Introducing the Honorary Consul of Belarus, Dennis Neuenschwander

17-Aug-2018

The new honorary consul to Belarus, Dennis B. Neuenschwander, was born in Salt Lake City on October 6, 1939, just prior to the invasion of Poland and the beginning of World War II. He remained in Salt Lake City until his teenage years when his father was transferred to Ogden. Mr. Neuenschwander graduated from Ogden High School in 1957 and began taking courses at Weber College and working. During this time, one of his coworkers, who had completed the Russian army language training program in Monterey, California, convinced him to enroll in the fledgling Russian courses at Weber. This was his initial exposure to the Russian language.

In October, 1959, Mr. Neuenschwander was called on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to Finland, where he served for two and a half years. Upon arriving home, he married LeAnn Clement and continued his study of Russian at Weber College.

Upon completion of his Associate of Arts degree at Weber College, Mr. Neuenschwander entered Brigham Young University, receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1966. He completed his doctoral program at Syracuse University in New York, graduating in 1974.

Mr. Neuenschwander was hired as a visiting professor of Russian at the University of Utah and the following year at Brigham Young University. With the termination of these visiting positions, he began work as a record specialist, with emphasis in the records of Eastern Europe, in the Genealogical Department of the LDS Church.  

In order to develop closer relations with the record custodians, both church and state, throughout Eastern Europe, he and his family moved to Frankfurt, Germany in 1977.  During the five years of this assignment, he arranged the acquisition of numerous microfilmed records in the countries of Poland, the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Greece, and Yugoslavia.

 Returning to Salt Lake City in 1982, he managed the international acquisition of genealogical records until 1987. In that year he was called to preside over the newly formed Austria Vienna East Mission. Though headquartered in Vienna, Austria, the mission comprised the countries of the Soviet Union, as well as Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and Cyprus. 

The political and social situation in Eastern Europe was beginning to soften and in 1989, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, many of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe gained their political independence from Russia. During the little more than four years of its existence, the Austria Vienna East Mission saw the official recognition of the Church, placement of missionaries, and the establishment of missions in most of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.  In the final months of his mission, Mr. Neuenschwander was called as a general authority for the LDS Church, serving in the Europe, and, subsequently, the Europe East Area Presidencies. He later returned to Utah in 1996.

Upon his release from the Presidency of the Seventy in 2004, Mr. Neuenschwander was reassigned to Moscow, Russia for two and a half years. During this time, his wife became sick, necessitating their return to Salt Lake. She passed away in 2007.  Mr. Neuenschwander then married Joni Lee in 2008 and was granted emeritus status at the October 2009 general conference.

Following his release, he and Joni accepted a mission call to Moscow in order to establish a viable means of collecting, preserving, and sharing documents relating to the history of the Church in Eastern Europe. In January, 2012, they were assigned to Istanbul, Turkey to prepare for the arrival of younger missionaries into that country. 

Mr. Neuenschwander first began traveling to Belarus during his service in the Europe Area Presidency. Although he has only been Honorary Consul for a short time, he has already had several memorable experiences. His honorary consulate hosted a delegation of Belarus physicians sponsored the Open World Leadership Center, a nonpartisan congressional organization. The delegation spent a week in Salt Lake, visiting numerous state and private medical and rehabilitation sites. Contacts arising from this visit resulted in subsequent medical exchanges and humanitarian projects

Another wonderful example of diplomacy between Utah and Belarus was the visit of both Chargé d'affaires, Pavel Shidlovsky and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Oleg Kravchenko in March, 2018. Mr. Shidlovsky participated in the Diplomatic Conference on International Trade Relations at Utah Valley University on March 12, 2018. Mr. Kravchenko spoke on the current state of affairs in Belarus at the Hinckley Forum in connection with the Master of International Affairs and Global Enterprise Program at the University of Utah.  The University is in the initial stages of building a positive rapport with Belarus.

Mr. Neuenschwander’s main goal is to explore ways of opening opportunities for Belarus and Utah to cooperate in the future. Business and economic ties are one avenue to developing this connection, but there are also plans for social, educational, and cultural exchanges, as well. These would include the placement of interns, exchange programs, and collaborative academic research projects. These ties are vital for Belarus, as it balances its ages old relationship with Russia and its new dialogue with the west.

Another main goal of the Honorary Consul is to raise public awareness of the rich culture and history of Belarus by hosting cultural presentations such as the Rovesnik dance group in Springville, Utah Folk Festival in the first week of August, 2018. 

Mr. Neuenschwander stated that he is “honored and happy” to represent Belarus as the Honorary Consul as many of his academic and professional ties have all been to Eastern Europe.  He enjoys that part of the world and still travels there frequently on assignments for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is able to use his hard-earned language skills and is happy to be continually engaged in something as important as developing a close relationship between Belarus and Utah.

When asked about the people of Belarus, Mr. Neuenschwander said that underneath the strident political challenges of our day, there are people of good will who want the very best for their families, country, and our world. Such people are quietly, but effectively, building productive bridges between cultures.