From David Kenison: As a missionary in Brazil in the 1970s, I became acquainted with some of the "pioneers" in the history of the Church in that country. One of them was Walter Spat, who was the president of the first stake created in Brazil. More recently, during the past year, I got to know two of his granddaughters who were attending BYU, and had a chance to learn more of the legacy of this great man. Much of his story is told in an Ensign article published in June 1990, shortly after his death.
Walter was born to German emigrants living in Brazil (the family continues to write their surname in the German way, with an umlaut over the "a"). His parents returned to Germany in the 1930s, and Walter planned to join them after he had sold some real estate owned by the family. But the onset of World War II caused him to stay, and he soon married and established himself in Sao Paulo, a huge commercial city, the largest in South America.
In November 1949, missionaries knocked on the door of the Spat family. Walter's wife, Edith, was a religious woman and had been praying for God to show them the true Church. It took five months for Walter to accept and be baptized; his wife, deeply ingrained with Protestant background, was baptized several months later.
Walter was deeply converted and served faithfully in the Church in various callings. He was described as one who expected much of others, because he demanded so much of himself. When the first stake in Brazil was formed in May of 1966, Walter was called by Spencer W. Kimball to be the Stake President. He served for the next decade in a stake that was spread out over the huge metropolitan area of Sao Paulo. During that time, he was also raising a family and working in his business as a furniture maker. He rarely relaxed or took time off. When the Sao Paulo temple was built, he designed the furniture and later served in the presidency of the Temple, as well as a temple mission.
Two incidents from Brother Spat's life illustrate his character. He once argued with another church member about an assignment they were working on. When the time came for the sacrament to be passed during Sunday meetings, the other brother felt a hand on his shoulder - it was Brother Spat, coming to apologize so they could both partake of the sacrament with good feelings.
In addition to being a fine craftsman, Brother Spat was a talented artist, and loved to paint. In 1954, he was serving as the president of a branch in downtown Sao Paulo. The members were holding a bazaar to raise funds for the budget. There were many beautiful prizes that were given during the party, including paintings and other works of art. Some members wondered if it had really been necessary to buy all those expensive gifts; but they later found out that they had all been personally created and donated by their branch president, who wanted to do all he could to help the branch financially as well as spiritually.
Walter Spat passed away in 1989 after a bout with cancer. But his legacy lives on, not only in his faithful descendants, but in many thousands of members of the Church in Brazil who were inspired by his testimony and touched by his love and dedication to the work of the Lord.
(See also Neusa Longo, "Walter Spat and the First South American Stake", in _Ensign_, June 1990, pp. 32-33)