Former LDS leader, who had no children of her own but ‘mothered’ hundreds of thousands of girls, dies

March 19, 1931 — March 30, 2024: As Young Women president, Ardeth Kapp launched programs that became church staples.

For decades, a memorized theme, a logo, a set of eight values, and a goal-setting program known as “Personal Progress” had become such staples in the lives of adolescent Latter-day Saint girls that it seemed they had always been part of the church’s program.

These signature elements, however, were created or expanded in the mid-1980s by a trailblazing leader, Ardeth Greene Kapp, who became the ninth general Young Women president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and served until 1992.

And because Kapp, who died Saturday at age 93, had no children of her own, she “mothered” the hundreds of thousands of girls in her charge.

“She was one incredible woman,” recalled Dwan Jacobsen Young, whose time as the faith’s general Primary president overlapped with Kapp. “With her background in organizational behavior, Ardie brought an understanding and insight into part of the work. It was a great blessing to me and to others.”

The three women who led the church’s global organizations — including then-General Relief Society President Barbara Winder — met together regularly, Young said Monday. Listening to Kapp, “I felt like I was sitting at the feet of a genius — like in a university classroom.”

The Young Women leader’s presentations were “so warm and so engaging,” Young said. “She made everyone feel like they were important to her.”

Yearning for education

Young Ardeth was born and raised in Cardston, Alberta, yet left as a teen to attend Brigham Young Academy in Provo, where Dallin H. Oaks was a fellow student.

Oaks, now first counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency, even wrote in her yearbook, according to a 2020 interview in LDS Living, that she had “a wonderful soul,” her “most prized possession.”

Kapp continued her education at the University of Utah, earning a bachelor’s, then a master’s from Brigham Young University, both in curriculum development.

On June 28, 1950, she married Heber Kapp, who had been a missionary in her congregation when she was a teenager, in the Cardston Temple.

The couple were not able to have children, which was an ongoing sadness for them, Kapp said in the 2020 interview. They sought divine answers about whether to adopt, but said they got the answer not to do so.

So she became a kind of “surrogate mother” to her many nieces and nephews, Young recalled. “She mentored them. She taught them. She supported them.”

From 1972 to 1978, Kapp served in the Young Women general presidency. Within six years, she became the president.

At that time, future church President Gordon B. Hinckley assured the couple they “were on the right track and we would raise our children during the millennium when Satan was bound,” she told Morgan Pearson at LDS Living. “So we just had to hang onto that.”

Leading girls

(Michael J. Miller | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ardeth Kapp, center, poses for a photograph with others at the Utah Capitol in 1998.

One year into Kapp’s presidency, the church had its first Young Women satellite broadcast and, in 1986, it had its first Young Women worldwide celebration, “Rising Generation.”

The girls filled helium balloons and included cards with their statements of faith inside before sending them aloft.

During her presidency, she and her counselors introduced the motto “to stand for truth and righteousness,” and a logo, a torch that represents the light of Christ, inviting all to “come unto Christ.”

They also created a theme — “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father. ... We will ‘stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places ...’” — to be repeated every week by the girls. (Updated in 2019, the theme now refers to “Heavenly Parents.”)

Under Kapp’s leadership, the Personal Progress program — discontinued five years ago — was greatly enlarged, building upon eight values: “Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Knowledge, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, Integrity and Virtue.”

After Kapp completed her service, she and her husband became mission leaders in Vancouver, Canada, and later served as president and matron of the Cardston Temple.

(Thereafter, whenever she and Young met — Young and her husband had also supervised missionaries in Alberta — Kapp would break into “O Canada,” Canada’s national anthem.)

Heber Kapp died at 91 in 2017.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she celebrated her 90th birthday virtually.

A member of the Young Women general board said on that occasion that Kapp was “one of the most influential women of the church,” according to the Church News, and one of her “greatest qualities [was] always lifting others.”