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Mormon Empire: Florida: Tookie Gentry

Published March 30, 2008 12:08 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In rural Florida's Liberty County, Mormons make up more than 10 percent of the population. They are mayors, student body presidents, school board officers and basketball stars. On July 24, they dress like their ancestors for their annual Pioneer Day parade.

All of this can be traced to one man, James Edwin "Pat" Schuler, who joined the LDS Church in 1895 and raised five sons and five daughters in the faith. They had scores of children of their own and they all stayed in Liberty. By now, more than 100 of the Schuler clan attend one of three LDS wards there.

Schuler's granddaughter, Tookie Gentry, is the family matriarch and historian. She married Paul Gentry, a Mormon missionary from St. Thomas, Nev. ("I prayed him here") and raised 13 children, all in the church.

"Every time a new Baptist or Methodist preacher arrives, they pass out anti-Mormon literature," she says. "But every time they need a job done, they call on the Mormons."

It's good to be in the minority, says Gentry, who spends her days painting portraits of founder Joseph Smith. "You have to watch better and do better. The church has never been anything but an advantage to me."

- Peggy Fletcher Stack