From Jocelyn K. Howard: My father was a career officer in the Army, stationed at Fort Clayton in the Canal Zone 1940-1942. The first branch of the LDS Church was established in our home. I was the next child born into the family after they left Panama, so what I know is what my parents have told me and articles that I have in my family files.
Elder Antoine H. Ivins of the First Council of Seventy went to Panama in May, 1941 to organize the branch. He and his wife stayed with our family, as we had the largest home of any of the members in the Zone at that time. My parents often related how special an experience that was, and they maintained a warm relationship with the Ivins' through the years.
There were ten members of the Church present, besides Elder and Sister Ivins. Otto Hunsaker was sustained as Branch President, my father Earl G. Kingdon as first counselor, Wilbur Webb as second counselor, and Staff Sgt. John Anderson as branch clerk. My brother, Richard, born the previous December, was blessed during that meeting, the first official ordinance performed in the branch.
The branch was small, but very active, and it became the social as well as the spiritual focal point for my family and for the LDS servicemen and civilians of the area. They organized many activities, and sustained each other in many ways during those early years when war (and possible bombing of the canal) threatened them. There is a nice article with a picture in the June 27, 1942 Deseret News Church section (page 4) about the first anniversary of the branch.
Sister Cressa Hunsaker (now about 93), widow of Otto Hunsaker and mother of Quinten Hunsaker who later served as a mission president in that area, is still living in Provo, Utah. She loves to share her many and wonderful memories of Panama, where they lived for many years, as well as their living experiences in Peru and Guatemala; their family has been a mainstay for the Church in those areas.