Ezra Taft Benson
Early Life & Family
Ezra Taft Benson was prepared early on for his professional success, his Church service, and his impact on others. He was born on August 4, 1899, in Whitney, Idaho. There on his family’s farm, he learned the meaning of hard work, self-reliance, dependability, compassion, and other life lessons that would shape his character. It was perhaps these character traits that compelled Flora Amussen to say (despite friends and family teasing her that a ploughboy like Benson was beneath her) that she wanted to marry a farmer.
Ezra learned other important lessons from the examples of his faithful parents. When he was a young teenager, his father was called to the Eastern States mission. Though George Benson’s absence was felt deeply by Ezra’s mother and his siblings, especially as they assumed extra responsibility to keep the farm running, George’s devotion to the Lord was felt even more profoundly—all eleven of his children would go on to serve missions at some point in their lives. Ezra himself recognized the blessings of Church service early on. A lifelong Boy Scout, he was called to lead twenty-four Young Men when he was 19 years old. More influential than the choir practices and hiking trips he led were the mentoring relationships he built, which he continued to foster throughout the years.
Church Service, Education, & Career
After graduating from the Oneida Stake Academy in 1918, Ezra Taft Benson accepted a call to serve a mission in Great Britain, where he grew spiritually and developed a deep love for the people. When he returned, he proposed to his sweetheart Flora, but the couple would wait to get married until she herself served a 20-month mission in Hawaii. While she was gone, Ezra finished school. He had begun studying at Utah State Agricultural College and then transferred to Brigham Young University, where he graduated in 1926. He and Flora were married later that year in the Salt Lake Temple. She was a strong, loving support for him through his civic and Church responsibilities. When he was called to the apostleship at age 44, Ezra was nervous about his responsibility, his young family, and his weaknesses, but Flora encouraged and comforted him. “She has always shown more faith in me than I have myself,” he said.
Ezra Taft Benson went on to earn a master’s degree from Iowa State College and run his own family farm back in his hometown of Whitney. He soon became a voice among local and regional farmers. He worked for some time as an agricultural economist and specialist with the University of Idaho in Boise, studied at the University of California, Berkeley for a year, and then he became the executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives in 1933. He used his academic and practical expertise to help farmers with productivity and marketing. The Benson family, which included six children, lived in California, Idaho, Utah, and Washington, D.C. Ezra Taft Benson also served twice as a stake president. Although he was often taken away from home for work and church demands, which was hard for his family, he made the most of the time he had at home. His children remember him laughing, playing, and doing household chores with them, and spending time with each child individually.
In 1943, Ezra Taft Benson, along with Spencer W. Kimball, was ordained an apostle. One of his first assignments was to travel in Europe, where he organized the Church’s relief efforts after the devastation of World War II. He also served as a mission president in Europe and supervised the work of the Church there and in Asia. While an apostle, he served from 1953–1961 as Secretary of Agriculture for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s cabinet, bringing publicity to the Church and sharing his talent and knowledge with the country. He had always been devoted to his country, believing that the Constitution was inspired and that freedom was essential for God’s plan. He defended freedom every chance he had.
In 1985, Ezra Taft Benson became the President of the Church. He dedicated nine temples and saw great growth in Church membership and strength. He taught the importance of “flooding the earth” with the Book of Mormon, warned against the universal sin of pride, and believed that Christ was the source of lasting change and true joy. Flora passed away in 1992 and Ezra Taft Benson followed her in 1994, having left behind a legacy of faith. He spoke many times at BYU, his alma mater, on spiritual as well as civic matters, and his courageous faith and dedication are evident in his bold testimony.