From Valden L. O'Donnal: While I was serving in the US Air Force, I had the privilege of serving in the Panama Canal Zone. When I served my mission in the Central American Mission from 1961-64, Panama was part of our mission. Although I never had the opportunity to serve there during my mission, it had always been a hope that we would be able to get there during our military service. That opportunity came in June 1972. Toward the end of our assignment in Panama, I was called to serve as President of the Panama District, Costa Rica, San Jose Mission. Shortly after my call, it became necessary to reorganize the Panama City Branch because Jerry Zaugg, the serving Branch President was being reassigned. It was my privilege to extend the call to the new Branch President, Brother Nelson Altamirano. He was the first native President of the Branch.
Brother Altamirano was an aircraft mechanic at the Panama International Airport. He and his wife were also recent converts to the Church. He had been called not long before as the Branch Clerk. When I interviewed him and extended the call to serve as Branch President, he said to me, "President, you just called me as the Branch Clerk and now you want me to be the Branch President?" I told him, Hermano Altamirano, we're just preparing you for bigger and better things." Little did I realize the prophetic nature of that comment.
We were reassigned back to the United State less than a year later. One day as I read the Church News, imagine my joy and surprise to read that the first Stake had been organized in Panama and Nelson Altamirano had been called as the first Stake President!
A few years later, I was again reading the Church News and was again overjoyed to read that Nelson Altamirano had been called as a Regional Representative of the Twelve, the first such call (to my knowledge) from Panama!
Since that time, I have lost track of Elder Altamirano, but every time I think of Panama, I remember him and that marvelous response I was inspired to give him to his question about being called as Branch President of the then struggling Panama City Branch!
[On August 24, 1991, Elder Nelson Altamirano was present when President Howard W. Hunter dedicated Panama for the preaching of the gospel on on Ancon Hill over Balboa, a suburb of Panama City.]