Friday, August 4, 2017

Ag Secretary, Author, and Mormon Patriarch Ezra Taft Benson [otd 08/04]

LDS President and public servant Ezra Taft Benson was born August 4, 1899 in Whitney, Idaho (located 20-25 miles west of Bear Lake). He was named for his grandfather, who converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1840 and rose to be a member of its Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Growing up on the family farm, Ezra learned the “traditional” agricultural approach, which depended upon draft animals and offered little mechanization.
Sugar beet harvesting in the Mountain West, ca 1915. National Archives

Benson sandwiched a solid education in agricultural subjects around his mission to England in 1921. In 1927, he attained a Master’s degree in agricultural economics from Iowa State University.

Two years after he returned to the family farm, the University of Idaho (UI) Extension Service hired Ezra as their agent for Franklin County. In 1930, the UI promoted him to a statewide position as an agricultural adviser. He travel extensively, helping farmers market their products, with an emphasis on strategies implemented through cooperative organizations.

In 1939, he moved to Washington, D.C. to head the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. While there, he continued his advancement in the LDS: having been a stake president in Boise and then Washington, he was confirmed as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1943. From there, he was called to be President of the church’s European mission, dealing with the devastation left by World War II.

In 1952, President Dwight Eisenhower selected Ezra Taft Benson to be Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. An ardent anti-Communist and anti-Socialist, Benson disagreed with the system of Federal price supports and other farm aid; to him it smacked of what we would call a “slippery slope” to socialism.

Agriculture Secretary Benson.
Life Magazine*
He believed even more strongly, however, in adherence to one’s civic duty. Ezra performed those duties so well that he remained Secretary through all eight years of Eisenhower’s administration. He authored two books on farming while in office, and one later about his experiences in the Cabinet.

Benson also authored three books having to do with church and civic matters. In 1973, he rose to the Presidency of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Twelve years later, Ezra Taft Benson became President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In April 1986, members sustained Benson as President, Seer, and Revelator, confirming his position as ultimate patriarch of the Church.

Ezra took an active role in Scouting, starting as an Assistant Scoutmaster in 1918. Just over thirty years later, in 1949, he became a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America. Over time, he received all three of the highest awards bestowed by that organization as well as the Bronze Wolf award from International Scouting, their highest, very selective honor.

In 1989, President George H. W. Bush presented Benson with the Presidential Citizens Medal. Fourteen American colleges and universities conferred honorary degrees on Ezra Taft. He passed away in May 1994.

* Photo provided online by Time for “Personal non-commercial use only.”
References: Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: a Biography, Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City (1989).

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