The call of President Ezra Taft Benson to preside over the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became a landmark, not only in his own extensive and commendable career, but in the history of the Church as well.
He was sustained in this position following the death of President Harold B. Lee when President Spencer W. Kimball became president of the Church. He was set apart to this high position by President Kimball on December 30, 1973.
His call brought to this point in the leadership of the Lord’s latter-day kingdom another man of unusual talents and attainments, of unblemished integrity, self-effacing humility, and deep devotion to the Master.
Only 18 other men have held this position in the 144 years of our Church history.
The honor that such a calling brings is matched only by its responsibility, for to preside over the Twelve has tremendous significance.
The Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ is unique. It was so in the days of Peter, James, and John; it was when the Prophet Joseph Smith first set up this quorum in our day; and it is now.
In the Council of the Twelve, men are bound together in a great brotherhood which can hardly be equalled anywhere else in the world. These men—these Twelve—have a special and distinctive calling from the Lord. They are chosen for one great purpose—to testify of Christ and teach his word. And this they do.
One in their divine mission, one in a great effort to waken the world to its true opportunity to find peace and the abundant life, these men are united in heart and hand. They move as one. They work as one. They feel as one.
Like their associates in this great ministry, the Twelve know what it is to be devoted completely to the cause of Christ.
Daily they go the extra mile. Daily they serve their Master with might and heart and soul, never counting the cost, willingly sacrificing even of their health and well-being as necessary, but always seeking to build the kingdom of God with an eye single to his glory.
President Benson is a true example of this pattern.
He serves the Lord in three ways: first in the Church, then in his family, and likewise in the nation.
In his service to the nation he has felt he was still laboring for the Lord, for he regards the United States as a nation apart, choice above all others, chosen for a great destiny.
That destiny he knows to be inseparably related to the establishment of the Lord’s kingdom in the latter days.
Those are not idle words to President Benson. They represent a great reality. And what is this destiny? To be a tool in the hands of God for developing his purposes on the earth, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
But what does the United States have to do with that? This nation provided the cradle for the newly restored Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days. It developed and still furnishes the free atmosphere wherein man may worship the Lord according to the dictates of his own conscience. It allowed freedom of speech and press such as was not known anywhere in the world when America was born.
Furthermore, it has provided a unique type of protection for the emissaries of the Lord who go from America “to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people” bearing the everlasting gospel “in the hour of God’s judgment.” (See Rev. 14:6–7.)
This was the purpose for which the United States was formed. America, therefore, is not the product of man’s wisdom; it is the handiwork of divine providence.
The gospel could not be restored under monarchial conditions, nor under governments which sponsored state religions, nor in priest-ridden lands where prescribed rituals were required of everyone.
When the Lord was ready to restore his work, there was not a free land anywhere on earth. He had to raise up a nation of his own liking, with a form of government which would permit the accomplishment of his own purposes.
As the Savior himself told the Nephites (3 Ne. 21:4), it was “wisdom in the Father” that this nation be set up “as a free people by the power of the Father,” that his great purposes might be accomplished.
Thus it was, as indicated by Nephi (1 Ne. 13), the Savior kept this land reserved until the appropriate time. Then he arranged for its discovery, brought colonists here, and gave them freedom from their mother country.
So it was, too, that he raised up men whom he inspired to write a Constitution, giving this favored nation the greatest expression of divine free agency known to man, and making it possible for the restored Church to do its work and prosper.
Only after all this did the Lord send His prophet, Joseph Smith, to America, through whom He there restored His truth and reestablished His church.
This is why there is a United States.
This is the concept of liberty—the very basis of patriotism—that burns in the heart of President Ezra Taft Benson.
It is part of his religion to believe in the United States and to preserve the Constitution of this land, which must be saved, used, honored, and obeyed because God gave it to us.
It is because of this philosophy that President Benson has given himself so earnestly to the preservation of the United States Constitution. It was this guiding force that led him to accept a position in the cabinet of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was this same principle that led President David O. McKay to encourage him to accept the cabinet post.
Throughout his varied career, spirituality has been a supreme factor in everything he has done. That spirituality was obvious in all of his government activities. It is paramount in his Church service, and is the very light and life of his remarkable family.
Some most unusual circumstances have given it emphasis.
One such occasion was on Lincoln’s birthday in 1953. The National Council of Christians and Jews was convened in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. A businessman from Chicago, prominent in the agriculture-related industries, was being honored as an example of one who lived the highest Christian principles. He received an ovation from the large crowd.
President Ezra Taft Benson was the speaker of the evening, and before giving his address, he paid further tribute to the recipient of the award.
A few days later, President Benson received a letter from the Chicago gentleman that said:
“Mr. Benson, since being with you the other night, I have had the strangest feeling that I wanted to leave my nets and come and follow you and be a fisher of men.”
Another instance occurred in Russia under vastly different circumstances. President Benson, as United States Secretary of Agriculture, had conferred with Premier Khrushchev and other high Soviet officials on matters of state.
Flanked by a group of news correspondents who felt they were being imposed upon to attend a “command performance.” Secretary Benson one day walked into a little Baptist church in Moscow.
It was one of the very few Christian churches still open in that vast city. The congregation was made up mainly of elderly people, many of whom were women.
As the obviously American group walked into the chapel, the people in the congregation looked almost agape, hardly believing their own eyes. One of the Americans was unexpectedly called to the pulpit. It was Secretary Benson who was invited to speak.
Choking with emotion, he testified in that city to the reality of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“God lives. I know that he lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ and the Redeemer of the world,” he declared.
His words were translated into Russian. With each sentence nods of assent were seen throughout the congregation. Women removed their head coverings and wiped their eyes. Men rubbed away the moisture that blurred their vision. The hardened news correspondents who came because they felt they were compelled to as part of the Secretary’s entourage, and who at first had no interest in this religious gathering whatever, now wept with the congregation.
It was a solemn moment. Hearts were melted. A spirit enveloped the worshipers such as they had never felt before. Hands folded and heads bowed in humble prayer.
“I firmly believe in prayer,” the voice of the Secretary continued. “It is possible to reach out and tap the unseen power which gives strength and anchor in time of need. Be not afraid. Keep God’s commandments. Love the Lord. Love one another. Love all mankind. Truth will triumph. Time is on the side of truth.”
The Americans then slowly walked down the aisle toward the door, with a humble attitude in complete contrast to that with which they had entered. As they passed the pews, anxious hands and hungry hearts reached out to them. Then from thankful lips came the strains of “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” although everyone realized that this hope would likely never be fulfilled in mortality.
A high tribute to his integrity came from still another source.
Late in June 1955, after a Gallup poll had been reported in the press, Dr. Glen W. Sutton, Democratic member of the United States Tariff Commission from the state of Georgia, visited Dr. Omer Clyde Aderhold, president of the University of Georgia.
Dr. Sutton commented upon the popularity of President Eisenhower in the southern states as shown by that poll. He asked Dr. Aderhold how he accounted for such a condition in the southern states.
The president’s reply was surprising to Dr. Sutton, who reported it to Dr. Edgar B. Brossard, chairman of the commission, on his return to Washington, D.C.
The president of the university indicated that the popularity of President Eisenhower in the southern states was due in large measure to his Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson.
Dr. Sutton said he did not understand that, because the Democrats in Congress, including those from the southern states, had shown considerable opposition to Secretary Benson’s flexible farm price support programs.
President Aderhold then stated that this popularity was not due to the Department of Agriculture’s farm program but was in spite of it.
He said Secretary Benson’s popularity in the southern states was due to his own personal character, his fine family and their solidarity, and to his religious convictions and belief in God as shown on the recent Ed Murrow television show, “Person to Person,” broadcast from the Benson home in Washington, D.C.
Further, he said, this had far more influence on the popularity of President Eisenhower in the southern states than any political beliefs, the farm program, or anything else. He said the people of the south were glad to have a man such as Ezra Taft Benson in the federal government and that they honored him for his character, integrity, personality, home and family life, and religious convictions.
Commenting as Secretary Benson came into the cabinet, an editorial in the California Farmer, dated May 16, 1953, said:
“A sense of helplessness and hopelessness seems to be lifting from the shoulders of our people. Again it is becoming fashionable to be honest. We are gaining national and international courage. We have new faith and it is our opinion that many are taking their new faith to church where they seek to strengthen and nurture it.”
Daken K. Broadhead, former executive assistant to Secretary Benson in the Department of Agriculture, and later consultant to Secretary Benson for two years, related the following:
“Ernest Lindley, Washington editor of Newsweek magazine, told me that Secretary Benson and one other cabinet member, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, were the two best informed and well prepared men appointed to the cabinet by President Eisenhower—both were men possessed with great religious backgrounds, as well as having outstanding personal careers and being nationally recognized authorities in their respective fields.
“One of the most impressive experiences of my life was reading through the hundreds of letters of congratulations received by Secretary Benson during the first six months of his administration. Many of these letters ended with ‘God bless you and the administration with the ability to solve the agricultural problems of the nation—you have our prayers and support.’”
When President Eisenhower held his first cabinet meeting, he looked at the strong group of men and smiled broadly, but then the smile gave way to sobriety. President Eisenhower said that because of the great need of the incoming administration for divine guidance, he would ask the Secretary of Agriculture to open this first meeting of the new cabinet with prayer.
Taken completely by surprise, yet grateful for the spiritual element being brought into the government, the secretary prayed fervently, thanking God for freedom, for an inspired Constitution, for the principles guiding our way of life, and for a bounteous land. He then prayed earnestly for the guidance and direction of the Almighty upon this new administration.
From then on it was customary for prayers to be offered in cabinet meetings as well as in the meetings of the Department of Agriculture.
Earlier in his life, at the age of 39, President Benson was invited to go to Washington, D.C., to consult with heads of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, which had a membership of 2.5 million farmers organized into 5,000 cooperative groups throughout the nation.
The board of trustees of the cooperative offered him the position of executive secretary because of the outstanding work he had done in agriculture in Idaho.
He had not solicited this offer, and told the group frankly that inasmuch as the position would entail lobbying at cocktail parties and similar activities, he would decline, for that would be incompatible with his religion.
Judge John D. Miller, head of the group, then spoke up and said, “Mr. Benson, that is why we selected you. We know what your standards are.”
Victor Emanuel, president of the Avco Corporation, with its far-flung multimillion-dollar industrial empire, referred to Secretary Benson as an agricultural statesman. It was J. A. McConnell of Ithaca, New York, executive vice president of the Grange League Federation, one of the largest cooperatives in the nation, who called him “a statesman’s statesman and a sound agricultural economist.”
William I. Meyers, former deputy chairman and director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, former governor of the Farm Credit Administration, and dean of the College of Agriculture of Cornell University, said of President Benson:
“Ezra Taft Benson has the lifelong habit of integrity. With this appraisal, all who know him will agree. In a day when the political market has sometimes held honesty and sincerity at too low a price, here is a man of broad experience, wide friendships, an understanding heart, and a generous measure of native ability who can also be trusted. This makes it easy to see why President Eisenhower named this man, whom he had never before met, to head one of the most important departments of the new administration.”
Because of his nationwide recognition for maintenance of law and order and for the preservation of the United States Constitution, President Benson was elected to the National Police Reserve Officers Association. When this recognition came to him, the certificate said, “For recognition of professional standing and support of the Law Enforcement Profession and for the perpetuation of the memory of Police Officers killed in the line of duty.”
Ezra Taft Benson is a most unusual man. There are not many in his mold. Only those who do not really know him would stop to criticize him. Greatness is part and parcel of his entire being. His motives are the highest. An unselfish desire to promote righteousness is the ultimate aim of his life.
In his public career, he has upheld the ideals of his beloved faith, whether among Christians or non-Christians, and has never been ashamed to do so. Without any thought of self, he has endeavored to live the Golden Rule and to do to all others as he would be done by.
In his family, with his remarkable and accomplished wife, he has had an eye single to the glory of God and has taught his children to do likewise.
And so his life’s theme has always been one of God, family, and country. So it was that he recently spoke to the nation and said:
“Multiply your influence by raising up God-fearing patriots at your own fireside. We need more than one generation of patriots in a family line. We need more like John Adams, who took time amid all the demands of the revolution in the building of this republic to teach and train a future president, his own son, John Quincy Adams. Stay close to your children.
“Not only should you have a strong spiritual home, but you should have a strong temporal home. Avoid financial bondage by getting out of debt as soon as you can. Pay as you go and live within your income. There is wisdom in having on hand a year’s supply of food, clothing, and fuel if possible, and in being prepared to defend your family and your possessions and in taking care of yourself. I believe a man should prepare for the worst while working for the best. Some people prepare and don’t work, while others work and don’t prepare. Both are needed if you would be of maximum service to your God, your family, and your country.” (Talk given at the New England Rally for God, Family, and Country, Boston, Massachusetts, July 4, 1972.)
President Benson from childhood to the present has been a strong advocate of a sacred Sabbath. He said at one time:
“I believe in honoring the Sabbath day. I love a sacred Sabbath. I am grateful that as a boy I had a constant example and sound parental counsel as to the importance of keeping the Sabbath day a holy day. I am also grateful that my beloved wife and children and grandchildren have been true to the direction of the priesthood of God in regard to the Sabbath day. My memories of the Sabbath from infancy have been joyful, uplifting, and spiritually profitable.” (Talk given at the Priesthood Board Meeting, February 10, 1971.)
From his earliest youth, President Benson has stood for principle. Throughout his adult life, he has never varied from it. He has passed through many a crucible in his life’s experiences. He met opposition as a young missionary. He was attacked as a cabinet member. In more than one agriculture meeting, he has faced offensive crowds who shouted, “Mormon go home,” but who were subsequently calmed down by his peaceful spirit and his earnest eloquence.
He has faced severe opposition from political enemies who had no mercy and no discretion, but because of his integrity, his love of truth, and his faith that truth would prevail, he has come through with flying colors.
As a humble servant of God, and now as President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he portrays in his life the same ideals he was taught in his youth.
One of the most remarkable things about his notable career has been the stout and undeviating loyalty of his family. Seldom has there been such unity in a home. Rarely has there been such family solidarity as is evidenced among the Bensons.
It is no wonder that President N. Eldon Tanner, speaking of them at one time, said:
“I really know of no more courageous and capable proponent of any cause which he thinks is right than Brother Ezra Taft Benson. I know of no more devoted and loving mother and wife than Sister Benson. I know of no more capable, loyal, united children than their children.”
His ministry is strong and effective. He teaches faith and builds testimony and carries with him a humility which softens the hearts of those who hear him.
How many of us know of the extensive achievements of this remarkable man?
Let us list just a few of them.
To begin with, he nearly lost his life at birth and was saved by a miracle from heaven. Being the eldest of 11 children, he had to carry much of the responsibility of the family farm in southern Idaho.
In spite of difficult circumstances, he obtained both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and then went on to further postgraduate study as well.
As but a youth he became a leader in agriculture, and while yet in his thirties he became a stake president in Boise, Idaho.
He became a member of the National Agricultural Advisory Committee during World War II, after serving as executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. He was the United States delegate to the first international conference of farm organizations in London, England, and was an adviser to the United States delegation at an international farm gathering in Denmark in 1946. He served as chairman of the board of trustees of the American Institute of Cooperation.
In 1952, while still in his early fifties, he was made Secretary of Agriculture in President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s cabinet and served there with great distinction for eight years, and was of great assistance as he represented the United States in assignments around the world, providing aid for many less fortunate nations.
He has also been a tower of strength to Scouting in the nation. He served on the National Advisory Board and Executive Board of Boy Scouts of America. He served in Region 12 and on two western Scout councils. He holds the Silver Antelope, the Silver Buffalo, and the Silver Beaver awards, the three highest honors in Scouting.
He has been an inspiration in education and has been awarded 11 honorary doctorate degrees as well as many other special awards and recognitions; these are in addition to his own degrees, earned through undergraduate and postgraduate work in four universities.
As one outstanding leader declared: “Here indeed is a man!”
President Benson was born August 4, 1899, in Whitney, Idaho, the son of George T. Benson, Jr., and Sarah Dunkley Benson. He was the first of 11 children.
At birth he was in critical condition. The doctor told the family he would try to save the mother, but he held little hope for the child.
But as President Benson himself explained: “The faith of my father, the administrations of the priesthood, and the quick action of my two grandmothers, who placed me first in a pan of cold water and then in a pan of warm water alternately, brought forth a husky yell to the joy of all.”
The new baby was named after his great-grandfather, who had entered the Salt Lake Valley with the first company of pioneers July 24, 1847.
He was only four years of age when he drove a wagon team for the first time, but as he grew up on the farm, his chores went to every phase of agricultural life. He learned the meaning of work and loved it. As one evidence of his industry, when only 16 years of age he single-handedly thinned an entire acre of sugar beets in only one day. He was paid $12 for the work.
Even with his busy life at work and in school, he always found time to engage in sports, basketball and baseball being his favorites. He played basketball as a boy with President Harold B. Lee, who also grew up in Idaho. They were boyhood friends.
He attended the Oneida Stake Academy at Preston, Idaho, and traveled from his home to school by horseback or buggy in warm weather and by sleigh in winter. Subsequent to that, he began to study agriculture at the Utah State Agricultural College in Logan, Utah, where he first met the girl who later became his wife, Miss Flora Amussen, the daughter of Carl C. Amussen, a Danish aristocrat, Utah pioneer jeweler, and watchmaker who had emigrated from Denmark.
Flora’s mother, who was a temple officiator for 23 years, was Barbara Smith Amussen, born in Tooele, Utah, of Scottish parents. Flora’s father died when she was only one year old, but as a widow her mother raised the family of six in a most remarkable way.
It was here that Flora early gained her deep appreciation of a good home, with all the elements of family solidarity, love, and gospel teaching that since have characterized her own home with President Benson.
While at the Logan school, Elder Benson entered military service near the close of World War I and was there when the influenza epidemic of 1918 swept through the camp. There was an acute shortage of labor for the sugar beet harvest that fall. The servicemen at the camp were authorized to take a furlow in response to this urgent need, effective on a certain Saturday. The Friday morning before, Elder Benson, in response to a strong impression, left for home a day early and was stricken with influenza shortly after he arrived at his farm home, where he was nursed by his family and fully recovered. Two of his close military companions who slept on cots on either side of him passed away as a result of the disease.
From 1921 to 1923 he served as a missionary in the British Isles. On returning he entered Brigham Young University to continue his education, graduating with honors in 1926, and receiving a scholarship to Iowa State College (later Iowa State University) at Ames, Iowa.
In the meantime, Flora, his sweetheart, had accepted a mission call to the Hawaiian Islands and served there with distinction while her husband-to-be continued his education.
On September 10, 1926, Flora Smith Amussen and Ezra Taft Benson were married in the Salt Lake Temple by Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Council of the Twelve, for whom the town of President Benson’s birth, Whitney, Idaho, was named.
In 1927 he received a master’s degree from Iowa State University and was elected to Gamma Sigma Delta, the agricultural honor society.
The couple then moved to the farm in Whitney, Idaho, where they entered actively into agriculture. Together with his brother, Orval, he had purchased the farm in 1923. In the fall of that year, Orval was called on a mission to Denmark and was supported by the farm income.
In 1929, President Benson became the Franklin County agricultural agent for the University of Idaho Extension Service in Preston, Idaho, and the following year became extension economist and marketing specialist at the University of Idaho College of Agriculture. He also became a Scout commissioner with the Boy Scouts of America that same year.
In 1931 he became the head of a newly organized Department of Agricultural Economics and Marketing for the Extension Service of the University of Idaho. In 1933, he became a member of the stake presidency in the Boise Stake, and during this same year was appointed secretary of the Idaho Cooperative Council which he helped to organize. He held that position for five years.
For nearly six years (from 1933 to 1939) he served in the stake presidency of the Boise Stake and was given a leave of absence during that time to attend the University of California, where he did further graduate work. He became president of the Boise Stake in 1937, holding that position for two years.
In 1939 he became a member of the National Council of Boy Scouts of America and was appointed executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. This required him to move to Washington, D.C.
He was there only one year when he became the first president of the newly created Washington Stake in Washington, D.C., and also became a member of the National Farm Credit Committee. He held the latter position for a year.
In 1942 he became a member of the executive committee of the board of trustees of the American Institute of Cooperation, an organization of farm cooperatives and land grant colleges.
The greatest call of his life came to him on July 26, 1943, when he received an appointment from President Heber J. Grant to become a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church. He was sustained to that position at the following general conference, October 7, 1943.
The following year he became a member-at-large of the National Council of Boy Scouts of America, and in 1945 was made a member of the Region 12 Executive Committee of Scouting, and later served as its president.
A challenging call came to him on January 15, 1946, at the close of World War II, when he was appointed president of the European Mission, headquartered in London, England. His specific assignment was to reopen missions and to alleviate suffering among members of the Church in war-torn countries of Europe.
During this year he received a government appointment as United States delegate to the first international conference of farm organizations at Church House, London, England.
His Church service in Europe among the war-torn countries was one of the most poignant experiences of his life. There he saw the conditions under which members of the Church had lived and remained faithful during the six years of war, and was instrumental in bringing clothing, bedding, and food to them as peace was restored once again to Europe.
It was during this period of service that President Benson dedicated the land of Finland for the preaching of the gospel.
After a year he returned to his family in Salt Lake City.
On August 14, 1952, he became chairman of the board of trustees of the American Institute of Cooperation. He also was awarded one of the six honorary recognition citations by the University of Wisconsin, the only nonresident of the state who was so honored.
In 1952, President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower invited him to become the United States Secretary of Agriculture. After discussing the matter carefully with President David O. McKay and receiving his encouragement and blessing, President Benson accepted the position.
As part of this assignment, he and Sister Benson traveled widely throughout the world representing the United States government in agricultural affairs.
On July 19, 1954, he was named a trustee of the Robert A. Taft Memorial Foundation. He was well acquainted with this outstanding United States Senator and was his sixth cousin.
He was awarded two George Washington Honor Medals by the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.
On April 10, 1957, he was awarded the High Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, the highest decoration the Italian government could give. It was bestowed upon him in recognition of his help in assisting Italy solve its food problems with United States surpluses.
In 1960, he was named to the Hall of Fame of the Saddle and Sirloin Club of Chicago. In his being elected to that position an oil painting of President Benson was hung in the club’s Hall of Fame. There are only two other places where oil paintings of President Benson are hanging—one is in the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, and the other is in the Salt Lake Temple.
One of his significant contributions to public life in the business field was his membership on the board of CPC International (formerly Corn Products Company), an organization which encompasses 41 nations. He served with this organization for 12 years.
In January 1961 he concluded his eight years as United States Secretary of Agriculture and returned to Salt Lake City to take over his responsibilities as a member of the Council of the Twelve. On September 4, 1965, he was named to the American Patriot’s Hall of Fame.
In 1967, a delegation to draft President Benson for president of the United States came to Salt Lake City to solicit his acceptance. The organization was already well underway with offices in Michigan and southern Illinois. However, President Benson offered no encouragement and the campaign was dropped.
At another time he was urged to accept a draft to run for governor of the State of Utah. This he also declined. It was now his purpose to devote himself entirely to the Church as a member of the Council of the Twelve.
He served another two-year term as president of the European Missions of the Church, living in Frankfurt, Germany, ending that service October 2, 1965.
Assigned to various areas of the world for missionary work as well as for other Church activities, he again traveled widely. During one of his journeys in 1969, he dedicated Singapore and Indonesia for the preaching of the gospel.
In 1971 he represented the Church at the 2,500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire, the world’s oldest existing constitutional monarchy. The Church was one of 28 world religions represented.
Always having in mind his loyalty to the Church, President Benson placed in the Church Historian’s library the many important state papers that he had amassed during his period as Secretary of Agriculture. He also provided copies of these documents to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas, as well as to the archives of the United States in Washington, D.C., at the request of John E. Wickman, director of the Eisenhower Library. The documents include some of the most important correspondence of the period of President Eisenhower’s presidency.
Certainly family love and solidarity have been a most characteristic feature of the Bensons. Both Brother and Sister Benson came from outstanding parentage and the great advantages of their youthful home training bloomed to full fruition in the family that they themselves raised.
At one time President Benson said:
“Complete family love, loyalty, and unity by living the gospel has made our home a bit of heaven on earth. All of our children and their eternal companions and their families have had such full joy in righteous living.
“Following the program of the Church in the family home evening, the family council, family prayer, and devoted scripture reading has developed faith and testimony in each member of the family. One of our richest blessings has been complete harmony in righteous living in our home for 48 years of happy married life.
“Sister Benson says she would be happy in a log cabin with these priceless blessings. Material things mean little to her by comparison.
“Honor and respect for the priesthood and the leadership of the Church have been of the utmost importance in our family. This has been foremost in our lives.”
At another time, President Benson said:
“We have never heard a cross word or quarreling among our children. We train by love and thankfulness for the choice spirits the Lord has blessed us with, and for each other, and by taking time to talk and to read the scriptures, confiding and discussing things with each other and by all of us benefiting by each other’s help.
“All of our family have always had only one goal in mind for their life’s work. This was to live the gospel, putting the Church, the family, and the home as their most important work, always preparing and planning to provide for their family needs.”
This same family solidarity was noted in Washington, D.C., and whenever it was the occasion for the Bensons to entertain cabinet and other dignitaries in Washington, it was always done in true Mormon style with all the standards of the Church being observed. One of the newspapers in Washington once carried an article saying:
“The national spotlight picked out a member of the Utah colony, Mrs. Ezra Taft Benson, wife of the Secretary of Agriculture, as the most likely candidate for the title ‘Little Woman of the Hour’ when she stole the show at the meeting of the Kitchen Kabinet in Toledo last month with her speech on the farm problems. With a fine enthusiasm, she defended her husband and the administration policy.
“When Mrs. Benson says, ‘We’re a team. We talk farm policy day and night,’ she means just that. There are no separate compartments in family living for her, and, because she thinks of herself as fundamentally the loyal wife of a farmer, she is well versed in the problem and can present proposed solutions with assurance.”
Although widely scattered over different parts of the continent, the Benson children are still constantly attentive to their parents, which attention is fully reciprocated.
Endearing are the letters that come from the children. Reed recently wrote to his father on his birthday under the heading of “My Dad Is,” and then listed the following items with a short paragraph describing each one:
“Dignified, personable, progressive, conservative, thrifty, generous, industrious, efficient, courageous, organized, teachable, forgiving, studious, patriotic, and religious.”
Some of the paragraphs are very short and to the point. Under courageous, Reed says: “He will stand up and speak out, even if he be alone, if he feels it is right. He avoids being stampeded into accepting an unwise course.”
Under forgiving, he said: “He does not engage in small talk about individuals, nor belabor a man’s failures or shortcomings. He points a man to the work and life ahead.”
Under patriotic, he said: “He loves America, its founders, and its Constitution. With pen and purse and prayers and the tongue of testimony he has championed the cause of freedom, its organizations, and its followers. He is a noble man.”
Under religion, he puts simply: “He puts God first.”
And then he concluded with these lines:
After a short visit, young Flora Elizabeth Walker of Canada wrote to her grandparents as follows:
“Dear Grandpa and Grandma,
“I really don’t think I am capable of expressing my gratitude for the wonderful but all too short visit.
“Grandma, I have never tired of listening to you—you radiate sunshine and love. Did I tell you that I would get to know my progenitors’ minds and characters as promised me in my patriarchal blessing? Thank you so much for giving me some added insight. I am so proud of my wonderful heritage. I am going to have a lot to do to keep up the good names.
“Grandpa, words cannot express my gratitude for the blessing which you gave me. My heart is much too full to say this out loud, so I’ll write it. Half of the things you said were answers to my prayers that I had not ever thought would be answered in that way. The other half was an almost word-for-word quote from my patriarchal blessing, which I have almost memorized. It was so special having you give me a blessing. You are both so special to me. Grandpa and Grandma, I only hope I am worthy of you. I love you both.”
An entire book could be written about this remarkable family, but space in a magazine article is limited. Suffice it to say that the Church and the nation can well be proud of such great Latter-day Saints and such outstanding citizens, a family which exemplifies the true teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, a family which is doing much to influence others to live even as he lived.
President and Sister Benson have six children and 31 grandchildren.
Their son Reed and his wife May of Pleasant Grove, Utah, are the parents of eight children: Holly, Taft, Heidi Hinckley, Heather, Lucilla May, Moroni Mark, Joshua Ruben, and Lynna.
Mark and his wife Lela of Salt Lake Valley have six children: Stephen Reed, Stephanie, Stacey Ann, Margaret, Mary, and Michael Taft.
Their daughter Barbara and her husband Dr. Robert H. Walker of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, are the parents of five children: Flora Elizabeth, Heather, Laurel, Robert Benson, and Holly Benson.
Their daughter Beverly and her husband Bishop James M. Parker, living in Burke, Virginia, are the parents of four children: Flora Benson, James Benson, Grace Benson, and Scott Benson.
Their daughter Bonnie and her husband High Councilor Lowell L. Madsen, now living in. Littleton, Colorado, have five children: Mark Benson, David Benson, Susan Benson, Heather Benson, and John Benson.
Their youngest daughter Beth and her husband Dr. David A. Burton, who are living in Salt Lake City, are the parents of three children: Thomas David, Mary, and Deborah. They are expecting a new one in December.
When Bonnie Benson was 19 years of age, she wrote in verse a tribute to her mother, a part of which reads:
As Ezra Taft Benson has concluded service in each of the organizations to which he has been chosen, high commendation has been given to him for his lifelong devotion to his fellowmen, whether in the Church or in public life.
Typical of such expressions is a resolution adopted at the Annual Assembly of Delegates of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives held in Chicago on January 5 and 6, 1944. In part the resolution said:
“During the years that have passed since we first knew him we have been privileged to witness the unfolding of his talents and capabilities in a manner which culminated in the universal recognition of him as a man without peer in his field of activities. We have drawn on his resources of energy and have profited by his unerring judgment in meeting the ever mounting problems facing the farmers of the nation and their cooperatives. His sincerity, resourcefulness and complete honesty of purpose have endeared him not only to us but to everyone with whom he has come in contact, no matter what their station.
“The high regard and abiding love that every member of the Council has for him will follow him wherever he goes through all his life, and it is our wish that he may fully achieve the deep satisfaction that comes only to those who dedicate their lives to the service of others.”
In contemplating her own life with President Benson, his devoted wife said:
“I am most grateful for 48 inspiring years of married life with my devoted companion, a choice family of temple-married children, 31 grandchildren, and the promise through the gospel of an eternity of happiness.”
The Benson family is most assuredly an ideal example of Latter-day Saint living.