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A familiar ring: Choose The Right rings adorn the fingers of kids the world over - but the history of the famous Mormon symbol is a little fuzzy
By Jessica Ravitz
The Salt Lake Tribune
Published November 4, 2006 12:00 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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Scattered about Douglas "Coy" Miles' Federal Heights home are remnants from years in promotional sales. Collection plates featuring wildlife artwork by Clark Bronson of which Miles says he sold 25,000 sets. Aged brochures showcasing awards, plaques and assorted Relief Society jewelry created for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Copies of paintings by famed Mormon artist Arnold Friberg, which Miles personally commissioned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of college football. "I had to go sit with him to make sure they got done on time," Miles says. But in a small blue box resting on his dining room table is the star of them all: an original CTR (Choose The Right) ring, this one made in Taiwan. "It's the smallest, simplest thing I ever made, and now it's become the biggest," says Miles, 90, who claims the logo design, the sample, the manufacturing and the distribution of the ring - at least in the beginning - were all him and his employees at Balfour Merchandising.

Turns out Miles isn't the only one who's staked a claim on the famous Mormon symbol meant to guide moral behavior. Several names, which he asked to keep off the record, come to Miles' mind. In fact, he says he once spotted on the road a license plate surrounded by the words "Father of the CTR Ring."

"I tried to run him down and couldn't follow him," Miles says, and laughs.

Last month, The Salt Lake Tribune ran a feature obituary about a woman, Helen Alldredge, whose daughters said their mother - during her service on the LDS Primary General Board - designed the CTR shield logo, which adorns more than rings, now appearing on everything from T-shirts and ties to stationery and socks.

The response from readers was enormous. Mixed in the calls were tales of other CTR logo-creation stories, tips offering various names of designers, even theories about why the history is fuzzy. In a world where countless Saints say "everything is done by committee," the whodunit, really, began to raise questions.

"There was always controversy about whose brilliant idea this was," said Mary Griffiths, one of Alldredge's daughters, contacted in Oregon last week. "Mother never cared. You're just serving the Lord. . . . It's not like you get paid for what you do."

Griffiths, 59, only knows what's been gleaned over the years, and says her mom was on the committee that, in the 1960s, came up with the original CTR lesson manual, a mainstay for children in the LDS Church. And she's always believed that her mother, while sitting in Lurene Wilkinson's living room with Margery Cannon, sketched the now-famous shield logo.

Reached in the same Salt Lake City home where this original sketch allegedly took shape, Wilkinson helped clarify what had happened. She says she, Alldredge and Cannon (now Wiscomb) were new Primary General Board members who'd done a lot of research about how to best reach and teach children. Wilkinson, in her mid-80s, remembers Cannon suggesting that children liked "secret symbols." Alldredge, she laughs, didn't like the "T" in "CTR," so for a while Wilkinson says the women played with the idea of using "RC" for "Right Choice." Those letters, however, conjured up ideas of "Roman Catholic" and "RC Cola," which is why they came back to CTR. As for who sketched the actual shield logo, which is on the original 1963 lesson manual, Wilkinson isn't sure who was responsible.

"It just evolved," she says. "I don't want to detract from [Helen's] honor and glory, she was an absolute angel. . . . But when you're trying to give credit, you run into trouble. . . . I just think you have to give it to all three of us and leave it at that."

Wilkinson says she suggested putting CTR on a ring, as a reminder for children. She'd given her own daughter a special ring to remind the girl to stop twisting her hair in school, Wilkinson explains. But she says LaVern Parmley, longtime president of the Primary board, shot down the idea, claiming the endeavor would be too expensive.

The actual ring and the forces that saw it through to fruition would only come to light later. At least sort of.

In 2001, Jerry Johnston of the LDS Church-owned Deseret Morning News wrote a piece about Norma Nichols, then 90. He wrote that Nichols, while serving on the board in 1970, "chaired the committee that invented the ring." Along the lines of Wilkinson's claims, this committee reportedly thought about dropping the "T" in "CTR" and instead considered a "CR" ring for "Choose Right." Johnston quoted Nichols as saying, "I went home that night to think about it. That's when the inspiration came that the word 'the' was the most important word of all. Choosing right could mean many things, but choosing the right meant there was only one way."

Selecting Miles to get involved was, it seems, the next step. Miles says LaVern Parmley approached him in 1970, asking him to come up with something to help the committee.

"She said, 'Coy, I want you to go work with the 6-year-old committee. They need something that the kids can use and not lose, if possible,' " he remembers. "I decided that the best thing I could do is work out a ring for the little kids."

So, according to Miles, the ring was his idea. He says he went to Joel Izatt, an artist Miles employed, and told him what he wanted to see. Izatt, of Clearfield and now 66, confirms that he designed the shield logo - as it's seen today - per Miles' directions. That sketch, the only one submitted to the Primary board committee, was approved. A craftsman employed by Miles made the first ring sample, and for 10 years, Miles says he was the sole manufacturer and distributor of the adjustable CTR rings, which were sold for between 31 and 40 cents apiece.

The first 10,000 rings "turned little kids' fingers black," so he replaced them all at his expense, says Miles, who wears on his own finger his company's sample Class of '73 BYU ring, featuring a large sapphire surrounded by more than a dozen diamonds.

Today, the symbol created for children adorns LDS community fingers across the globe. The CTR logo has been translated into Spanish ("Haz Lo Justo") and dozens of other languages, including Romanian, Samoan and Hilgaynon. What was once an inexpensive, simple token has now morphed into hundreds of styles available for prices from less than $1 to well over $200.

Last year, LDS Church distribution services, internationally, distributed 522,455 new CTR rings in 24 languages, says William Anderson, the inventory-control supervisor in Salt Lake City. And that number doesn't reflect the sales in stores such as Deseret Book nor the orders generated among licensed jewelry wholesalers.

Miles never registered the ring design with the federal copyright office. And, in fact, the church owns the copyright for the design, LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills says.

Even though Miles says he held the monopoly on production and sales in the early years, he bears no grudges as he watches the rings' soaring success. Instead, he reflects on the CTR ring and its history - albeit sometimes convoluted - with pride.

"I didn't do it for myself," he says. "I always considered that that design belonged to the customer I was working with."

In this case, just as Helen Alldredge, Lurene Wilkinson and Margery Cannon did years before him, he was serving his church. And in the end, for all of them, that was the only thing that mattered.

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* JESSICA RAVITZ can be reached at jravitz@sltrib.com or 801-257-8776. Send comments to the religion editor at religioneditor@sltrib.com.



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