Among the People
July 1994

“Among the People,” Ensign, July 1994, 22

In Memoriam:
Ezra Taft Benson 1899–1994

Among the People

We Prayed to Touch the Hearts of the Investigators

When I was a young missionary in northern England in 1922, opposition to the Church became very intense. It became so strong that at one time the mission president asked that we discontinue all street meetings, and in some places tracting was also discontinued.

“My companion and I were invited to travel to South Shields and speak in sacrament meeting. The invitation said, ‘We feel sure we can fill the little chapel. Many of the people over here do not believe the falsehoods printed about us. If you’ll come, we’re sure that we’ll have a great meeting.’

“We accepted this invitation and fasted and prayed sincerely about what to say. My companion had planned to talk on the first principles of the gospel. I had studied hard in preparation for a talk on the apostasy.

“When we arrived, we found a wonderful spirit in the meeting. My companion spoke first and gave an inspirational message. I then responded, talking with a freedom I had never before experienced in my life. When I sat down, I realized that I had not even mentioned the apostasy. Instead I had talked about the Prophet Joseph Smith and borne my witness of his divine mission and to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

“After the meeting, several nonmembers came forward and said, ‘Tonight we received a witness that Mormonism is true. We are now ready for baptism.’

“This was an answer to our fasting and prayers, for we prayed to say only that which would touch the hearts of the investigators” (Ezra Taft Benson, Come unto Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983, pp. 27–28).

President Benson Learns the Principle of Obedience

“One time [in 1923 during my mission to Great Britain] we received a letter from mission headquarters instructing us that we should discontinue all street meetings. At that time I was serving as the conference president, and my companion was the conference clerk. When this instruction arrived, we already had a meeting scheduled for the following Sunday night. So we reasoned that we would hold that meeting and then discontinue street meetings thereafter. That’s where we made our mistake!

“The next Sunday evening we held our street meeting down near the railway station as scheduled. The crowd was large and unruly. In our efforts to preach to them, my companion and I stood back to back. He spoke in one direction, and I faced the other half of the crowd.

“When the saloons closed, the rougher, [coarser] element came out on the streets, many under the influence of liquor. The crowd became noisy, and those on the outside were not able to hear too well.

“Some yelled, ‘What’s the excitement?’

“Others yelled back, ‘It’s those dreadful Mormons.’

“To this, others responded, ‘Let’s get them and throw them in the river.’

“Soon an attempt was made to trample us under their feet. But since we were taller than the average man there, we put our hands on their shoulders and prevented them from getting us under their feet.

“During the excitement, my companion and I became separated. They took him down the far side of the railway station and me down the near side. Things began to look pretty bad. …

“By this time a British policeman had worked his way through the crowd. He took me by the arm and said, ‘Young man, you come with me. You’re lucky to be alive in this crowd.’ He led me several blocks and then ordered, ‘Now you get to your lodge and don’t come out anymore tonight.’

“When I arrived at the lodge, I found that my companion was not yet there. I worried and then prayed and waited. I became so concerned about him that I decided to disguise my appearance by putting on an old American cap and taking off my topcoat. Then I went out to try to find him.

“As I neared the place of the meeting, a man recognized me and asked, ‘Have you seen your companion?’

“I said, ‘No. Where is he?’

“He responded, ‘He’s down on the other side of the railway station with one side of his head mashed in.’

“This frightened me greatly, and I sprinted to the site as fast as I could. Before I reached the railway station, however, I met the same policeman again. He said, ‘I thought I told you to stay in and not come out on the street again tonight.’

“I replied, ‘You did, officer. But I’m concerned about my companion. Do you know where he is?’

“He replied, ‘Yes, he got a nasty blow on the side of his head, but he’s gone to the lodge now. I walked partway with him as I did earlier with you. Now you get back there and don’t come out anymore tonight.’

“So I went back to the lodge and found my companion disguising himself in order to go out and look for me. We threw our arms around each other and knelt together in prayer. From that experience I learned always to follow counsel, and that lesson has followed me all the days of my life” (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1985, pp. 36–37).

An Exemplary Brother

“Though [Ezra] lived in Preston and was beginning to keep long hours [as county agricultural agent], he made time to frequent his parents’ home in Whitney. Younger brothers and sisters looked up to him, and he was conscientious about this stewardship. His youngest sister, Sarah, who at fifteen years his junior had few memories of Ezra, was amazed when he stopped by the home one evening after she had been left behind when her friends went to a dance at the Persiana Ballroom in Preston. ‘I was sitting home practically in tears when Ezra came by and said he’d drive me to the dance. He did—took me in to make sure I met up with my friends, arranged a ride home, and then left’” (Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987, pp. 104–5).

“I Didn’t Know What Real Happiness Was”

While serving in a stake presidency in Boise, Idaho, President Benson had the following experience:

“[One Sunday] our clerk … brought a list of all the elders of [an elders quorum in his stake], and on the list was the name of a man whom I had known for some years. He came from a strong Latter-day Saint family, but he wasn’t doing much in the Church. If the bishop made a call to do some work on the chapel, he’d usually respond, and if the elders wanted to play softball, you would sometimes find him out playing with them. He did have leadership ability; he was president of one of the [community] service clubs and was doing a fine job.

“I said to the stake president, ‘Would you authorize me to go out and meet this man and challenge him to square his life with the standards of the Church and take the leadership of his quorum? I know there is some hazard in it, but he has the ability.’

“The stake president said, ‘You go ahead, and the Lord bless you.’

“After Sunday School I went to this man’s home. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he opened the door and saw a member of his stake presidency standing there. He hesitantly invited me in; his wife was preparing dinner, and I could smell the aroma of coffee coming from the kitchen. I asked him to have his wife join us, and when we were seated, I told him why I had come. ‘I’m not going to ask you for your answer today,’ I told him. ‘All I want you to do is to promise me that you will think about it, pray about [it], think about it in terms of what it will mean to your family, and then I’ll be back to see you next week. If you decide not to accept, we’ll go on loving you,’ I added.

“The next Sunday, as soon as he opened the door I saw there had been a change. He was glad to see me, and he quickly invited me in and called to his wife to join us. He said, ‘Brother Benson, we have done as you said. We’ve thought about it and we’ve prayed about it, and we’ve decided to accept the call. If you brethren have that much confidence in me, I’m willing to square my life with the standards of the Church, a thing I should have done long ago.’ He also said, ‘I haven’t had any coffee since you were here last week, and I’m not going to have any more.’

“He was set apart as elders quorum president, and attendance in his quorum began going up—and it kept going up. He went out, put his arm around the inactive elders, and brought them in. A few months later I moved from the stake. …

“One day on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, a man came up to me, extended his hand, and said, ‘Brother Benson, you don’t remember me, do you?’

“‘Yes, I do,’ I said, ‘but I don’t remember your name.’

“He said, ‘Do you remember coming to the home of a delinquent elder in Boise seven years ago?’ And then, of course, it all came back to me. Then he said, ‘Brother Benson, I’ll never live long enough to thank you for coming to my home that Sunday afternoon. I am now a bishop. I used to think I was happy, but I didn’t know what real happiness was’” (Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974, pp. 187–88).

“Let’s Go to Conference Together”

“As stake president, Ezra … had an open-door policy with youth. Don Schlurf remembers trying to skip out with friends just before an afternoon session of stake conference. They started slowly down the hall toward the back door, keeping their eyes on the foyer to be sure their exit wasn’t being detected. About then Ezra stepped out of his office, sized up the situation, and stretched his arms across the hall so that the boys fell right into them. ‘I’m so glad to see you boys,’ he said. ‘Let’s go to conference together.’ He led them to the front bench, and later called upon them to bear their testimonies. Don never skipped out again” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, p. 122).

The Apostle Meets with European Saints at the End of World War II

“In Warsaw [at the end of World War II] there was only one hotel that was even partially intact, and that was the Polonia Hotel. I shared one room with seven other men, most of them members of the press. We got the Americans to loan us a jeep, and we drove up to Selbongen. It took us all day to drive there on Sunday, through two rainstorms and with no cover on the jeep. When we drove into the little town of Selbongen we found the name had been changed to Zelback. … There was no one on the street because it was Sunday, and as we approached our little chapel, we saw a woman running away from us. She had seen this military vehicle and had thought it meant more trouble. …

“Well, we stopped the jeep and I jumped out. When the woman saw we were civilians, she turned around and came walking toward us. Then she recognized us—I guess from a picture, I don’t know how else—and she screamed, ‘Oh, it’s the Brethren! They have come at last!’ She ran to us with tears in her eyes and then guided us to the home of the branch president. I think I never saw so many tears shed by a small group as we saw that day, as the word spread and the people came into the branch president’s home. Then we held a meeting. I said, ‘Haven’t you had your meetings today, yet?’ They said, ‘Yes, we have had our meetings—priesthood, Sunday School, and sacrament meeting—but now that you are here we want another meeting.’ It was five o’clock, just starting to get dusk, and so we set the meeting for six and sent the members out to notify the Saints. At six o’clock the little chapel was filled” (Benson, God, Family, Country, pp. 71–72).

An Impossible Telephone Call Home

While serving in Europe after World War II, Elder Benson received a letter from his wife, telling him that his daughter Beth was critically ill with pneumonia. He said, “I was scheduled within two hours to be the main speaker at the beautiful new chapel in Basel. Hundreds of people from many parts of Switzerland would be there. … I was torn with such anxiety that I felt unable to participate unless I could be assured of my child’s welfare. Yet to get word at this late hour was a practical impossibility. Previous phone calls to the United States had required one to two days to complete. … Faced with such a problem I realized I must seek my guidance and assurance through my Heavenly Father. As I prayed at my bedside in the quiet of my room, I received the overwhelming impression to place a phone call without delay. Much to my joy, and somewhat to my astonishment, the call was completed in less than ten minutes. My wife’s voice was as clear as though she were in the room at my side. What a sense of gratitude and relief I felt to learn that the crisis had just passed! Our beloved baby daughter would live” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, p. 213).

“In the Hearts of All the People”

Eben R. T. Blomquist, president of the Swedish Mission, wrote to Sister Benson: “No matter where [your husband] has gone, as he has watched the little children, he has picked them up, he has talked to them, he has shown them pictures of his own family; and where these dear ones would remind him of his own at home, I could see the smile on his face and also the longing to be with his own again. … I doubt there could be anyone who could endear himself so much in the hearts of all the people in Europe as your husband has done” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, p. 215).

A Visit with His Sister

“Once, while on the way home from a church assignment in Idaho, he felt impressed to detour to Mink Creek to see his sister Margaret. He didn’t know that earlier in the day, with her husband out of town, she had become seriously ill, leaving her small children largely unattended. ‘I prayed desperately for help to come,’ Margaret later told her brother in a letter. ‘I was so relieved to see you. You gave me a blessing and I was much better the next morning’” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, p. 242).

A Scoutmaster Finds His Scouts

As a young man, President Benson served as a Scoutmaster. He later wrote:

“I have made an effort to keep in touch with these boys. Many years [after having served as Scoutmaster], after having been in Idaho and Washington, D.C., I happened to attend a Sunday School in the Whitney Ward. One of the boys was serving as bishop, another was a counselor, a third was ward clerk, and another was the visiting stake high councilor. Then we went to the adult class; there was another one as the teacher. One of them was serving as the Scoutmaster. We had a fine session together and could account for each one of the boys except two. No one seemed to know where they were or what they were doing.

“Some weeks later I was down in southern Arizona. In those days we held general priesthood meetings in connection with stake conferences, and during the meeting I noticed way at the rear of the hall what appeared to be a familiar face. At the end of the meeting, one of the two boys we had lost track of came forward. We threw our arms around each other, and I said to him, ‘What are you doing way down here?’

“He said, ‘I guess you mean “What am I doing in the Church?”’

“I said, ‘Well, yes, that’s part of it, what are you doing in the Church?’

“He replied, ‘I’m not doing very much, but I’m a Scoutmaster.’ (I thought that took care of me very well!) Then he told me he had married out of the Church, but his wife had since joined the Church and was then using her influence to get him into full activity so they could go to the temple.

“We started to correspond, and some months later I had the honor of officiating at the sealing of this fine couple and their children in the Salt Lake Temple.

“Sometime later I was speaking at the annual meeting of the Idaho Farm Bureau at Burley, Idaho. Just before the meeting was to start, I … saw a man down at the door handing out literature to the farmers as they came in. I asked the president of the Farm Bureau who the man was. Sure enough, it was the last of the twenty-four boys to be located.

“After the meeting the two of us had a good talk. He had married in the Church but out of the temple. It was not long before I also had the privilege of sealing this man and his wife and several children in the temple” (Ensign, Nov. 1984, p. 47).

Become Familiar with the Book of Mormon

“I remember an incident with my own sons. They called me one day to ask if I wouldn’t come up to their bedroom. When I got there, I found they had several books on the bed. One of them said to me, ‘You know, we have a job with our uncle herding turkeys this summer. I once heard you say that the turkey is the dumbest animal on the farm, so I assume we’re going to have time on our hands.’ Then they asked me to pick out the books I would recommend.

“I picked up a little military edition of the Book of Mormon. I said, ‘This will fit in your hip pocket.’

“They said, ‘You mean to tell us we’re to take only one book?’

“I said, ‘Yes, and you’ll learn to love it, and you’ll learn to love missionary work—and they did” (Ensign, May 1984, p. 45).

“This Simple Thing of Family Prayer”

“I am reminded of an experience I had with a fine old Christian gentleman, a great constitutional lawyer named John D. Miller, during an evening he spent in our home in Washington, D.C. After I visited with him for an hour in the living room, Sister Benson and the daughters who had been preparing the dinner announced that it was ready. We went into the dining room, and the children started preparing chairs for family prayer. And so I said to Judge Miller, ‘Judge, it’s customary in our home to have family prayer, daily devotion, morning and evening. Would you care to join us?’ He said, ‘Yes, I would.’ He watched the children to see what they did, and then he knelt at his chair. We called on our oldest daughter, who was then probably eight or nine years of age, to lead in prayer. She offered a sweet, lovely prayer, much as your daughters would do, and then she added, ‘And Heavenly Father, bless Judge Miller that he will enjoy his visit with us and return safely to his hotel.’ That was all.

“After dinner, we drove the judge down to his hotel. Nothing was said of the incident. About six months later, this man was host to some twenty-five or thirty industrial, business, labor, and agricultural leaders at his winter home in Florida. After the dinner, they were seated in the living room talking about problems facing the nation, and … the subject turned to the things of the spirit, to religion. And then John D. Miller, … who is not a member of the Church, told of this incident that had happened in our home, this simple thing of family prayer. And he said, ‘Gentlemen, I went to my hotel that night feeling that I had not fully measured up as a father. We had never had devotion in our home with my children.’ And then he went on to tell of the power that he felt there must be in the lives of children reared in a home where there is real spirituality” (Report of Philippine Islands Area Conference, Aug. 1975, p. 11).

“I Have a Date with My Daughter”

“When [President Benson] was asked to an important dinner by a Cabinet officer, [he] said, ‘Sorry, I have a date with my daughter Bonnie.’

“The date was a father-daughter party and scavenger hunt at the Mormon Church. After a supper, at which each girl served her father, everybody joined the scavenger hunt. The first father-daughter team to come back with the stipulated ‘treasure’ won the evening’s prize.

“Residents of the area around the church were rather startled that night to answer their doorbells and find the broad-shouldered Secretary of Agriculture and a 14-year-old girl asking for such things as a green toothpick, an old shoelace, a 1952 calendar, and last September’s issue of a news magazine. The Benson team was so fleet, however, that it won first prize: a chest filled with ‘dollars’ (chocolate candy). ‘He was happier about this,’ said a fellow church member, ‘than an invitation to the White House.’” (Roul Tunley, “Everybody Picks on Benson,” American Magazine, June 1954, p. 108).

His Leadership Ability

After President Benson was called as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “it didn’t take long for members of the Twelve to understand in a way they had perhaps not appreciated fully before that their president was a man of unusual leadership ability. … President Benson was punctual in both beginning and ending meetings, and he made himself easily accessible to the members of his quorum. When a topic was discussed in the quorum, he encouraged, even expected, each of the Brethren to express his candid opinion on the matter. But if the comments began to wander, or if he felt that adequate discussion had taken place, he typically said, ‘I think we’ve got enough hay down now. Let’s bale a little,’ bringing the issue to resolution” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, p. 429).

Going Home to Whitney

Sister Elaine Cannon wrote:

“Following April 1978 conference, my brother Judge Aldon J. Anderson and I were invited to take a very sentimental journey with President and Sister Benson back to the President’s ‘fatherland’ near Whitney, Idaho. It was a journey back to their beginnings. …

“We had visited the farm area of Whitney, the academy in Preston, and now we were driving along a country road heading for the Whitney town cemetery. … As the Bensons pointed out this headstone here and that marker there, with some remembrance shared of the person whose particular grave it was, President Benson confessed: ‘I have met so many interesting and famous people in my life, but there isn’t one of them better than the people from Whitney, Idaho. These people buried here are the people who influenced my early life by their lives, their principles, their sacrifice, their goodness.

“‘At Ernest Wilkinson’s funeral, I quoted something that I believe in deeply,’ he continued. ‘The Prophet Joseph, talking at a funeral, emphasized the resurrection by telling about the vision he had of it. The vision was of people who were holding out their hands to greet another person rising from the grave. He noted what a joy it would be in the morning of the resurrection if we had been laid close to our father, our mother, our brother, our sister, our spouse, and our children.’

“Then President Benson patted Sister Benson’s arm, which was hooked through his. ‘We feel this,’ he said, ‘and so Flora and I have obtained a family plot in the Whitney cemetery.’

“We walked across the hard sod of spring to a place near the northwest corner of the cemetery. This special plot was protected by tall blue spruce. A marker of polished granite had been etched with the names of Ezra Taft and Flora Amussen Benson. …

“We stood silent for a moment in the quiet, breathing the clean country air of that place they love. This faithful couple, so very much alive, surveyed their burial site in an attitude of comfort and peace.

“‘It is a heavenly spot,’ she said” (Elaine A. Cannon, Boy of the Land, Man of the Lord, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989, pp. 93–95).

The Lord Blesses Him

“With his call as president [of the Church], family members and others close to him noticed a change. Staff members were amazed at his physical and mental rejuvenation. … On Sunday afternoon, November 10, just before the Twelve convened in the Salt Lake Temple to reorganize the First Presidency, Beverly telephoned her parents from Virginia. When the voice of a young man answered the phone, she assumed her call had been routed to a Church security officer. ‘Is this President Benson’s apartment?’ she asked. ‘Who is this?’ the man responded. ‘This is his daughter Beverly. May I speak to my father?’ ‘This is your father,’ President Benson answered. Beverly was taken aback. Her father sounded like a much younger man. ‘It was a witness to me that the Lord was blessing Dad and giving him the vigor and strength to carry on,’ she said” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, p. 487).

Members greet President Ezra Taft Benson at a 1975 area conference in Taiwan.

President Benson, shown above at the 1977 national jamboree, was a champion of Scouting. But he was at home with young people of any age, like the Primary children at right and the young women below.

His calling thrust upon him many roles—as leader to the Saints (left) and guide to graduates (above) at Brigham Young University. But he always treasured the role of father; he is shown at far right with a daughter in 1953.