President Ezra Taft Benson and his wife, Flora, returned to central Florida Nov. 18-19, and inspected the Church's sprawling Deseret Ranch where he once served in a pivotal role.
President and Sister Benson also attended a missionary conference and found time to view a patriotic film at the American Adventure exhibit at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center.They enjoyed a brief respite from Utah's snowstorms and sub-freezing weather as they traveled in 80-degree weather and received Southern hospitality.
In 1970, President Benson was appointed to the board of directors of the Deseret Ranch, which includes many square miles of forests, where trees are bearded with moss, and where osprey, deer and even alligators are native to the land.
Through the years, President Benson made many trips to Florida to implement ways to increase profits of the ranch and reduce costs. His work on the board of directors contributed toward the ranch's multiple-use philosophy that includes timber, wildlife and citrus projects and cattle raising. One of the first challenges he faced was a poor citrus crop due to a severe drought.
On this trip, ranch general manager Paul C. Genho showed the Bensons a drip irrigation system recently installed on the 1,200-acre orange and grapefruit orchard. Genho peeled and partially cored an orange "the Florida way" so President and Sister Benson could taste the juice.
As they toured the ranch, their car passed herds of cattle tended by cowboys. President Benson recognized the Brangus and Simbrah breeds, and complimented Genho on the condition of the cattle.
Later, the Bensons attended a steak barbecue at the ranch house, enjoying ample cups of freshly squeezed orange juice.
President and Sister Benson enjoyed attending a conference of the Florida Tampa Mission on Nov. 19. He spoke to the missionaries, and then shook hands with each one of them.
Because President Benson's trip had not been confirmed until just before they left, missionaries were told only that "special visitors" were coming. When the "special visitors" entered, the missionaries were more than a little surprised.
Elder Mike Bradshaw of Alpine, Utah, said,"I couldn't believe my eyes. I had no idea he was coming. The Spirit was so strong when we saw him."
Mission Pres. G. Vern Albright said, "This will be a day all of us will remember all the days of our lives."
President Benson told the missionaries, "I would love to be with you [on a missionT. I love missionary work - there is no question about that. I love you, I sustain you, and I am grateful for you."
At the missionary meeting, Sister Benson recited a poem, "Home," by Edgar A. Guest. President Benson was introduced by Pres. Albright, who told many life experiences of President Benson.
"We want you to know how our missionaries love the Book of Mormon," Pres. Albright said. "They study it daily, and we are attempting to flood this area with copies of the Book of Mormon."
Pres. Albright recalled that he had been a clothing salesman in Provo, Utah, in 1952 when rumors were flying that then-Apostle Benson would be asked to be Secretary of Agriculture by newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Elder Benson received the phone call from President Eisenhower while in Provo, and "I was standing next to him when he bought a new navy blue suit to wear back to Washington," said Pres. Albright. He then recounted President Benson's successful eight years in the Cabinet.
When President Benson arose to address the missionaries, he said, "I think you've heard all there is to learn about the next speaker.
"I am so happy to be here. You can't be unhappy and be in the mission field, can you?" he continued.
He recalled the experience of his parents when his father was called on a mission. "My mother had seven children when my father went on a mission," he said. "I never heard one word of complaint that father was called on a mission. I know what it is to have a loyal mother," said President Benson, "and so do you."
In conclusion, he said, "I feel to invoke my blessing on you. You are in the greatest work in all the world. I know it."