“President Benson Addresses Scout Fireside,” Ensign, Apr. 1988, 76–77
A February 14 fireside commemorating the Church’s seventy-fifth anniversary as an official sponsor of the Boy Scouts of America also honored President Ezra Taft Benson for his lifetime contributions to the Scouting program.
The program was telecast from the Salt Lake Tabernacle live via satellite to more than 1,800 meetinghouses throughout the United States and Canada.
“It was one of the choicest experiences in my life to serve and participate in Scouting, which I have done for almost seventy years,” President Benson said. “Scouting is a great program for leadership training, teaching patriotism, love of country, and the building of strong character. It is a builder of men—men of character and spirituality.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the fireside. Other speakers were President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency; Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the First Quorum of the Seventy, who is Young Men General President and Chairman of the Church General Scouting Committee; Sister Dwan J. Young, Primary general president; and Sean Snow, an Explorer from the Union Fifteenth Ward in Sandy, Utah.
Special guest speakers were Mr. Ben Love, Chief Scout Executive; and Mr. Charles M. Pigott, National Executive Board president, Boy Scouts of America. President Hinckley described both men as “great and true friends of the Church and … highly respected leaders within the international Boy Scout community.”
Mr. Love pointed out that “this great church was the first national religious body to take official action on Scouting. It took place when Joseph F. Smith, nephew of the first Prophet, was President of the Church.” Mr. Love noted that the Boy Scouts of America granted the Church a charter on 21 May 1913.
“Today the Church operates more Scouting units—more than twenty-two thousand—than any other religious body in America,” he said. “Since 1913, several million Mormon boys and young men have raised their right hand in the Scout sign and recited the Scout Oath. Many unchurched boys and their families have had their first contact with the Church with a Boy Scout troop which meets in a local ward.”
“One of those early Scoutmasters who taught the lessons … of leadership was President Ezra Taft Benson,” said Mr. Pigott, who noted that “the BSA was only eight years old when President Benson became a Scoutmaster in 1918. He served in this capacity until 1929.”
President Benson’s later roles as Scout commissioner, Cache Valley Council Executive Board member, a member of the National Scout Council, and a member of the National Executive Board and Scout Advisory Council were briefly chronicled.
President Benson has been honored with Scouting’s Silver Antelope, Silver Buffalo, and Silver Beaver awards. “President Benson, the BSA salutes you on the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of Scouting in the Church,” Mr. Pigott said. “We thank God for your dedicated leadership and pray his richest blessings on you and the great Church that you lead.”
“I shall always be grateful that almost seventy years ago, the good bishop of our ward came to me and asked me to be the Scoutmaster of twenty-four boys in the Whitney Ward,” President Benson said.
He told of his Scouts winning a stake song competition. He had promised that if they won, he would take them on a 35-mile hike over the mountains to Bear Lake Valley.
One Scout made a motion that all the Scouts clip their hair off so they wouldn’t have to bother with combs and brushes on the trip. The Scouts agreed, and then someone suggested that the Scoutmasters also have their heads clipped.
“The following Saturday at the county seat, two silent Scoutmasters took their places in the barber’s chair while the barber very gleefully went over each head with the clippers,” President Benson recalled. “As the barber neared the end of the job he said, ‘You know, if you fellows would let me shave your heads, I’d do the whole job for nothing.’
“So after our session with the barber, we left on that great thirty-five-mile Scout trip. … twenty-four boys with heads clipped and two Scoutmasters with heads shaven.”
Addressing the Scout leaders present and listening to the telecast, President Monson said: “Tonight I am grateful for that spirit which you men bring to Scouting, and which you men and women bring to Cubbing. It is far better to build boys than to mend men.”
He asked the men and women engaged in Scouting to determine that “I will learn. I will love. I will serve.”
“President Benson, … I honor you as a leader of boys, as a friend to the Scouters of the world, but more particularly, as God’s prophet here upon the earth,” he concluded.
During the fireside, President Benson was presented with a President’s Award plaque inscribed: “The Boy Scouts of America gratefully commends President Ezra Taft Benson and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for an extraordinary partnership in serving the youth of America.”
In addition, he also received a bronze statue of a Boy Scout in full uniform inscribed, “President Ezra Taft Benson, a living example of the Scout Oath and Law for seventy-five years of Scouting in the Church.”
President Benson was also honored at the meeting with a second plaque, from the Scouts of the Whitney Ward in Idaho.
During his address, Elder Featherstone called for a count of Eagle Scouts present and characterized President Benson as “a marvelous, sterling example of greatness in manhood.”
In her address, Sister Young expressed gratitude for the dedicated priesthood and Scouting leaders everywhere who recognize the worth of the young men they serve and are willing to pay the price to love and teach them.