It is no surprise that Elder Paul Edward Koelliker of the First Quorum of the Seventy, as the father of seven children and the former managing director of the Church’s Temple Department, said that family is everything and that the temple is all about nurturing and sustaining the family.
“The Lord in His tender mercies has really blessed our lives,” said Elder Koelliker. “We have regular family gatherings, and we go to the temple. Our children have their grandfather’s gift for storytelling, and they keep us laughing for hours.”
Born on March 12, 1943, in Pittsburg, California, Elder Koelliker was the oldest of five children born to Edward C. and Lois B. Olson Koelliker. The family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1945.
Elder Koelliker attended high school with his future wife, Freda Ann Neilson, but they didn’t date until they were students at the University of Utah in 1964. By then, Elder Koelliker was back from his mission to Berlin, Germany. He and Ann married in the Salt Lake Temple on March 18, 1966.
Of his mission, he says, “We met with people who had been thrust out of their homes. The meaning of family became evident to me as we taught families whose parents were on the other side of the Berlin Wall.”
A common comment over the years by children of Elder Paul E. Koelliker as they visited their father in his office in the Church Office Building was the neatness of his desk.
They marveled that at the end of the day their father, whose desk would often be buried under stacks of paperwork of the day, took time to carefully and thoughtfully organize each bit of paper into tidy piles for filing.
Orderliness, he said, tends to peace and harmony — crucial qualities of spirit for the director of the Church's Temple Department.
He wasn't obsessive compulsive about order, says his wife, Ann. Nor was he finicky. But in being organized, detailed and orderly, he created a calm at home and in the department.
Given Elder Koelliker's demonstrated propensity to neatness and order, Sister Koelliker said she learned to deal with such exacting standards, and sees her role in life as the one who "gives balance."
Elder Koelliker, whose call to serve in the First Quorum of the Seventy was announced April 2, 2005 during general conference, radiated a deepened sense of peace and contentment that comes of standing in holy places — including assisting President Gordon B. Hinckley in the dedication of 69 temples.
As managing director of the Temple Department, Elder Koelliker stood at the confluence of the greatest temple-building activity in the history of the world.
Named managing director of the department in November 1997, he was still figuring out his new bundle of keys when President Hinckley announced ambitious plans to construct 30 temples.
There were 51 operating temples at the time. When the dust finally settled nearly three years later at the end of the year 2000, there were 102. Another 18 have since been dedicated.
The story of this epic temple-building period, according to Elder Koelliker, was not told in the occasional 23-hour work day, or in the 23-day work period, but in the vision of the Lord's prophet.
Witnessing up close and firsthand the prophetic mantle of President Hinckley, Elder Koelliker shared a tender testimony of a humble servant of the Lord who has learned after years and years of service how to do what the Lord wants.
"He is the exemplar of hard work and steadfastness," Elder Koelliker said of President Hinckley. "The rest of us are just trying to emulate."
With the work of building so many temples shared with the Presiding Bishop's Office and the temple construction department, Elder Koelliker focused on preparing members to perform temple ordinances in places where previously there had been no temples.
"The challenge," he said, "was preparing people, who, in some cases, had little background in the temple ceremony. We learned in training sessions that some hadn't received their own endowments. They would be excused to attend a session for their endowments, then they would return to complete their training to become ordinance workers."
Elder Koelliker's experience after participating in nearly 70 dedications was that each was unique and specific for the area.
"A powerful, uplifting spirit was felt at each," he said, recounting how one woman of another faith returned 20 times during an open house, wondering what she felt and why she didn't want to leave.
Elder Koelliker was born March 12, 1943, in a military tent hospital in Pittsburg, Calif., while his father served in the military. He was reared in a hardworking family by parents deeply devoted to the gospel.
A testimony came easily to him in his youth. But it wasn't until serving a mission in 1964 in "a little bastion of freedom" in West Berlin, Germany, then something of an island of freedom inside the geographical borders of East Germany, that the truths of the gospel were seared to his soul.
There was something about living with a people surrounded by those who threatened their peace that brought the Cold War to stark reality for him and helped him cherish the blessings of freedom.
He remembers tracting with his companion one Sunday morning and meeting a family with two children. They told how the swift construction of the Berlin Wall about three years earlier had separated them from their newborn daughter who was recuperating with grandparents in a neighboring apartment building.
They told of the heroics of their young son who, one year later, snatched the girl from the communists by grabbing her and carrying her from the East German side of the train station to the West German side where the family awaited.
After three weeks of missionary discussions, the family was baptized.
Later, still as a missionary, Elder Koelliker accompanied the mission president to visit members in East Germany, the first visits they'd had in 10 years. One visit was made to Freiberg where they met on Primary-size chairs built out of the resourcefulness and skill of the members.
While there were no spiritual premonitions that a temple would be built in this rural city — a temple that would prove to be a great blessing to members long separated from the main body of the Church by the government — Elder Koelliker recognized these members as "a sacred set of people."
He remembered two sisters coming from Czechoslovakia to attend their first sacrament meeting since they had been baptized five years earlier.
"I'm convinced that the building of the temple in Freiberg had a lot to do with opening the doors of the Church to Eastern Europe," he said.
In 2002, Elder Koelliker returned to Freiberg with President Hinckley for the rededication of the temple originally dedicated in 1985 by President Hinckley. There he renewed old acquaintances and witnessed the hand of the Lord in harvesting seeds planted years earlier.
Grateful for his opportunities to serve in the Church as a stake president and bishop, Elder Koelliker acknowledged that those experiences helped prepare him for his work in the Temple Department.
“I love serving in the Temple Department,” said Elder Koelliker, who, with a degree in business administration, worked for the Church in a variety of positions since 1966. “Sixty-nine temples have been built since I have been in this position. I have witnessed firsthand the mind and energy of President Gordon B. Hinckley. I believe his heart is with the work of the temples, and I sustain him in this sacred trust. He is a man for this season and a resource of truth. My witness of his prophetic call is strong.”
After his mission, Elder Koelliker met Ann Neilson during institute activities at the University of Utah. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple on March 18, 1966, and raised seven children, "each a great blessing and unique in personality."