From Comrade to Convert

Ben Eremenko has watched the opening of several Soviet republics for missionary work with amazement and often tears of joy.

In 1956, when he was twenty-two years old, Ben was a Soviet sailor. When their ship was impounded for crossing into territorial waters in Taiwan, Ben and more than a dozen of his fellow sailors jumped ship. For Ben, this meant losing contact with his parents and sisters in Ukraine, with the possibility that they may never know what happened to him.

Nine of the sailors, including Ben, asked for and received asylum in the United States. They were sent to New York City. Five of their number who had the most schooling were sent to a university to learn English. Ben and three others went to work in a factory, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Soviet secret police found the five university men and took them home to prison. Ben and his three remaining companions were then sent to other areas of the country for their own protection. He ended up in Coos Bay, Oregon.

In Coos Bay, Ben and a good friend would go out to bars, but the friend moved to Texas. When the friend returned to Coos Bay, Ben invited him out. But his friend told him that he didn’t drink anymore. “I asked him why,” Ben says, “and he told me he had joined the Mormon Church.”

Ben was curious, and his friend introduced him to the Church, where Ben later met his future wife, Marilyn. Ten years after arriving in the United States, Ben was allowed to become a citizen and again use his real name.

The breakup of the Soviet Union enabled Ben and Marilyn to try contacting his parents and sisters. They wrote a letter and sent it to Ben’s old address in the village where he was born. About a month later, the telephone rang in the middle of the night. It was Ben’s sister with news that Ben’s parents, now in their eighties, were still alive, and his sisters were both married and living near their parents.

“They couldn’t believe it,” said Ben. “Everyone said I must be dead after all these years, but my sister had a feeling I wasn’t. I couldn’t talk with my father or mother that first time because they were so surprised and happy that they just wept.”

Ben and his family began writing to each other. In those letters, Ben tried to explain about the gospel and the life he had been leading for the past thirty-five years. He began gathering genealogical information for temple work.

Ben and Marilyn have not yet visited his homeland. But in the meantime, Ben has given the names of his family members to a missionary from his ward in Coos Bay, Michael Higgins, who will be serving his mission in Ukraine. And Ben has written to tell his family not to be surprised if two young men in white shirts and dark suits come knocking on their door.Janet Thomas, Salt Lake City

[photo] Grateful for how the gospel has improved his life, Ben Eremenko (left) is eager to have others like fellow ward member Michael Higgins serve as missionaries to Ukraine. (Photo by Janet Thomas.)

Pulling Out All Stops

For more than thirty-five years, bishops in the Mountain View Second Ward, in the Salt Lake Hillside Stake, have never had to worry about an organist for sacrament meeting. Lou Beesley has been on the bench regularly—or has arranged for a substitute.

Monday mornings find Sister Beesley again at the organ, this time in the Salt Lake Temple, where she plays the chapel organ for those awaiting a session. On Monday evenings, Sister Beesley is busy with the Wasatch Community Orchestra—playing the violin. Arthritis has twisted her fingers, but her tone is still clear and right on pitch, as is her tenor voice in the ward choir.

Music is not this busy lady’s only love. Five mornings a week at 6:00 A.M., you’ll find her swimming her daily mile. She’s easy to spot: look for a snorkel, fins, goggles, and an athletic swimsuit. Once a week, she volunteers at the University Hospital delivering mail, always with a smile and a cheery greeting.

A widow for the past six years, Sister Beesley maintains her own home—from stringing outside Christmas lights to planting flowers in the spring. In the summer, she especially likes to invite family and friends to share her yard for fun and food.

She enjoys doing needlepoint work and shares these with her three daughters and others. “I promised to finish by Christmas a piece of needlepoint to cover a piano bench for one of my daughters,” she says, smiling as she remembers, “but I had it all ready by June, so I gave it to her early.” That’s how she does things.

An ordinary person doing ordinary things? Maybe so. But Sister Beesley will be eighty-four in March.Mary Lou Strasser, Bountiful, Utah

[photo] Music fills Lou Beesley’s week, and volunteering fills her heart.

A Premium on Service

Robert Driver of the Del Mar Ward, Carlsbad California Stake, ought to know something about business success. He is the founder and chairman of one of America’s largest insurance brokerages.

What is success? “It’s certainly not making money,” says Brother Driver. “Money is part of it because of the economy we live in, but I think success is trying to round out your life so that you’re a family person. And when you see other people’s problems, you enjoy being of help to them if you can.”

Helping if you can seems to be a phrase that has guided Brother Driver’s public and private life. In 1954, he received a Distinguished Service plaque from the city of San Diego for his efforts in welfare reform. He served for fifteen years on the board of directors of Project Concern, an international medical organization that helps people in developing nations learn to recognize and prevent health problems. Project Concern honored him as its Director of the Decade, 1970–80.

In 1989, Brother Driver became the first Latter-day Saint to receive a Humanity Award from the San Diego chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Brother Driver also raised funds for and helped produce the Church film People of Destiny, a film made to tell descendants of Lehi about the history of the Book of Mormon. The idea began when an Indian friend told Brother Driver that Native American young people desperately need the sense of noble heritage that they can get by learning about the people of the Book of Mormon.

If Brother Driver’s definition of success is doing what you can to help other people, what might be his definition of happiness? “True happiness begins when you get a testimony of Jesus Christ and what he was all about—what he taught and how he lived—and when you live the standards he established. And they’re high. But if you live within them, you’ve got a joyful life, a happy life. No question about that.”Robert McGraw, San Diego, California

[photo] To Robert Driver, success really means being able to do things for others. (Photo by Robert McGraw.)