Friday, September 12, 2008

The 11th Ward – The Original Singles Ward in Albuquerque

I attended the Albuquerque 11th Ward, a now-defunct singles ward in the Albuquerque Stake, during the summer of 1981 and, then, the two-year period between May 1982 and May 1984. The ward met at the old Indian School seminary building on the corner of Cutler Avenue and 9th Street NW (which building the church no longer owns). Since it was the only unit that met there, it kept the same “optimal” Sunday meeting schedule (10 am to 1 pm) the entire time I was there, and in addition maintained the “traditional” order of meetings (priesthood meeting [and Relief Society], followed by Sunday School, with sacrament meeting at the end).

Initially, 11th Ward was a fun and exciting place to be, and I enjoyed most of the activities and being around other young LDS single adults. My closest friends there were Tracy Carroll and Ken Mantlo, whose father Dick was bishop of the ward until he was called in 1982 to the stake presidency of the then-new Albuquerque South Stake (being succeeded as bishop by Tony Aguilar, who was later called to be president of the South Stake). I regret to say, however, that eventually the social aspects of membership in the ward almost completely overwhelmed the spiritual aspects, to the point where about all we did was have fun, often with pretty irreverent overtones.

Still, the ward served its purpose in marrying off lots of couples, even if I wasn’t able to find the right girl there. I can’t remember how many girls there were in the ward in whom I had a passing romantic interest, but three stand out in my mind now. The first was Barbara T______, who I think was from the old 3rd Ward and graduated from West Mesa HS. Barbara was the object of my attentions in the summer of 1981 (and beyond), although she paid only enough attention to me to "keep me hanging on"; I don’t know what became of her, although she moved to Denver and may still live there. The second was Sue A______, who was from the old 1st Ward (having graduated from Highland HS) and was on a mission to Argentina when I first attended the 11th Ward in 1981. Sue, who was a dental hygienist when she and I dated, later went to law school at BYU and became a successful medical-malpractice defense attorney, and I think she married a doctor. The third was Shawna M______, a pretty girl (originally from the old 8th Ward and, at that time, a recent graduate of Eldorado HS) who was (a) rebellious (and thus "dangerous"), and (b) six years my junior. I went fairly ga-ga for Shawna in the summer of 1983, even though she was headed to BYU and I knew things would never work out. She may live in the Pacific Northwest now, but I really don't know. I still have fond memories of all three of these girls -- I wouldn't guess whether they'd say the same about me -- even though my marrying any of them probably would have been a disaster (for both parties) in the end.

Some of my best memories of 11th Ward include the following. The many dances we had, including the memorable one at the Institute building that a number of us guys showed up for in drag. Going to movies at various theaters around town on dollar night (i.e., Tuesday). The “gong” show for which Ken, Tracy, and I put together a “punk” band called “Joe Regulator and the Little Factories” (which male church members will recognize as a reference to Boyd K. Packer's To Young Men Only). The New Year's Eve party in 1982/83 for which Jeff Jolley rented a suite at the Airport Marina Hotel. The Halloween party I went to dressed as a “blind cholo flasher.” (Of course, I did have clothes on under my overcoat, along with a sheet of paper pinned to my shorts that said "Sorry! You did not win this time! Keep trying!") The ward “movie night” for which five or six groups of people put together videos. (Bootleg copies of those videos have circulated for years -- man, I wish I had one!) The talent show in which some of us were Danielle Aleman’s backing group as she sang “Wedding Bell Blues” to her long-time boyfriend Jeff Jolley. (They later married and then divorced.) Hanging out with Dickerson Watkins, the coolest gay friend I’ve ever had (though none of us knew he was gay at the time). Ward campouts (a) up near Cuba (1981), (b) at Elephant Butte Lake (1982), and (c) in the Jemez Mountains (1983). (On the latter trip, Dickerson and Bob Lenberg came up with side-splitting alternative lyrics to the Bread tune “Diary,” which lampooned the ward [I found the bishop’s journal in a drawer / And started reading of our ward…] and various people in it, including me [...And Kevin Kartchner's got a new girl half his age -- a reference to Shawna M_______].) And numerous church basketball and softball games/tournaments, including the 1983 regional basketball tournament in Albuquerque (where I was voted to the all-tournament team), and the 1983 regional softball tournament in Sanford, CO (where, in a real travesty of justice, I most undeservedly won the MVP award).

The photos above are from the aforementioned overnight trip to Elephant Butte Lake in the summer of 1982; the girls "posing" with me in the first shot are Debbie Berger (L) and Yvonne Collyer (R). I'd ridden down to the lake earlier in the day with them and Danielle Aleman, and Danielle took the photo as we were joking around, waiting for everyone else to show up. Yvonne was going out with Ken Mantlo at the time, and Debbie was on what was then presumed to be a temporary hiatus from a long-term relationship with Mark Aguilar, so we were "just friends." (I honestly don't know what's become of Yvonne, despite the fact that I see her brother Tony quite frequently [and Dorine works every day with Tony's wife Tracy]. Debbie eventually married a fellow named Darrell Stephens, and I think they still live in the Albuquerque area.)

Things were never really the same in the ward for me after first Tracy, then Ken, got married, and I finally got tired of the dating scene -- or, in my case, the non-dating scene -- there. (The biggest factor, I remember, was feeling like I had lost face after making a fool of myself one too many times.)  Thus I finally went back to my home ward in May 1984 and started going out with Dorine; looking back, it's easy for me to see the hand of God in all this!

The 11th Ward limped on for several years in the mid-to-late 1980s, but finally it was disbanded, in part due to pressure from the Albuquerque East Stake leadership, who never seemed to like the fact that many of their young adults were attending a ward outside their jurisdiction. (I think we were having way too much fun from their perspective!) The East Stake later created its own singles ward (now known as the Eubank Ward), and I understand there is now also a west-side singles branch in the West Stake.

When the movie The Singles Ward came out in 2002, I tried not to like it, thinking it wouldn’t appeal to my sense of humor. However, the writers must actually have attended a singles ward at some point, because much of the satire was dead-on in my experience.