Estel Neff has spent much of his life in the Nauvoo, Illinois, area. He owns and operates the Old House Bookstore, selling second-hand books and some antiques. He is a direct descendant of Joseph Smith, Sr. (Joseph Smith’s father), and is a recent convert to the Mormon Church (officially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Neff was baptized in Nauvoo on April 5, 1996. Most of his family has grown up in western Illinois, since all of Joseph Smith, Jr.’s family (except Hyrum Smith’s family) stayed in the area when the rest of the Saints traveled West after Joseph and his brother Hyrum were martyred. Neff is the great-great-great grandson of Joseph and Hyrum’s sister, Katherine Smith Salisbury.
Neff and his wife, Cecel, raised their five daughters in Keokuk, Iowa, and then later moved close to Nauvoo, Illinois. Neff worked in the grain and feed business, but over the years he collected many books related to Mormonism because they held so much of his family history. In about 1988, Neff decided to use those books to open his store in Hamilton, Illinois, near Nauvoo. He began to take more of an interest in religion as he got older and as he explored his book collection. He began attending the Nauvoo Ward in 1995, socializing with members and learning more about the church.
Neff was baptized by Hyrum Mack Smith, great-grandson of former Mormon prophet Joseph F. Smith, who had served as a visitors center director in Nauvoo, when he became acquainted with Neff. Smith came all the way from Seattle to baptize Neff.
While growing up in Illinois, Neff and his other family members seldom mentioned their affiliation with the history of the Mormon Church because there was still so much animosity towards the Church, even after 150 years. Neff says most of that animosity is gone now, but he has a unique connection with people who are still hostile towards the Mormon Church. He asks them if they have read the Book of Mormon, and when they reply in the negative, he tells them to go give it a try. He said he read it for the first time only a few years before he was baptized, with the aim of finding something he didn’t agree with. “I didn’t find a thing,” he said.
Doris White is a native of Oregon and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in Editing. She loves to talk with others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.