New Young Men General President Stresses the Importance of Mentoring

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 2 June 2015

Elder Stephen W. Owen and Sister Jane S. Owen. Brother Owen was sustained as the Young Men general president April 4, 2015.  Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • Every young man in the Church needs mentors to help him become the best possible priesthood holder.
  • It is essential for young people to have experiences “that will help them feel the Spirit.”
  • Every Aaronic Priesthood holder in the Church will be blessed if they pray, read the scriptures, and develop a testimony of Christ.

“I have a lot of empathy for the youth. I love them and I know this is a critical time that will set the pattern for the rest of their lives.” —Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president

The birthdate listed on Stephen W. Owen’s drivers license indicates he’s more than a couple of generations removed from the teens he serves as the Young Men general president. But if enthusiasm and youthful energy defined age, Brother Owen wouldn’t be much different than the youth he serves.

“I feel young,” he told the Church News after being sustained to his calling on April 4. “I still feel in my heart that I’m the same age as our young men.”

Perhaps he relates well to the Aaronic Priesthood holders of the Church because when he was a young man he enjoyed valued friendships with several mentors in the Melchizedek Priesthood. First and foremost was his father. Young Stephen grew up in Utah’s Salt Lake Valley in an active Latter-day Saint home. He’s grateful he was raised by loving and supportive parents, Gordon and Carolyn Owen. His dad, he said, was a steady example of integrity. “My father was always there for other people,” he said, “and my mother was always loving and kind.”

Other mentors came into his life at pivotal times. When he was 14, his neighbor, A. Ray Curtis, hired him to cut the grass in his spacious yard and weed his garden every week. “It took me three days to mow that lawn,” said a smiling Brother Owen. When young Stephen finally finished the job, his wise employer asked him to join him for a walk through the garden. Brother Curtis spotted an overlooked weed or two. “He told me that I needed to pull every weed,” he said. “That was my first job, and it helped me understand what it meant to be duty-bound.”

Brother Owen would learn lessons that went far beyond lawn and garden care. For one, he discovered the satisfaction found in doing hard things the right way. He also learned the value of mentors. Brother Curtis expected only the best from Stephen. “It was like he was saying to me, ‘I know who you can become, and I want to help you.’”

A few years later, his family moved to a neighborhood inside the boundaries of his rival high school. The strapping Olympus High football player wasn’t happy about the change, and he carried a chip on his shoulder. But a youth leader in his new ward, Brian Richards, threw a welcoming arm around his shoulder and let him know that he belonged.

When he served in the Texas San Antonio Mission, Elder Stephen Owen was mentored by his mission president, Vaughn J. Featherstone, a former member of the Presiding Bishopric and then a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy who would be called later as Young Men general president. President Featherstone was a first-rate motivator who taught Elder Owen and his fellow missionaries the joy in realizing their potential through gospel service.

Each of those men—from his father to President Featherstone—saw something in Stephen Owen that he likely did not even see in himself. With seasoned eyes, they saw the man he could become. Every young man in the Church, he said, needs such mentors to help him become the best possible priesthood holder.

“I have a lot of empathy for the youth,” he said. “I love them and I know this is a critical time that will set the pattern for the rest of their lives.”

Brother Owen’s wife, Sister Jane Owen, said she has known of her husband’s capacity to love, lead, and mentor others since the days of their youth. The two met as schoolmates when they were both 12. Later, they served together in seminary. “During our junior year, Steve was called to be the president of our class and he called me to be his social vice president,” said Sister Owen.

The two worked closely together to make sure everyone in the class felt they belonged. Sometimes they took fellow classmates to breakfast. Other times they organized projects to help someone in need. The two became fast friends before ever developing a romantic relationship. “Steve was the type of friend who made me want to be a better person,” she said. “He was always helping others.”

After high school graduation, Stephen played a season of football at Ricks College before answering his call to serve. Missionary work offered him the opportunity to serve others while building on his own growing testimony of the gospel. He and Jane “wrote each other as friends.” The two began dating after he completed his mission. They married nine months later, December 28, 1979, in the Provo Utah Temple.

President A. Ray Curtis—the same man who offered Brother Owen his first job—was serving as the temple president and performed the sealing ceremony. President Curtis counseled the newlyweds to hold family home evening every Monday night for the rest of their lives. “We took that counsel to heart,” said Brother Owen. “We had family home evening our first Monday together as man and wife, even though we were still on our honeymoon. Sister Owen led the music and I gave the lesson. We decided we would begin that holy habit right there and then.”

Family home evening remains a weekly practice for Brother and Sister Owen and their five children.

Brother Owen would claim a finance degree at the University of Utah and establish a business career. He is the president of the Great Harvest Bread Company in Provo. Despite the demands of raising a family and operating a business, Brother Owen said the Lord has always provided a way for him to serve in the Church. He has fulfilled a variety of ecclesiastical assignments—including bishop, stake president, high councilor, Scoutmaster, and ward Young Men president.

In 2005, the Owens accepted a call that would help them gain a greater understanding and love for the young people of the Church. Brother Owen was assigned to preside over the California Arcadia Mission. Sister Owen would be his missionary companion. As a mission president, Brother Owen learned it was essential for young people to have experiences “that will help them feel the Spirit.”

In his new calling, he is eager for Latter-day Saint young men all across the globe to feel that same Spirit in each of their hearts.

Sister Owen said young people are aptly called “Millennials.” “The youth of today are preparing for the Second Coming of Christ.”

In his calling as the Young Men general president, Brother Owen will have the opportunity to meet with deacons, teachers, and priests from all corners of the world. He loves them all and wants them to find joy in the gospel. Every Aaronic Priesthood holder in the Church, he said, will be blessed if they pray, read the scriptures, and develop a testimony of Christ.

He also encourages them to “get a job and do it well,” learn to converse with people, learn to ponder and meditate, and, on frequent occasion, set down the smartphone and other electronics and “take time to think.”

Biographical information

Family: Born March 22, 1958, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Gordon P. Owen Jr. and Carolyn Woodruff Owen. Married Jane Stringham Owen on December 28, 1979, in the Provo Utah Temple. Five children: Scott, Jason (Lindsay), SaraJane (Nick) Warner, Jackson (Emily), Jessica (Sam) Pugmire. Seven grandchildren.

Education: University of Utah bachelor of finance, 1982.

Employment: Great Harvest Bread Co. Provo—President, 1988–2015.

Church service: Public affairs director, mission preparation instructor, stake president, counselor in the stake presidency, bishop, high councilor, Scoutmaster, Young Men president, elders quorum president, missionary in the Texas San Antonio Mission (1977–1979), president of the California Arcadia Mission (2005–2008).