Joanne Koegler can trace her heritage in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to 22 early Church pioneer ancestors that crossed the plains or had part in a wagon or handcart trek. Her husband, Peter has none. Yet, it is Peter’s ancestors the Koeglers chose to feature in a movie about pioneers. “This was a story that needed to be told,” Joanne says.
Koeglers were fulfilling an assignment to get their stake youth excited about an upcoming pioneer trek, but nothing they thought to do for the kickoff fireside would come together. “We wanted to do something different. We’d asked each youth to find a pioneer family name to bring with them as they trek, to tell their story and just remember and honour them.” Just a few days before the fireside, it occurred to Joanne that not everyone has Utah Pioneer heritage, but that each of them had someone, somewhere that left behind an old life in order to set upon the journey of “saints” when they joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—pioneers in their own right. “I started thinking about all those kids who don't have family that crossed the plains; maybe they are the first generation themselves, or their parents or grandparents. Those people are the pioneers in their families. They had to make sacrifices as well. They might have had to leave their families or familiar friends. I woke up in the night and thought ‘I need to focus on the modern- day pioneer story of conversion.’ Then it hit me, we need to share the Koegler family's conversion story. Then, I thought it would be great to make a movie about it.”
With just days until the fireside, the Koeglers gathered a cast and crew of neighbours and recreated on video the story of Peter’s father, Siegfried and his wife, Elizabeth who each came to Canada in the 1920’s with their families as small children, Siegfried from Germany and Elizabeth from Yugoslavia. They met and married August 7, 1943 in Waterloo, Ontario Canada. Sig, as he was called, studied as a pediatrician. He and Elizabeth went to England for his residency. While he was in England, Sig’s mother and younger sister joined the Church, but with little apparent effect on the rest of the family. Sig and Elizabeth moved back to Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario. After the births of three boys, the couple figured they were finished with their family. Sig devoted himself to a private pediatric practice and worked hard to support his family. He looked for a church to join, but felt that there wasn’t a church that functioned as described in the Bible; including the existence of apostles and baptisms by immersion. Life was busy and it carried him away.
One day in 1959 at the table during lunch, the middle son, Trevor asked his dad, “Why don’t we go to church? Every Monday the teacher always asks us what we learned in Sunday school and I can never put my hand up.” Sig and Elizabeth thought about the son’s comments. Sig remembered that his father always read from the Bible and taught his children to read as well. Sig realized he hadn’t done the same for his children. The couple agreed that they needed religion in their lives.
Now Sig wanted the meat of the gospel, not just the milk, but didn’t want his family taught until he knew for himself that this was the true church. Once he knew that, he let the rest join the missionary discussions. The four family members of age joined church on April 19, 1959. “I found out from an entry in the journal of one of the missionaries that baptized him, Elder Overson, that Sig read the Book of Mormon twice from the time he first got it to his baptism date—just 6 weeks,” Joanne notes. One year later, the Koegler family all flew to Salt Lake City, Utah where President Monson, who was the mission president in Toronto Canada Mission when they joined the Church, sealed the family in Salt Lake Temple. Gratefully, two more children were born into the family, a girl and a boy—Peter. Thanks to his courageous “pioneer” parents, Peter grew up with the gospel taught and lived in his home. He and his wife Joanne continue this blessing in their own family. Peter and Joanne hoped the video could help others feel the joy of the spiritual journeys of their own pioneer ancestors.
To present the concept of “modern-day pioneer” to the youth of their stake, Peter and Joanne began the fireside discussion dressed in traditional pioneer clothing. “We paused and Peter said, ‘You don’t have to push a handcart to be a pioneer. Maybe you are the pioneer in your family.’ Then he took off his pioneer vest and put on his doctor coat, like the coat his father wore and we showed the video,” Joanne says. “We told them ‘everyone’s had to make sacrifices to join the Church whether you came across the plains or had to change your friends or lifestyle to be a member.’”
Reflecting on the experience, Joanne testifies, “As we filmed our little video, my husband wept. He realized that it wasn’t a random incident that the missionaries came to their door just when his mother and father wanted religion. Although both Sig and Elizabeth have passed away, you could feel their presence and approval as we made this movie. Plus we've had some cool missionary experience just within our own family with this project. We had three kids on missions at the time we filmed it. Two daughters have since returned. I am so grateful for the two missionaries, Gary Magnuson and Leland Overson, both from Utah that came to the door of my in-laws 54 years ago. Because of their efforts, they blessed not only Peter’s parents’ family, but my family and all the people that my children baptized on their missions. I just kept thinking about our kids on missions and how they will also be remembered for generations in the families they have brought to gospel of Jesus Christ.