.

The Colgroves have been taking classes to become foster parents. She's also joining in community teas that bring women in and out of the FLDS Church together.

"We just sit and visit talk and get back to human stuff," she said.

Others who work in the community are praising her efforts.

"She doesn't know how to stop," said Kim Nuttall, the victim advocate for the Mohave County Attorney. "She loves this place like so many people do and this is just a natural outcome."

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