Ron Romig: Scholarship Catalyst, Scholar, and Missionary

Ron RomigThe Acknowledgments section of my very first essay in Mormon history begins:

Ronald E. Romig of the Community of Christ Archives suggested this project to me when we met on April 6, 2003. From that moment to the present, his assistance in moving the project forward has been invaluable.[1]

My indebtedness to Ron is hardly unique. In a quick perusal of acknowledgments sections of books and journals in my own library, Ron’s name shows up more than a dozen times. These works individually acknowledge Ron’s contribution to their creation, but they barely scratch the surface of the overall contribution Ron has made to Mormon studies in general, both as a scholar himself, and (even more importantly) as a catalyst for scholarship.

It is this overall contribution that we need to acknowledge today, because after more than twenty years of work in the Community of Christ Archives, Ron will be taking early retirement at the end of next month — a casualty of steep budget cuts the church has been forced to make due to the current economic recession.

For those of you who don’t know Ron or haven’t had the pleasure of being helped by him, I’d like to briefly list a few of his accomplishments before telling my own Ron Romig story.

A prolific scholar in his own right, Ron has published multiple articles in all the Mormon studies journals, large and small: Dialogue, the Journal of Mormon History, Sunstone, the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, Restoration Studies, Mormon Historic Studies, Saints Heritage, and the like. He’s also the editor of a growing series of brief documentary histories that attempt to put primary sources in the hands of the general reader: Emma’s Nauvoo, Emma’s Family, Lucy’s Nauvoo, and Alexander: Joseph & Emma’s Far West Son (forthcoming). Through the Mormon Missouri Frontier Foundation, he’s produced a number of booklets on the Missouri Mormon experience and he’s probably the foremost expert on early Jackson and Clay County periods. His full-length biography of Book of Mormon witness and dissenter John Whitmer, the first Mormon church historian, is in the final stages of editing.

His work in the archives itself — acquiring, preserving, cataloging, digitizing, and making artifacts and texts available — has been of incalculable direct aid to scholars, as the many acknowledgments I mentioned at the outset of this post testify. Beyond this, Ron’s support of independent scholarly institutions has been unceasing. Ron is the current president of the Mormon History Association (MHA), a rare and high honor in our field. Simultaneously, he is vice president of the Missouri Mormon Frontier Foundation, which places markers and monuments at historic sites. In addition, he’s a past president of the John Whitmer Historical Association, and a regular attendee and presenter at Sunstone Symposia.

For myself, I can’t acknowledge enough the influence Ron has had on my own path. As I mentioned above, I met Ron at the Community of Christ Temple in Independence, Missouri, on April 6, 2003. At the time, my only work in the field of church history was a volume of my own family history. I had read a lot and I knew Ron by name and reputation, but I’d never met him or any of the other authors whose books and articles I’d read. I went to Ron hoping to track down information on the location of my great great great great grandparents’ farm near Far West, in Caldwell County, Missouri. Ron was immediately able to identify the location for me — in fact, he had co-edited an index to the land records for Caldwell County.

After I showed Ron my family history volume, he strongly encouraged me in my research. He also urged me (more than once) to attend the MHA conference that was to be held the following month in Kirtland (just a few hours’ drive from my house in Ann Arbor) and the JWHA conference later that fall in Missouri. I wasn’t particularly interested. I’d attended several conferences on medieval history (my field of graduate study), but I never felt like I’d gotten much from them. Ultimately, I did decide to drive down to Kirtland the Saturday after MHA started.

My expectations were low, but I was absolutely blown away by the welcome and the experience of that first MHA. After a whirlwind day of meeting, visiting, and sharing stories and research, I decided I would have to go back to Missouri that fall and attend the JWHA conference that Ron had similarly praised. Surprisingly, given my heightened expectations, my first JWHA was even more incredible than MHA had been. I felt like I met and had deep discussions with everyone whose book I’d read. At the end of the conference, Jan Shipps (then incoming president of JWHA), invited me to serve on her program committee, and Marty Bradley (then president of MHA) invited me to present at her conference. What I’d truly found was an incredible fellowship among the Mormon historians’ community.

Before I met Ron I hadn’t imagined that I would have any meaningful involvement with the Mormon historians’ community, with JWHA, or with the Community of Christ. Those connections, however, have subsequently become core components of my life. Which brings me to one last role that Ron has been playing all of these years, that of missionary.

I don’t here intend to second guess Community of Christ leaders, who were faced with terrible choices. I’m quite sure that every person they had to let go could not be spared. But in looking for places to cut, I wonder if they might not have underestimated the pivotal role Ron has played as a missionary — not just for church history, but also for his church. He is certainly the missionary that connected me both to church history and to the Community of Christ.

I’ve often teased Ron that if he labored all his days and only ended up with me from his mission work, “how great his joy would be with me in the kingdom of heaven.” But the truth is that with all the great work he’s done, we would never be alone.

* * *
Additional Notes: The AP has picked up Ron’s story. Also, as Jared T points out on JI and as Ardis points out on Keepapitchinin, a number of scholars have begun a letter writing campaign to encourage Community of Christ leaders to reconsider their decision. If you feel inspired to do the same, Jared has instructions in his post.

[1] This essay originally appeared in a 2004 booklet entitled, Northeast of Eden: A Historical Atlas of Missouri’s Mormon County. It was published in Mormon Historical Studies 9, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 15-38, as “Mapping Mormon Settlement in Caldwell County, Missouri.”

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  1. Amen.

  2. Thanks for this, John. My own interaction with Ron has been quite limited (primarily just saying hello at conferences), but I am certainly not ignorant of his importance to the field of Mormon history. Yours, Jared’s, and Ardis’s posts are but a few of many such examples demonstrating that importance.

  3. Thanks for this, John.

  4. Mark Brown says:

    John, thank you for this tribute to Br. Romig.

    Years ago, I walked into his office without an appointment. He took time to speak with me and give some direction, and I have appreciated him ever since. He will be missed.

  5. Great tribute, John. Ron got us a superb picture of the Mansion House for our documentary. He was a joy to work with.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I only know Ron well enough to say “hi” to at conferences, but I remember once when I was trying to get materials on the Kirtland Hebrew School that he very graciously gave me copies of what he had. Certainly a gentleman and a scholar he.

    (My very first MHA was also that year in Kirtland. Tremendous fun!)

  7. Thanks for this, John; like Chris, I’ve had limited experiences with Ron, but I’ve always seen him as one of the (approachable) giants in the field.

  8. What a great man. Thanks for writing this, John.

  9. Nicely written John. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences about him.

  10. Thanks for the post. I’ve been hearing about Ron’s goodness for about ten years. It was nice to finally meet him at MHA this year.

  11. Thanks for introducing him to me, John. I’m not a historian, but clearly he is someone who has blessed us all with this research.

  12. May be, you will want to consider a modest fundraising campaign to preserve Ron Romig’s position.

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