Far right: Kathryn Seely takes part in the commemoration program for her late husband, Montell Seely.
Attendees sing at the program for Montell Seely.
A commemoration program was held on Aug. 1 to remember the life of Montell Seely. Montell was the founder of the Castle Valley Pageant. The program of music and tributes was held at the Castle Valley Pageant site overlooking Emery County. A large group of friends and family members gathered to celebrate the life of Montell. The current pageant president is Mark Justice and he conducted the program. Jeff and Joyce Guymon sang the National Anthem. The opening prayer was given by son-in-law to Montell, Kyle Beagley. The Guymons sang, God Bless America.
The first tribute was given by Lee Jeffs, long time friend of Montell's. Jeffs said, "Montell was a man of vision. No doubt when he came upon this hill he had thoughts that the rest of us didn't have. This pageant has been a great thing for this valley. The prophets lived to old ages and the three Nephites are still walking around and are really old, but I think Montell was about 170 years old.
"In 2001 Montell went to Nauvoo. He wanted to help labor to rebuild the Nauvoo Temple. His hands were there doing that, but his heart was there in 1842. In 1997, Montell went to Nauvoo with a hand cart. He was pushing and pulling and his heart was in 1847. Thirty years ago he hiked on this hill and looked around. He put pen to paper and made a script, but his heart was in 1877 when the pioneers first came into this valley. Montell was placed here on earth to teach and if we would have listened more we would have learned a lot more. Someone said once, 'If you don't know where you've been, then how can you know where you're going.' Well, Montell knew where he had been. I've been involved with the pageant for the last 30 years except for the first year or two. It's been a wonderful experience. Sometimes, I've been on stage and sometimes off stage. Montell was always behind the scenes working to make this a better pageant and doing everything he could.
"What a tremendous thing this has been for our family. Our five children grew up doing the pageant. Pam and I grew old doing the pageant. When our family gets together, someone will always quote some lines from the pageant. 'She gets a little balky sometimes or 'She's out there falling in love with the countryside.' I spent a lot of time with Montell, up here at the pageant site and other places, punching cows, pack trips, camping and parades. We were in a lot of parades together. It's been a tremendous opportunity to be a part of the wonderful life that Montell led. He crammed 170 years into his 74 years on earth. He accomplished more than most people do in three lifetimes. I am grateful for the vision and what he taught and I am grateful for the gospel," said Jeffs.
Kenneth Christiansen said he first became interested in the pageant after a time when he was at an event where Montell came by and was giving hay rides. Christiansen went home and took some old harnesses out of the shed and began to try to hook them together. Montell put an interest there.
Christiansen came to the pageant and said it was too long and they sang too much. But, he became involved in the pageant during the 80s. He started loading the bell and bringing it up the hill to where it was placed in the bell tower. They don't do that part of the pageant any more, because the bell was pretty heavy. After getting the bell in place then, Ken would give wagon rides and this was the beginning of the present day pioneer village which is presented before each pageant showing. Montell had the inspiration to do a pioneer village and get the people who came to see the pageant involved in some hands on activities. Some people claim their favorite part of the pageant is the pioneer village. "My kids grew up doing the pageant. There are four generations in the pageant from our family," said Ken. He told of going to the hole in the rock area where Montell had been on a handcart trek, They found the tree that Montell had used to fix a handcart and they cut the tree down and hauled it home to Montell. "I want to thank Montell for all the work he has done for Emery County. In talking to people they will always tell you in some way they are related to Montell. I think we are all related to Montell," said Ken.
Mark Seely, Montell's son spoke next saying his father was always busy, he never once woke up and said, 'Well, I don't know what we're going to do today.' He always had a plan. "He could work me into the ground. He worked from sun up to sun down. Each summer he would work to get the pageant site ready. The sets for the scenes in the pageant were made out of plywood and each winter these would blow down the hill, so I had to go down and bring them back up. Dad decided we needed a real set and real buildings. He wanted to make the set permanent. He would say we want to give the people more than just a night of entertainment. We want them to have an experience, both physical and spiritual. We began with the dugout and the rock building. We gathered large piles of stones. It was no small task. It was my job as a 12 year old boy to mix the mud. I had a recipe of sand, gravel, and cement mix and water. My arms ached. It was not a fun job," said Seely.
Mark also told of other days at the pageant site where he grew weary from the work there and he wondered if they could go home. His Dad would tell him, that he could walk home at any time. But, Mark didn't ever walk home. He stayed at the pageant site with his Dad and he learned perserverance and any job worth doing is worth doing right.
Mark told the tale of a runaway asphalt smoother when they put asphalt down at the pageant site and how Montell moved out of the way just in time to avoid being run over by the machine. Mark ran to his Dad and gave him a big hug and told him how glad he was that he hadn't been run over. Mark told of the accomplishments his Dad had made in the next 16 years and how he was preordained to do many things. "We ought to live worthy so God can work with us and perform the work that's available to us," said Mark. He finished his remarks with the prayer that Joe offers from the pageant when he loses his baby to sickness. The group sang three songs including High on a Mountain Top, Called to Serve and Carry On. Montell's grand-daughter, Kari Thalman sang Shenandoah and The Lord is My Shepherd. Justice said that Montell was thrifty, hardworking and persistent. He remembers last summer they were pouring concrete for the cast room and they met at the pageant site at 5:30 a.m. because they weren't ready for the cement which was coming at 10 a.m. They got everything ready for the cement and then Montell offered them some warm water and day old twinkies he got out of the trunk of his car. "It was one of the best treats, I ever had. Montell worked beside us all day and he didn't wear gloves. He didn't stop all day. Any time there was a project at the pageant site, Montell was there. He put his shoulder to the wheel and got things done. At the time the church missionary department decided to hold the pageant once every two years, then Montell wrote a letter to the brethren. It was a great letter. I just loved him. We became good friends and I really miss him," said Justice.
Julie Johansen Love spoke next. She said she was honored to speak about a man who did so much for our valley. She remembered square dancing with Montell and Kathryn after she was first married. She said Montell always returned to the Castle Valley. Montell had a great love for his ancestors and helped fulfill the prophecy of turning the hearts of the children to the fathers and the hearts of the fathers to the children. The pageant has been a wonderful blessing to her family and she watched her children grow up while doing the pageant.
Julie said there were many things to work out over the years with the pageant. But, once she found Montell sitting on the hill crying happy tears and he thought the pageant was going to work, it had been born, so to speak. He told cast members it was their job to help the active have a spiritual experience. The pageant is a place to fellowship and inspire others. The missionary department encouraged the cast members in their costumes to walk among the audience members and greet them. This was a wonderful thing to do, Montell encouraged Julie, because Julie and others were hesitant to do so. But, it has turned out to be an enjoyable part of the pageant for the cast and audience members alike.
"Montell received many promptings to get us where we are today. The pageant site selection, the writing of the script. We are thankful he had Kathryn to help ensure the script was grammatically correct. I have so many memories of Montell and I can see him at various places on this pageant site. I see him driving the wagon with the white cover at the end. I see him in the scene where he shakes his boot, but the scene I remember most is Kathryn bringing him his dinner and as she hands it to him he answers with, 'Thank you sweetheart,'" said Love.
President Allan Sharp shared a few words with the audience. He said it was a joy to be associated with Montell and the pageant. He said he too, loved the letter that Montell wrote. He enjoyed sitting back and listening to Montell on a trip they made to Salt Lake to talk to Gerald Lund of the missionary department.
"There has never been a man with such tenacity. I learned a lot from him. He lived great and he died great. We knew exactly what he stood for. Think about what this pageant has taught us. We have learned wonderful lessons. Joe and Tilda were people who really lived, real people who had a baby die. Even good people who follow the prophet are called upon to make sacrifices. We need to sacrifice even when it's hard. The story of John and Clara is about Montell's ancestors. Clara left a four bedroom house in Sanpete County to come to Emery County and she said, 'Damn a man who would bring a woman to this God forsaken land. I have grown to love this place. You have to work at it.' When Montell took the completed script to Sister Driggs, she told him there wasn't any romance in the story and you have to have romance to make a story complete. Montell answered her there wasn't any romance in Emery County, just blood, sweat and tears. The wonderful story of Abe and Neva teach the value of a temple marriage. Thanks again, Montell. The story of the Indian Chief and his desire to learn the gospel teaches us many things. Thanks Montell, this life is much better because of you working to make this pageant. Let's all strive to be more like Montell Seely, he was a great man," said Sharp
Sharp went on to say that in a few years, a monument will be erected to honor Montell on the pageant site, for now there is a bulletin board with some of Montell's history and photos.