One Saturday morning after cutting the grass, Max Bangerter invited his youngest son to sit with him on the steps of the back porch of their home in Granger, Utah. He asked about his goals, what he wanted to accomplish in life, gave him encouragement and listened patiently.
More than four decades later, his father’s words still resonate: “Son, what I have to share with you now will mean more to you regarding the successes you will have in your life and the way that you’ll deal with failures that will certainly come along the way than anything else I can share with you. I pray that it will be indelibly imprinted on your soul. Son, protect the private times of your life. What you do during the private times of your life will come to mean more to you in how you address the challenges you will experience and the successes along the way than anything else I could tell you.”
That 13-year-old boy who took his father’s counsel to heart is Elder Steven R. Bangerter, a recently called General Authority Seventy. “During the private times of my life, I came to love and know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Jesus is the Christ and that my Heavenly Father knows me and loves me personally,” he said. “I am grateful for the protected private times of my life.”
Elder Bangerter’s family enjoys spending plenty of time outdoors, especially in the Uinta Mountains. During one camping trip while still a very young man, he and his older brother, Richard, rode dirt bikes up a long trail to the top of the mountain. Unbeknownst to his brother, who had gone back down and returned to camp well over an hour away, Elder Bangerter had lost the trail. Having been lost all afternoon and into the evening with the temperature and light dropping, he knelt and pled with Heavenly Father for help.
“In my mind’s eye, I saw the trail that we had come up,” he said, describing the answer he received. “As I concluded my prayer, opened my eyes and stood up, I saw a line across the ridge coming up a ravine and felt to ride over to it. That was the trail. I learned in those moments of my Father in Heaven’s awareness of me and of His desire to hear and answer prayer.”
As he began making his way down the rugged trail, his brother reached the top and found him. Their mother had sent Richard to go find Steve, and the rest of the family began a search with flashlights. The two of them embraced as they were reunited, and his brother guided him through the dark back to camp.
This experience did nothing to dissuade him from riding dirt bikes and returning every summer in July to the Uintas with his own family to this day — in fact, motorcycling had a hand in how he met his future wife. “That’s how our mutual friend got us to go out, by the way,” Elder Bangerter said. “She told me that Susann had a motorcycle and she told Susann that I had a motorcycle.”
He met Susann Alexis Hughes just a few weeks after he returned from serving in the Canada Vancouver Mission. On that first date, she said, as soon as she opened the door and saw him, “it felt like I’d known him forever. I loved him immediately. The experience took my breath away.”
On their second date, he proposed and she said yes. Five months later, on March 17, 1983, they were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple, “and she has been my precious gem ever since,” Elder Bangerter said.
That first date? Watching “Kismet” at Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah.
Elder and Sister Bangerter are the parents of six sons and have nine grandchildren. Together, they enjoy outdoor adventures such as dirt biking, camping, fishing and other family activities.
“He’s always been there to play with them and drag me along,” Sister Bangerter said. “I’m always on the last dirt bike because they ride a little fast,” she said.
The Bangerter family lived in Southern California for 20 years before the family moved to Washington, Utah.
The foundation for their family came from a verse printed on a rock Elder and Sister Bangerter happened across during a walk one evening when their first two boys were still quite young. The verse was from 3 John 1:4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”
Later that evening, they decided to make this verse their family motto, and it has provided the doctrinal foundation for how they have addressed challenges that have come in their lives since that day.
Elder Bangerter earned a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Arizona State University, a subject that was inspired by his mission president, John Taylor, who loved people of all faiths. “He had a unique and wonderful ability to speak to people of all faiths using their language and terms that they understood and I wanted to be like that,” he said.
Afterwards, he earned a juris doctor degree from from Western State University’s College of Law, then was invited to join a law firm that practices religious law. He began as a clerk and remained there until he became a partner.
For the last 25 years, he has represented churches and faith-based organizations throughout California and surrounding regions. Elder Bangerter said, “It is a wonderful blessing to work with people of other faiths. They are so good. They have such a deep desire to help the people and help the communities where they reside. It’s been a true blessing.”
Working in this unique field “grew and developed my faith in children of our Father in Heaven and our natural desire to want to develop the divine nature that’s within us — the desire of people from whatever faith to enhance their lives and draw nearer to God in whatever way they understand God to be,” Elder Bangerter said.
It also deepened his appreciation “for the blessing of being led by a prophet of God.” Oftentimes Church practices and structures could be used as frameworks for other faith-based organizations seeking to improve things like their welfare or ministering efforts.
While serving in the Church, and now as a General Authority Seventy, he’s felt this same love for God’s children. “In every calling I have ever had, I have felt our Father in Heaven’s sustaining influence and by His Holy Spirit have been caused to feel … great love for the people I have served in whatever calling,” Elder Bangerter said.
“I have felt a profound sense of gratitude for my Heavenly Father who overlooks my many weaknesses and my many challenges and difficulties, and promises that notwithstanding those weaknesses, He’ll assist us and bless us along the way.”