President Ezra Taft Benson: A Sure Voice of Faith


President Ezra Taft Benson:

The man who is “greatest and most blessed and joyful [is one] whose life most closely approaches the pattern of Christ. This has nothing to do with earthly wealth, power, or prestige. The only true test of greatness, blessedness, joyfulness is how close can a life come to being like the Master, Jesus Christ. He is the right way, the full truth, and the abundant life” (Ezra Taft Benson, First Presidency Christmas devotional, 7 Dec. 1986).

President Ezra Taft Benson, a man whose life demonstrated this closeness to the Master, died of heart failure Monday, May 30, 1994, at the age of ninety-four. He passed away at 2:35 P.M. in his apartment in Salt Lake City. Family members had visited him during the days before his passing, singing hymns and favorite songs to him.

His funeral was held Saturday, June 4, at 10:00 A.M. in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. He was buried in Whitney, Idaho, the small farming community where he was born.

Throughout his life, Ezra Taft Benson was a pillar of strength to his family, the communities where he lived, and the Church, serving as a General Authority for fifty years, more than half his lifetime. He wore the prophet’s mantle in a time when certitude was not popular. It was a time when values, like grains of sand, were constantly shifting and uprooting men, women, and institutions. In prophetic word and by the example of his own fruitful life, President Benson showed us sure spiritual solutions for the perplexities of our times.

To nations, his message was that we must obey God to be free and that we must value liberty more highly than comfort. To parents, it was that family life is blessed and worth the sacrifice of any worldly ambition. To the Church as a whole, the message was that we had not fully understood the power of the Book of Mormon. Again and again, he challenged us to read the book, and he lifted his voice to call down divine blessings upon us as we did so.

He challenged us to steady our lives by sinking our spiritual roots deeper in gospel living, to nourish and anchor ourselves by eternal truths. And always, he testified of and pointed us to the Savior, who promised, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit” (John 15:5).

A Well-Rooted Tree

The image of a well-rooted tree bearing abundant fruit is fitting for this prophet, who spent much of his life helping things to grow. He grew to manhood in a rural farming community, in a family that took daily sustenance from the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, he was literally brought into this world by the faith of his parents.

His life began on 4 August 1899 in the one-room adobe farmhouse of George T. and Sarah Dunkley Benson in Whitney, Idaho. At birth, he did not breathe, and the doctor despaired of saving him. But his parents prayed, his father gave him a blessing, and his grandmothers dipped him alternately in warm and cold water.

The child lived, the first of eleven Benson children. His grateful parents named him for an Apostle, his great-grandfather, who had set a family precedent of devotion to the gospel. The older Ezra T. Benson, who had joined the Church in Illinois, entered the Salt Lake Valley with the first company of pioneers on 24 July 1847. He built a beautiful home near the current site of Temple Square and then left it when President Brigham Young asked him to settle Cache Valley, where his great-grandson would grow up.

By age five, “T,” as that grandson was known to his family, could drive a team. Even as a young boy, Ezra Taft Benson earnestly desired to serve a mission. He sought a patriarchal blessing and rejoiced when it promised him that he would be a missionary.

Growing into a hardy, good-humored young man, he spent much of his youth milking the family’s dairy herd and helping his father grow wheat and sugar beets in the sandy loam of Idaho. He learned the gratifying results of hard physical work—pumping water for the growing family, cutting and hauling trees for telephone poles. He even earned some renown among neighboring farmers by thinning an acre of beets in one long, back-breaking day. And he developed an exceptional gift for making friends. He also gained a lifelong love of horses, always preferring them over cars.

A Spiritual Harvest

In this childhood setting—one he later often called “ideal”—Ezra Taft Benson learned how to sacrifice to reap a spiritual harvest. He was just twelve when his father, George Benson, was called to serve an eighteen-month mission in the midwestern United States. There were seven children in the Benson home when their father left for the mission field, with the eighth soon to be born. And Ezra, as the oldest son, had to carry much of the responsibility for the farm. One of President Benson’s most vivid memories of his father’s absence was of gathering around the kitchen table to hear his mother read her husband’s weekly letters. “There came into that home a spirit of missionary work that never left,” recalled President Benson. All eleven Benson children later served missions.

After George Benson returned, he sang missionary songs as he milked the cows—“Ye Elders of Israel”and “Ye Who Are Called to Labor”—until his oldest son knew them by heart. Music, as well as missionary zeal, stayed in Ezra Taft Benson’s soul all his life. As a youngster, he played trombone and piano and performed vocal solos. As a prophet speaking in regional conferences around the Church, President Benson often delighted youngsters of another generation by singing all three verses of “I Am a Mormon Boy” in his clear tenor voice.

Another boyhood memory that never left him was of coming in from the fields to find his mother bent over her ironing board, pressing long white temple robes in preparation for one of many excursions by whitetop buggy to the Logan Temple. That day, she laid aside her ironing to teach her son how important and holy the ordinances of the temple are and to inspire in him the enduring desire to partake of these blessings.

Years later, President Benson taught the Saints about the remarkable blessings of the temple: “I promise you that, with increased attendance in the temples of our God, you shall receive increased personal revelation to bless your life as you bless those who have died” (Ensign, May 1987, p. 85). Even while he was President, he and his wife attended an endowment session almost every Friday morning at the Jordan River Temple. During his presidency, nine new temples were dedicated, and ten more were announced.

After graduating from elementary school at age fourteen and from the Oneida Stake Academy a few years later, Ezra Taft spent quarters intermittently at Utah State Agricultural College as the farm work and the family budget permitted. There he met Flora Amussen, who would share his life of service. Although Flora was said to be the most popular girl in town and the daughter of a well-to-do family, the young farmboy determined to “step” her. Ezra courted Flora and studied the scriptures with her widowed mother. By the time he was called to serve his first mission in Great Britain in 1921, Flora had agreed to marry him when he returned.

The Book of Mormon: A Lifelong Theme

Perhaps it was on that first mission in England that young Elder Benson first glimpsed the converting power of the Book of Mormon—a theme he would address for the rest of his life. Because opposition to the Church was so intense in northern England in 1922, street meetings and tracting had been discontinued in some areas. When the members in South Shields asked Elder Benson and his companion to speak in a meeting where many nonmembers would be in attendance, the missionaries fasted and prayed for inspiration.

Elder Benson prepared to speak about the Apostasy, but it was not until he sat down after delivering his talk that he realized that he had not mentioned that topic. “I had talked on the Prophet Joseph Smith and borne my witness of his divine mission and to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon,” he later recalled.

Afterward, several people came forward and said, “Tonight we received a witness that the gospel is true as you elders teach it. We are now ready for baptism” (Ensign, May 1977, p. 34).

Throughout his ministry, President Benson sought to convince the Saints that they should use the Book of Mormon to answer questions about the Church and that this book could bless their lives as no other book could. “There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the minute you begin a serious study of the book,” he promised. “You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 7). By the thousands, Primary children, young people, and adults responded to this prophetic direction, and many wrote to tell President Benson how studying the Book of Mormon had changed their lives.

“Our Benson”

On his first mission, Elder Benson was called to preside over the Newcastle Conference under mission president David O. McKay. To make the Church members in one economically depressed area feel comfortable, young Elder Benson sometimes wore the clothes of a working man. For years afterward, the people of that part of England referred to him as “our Benson.”

That same genuine kindness later endeared President Benson to Church members wherever he went. His first public statement as President set the tone for his prophetic service: “My heart has been filled with an overwhelming love and compassion for all members of the Church and our Heavenly Father’s children everywhere. I love all our Father’s children of every color, creed, and political persuasion. My only desire is to serve as the Lord would have me do” (Ensign, Dec. 1985, p. 5).

After his mission, Ezra Taft returned to Whitney, purchased a farm with his brother Orval, and served on the Franklin Stake MIA board. By the time Flora returned from her mission to Hawaii, Ezra Taft had graduated from Brigham Young University and had received a scholarship to study agriculture at Iowa State College. On 10 September 1926, Flora Amussen and Ezra Taft Benson were married in the Salt Lake Temple and set off for Ames, Iowa, in a used Model-T pickup truck. There they lived on seventy dollars a month, enhancing their meals with vegetables gleaned from the college experimental garden.

Ezra Taft returned to Whitney with a master’s degree and an eagerness to help other farmers improve their crops. He was so helpful, in fact, that his neighbors drafted him as county agricultural extension agent.

His True Career

For the next fifteen years, his work in agriculture and his Church service increased in scope and influence. At thirty-one, he went to Boise, where he was agricultural economist and marketing specialist for the University of Idaho and where he founded a farmers’ cooperative council. In Boise he also served as stake MIA superintendent, counselor in a stake presidency, and stake president. At thirty-nine, he was offered a position in Washington, D.C., as executive secretary of a national organization representing more than two million farmers and forty-six hundred cooperative farming groups. He accepted the job only after he was assured that he would not have to lobby at cocktail parties or compromise his standards in any way. By age forty, he was serving as stake president for the second time—this time of the newly formed Washington (D.C.) Stake.

But prestige held no particular appeal for Ezra Taft Benson. He always considered his true career to be serving in whatever way the Lord needed him, his highest honor the privilege of bearing the priesthood of God. He always remembered with special fondness an early calling as Scoutmaster in the Whitney Ward, where he led his troop to win a valleywide contest for boys’ choruses. From that early experience as Scoutmaster blossomed his abiding commitment to Scouting. Later he served on the national advisory council and the executive board of Boy Scouts of America, and he received the three highest national awards in Scouting—the Silver Beaver, the Silver Antelope, and the Silver Buffalo—as well as world Scouting’s Bronze Wolf.

Returning to Whitney years after serving as Scoutmaster, he tried to locate all twenty-four of “his” Scouts. He found many serving as ward and stake leaders but could not account for two. In his later travels, he found those boys, neither of whom had married in the temple. He reestablished friendships and subsequently had the privilege of performing temple sealings for them and their families.

Open Arms, Willing Hands

President Benson had an expansive spirit, a generous faith. He was always willing to extend a hand to help another back to the Master’s fold. As a young counselor in a stake presidency, he once challenged a man who had wandered from the faith to change his life and accept a calling as elders quorum president. Years later, the man saw Elder Benson on Temple Square and thanked him. “I am now a bishop,” he said. “I used to think I was happy, but I didn’t know what real happiness was.”

As a father of six, grandfather of thirty-four, and great-grandfather of sixty-seven, he often expressed the fervent hope that there would be “no empty chairs” in the Bensons’ eternal family circle. As President of the Church, he felt a similar concern for all the Lord’s children. Just after he became President, near Christmas 1985, the First Presidency sent an invitation for all those disaffected from the Church to come back. “We are confident that many have longed to return, but have felt awkward about doing so,” that message read. “We assure you that you will find open arms to receive you and willing hands to assist you” (Ensign, Mar. 1986, p. 88).

President Benson always sought to include others, to graft branches onto the life-giving tree. In February 1986, the First Presidency extended the opportunity to receive the endowment to those whose spouses are not endowed. The theme “Come unto Christ” became a hallmark of his presidency. He felt that all of us needed to understand more fully our need for the Savior, to be changed by Him, and to strive more earnestly to bring others to Him.

The Apostleship and a Mission of Love

On 26 July 1943, Ezra Taft Benson’s true vocation of serving in the kingdom became his full-time occupation when President Heber J. Grant called him to be the youngest member of the Quorum of the Twelve. He was set apart on October 7 of that year, the same day as Elder Spencer W. Kimball, whom he would follow as President.

Just over two years later, in December 1945, Elder Benson was assigned to preside over the European Mission in the aftermath of World War II. Specifically, his commission was to reopen missions throughout Europe and to distribute food, clothing, and bedding to the suffering Saints.

On an almost eleven-month mission of love, Elder Benson traveled more than sixty thousand miles to Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Scandinavia—often in freezing weather in unheated trains and planes. With typical optimism, he organized the “K-Ration Quartet” with his traveling companions, to sing away the tedious and uncomfortable hours.

Time and time again, when permission to enter war-torn countries or to distribute supplies seemed impossible to obtain, Elder Benson appealed to the Lord to open the way. Barrier after barrier was dissolved, and thousands of tons of Church welfare supplies were sent to the Saints in Europe. During this mission, Elder Benson also dedicated Finland for the preaching of the gospel.

Elder Benson met in bombed-out schoolhouses and meetinghouses with Saints who had lost homes, families, health—everything except their devotion to the gospel. The scenes of starvation and destruction never faded from President Benson’s memory. Nor did the faces and the faith of his beloved European brothers and sisters, of whom he often spoke throughout his life. Eighteen years later, Elder Benson again presided over the European missions, this time with headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. He always took special joy in seeing stakes, missions, and temples established in Europe.

Serving His Country

In 1952, Elder Benson was astonished to receive a telephone call informing him that U.S. President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man he had never met, wanted to talk to him about becoming U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Farm leaders had recommended Ezra Taft Benson as the best man for the job. With Church President David O. McKay’s blessing and President Eisenhower’s assurance that he need never endorse a policy that he did not agree with, Elder Benson became Secretary Benson. The Benson family returned to Washington, D.C., for the eight years of the Eisenhower administration.

In that period, controversy was raging about how to stabilize supply and demand in an uncertain farm economy, and Ezra Taft Benson’s face appeared on the covers of national magazines as he dealt with the problem. He spoke forthrightly, without regard for how popular his opinion might be. Speaking to farmers and politicians, he dared to suggest that the solutions to economic and political problems are based on spiritual and moral principles, without which no nation can have prosperity or peace. In Washington, Elder Benson instigated the practice of opening Cabinet meetings with prayer, and the Bensons presented a family home evening program to the Eisenhowers.

Actually, for Elder Benson, the time in Washington was not really an interruption in his service to God. He was a patriot who found in the Book of Mormon answers for his country’s needs. He loved the choice land where the gospel had been restored, he revered its Constitution, and he took very seriously his responsibility to help preserve it. Twenty years later, one of the choicest assignments of President Benson’s life was to review the St. George Temple records showing ordinances performed there for the founding fathers of the United States.

His Refuge and Support

Throughout the Cabinet years, Elder Benson maintained a calm in the face of criticism so fierce that it amazed even those who disagreed with his policies.

A plaque on his desk reading “O God, give us men with a mandate higher than the ballot box” explained one reason for his equanimity: Ezra Taft Benson merely did what he thought was best, not what might have been politically expedient. He later told the other reason: “I have prayed—we have prayed as a family—that we could avoid any spirit of hatred or bitterness” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1961, p. 112).

President Benson’s family—with their musicales, home evenings, and prayers for each other—was always his refuge and support. The Washington press was astounded that Elder and Sister Benson felt no qualms about refusing social invitations when a child’s concert or a daddy-daughter scavenger hunt was at stake.

But the Bensons had always considered their children—Reed, Mark, Barbara (Mrs. Robert H. Walker), Beverly (Mrs. James M. Parker), Bonnie (Mrs. Lowell L. Madsen), and Beth (Mrs. David A. Burton)—to be far more valuable than prestige or material gain. In the early years of their marriage, Ezra and Flora Benson had met the expenses of a new baby by selling their only cow. In an increasingly materialistic age, President Benson urged parents to sacrifice their worldly pursuits to attend more carefully to the teaching and nurturing of their children.

Flora always remained Ezra Taft Benson’s sweetheart and advocate. After every talk she heard her husband deliver, Sister Benson would squeeze her “T’s” hand and say, “That’s the best you’ve ever done.” In turn, President Benson showed his wife an extraordinary deference. Together they traveled throughout the world. Though President Benson received honors and awards from many quarters, he always enjoyed most the gentler pleasures of his life with Flora—talking, harmonizing, and sharing an ice-cream cone.

President and Sister Benson

He and Sister Benson posed for this portrait in 1988. (Photo by Don Busath.)

Ezra Taft Benson became President of the Quorum of the Twelve on 30 December 1973. Twelve years later, on 10 November 1985, he became President of the Church. It was not a day he had anticipated. He and Sister Benson had prayed that President Kimball’s life would be prolonged. Nevertheless, he said, “Now that the Lord has spoken, we will do our best, under his guiding direction, to move the work forward in the earth” (Ensign, Dec. 1985, p. 5).

He was eighty-six when the mantle of the prophet came upon him, but he was noticeably enlivened and strengthened by the call. He traveled extensively throughout the Church, dedicating temples and speaking to the Saints.

Into the Nineties

As President Benson approached his ninetieth year, a mild heart attack and other health problems were taking a toll on his physical strength. But his energy in his prophetic role seemed to grow even stronger. In one landmark general conference address, he urged members to overcome pride with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. “Pride is the universal sin, the great vice,” he said. “Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion” (see Ensign, May 1989, pp. 4–7). And his vision of his role seemed to focus ever more sharply on sharing the Book of Mormon with the world. In one address, he shared his vision of a “spiritually famished world” nourished by the gospel as taught in the Book of Mormon. Then, in a moving and prophetic way, he testified, “I do not know why God has preserved my life to this age, but I do know this: That for the present hour He has revealed to me the absolute need for us to move the Book of Mormon forward now in a marvelous manner.” He then pleaded with Church members to help him with the burden and blessing of “flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon” (Ensign, Nov. 1988, pp. 4–6).

By the thousands, Church members helped bring to fruition this prophet’s vision as they studied the Book of Mormon themselves and also sent copies with their pictures and testimonies throughout the world. These books were instrumental in converting untold thousands to the Church, which by the beginning of 1990 had reached a membership of seven million.

President Benson signals approval to the Mormon Youth Chorus President Benson stands arm-in-arm with his counselors

President Benson signals approval to the Mormon Youth Chorus during a 1988 conference session (left) and stands arm-in-arm with his counselors (right) after receiving Scouting’s Bronze Wolf award at the priesthood session of general conference in April 1989.

As 1989 drew to a close, the First Presidency made an important policy change. Beginning in 1990, all Church activities and programs—including buildings—in the U.S. and Canada would be paid for totally from general Church funds; this policy was extended worldwide by mid-1991. President Benson had long looked forward to such a day, when tithes, along with fast offerings and missionary contributions, would be the main source of funding the Church. Now Church members were relieved of the financial burden of contributing to ward budgets. And quorums and auxiliaries were no longer required to raise money to support their programs.

But if the policy change itself seemed simple, its implications were far-reaching. Expensive activities were dropped in favor of simpler, more gospel-related activities. And with less time and money required for running Church programs, faithful members could use their increased resources in doing good as the Spirit might direct them.

During his presidency, President Benson witnessed another remarkable set of events involving the principles of freedom he had defended so forthrightly throughout his life. Miraculously, the Iron Curtain in eastern Europe began to part for the blessing of the people he had grown to love after World War II. In 1985 the Freiberg Temple, located in the German Democratic Republic, had been dedicated—a miracle in itself. But without missionary work in that country, the Church’s growth was limited. Then, in 1988, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic granted permission for missionaries to serve there and also for its young citizens to serve missions elsewhere.

By 1990, winds of political change were sweeping the world. Barriers between East and West began to dissolve as the peoples of eastern Europe and other nations fervently embraced principles of democracy and religion.

Marvel followed marvel as the Berlin Wall fell and East and West Germany were reunited. Then, in June 1991, the Tabernacle Choir made a historic concert tour through middle Europe and Russia, singing in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre and other great halls in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland. During the following months, the U.S.S.R. was dissolved. Further, in the place of an Eastern Bloc dominated by an authoritarian regime stood independent republics, most with elected leaders. President Benson lived to see a remarkable vindication of the principles he prized so highly.

President Benson had already spoken about the momentous nature of this time in the world’s history: “We have the Book of Mormon, we have the members, we have the missionaries, we have the resources, and the world has the need. The time is now!” (Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 5.)

During the final years of his life, President Benson’s once-powerful physical body steadily weakened. At first, he met with the Saints at general conferences when he could, waving to the congregation from his wheelchair. Later, his health prevented him from attending general conference. At home, in his apartment across from the Church Office Building, he still visited with General Authorities who came to express their love and also to consult with him on matters of concern. His beloved Flora passed away on 14 August 1992, after a loving companionship of sixty-six years.

President Benson’s forceful personality likewise mellowed and softened with age, observed a close associate. “Although many people grow grouchy and demanding with advanced age and infirmity, President Benson grew even sweeter and more grateful for the things others did for him.” To the end of his life, this prophet exemplified the sweet fruits of the gospel of Christ.

President Benson was a prophet of particular vision and courage. Perhaps it is he himself who best explained the abundant fruitfulness of his own life and ministry:

“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace” (First Presidency Christmas devotional, 7 Dec. 1986).

Landmarks in Ezra Taft Benson’s Life

1899

 

August 4

Born at Whitney, Franklin County, Idaho, the son of George T. and Sara Dunkley Benson.

1912

 

April 8

Father, George T. Benson, departs from the Whitney Ward for the Northern States Mission.

1913

 

October 20

Elder George T. Benson honorably released from his mission.

1914

 
 

Ezra begins attending Oneida Stake Academy at Preston, Idaho.

1917

 
 

Begins serving as secretary-treasurer of the YMMIA in the Whitney Ward. Serves until 1920.

1918

 
 

Begins serving as assistant Scoutmaster, then Scoutmaster in the Whitney Ward. He serves in this position until 1921.

April 19

Graduates from Oneida Stake Academy.

Winter

Begins attending quarters, intermittently, at Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University) at Logan, Utah.

1920

 

Fall

Attends fall quarter at Utah State Agricultural College, where he sees his future wife, Flora, for the first time.

1921

 

July 13

Ordained an elder by his father in the Whitney Ward.

July 14

Honors a mission call and leaves the Whitney Ward to serve in the British Mission.

1922

 

May 21

Called as president of the Sunderland branch.

1923

 

January 26

Appointed president of the Newcastle Conference.

November 2

Receives honorable release from the British Mission.

1924

 

Fall

With brother Orval, purchases a family farm in Whitney, Idaho.

Winter

Reenrolls in college in Logan through spring of next year.

1925

 

Summer

Attends summer school—six weeks at Brigham Young University and five weeks at BYU’s Alpine school in the mountains.

Fall

Enrolls at Brigham Young University.

1926

 

Spring

Voted most popular man on campus and graduates with a B.S. from BYU with a major in animal husbandry and a minor in agronomy.

September 10

Marries Flora Smith Amussen in the Salt Lake Temple.

Fall

Begins attending Iowa State College at Ames, Iowa.

1927

 

June 13

Graduates from Iowa State College with an M.S. in agricultural economics.

Summer

Moves with Flora to the family farm in Whitney.

November 27

Ordained a seventy by Elder Melvin J. Ballard.

1929

 

March 4

Appointed University of Idaho Extension Service agent of Franklin County, Idaho.

May

Moves to Preston, Idaho.

1930

 

October 15

Accepts position as Agricultural Economist and Marketing Specialist with the Extension Division of the University of Idaho in Boise.

November 4

Moves from Preston to Boise, Idaho.

November 29

Sustained as a member of the Boise Stake YMMIA board.

1931

 
 

Becomes head of the University of Idaho’s newly organized Department of Agricultural Economics and Marketing.

September 13

Sustained as Boise Stake YMMIA board Scout executive.

1932

 

November 27

Sustained as superintendent of the Boise Stake YMMIA.

1933

 
 

Begins serving as executive secretary of the Idaho Cooperative Council. Serves until 1938.

1935

 

January 13

Set apart as first counselor in the Boise Stake presidency and ordained a high priest by Elder Charles A. Callis.

1936

 

August 1

Receives a fellowship award offered by the Gianniani Foundation for Agricultural Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and moves to Berkeley, where he begins graduate studies.

1937

 

June

Returns with his family to Boise.

1938

 

November 27

Released as first counselor in the Boise Stake presidency and set apart by Elder Melvin J. Ballard as president of the Boise Stake.

1939

 

January 11

Meets with the Nominations Committee of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives in Washington, D.C., and is offered the position as executive secretary to the council.

January 19

Meets with President David O. McKay regarding the offer and is counseled to accept.

March 26

Released as president of the Boise Stake by Elder George Albert Smith.

April 15

Begins serving as executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives in Washington, D.C.

June 25

Asked by Abe Cannon, president of the National Council of Farmers Cooperatives, to serve as a member of the district council.

1940

 

June 30

Set apart as president of the Washington (D.C.) Stake by Elders Rudger Clawson and Albert E. Bowen.

1943

 

July 26

Receives a call from President Heber J. Grant to serve as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

October 7

Ordained an Apostle and set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve by President Heber J. Grant.

November 28

Participates in the New York Stake conference with President Stephen L Richards—his first official assignment as a General Authority.

December 16

Elected as a member of the National Rural Scouting Committee.

1944

 

March 5

Released as president of the Washington (D.C.) Stake.

1945

 

December 22

Called to serve as president of the European Mission.

1946

 

February 4

Arrives in London to begin service as president of the European Mission.

July 16

Dedicates Finland for preaching of the gospel.

December 11

Released as president of the European Mission.

1947

 

April 13

Organizes the Orem (Utah) Stake.

June 29

Organizes the Spokane (Washington) Stake.

1949

 

May 1

Organizes the South Bear River (Utah) Stake.

May 23

Elected a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America, succeeding President George Albert Smith.

1950

 

June 3

Presented with Distinguished Service Award, highest honor of the BYU Alumni Association.

July 24

Dedicates the Memorial Building of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers at the head of Main Street in Salt Lake City.

1951

 

April 24

Receives the Silver Antelope Award, highest regional award in Scouting.

1952

 

February 6

Visits the University of Wisconsin in Madison and receives an honorary recognition from the Board of Regents for distinguished service to agriculture.

November 9

Organizes the Detroit (Michigan) Stake.

November 23

Organizes the East Sharon (Utah) Stake.

November 24

Interviewed by President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower in New York City for the position of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

1953

 

January 20

Attends inauguration of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and takes oath of office as Secretary of Agriculture.

June 9

Receives an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

June 12

Receives an honorary doctor of agriculture degree from Iowa State College in Ames.

1954

 

September 24

With his family, is featured on CBS television program “Person to Person,” hosted by Edward R. Murrow.

December 1

In Chicago, Illinois, receives the American Agricultural Editors’ Association annual award for service to agriculture.

1955

 

February 10

Receives an honorary doctor of agriculture degree from Michigan State College, Lansing.

June 3

Receives an honorary doctor of public service degree from Brigham Young University.

June 18

Receives an honorary doctor of laws degree from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

October 6

Receives an honorary doctor of science degree from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

1956

 

April 13

Named Man of the Year by the American Warehouseman’s Association.

May 15

Receives Gold Medallion from the New Jersey Agricultural Society at their 175th anniversary banquet in Trenton, New Jersey.

June 10

Receives an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Maine, Orono.

1957

 

January 21

Attends inaugural ceremonies for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term as president of the United States.

March 22

Receives an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

April 10

Awarded the Knight of the High Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy, the highest decoration bestowed by Italy.

1958

 

June 7

Receives an honorary doctor of laws degree from Utah State University, Logan.

1959

 

February 20

Receives an honorary doctor of laws degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutherford, New Jersey.

September 16

Accompanies Russia’s Premier Nikita Khrushchev on tour of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research center at Beltsville, Maryland.

1960

 

May 14

Receives an honorary doctorate of science degree from the University of Rhode Island, Providence.

May 30

Receives an honorary doctor of laws degree from Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.

1961

 

January 20

Attends inauguration of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

1963

 

January 13

Organizes the Sandy (Utah) East Stake.

April 28

Organizes the South Box Elder (Utah) Stake.

August 10

Attends international Boy Scout jamboree in Athens, Greece.

October 18

Called by President David O. McKay to serve as president of the European Mission.

1964

 

January 1

Arrives in Frankfurt, Germany, to begin serving as European Mission president.

1965

 

September 14

Leaves Germany for the United States upon his release as European Mission president.

1966

 

June 5

Organizes the Huntington Beach (California) Stake.

November 10

Dedicates Italy for the preaching of the gospel.

1968

 

June 14

Assigned by the Quorum of the Twelve to administer the Orient area.

September 8

Organizes the Helena (Montana) Stake.

December 7

Participates in the ground-breaking ceremony for the Washington (D.C.) Temple.

1969

 

January 20

Attends the inauguration of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon.

April 14

Dedicates Singapore for the preaching of the gospel.

June 15

Organizes the Sacramento (California) South Stake.

October 26

Dedicates Indonesia for the preaching of the gospel.

1970

 

March 15

Organizes the Tokyo (Japan) Stake, the first Asian stake of the Church.

August 23

Organizes the West Virginia Stake.

1971

 

August 22

Organizes the Melbourne (Australia) South Stake.

October 9–16

Attends the 2,500th anniversary celebration in Tehran of the founding of Iran.

December 12

Organizes the Providence (Utah) Stake.

1972

 

September 12

Organizes the Osaka (Japan) Stake.

September 24

Organizes the Minidoka (Idaho) West Stake.

1973

 

March 4

Organizes the Idaho Falls (Idaho) West Stake.

May 20

Organizes the Manila (Philippines) Stake.

December 30

Set apart as President of the Quorum of the Twelve.

1974

 

January 15

Appointed Chairman of the Church’s Missionary Executive Committee.

June 9

Organizes the Belfast (Ireland) Stake.

June 16

Organizes the Copenhagen (Denmark) Stake.

September 22

Organizes the Green River (Wyoming) Stake.

1975

 

September 21

Organizes the Salt Lake Winder West Stake.

1976

 

February 1

Organizes the Fairfax Virginia Stake.

June 19–20

Attends the London and Glasgow area conference.

August 8

Organizes the Camarillo California Stake.

September 14

He and Flora celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary in Louisville, Kentucky, with their family.

1977

 

May 1

Organizes the Idaho Falls Idaho Ammon West Stake.

May 15

Organizes the Dallas Texas East Stake.

June 12

Organizes the Meridian Idaho East Stake.

October 16

Organizes the Helsinki Finland Stake, the first stake in Finland.

October 23

Organizes the Munich Germany Stake.

October 30

Organizes the Ukiah California Stake.

1978

 

January 10

Receives the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Award for Distinguished and Meritorious Service.

May 2

Receives the George Washington Medal Award from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.

May 10

Organizes the Nagoya Japan Stake.

July 12

Suffers a broken hip when injured while saddling a horse in Midway, Utah.

1979

 

January 14

Organizes the Santa Cruz Bolivia Stake.

February 18

Organizes the Nauvoo Illinois Stake, the 1,000th stake of the Church.

February 25

Organizes the Asuncion Paraguay Stake.

April 8

Organizes the Magna Utah Central Stake.

October 24

Participates in the dedication of the Orson Hyde Memorial Gardens in Jerusalem.

1980

 

April 20

Organizes the Vienna Austria Stake.

October 12

Organizes the Brasilia Brazil Stake.

October 23

Organizes the Naha Okinawa Japan Stake.

October 26

Organizes the Machida Japan Stake.

December 14

Organizes the San Juan Puerto Rico Stake.

1981

 

May 3

Organizes the Bern Switzerland Stake.

June 7

Organizes the Milan Italy Stake.

1982

 

June 20

Organizes the Geneva Switzerland Stake.

October 31

Organizes the Barcelona Spain Stake.

December 12

Organizes the Frederick Maryland Stake.

1983

 

October 16

Organizes the Kirtland Ohio Stake.

November 13

Organizes the Wasilla Alaska Stake.

1984

 

February 5

Organizes the Boise Idaho Central Stake.

July 10

Commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of his inaugurating the International Food for Peace Program by attending a presentation in the White House with U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

1985

 

October 27

Organizes the Seneca Maryland Stake.

November 10

Set apart as President of the Church.

1986

 

January 5

Organizes the Mt. Vernon Virginia Stake.

January 6

Visits U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C.

October 24

Participates in Denver Colorado Temple dedicatory services.

November 6

Pacemaker inserted in his chest to regulate his heart.

1987

 

July

Participates in the British Isles Sesquicentennial in London.

August 28

Participates in Frankfurt Germany Temple dedicatory services.

October 15

Suffers a mild heart attack.

1988

 

February 27

Participates in ground-breaking for the San Diego California Temple.

May 11

Honored as Utah State University’s most distinguished alumnus.

1989

 

January 20

Attends inauguration of U.S. President George Bush in Washington, D.C.

August 4

Celebrates ninetieth birthday in a special program at the Tabernacle.

August 19

Participates in Portland Oregon Temple dedicatory services.

December 16

Participates in Las Vegas Nevada Temple dedicatory services.

1990

 

January 21

Attends regional conference of the Ogden Utah Cliffview and Mount Lewis Utah regions.

March 11

Attends Preston Idaho and Tremonton Utah regional conference in Logan.

1992

 

May 2

Attends ground-breaking for the Bountiful Utah Temple.

August 19

Attends funeral services for his wife, Flora.

1994

 

April 7

Participates in ordination and setting apart of Elder Robert D. Hales as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

May 30

Passes away at home.

[photo] Whatever the occasion, members knew they could count on President Benson as an example of devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

[photos] Above: When his father was called on a mission, young “T” Benson helped run the family farm. Left: In 1926, he posed (center) with two companions after hiking to the top of Mount Timpanogos, near Provo, Utah, during a summer school session. (Photo by Maurine Hinckley Rhead.)

[photos] Ezra Taft Benson was a great champion of family values. He was photographed with his wife and children (above) just before Christmas in 1944, and with sons Reed and Mark (right) while the family lived in Boise, Idaho, in the 1930s.

[photos] Above: Elder Benson, shown in a 1956 portrait, was sent to reopen missions and see to the needs of Saints in war-ravaged Europe (left) just after World War II. Below: Sister Benson directed life at home for nearly eleven months during his absence.

[photos] As secretary of agriculture, he visited a dust bowl area in 1955, top, and hosted Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1959, above. A newsmaker in public life, he appeared on the cover of Business Week in 1943 and on the covers of all three leading U.S. news magazines during his cabinet years.