June 13, 1999 Interview with Susan and Georgenia Stewart
Georgenia Stewart: Would you tell us how you ended up settling in Kanab, Utah and becoming the sculptor of the Levi Stewart statue?
Searle: I would like to introduce another aspect of this, and that is the spiritual level. It goes back to World War II. I was in the Marine Corp. We were on our way to Iwo Jima, which was one of the most ferocious battles in world history. One night, a few days before the invasion, a small group of us were standing on deck talking about our chances of survival. The fellow standing next to me said, "Well, I was in the battle of Guadalcanal, and I lived through that. I'm going to come through this one." The fellow standing next to him said, "Well, I think I'll be wounded, but I'm going to come back." I said, "I'm not going to come back from this campaign." Well, with that the group broke up and went below deck and went to bed. Around the middle of the night I woke up with a severe stomachache. I went down to the sickbay. They took a blood test and said, "You've got acute appendicitis, and we've got to remove it now." So they did. The next morning they strapped me to a stretcher. They took me up on deck and they hung me to a crane and swung me out over the ocean, and it was a rough sea. I was swinging around there over the ocean and a seaplane came up. They maneuvered me from the stretcher into the seaplane. Then they took up off to a hospital in Spain. 60,000 men were going to hit that beach. As far as I know I was the only one who was denied the right to fight with his comrades. I was really looking forward to this fight. I was in the hospital all alone. My buddies, my comrades, started coming in, one without a foot, one without a leg, one without an arm. They had riddles throughout their bodies from machine gun fire. Some of them died in the hospital. I said, "Why was I saved? Why was I denied the right to do battle with my comrades?" I asked this of God, but God didn't answer me. So time passed. We went back to our base in Hawaii, and we prepared for the invasion of Japan. The atomic bomb was dropped, and we went on to Japan. We became the first occupying forces there. When the war was over, I kept asking this question, "Why was I saved, and my buddies, so many of them were lost?" Again no answers. So I mustered out of the service. I got married and had children. None of these things were extraordinary but I always felt that God had something special for me to do. I didn't hear God say that but I had that feeling. I did lots of sculpturing but none of the sculptures were the kind of thing that was special. Finally, I read in the paper about a monument, an Iwo Jima flag-raising monument, which was to be constructed in the Hartford, Connecticut area. I thought, "This is my opportunity to do something for the guys that died." I wrote a letter to the President of the Iwo Jima Survivors Association. He wrote a letter back to me saying, "I'm sorry, we've already written a contract for this Iwo Jima monument. I've enclosed an application and I'd like you to fill it out for membership in the IwoJima Survivors Association." So, I did. Pretty soon I was nominated to the Executive Committee and became an Artistic Consultant for the park. But this was still not what I had in mind as a very special thing. When I retired and we thought we should move to another place. We went to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Northern California, and Oregon. Finally my wife, Laura, said, "Look, I'm sick and tired of looking for houses. Why don't we see some of these National Parks." There was a cluster of National Parks in southern Utah, so we went to southern Utah and stayed in Kanab. While we were there I said, "You know, let's look at property around here." So we did. We looked at a couple of sites, but we didn't stay long because we had an appointment with a real estate broker up in Provo. We were just about ready to buy a house in Springville, but something happened and that fell through. At this point our plane from Las Vegas was due to go back east. One the way back we stayed in Kanab and decided to look at the lots again. The one we liked bast was still available on Stewart Drive. The first coincidence you might say was the Iwo Jim thing. The second coincidence was that we picked a lot on Stewart Drive. The third coincidence was that the city of Kanab wanted a sculptor, and a sculptor came all the way over from the East Coast to live in Kanab. The fourth one is that the Levi Stewart lost five sons in a fire, and I lost a daughter in a fire. Now this is more than a coincidence. This is almost miraculous. That is why I very much want to do this piece.
Georgenia: So how did they approach you to do this piece?
Searle: Jim Bentley of Kanab, Utah approached me with two ideas. One was Jacob Hamblin; the other one was George Wesley Powell. He also mentioned the Indians. When I read about Levi Stewart there was no question. Levi and I share something. That was it.
Georgenia: Why did you sculpt Levi with upstretched hands, as if in prayer?
Searle: Well, first I did Levi Stewart with praying hands. The Bishop of the Mormon Church came and looked at the sculpture and he said, "We don't pray like that." I took him in the house and showed him a picture from an Ensign magazine of Joseph Smith under a tree. (This was a picture of Joseph praying in the Grove of Trees). You could see he was communicating to God. He was looking up with outstretched arms. I showed this to the Bishop, and he said, "Fine, do it this way." Now, Stewart wants answers from his God so I didn't have him kneeling. He wants to get as close to his Heavenly Father as he can. Having two feet on the ground isn't close enough, so he's got one step up, expressing that idea of I want to get up there close to you to hear what you have to say.
Georgenia: Levi lost his wife Margery and five sons in the Kanab Fort fire in December 1870. Just one month preceding the fire he had lost another son. I've often wondered how you can loose just one child and get over it but Levi lost 14 of his 28 children and two of his wives. Jacob Hamblin makes a comment in one of his journals that he was out in the hills one day and he looked out into the field and he saw Levi Stewart praying. He was sobbing his heart out asking his Maker to give him the strength to go on after the fire. He is a fitting person to honor.
Susan Stewart: You felt like your purpose was to do this. Why do you think the Lord wanted you to do that?
Searle: I don't know why. I just know that this is what He wants. This is it. I'm reaching the end of my life, right? All my life I've been looking for this, for something to do special for Heavenly Father and this is it.
Georgenia: Searle and his wife are not LDS. That is what makes this even more interesting to me. Searle, it is wonderful that you feel closeness with your Maker, that you would recognize His hand in your life. I truly believe that God puts us in different places where we can make a difference. There are some things that only we can do. I think if we stay close enough to Him, and are prayerful enough in our lives, He will direct us. You could have lived in any one of those states and never have found this.
Searle: I didn't know what was happening. When we bought that lot on Stewart drive, I had never heard of Levi Stewart. These amazing things have happened, and I can't explain why.
Georgenia: In your lifetime you might not see the benefit of your efforts. I guarantee you that all those who come to that park, even if it's only his relatives, will draw closer to their kin and their own families. It will have a great effect.