President Ezra Taft Benson braved a late winter snowstorm March 11 to return to northern Utah's Cache Valley, home of many of his childhood memories, for a regional conference.
At the Utah State University Spectrum, he attended an eight-stake gathering of 5,287 members of the Preston Idaho and Tremonton Utah regions.At the conference, members were grateful for both the prophet's visit and the heavy snowfall. The storm came as an answer to prayer during a very dry winter, according to regional leaders.
Speakers at the conference were Elder Marvin J. Ashton and Elder L. Tom Perry, both of the Council of the Twelve; and Elder Malcolm S. Jeppsen of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, a counselor in the Utah North Area presidency. Their wives - Norma Ashton, Barbara Perry and Marian Jeppsen - also addressed the congregation.
Gary Gillespie, President Benson's secretary, offered remarks, and Barbara Walker, wife of Robert Walker and daughter of President Benson, performed a vocal solo, "O Divine Redeemer."
In his address, Elder Ashton commented, "While Barbara was singing, I put my hand on President Benson's knee. I felt him tremble with emotion, and the Spirit bore witness to me that no one on earth knows the Redeemer more than he."
Elder Ashton said that although President Benson did not address the congregation, he did request to have his love extended to the people, and added, `Thank God for good people.'
"You are his family - his friends and neighbors," said Elder Ashton. "I thank God for this priceless association."
Elder Ashton encouraged members to continue to read the Book of Mormon. "I feel guilty every day I don't read the Book of Mormon," he said. "I feel President Benson looking over me saying, `Marvin, you know better.'
"I've got news for you," he continued. "President Benson is not going to let up. Because every time we read the Book of Mormon, we will be grateful we had a prophet tell us that."
Elder Perry, a native of Logan, Utah, reminisced about his boyhood experiences. He recalled, as a child of 7, visiting with President Heber J. Grant. He also noted that he had been closely associated with President Benson for more than 20 years.
"The prophet's words are a sure guide to us," he emphasized. "Heed the prophet all the days of your lives, and how your life will be blessed! Especially give heed to his words about the Book of Mormon."
He counseled, "Don't let life go by before you really get to know this great book. Start the daily practice of reading the Book of Mormon."
He said that President Benson has a practice of bringing letters from children to read at the beginning of meetings. The letters bring a warmth and excitement to the meetings.
Elder Jeppsen noted that the president's visit "has lifted us just to see him."
President Benson's secretary, Brother Gillespie, described the prophet's love for the members of the Church. "I've seen the love President Benson has, and the love Sister Benson has, for the children," he said.
"For the past five years, I've been close to him," he continued. "I want you to know that I have only seen President Benson do and say things that have confirmed my witness that he is the prophet. I believe the Lord has prepared and preserved Ezra Taft Benson.
"I have never heard a cross word from his lips. I honor him for that. He is both gentle and genteel."
Before the meeting began, President Benson met with two of his former Scouts from the Preston area, Lawrence Bodily, 82, and Marcus Weaver, 76, both of Whitney, who reminisced about the early days when President Benson was their Scoutmaster.
Brother Bodily remembered the Scouts taking part in singing competitions in Idaho. His aunt, Eva Bodily, was the accompanist as the Scouts entered and won a number of the singing competitions. "We won all around our stake, and we came to Logan with all the other stakes, and won here, too."
Brother Bodily also recalled a hair-cutting session of the Scouts and their leader. "They took a stripe down the middle of my head and told me that if I didn't want a haircut, they'd leave it like that.
"That was the first and only time I had all my hair cut off."
Brother Weaver recalled when young Ezra Taft Benson and his brothers helped his father market milk. "They the BensonsT had an old milk truck with a big sign on the side," said Brother Weaver. "The sign read, `You can whip our cream, but you can't beat our milk.' "
As the regional conference concluded, members stood as President Benson left the arena. On the way out, he paused to shake hands with several children. As he passed, he noticed a boy behind him with his hand still extended. President Benson quickly turned back to shake that small hand.
This gesture, though slight, seemed so typical of a man whose life has been spent serving others - others in mighty congregations, or others with just small hands reaching up.