WHITNEY – Memorial Day is a holiday designated to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Small American flags dot cemeteries to mark those men and women who served their country amid the colorful flowers that blanket the grounds.
Of the many patriots from Cache Valley, Ezra Taft Benson was one of the few, if any, who served in a presidential cabinet. He served as the Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1953 until 1961.
Benson later became the 13th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1985 until his death in 1994. He was buried in the same small community where he was born in Whitney, located just over the Idaho border between Franklin and Preston on U.S. 91.
Benson’s niece Jo Ann Benson Steele lives in the Riverdale area just north of Preston and speaks fondly about her uncle and his legacy of patriotism.
“I love talking about Uncle T, as we affectionately called him,” she said. “His life had a profound effect on all of us.”
No doubt serving as Secretary of Agriculture under Eisenhower had an influence on Benson’s views on freedom and the inspired constitution. Eisenhower was a veteran of two world wars and a five-star general who ran on the platform of stopping the spread of communism in the world.
“I grew up with a deep love for this beautiful country, and a profound respect and love for our Founding Fathers,” Steele said. “My dad and Uncle T spent many hours, on the phone, discussing important matters, including how to best preserve our God-given liberties.”
The Steeles have a family book with some of Benson’s speeches, essays and writings that document his respect for the Founding Fathers of the United States and the Constitution which they formed.
“I am so very grateful for a heritage, rich in love for God, family, and this great land of America,” Steele said. “Uncle T was a great proponent of the constitution and said he had a great admiration for the founding fathers; he thought they were inspired men.”
Benson often spoke of his love of country and his firm belief that God had raised up the outstanding men who wrote the constitution and inspired them to publish it.
“I remember as a child what an immense presence Uncle T had. He was so tall and interested in everyone,” she said. “My older children have such fond memories of going with their grandpa to see him at his office in Salt Lake.”
Benson performed Jo Ann and Rex’s wedding ceremony in the Salt Lake Temple. He and his wife Flora drove to Preston for the reception.
“His door was always open to us for counsel, advice, or just to report on our lives,” she said.