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Utah, LDS historian won acclaim

Published October 12, 2010 1:26 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A Utah clinical audiologist whose work chronicling Utah and Mormon church history earned him awards and acclaim has died.

Richard S. Van Wagoner died unexpectedly Sunday at his home in Lehi, his daughter Jenny Woods told The Associated Press. He was 64. An official cause of death was not immediately available.

As a historian and author, Van Wagoner was widely published in journals chronicling the history of Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the Utah Historical Quarterly, Dialogue and Sunstone. He served on the board of the Utah-based publishing house Signature Books.

Van Wagoner was best known for his books Mormon Polygamy: A History and Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, which was named best book by both the Mormon History Association and John Whitmer Historial Association.

He had recently published the five-volume The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, in which Van Wagoner suggests that Young's organizational talents contributed more to the rise of Mormonism than the efforts of Joseph Smith, its founder.

Van Wagoner also served as an unofficial historian for the city of Lehi and authored, Lehi: Portraits of a Utah Town, and other works about the community.

On Monday, Utah historians mourned Van Wagoner's loss, calling him a rare historian whose scholarly works had become classics of Mormon history. "I've long considered Richard one of the finest historians of my generation and a helluva nice guy to boot," historian Will Bagley said in an e-mail to the AP. "His contributions to Mormon and Utah studies are beyond measure."

In his professional life, Van Wagoner was an audiologist. Since 1977, he had owned the Mountain West Hearing Center in Salt Lake City.

A fifth-generation Mormon and a self-described "rock-ribbed skeptic," Van Wagoner was a Utah native.

He is survived by four children, 11 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

Woods said a funeral is planned for Saturday in Lehi.