The receding waters of Lake Mead in southern Nevada reveal the foundations of a little Mormon pioneer community. The town then known as St. Thomas is long gone. In nearby Logandale are the graves of many of these pioneers who lived out lives of sacrifice and service, and whose descendants today are carrying out that faithful legacy.
One of those descendants is Elder David A. Bednar. Last June, while on a stake conference assignment as an Area Authority Seventy, he visited the old foundations of St. Thomas, long under water until drought changed the man-made lake's boundaries. Using a map of the old buildings, he walked along what had once been roads and paths. He could see where his great-grandmother once had a home. And he paused before the spot where his mother was likely born.
"That evening, I stood to speak in the stake center in Logandale, a thousand yards from where my mom and dad are buried," Elder Bednar related. "To stand in the place where my mom probably was born, and then to go to the place where she rests, you know the Lord's course is one eternal round. Here's where, in large measure, I came from, and (here is) my heritage in the Church."
He related this, and the obvious parallels to foundations, while visiting with the Church News three days after he was sustained Oct. 2 to the Quorum of the Twelve, along with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf. (Please see Oct. 16, 2004, Church News, for profile of Elder Uchtdorf.) Sitting beside him in the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City was his wife, Susan Kae Robinson Bednar.
"Overwhelmed" and "excited" were two words he used to describe his feelings on this warm fall afternoon. The slim, athletic 52-year-old spoke of his family and of his faith. And he recalled experiences from his childhood and youth and from the last few years as president of BYU-Idaho that have prepared him for the apostleship.
"I'm eager to learn, and I'm anxious to travel the world and meet the good Latter-day Saints in every country where the gospel is established and to assist in establishing the gospel where it's not yet gone," said Elder Bednar, who will continue to serve as president of BYU-Idaho for a time.
Sister Bednar added that her husband has a "sense of humility and a willingness to learn and to be taught, and an excitement about spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. I know he has a love for people. He has extraordinary discernment in judgment and wisdom. I've seen, especially in the last seven years, miracles worked on our campus at BYU-Idaho that have bolstered my faith in the Lord and in him."
Those miracles of which she speaks concern the transition of Ricks College into BYU-Idaho in a four-year period. "In less than one year we went from having no idea this was coming to a blueprint being reviewed by accrediting agencies," Elder Bednar said.
A few years before this, he had no idea that he would be leading such a transition. Content as a professor of management in the College of Business Administration at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, he received a telephone call in 1997 that would change the course of his life and that of his family. He was asked to become president of Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. (Please see Aug. 16, 1997, Church News.)
"When we were invited to go to Rexburg, it was very sudden. We left friends and very pleasant circumstances in terms of the community, our home, our acquaintances, serving in the Church (a stake president twice). We had watched our children grow up with other children. We moved to Rexburg, we did not know a soul, and we started over.
"As I look back, I think that wrenching change for us individually was a necessary lesson in preparation for the wrenching change of the institution of Ricks College as it began to transition to BYU-Idaho. I'm not sure Susan and I could have stood in front of those Ricks College employees, addressing some of the challenges of the change, if we had not had that personal experience first.
"That very transition, that very change, and the suddenness of it, is occurring again now," Elder Bednar said, referring to his calling as an apostle.
The ultimate lesson, he said, is that "control is an illusion. Maybe one of the great lessons of a lifetime is to come to the conclusion that we're His, we're not our own. We've been bought with a price. And it's not just a hymn that we sing, 'I'll go where you want me to go.' "
For Elder and Sister Bednar, that has been a way of life. He was reared in San Leandro, Calif., by an LDS mother and a Catholic father. She was reared in Star Valley, Wyo., the daughter of Kay and Nyla Robinson, pioneer descendants known for a legacy of faith and for quiet community service.
Elder Bednar's relationship with his father taught him that there are many good people who are not members of the Church. A tool and dye maker, Anthony G. Bednar was a man of order and priority. There was an individual space on the wall of the family garage for every tool his father owned, with the shape of the tool drawn on the wall. "He made wooden furniture for our home, and he had all these metal doodads that he made."
In fact, when Elder Bednar spoke at general conference the day after he was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve, he was wearing cuff links with tiger's-eye, a semiprecious stone, his father made years ago.
His dad was also a devoted father. Although he was almost 60 years old when his youngest son was a teenager, he was the receiver for young David Bednar, a high school football quarterback, running pass patterns in the family yard in San Leandro.
His mother, Lavina Whitney Bednar, was "steady," a word he often uses to describe her. She was steady as she reared the three Bednar children in the Church, something fully supported by her husband. And she was steady through the years as she prayed for her husband to be baptized and her family sealed in the temple.
Elder Bednar, as a young man, also prayed for the same things. He continued to pray while teaching others the gospel in Germany as a full-time missionary. "We had a bit of a tradition for a time. I think I ended every letter that I wrote home from the mission field with, 'Dad, I love you. When are you going to be baptized?' "
The years passed. Young David Bednar returned from his mission, entered BYU and met a young woman while playing flag football for family home evening. He and Susan Robinson were married March 20, 1975, in the Salt Lake Temple. Three sons have come from their union, and they now also have three granddaughters.
Finally, in 1979, while studying for his doctorate at Purdue University, he received the phone call for which he had long prayed. It was his dad in California saying. "What are you doing this Saturday? I need you home to baptize me."
"We always talk about fathers blessing their children and performing the ordinances, and those are wonderful experiences. But I've had the experience of providing all those ordinances for my dad," Elder Bednar said quietly. His mother and father, now deceased, were sealed, along with their children.
Elder Bednar has tried to carry on with his sons his father's tradition of hands-on fathering. In fact, Sister Bednar laughs when she points out that their home in Arkansas never had trees in the back yard. It was always a football or baseball field for not only their own children but also for the neighborhood children who lined up for football passes from "Mr. Bednar."
"There are some things that are nice. There are a few things that are absolutely necessary," Elder Bednar said of career accomplishments being lower in priority to family.
And that was never more obvious than when he was serving as a stake president in Arkansas. During one priesthood leadership meeting held on a Saturday, he felt prompted to invite an elders quorum president to go to a championship basketball game in which both had sons playing on opposing teams. A few months later, the other man's son was killed in an accident. At the hospital, the other man hugged Elder Bednar and, in tears, said, "I am so glad that we were able to go to that basketball game."
The newest apostle says life is "one drop of oil added to our spiritual lamp of preparation every day. That's how it works. Susan and I are getting old enough now that we can look back and see that blessing and that pattern. That just seems to be how the Lord works."