On a rainy day some 25 years ago, a young missionary stepped off a train in a small German city. He and his companion were to open the area after several years of no missionary activity.
Before this assignment, the young man, Elder David A. Bednar, had been serving in an area where missionaries had enjoyed great success. Now, standing on the station platform, he felt somewhat disheartened."I remember praying that night for an ability to do what I needed to do," he related. With that prayer, he and his companion forged ahead and "were blessed with extraordinary success.
"That was an important lesson to me. When things don't look good, you just keep working on it," he said. "You just get up and get to work. It's the Lord's work, and you'll be blessed as you press forward."
Throughout his life, he has lived that belief and, today, carries it with him into his latest challenge – that of being president of Church-owned Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. Pres. Bednar began his tenure July 1 after former Ricks College Pres. Steven D. Bennion assumed the reins of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah.
In a Church News telephone interview, Pres. Bednar described his new role as "exciting and fun and overwhelming and humbling." He said the focus during his tenure as president will be to continue the positive strides made by Pres. Bennion and to prepare for the future. Within five to 10 years, there will be significant faculty turnover due to retirement. In addition, the fall enrollment will increase to 8,200 to 8,300 students.
"The major challenge is to both preserve and enhance the spirit of Ricks," he added. "It's not enough to just keep it the way it is. We've got to make it better. We must preserve what makes Ricks such a gem in the Church Educational System."
Pres. Bednar, 45, comes well prepared for such a task. Before his appointment to Ricks College, he was a business management professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. From 1987 to
1992, he served as associate dean for graduate studies in the College of Business Administration at the university. In 1994, he was recognized as the outstanding faculty member and was twice recipient of the Outstanding Teacher Award in the College of Business Administration.
In the Church, Pres. Bednar was serving as an Area Authority Seventy in the North America Southwest Area at the time of his appointment to Ricks College. He has also served as a regional representative, stake president and bishop.
The new college president is also the author of several books on organizational behavior.
Pres. Bednar learned much about organization in the garage of the family home in San Leandro, Calif., near San Francisco. His father, Anthony G. Bednar, was a tool and dye maker – a dying craft, according to his son. (A tool and dye maker makes molds and casts for tools.) Pres. Bednar describes his father as "an example of somebody who didn't have opportunity for formal education but who was a very smart man."
"In the garage in our home where I grew up," Pres. Bednar recalled, "my father had a `bi-zillion' tools. He had every size screw driver, every size wrench. He had these large walls covered with tools, and he had a place for every single one. He would paint on the wall the size of the wrench or screw driver or whatever, so that if he pulled out a tool, he knew where it went.
"If I used a tool and didn't put it back right, he'd say,
Where is my wrench?' specifically stating the size. I would say,How did you know?' "
Pres. Bednar seems to most fondly remember spending time with his father. "One of the most significant aspects of my relationship with my father was he always made time to do normal things. I played football and basketball in high school. I don't think he ever missed one of my games. That was a terrific example to me as to what is important in a dad."
This closeness brought unity to a home of mixed religion. Pres. Bednar's father was Catholic, and his mother, Lavina Whitney Bednar, was of strong Mormon pioneer stock.
"My dad insisted when I was an infant that there would be religious training. He said to my mom, `Either you take him to your church or I'll take him to mine.' "
She took the child with her.
From his mother, Pres. Bednar said, he learned a quiet steadiness in living the gospel. And he knew his mother fervently prayed that the family would one day be sealed in a temple.
Pres. Bednar said his parents taught him that "there are many good people who are not members of the Church." In addition, he explained, "Understanding different theologies has affirmed over and over my testimony of the restored gospel."
Pres. Bednar strengthened that testimony while serving in the Germany South Mission from 1971 to 1973 where he served as assistant to the president.
Not long after his return, while attending BYU, he noticed a young lady serving in his ward's Relief Society presidency. He took Susan Kae Robinson on their first date in February 1974. They were engaged by Thanksgiving and married in the Salt Lake Temple March 20, 1975. From their union have come three sons: Eric D., 21, recently returned from the Finland Helsinki Mission; Michael K., 19, in the Missionary Training Center preparing for the Bolivia Cochabamba Mission; and Jeffrey, 15.
Speaking of Sister Bednar, Pres. Bednar said, "You can see in my wife a womanly virtue. There's a purity in her that you can literally see in her countenance. In many ways, we're incredibly opposite. She grew up in Star Valley, Wyo., a very rural area. I grew up in a very metropolitan area."
Early in their marriage, after Pres. Bednar got his master's degree from BYU, the two moved to West Lafayette, Ind., where he studied for his doctorate in organizational behavior at Purdue University. After a 1980 graduation, the family moved to Fayetteville, Ark., where the young father accepted a faculty position at the University of Arkansas. Except for the two years that Pres. Bednar taught at Texas Tech University, the Bednars have lived in Arkansas until their recent move to Rexburg, Idaho.
Pres. Bednar's parents have since passed away. His father, who joined the Church in 1979, died in the early 1990s, his mother in the late 1980s. Speaking of them, Pres. Bednar vividly remembers when he baptized his father. "The only time I saw my mother happier was a year later when they were sealed in the St. George Temple."
Speaking of the baptism, Pres. Bednar said, "It was a great experience for me to place my hands on my father's head and confirm him a member of the Church and [later] ordain him an elder."
The Ricks president said these experiences "had a huge impact on me as a father." He added that they left an indelible impression of the importance of being worthy to provide those blessings to his own sons.
And these experiences, he said, have also prepared him to give guidance to Ricks College students from throughout the world and from diverse backgrounds. "I think I have a sense what it's like for a student to come here and have the wonderful experience of being around others trying to live the gospel. That's a great blessing – one they'll appreciate."
- Ricks College was created as Bannock Stake Academy in 1888. It went through several name changes before being named Ricks College in 1923. Following is a list of presidents and principals of the school since its founding:
Jacob Spori, 1888-1891
Charles N. Watkins, 1891-1894
George Cole, 1894-1898
Douglas M. Todd, 1898-1901
Ezra Christiansen (later legally changed to Ezra C. Dalby), 1901-1914
Andrew B. Christensen, 1914-1917
George S. Romney, 1917-1930
Hyrum Manwaring, 1930-1944
John L. Clarke, 1944-1971
Henry B. Eyring, 1971-1978
Bruce C. Hafen, 1978-1985
Joe J. Christensen, 1985-1989
Steven D. Bennion, 1989-1997
David A. Bednar, 1997