20 years after arriving in Rexburg to lead Ricks College, the Bednars reflect on life
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THIS VIDEO INCLUDES NATE EATON’S ENTIRE UNEDITED INTERVIEW WITH THE BEDNARS. SHORTER CLIPS CAN BE FOUND THROUGHOUT THIS STORY.
Twenty years ago this summer, David and Susan Bednar began a journey that would change the course of their lives forever.
David had been teaching at the University of Arkansas in the College of Business Administration, but decided to move with Susan and their three sons to Rexburg, where he would become the 14th president of Ricks College.
At the time, Ricks was the largest private junior college in the United States with an enrollment of nearly 9,000 students. David knew there would be some challenges in his position, but had no idea what was going to occur over the next eight years.
Ricks College would transition into Brigham Young University-Idaho. The number of students, faculty and staff would explode. New facilities would be built, educational programs would expand, Rexburg would experience tremendous growth, and, capping off a historical presidency, David’s tenure would suddenly end as he was called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Bednars recently sat down with EastIdahoNews.com for a rare in-depth interview about their time at BYU-Idaho, the call that changed their lives and a variety of other issues.
FROM RICKS TO BYU-IDAHO
Elder Bednar will never forget one particular evening of his presidency at Ricks College.
He had publicly announced that the Jacob Spori building, the oldest structure on campus, would need to be torn down and rebuilt.
“We did a number of engineering studies that showed it had to be replaced,” he recalls. “We explained to everyone why it had to be demolished and I remember making the mistake of coming home and telling Susan, ‘I’ve done the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do as president of Ricks College.’”
“I remember that night,” Susan says with a laugh.
Little did they know that a bigger challenge was ahead.
On June 21, 2000, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley announced Ricks College would become Brigham Young University-Idaho and David Bednar would lead the transition.
“I can’t believe how much time has flown by, and to me it is absolute evidence of the Lord’s hand in his work,” Elder Bednar says.
New facilities were constructed, and he recalls working with a team to determine where the Gordon B. Hinckley Building should be located.
“At the time, the most logical place to put that building would have been next to the Hart building where the old baseball fields were (on the west side of campus),” Elder Bednar says. “We never felt settled about that, and it made no sense. So we built elsewhere.”
The Hinckley Building ended up on the southeast section of campus and the baseball fields remained untouched.
Years later, a large auditorium needed to be constructed at BYU-Idaho and the only place that could fit the facility was those baseball fields near the Hart Building.
“I could go on for hours and hours about decisions we tried to make to the best of our ability, but clearly the Lord had a game plan for what was taking place,” he says. “The campus was not laid out by an architect. It was laid out by him in a most remarkable way.”
“To watch the change from Ricks College to BYU-Idaho was faith-promoting to me,” Susan said. “It’s fun to go back and visit the campus. The spirit of Ricks is still there, which is wonderful and rewarding and heartwarming to us.”
THE CALL THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
It was between 2 and 3 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2004.
Then-President Bednar’s assistant, Betty Oldham, told him he had a phone call from President Hinckley.
“When you’re the president of a church university, those calls aren’t unusual,” Elder Bednar recalls. “I picked up the phone and President Hinckley asked, ‘David, are you coming to General Conference this weekend?’”
Elder Bednar said he would be attending and President Hinckley requested to meet with him the next day at 3 p.m.
“I told Susan, ‘I know exactly what he wants. We’ve been here almost eight years and he’s going to thank us for our service and tell me to go get a new job,’” Elder Bednar says.
The Bednars drove to Salt Lake City the next day and, as Susan waited in the nearby Joseph Smith Memorial Building, David met with President Hinckley.
“We visited for an hour and he extended the call to serve,” Elder Bednar remembers. “He asked how I felt, and I said, ‘President Hinckley, I’m stunned.’ He said, ‘Good, you should be.’”
President Hinckley told Elder Bednar he would be speaking in the Sunday morning session of General Conference for 10 minutes.
“Not nine minutes, not 11. You’ll speak for 10 minutes,” Elder Bednar recalls President Hinckley saying. “And you have to turn your talk in tomorrow at 8 o’clock because it needs to be translated into 107 languages.”
Elder Bednar then walked over to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and broke the news to Susan.
“I whispered in her ear what had just happened and we spent a couple of moments trying to really understand it,” Elder Bednar says. “And we had no clue.”
Susan adds, “He said the first words out of my mouth were, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ I really did feel that way and I’m sorry I did. When you start to think about the longevity of this calling, it’s a long time and I wasn’t sure what do to. How do I know how to be an apostle’s wife?”
President Hinckley told Elder Bednar the only person he could tell about his new position was Susan, but she was anxious to share the news with their children.
“I said, ‘Surely we can tell our sons. This is the most important day of your whole life,'” Susan told Elder Bednar. One of their boys was attending Brigham Young University in Provo, another lived in Texas and the third was in North Carolina. Susan wanted them to be in attendance for the announcement the following morning.
“I kept asking and he kept saying no,” Susan says with a smile. “Finally I asked him one more time and he looked at me and said, ‘Martin!'”
Elder Bednar was referring to Martin Harris, one of the first members of the LDS Church who repeatedly asked Joseph Smith if he could show 116 pages of the Book of Mormon to family members. After telling him no a few times, Smith finally agreed to the request and Harris ended up losing the pages.
“I was just trying to be true to what President Hinckley told me to do,” Elder Bednar says with a smile.
The Bednars went to dinner at a nearby restaurant and then checked in to their hotel so David could begin preparing his first General Conference talk.
The next morning, President Hinckley announced Elder Bednar as the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Within 12 hours, the Bednars’ sons in Texas and North Carolina joined their parents and brother in Salt Lake City.
“With no advanced planning, no airline reservations, no nothing,” Elder Bednar says. “The fact they were able to get here and be in our hotel by 10 p.m. is remarkable. I think there was help to get them here so they could be a part of that weekend.”
A NEW LIFE
The Bednars moved to Salt Lake City, and Elder Bednar began serving in his new position.
Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serve for life, having the authority and responsibility to govern the church, administer its ordinances, teach doctrine and establish and maintain practices.
Elder Bednar began traveling around the world, and his prominent position quickly made him easily recognizable among church members everywhere.
“When your face is in every high council room and seminary and institute class all over the world, the anonymity is gone,” he says. “We belong to the church and, the truth of the matter is, it’s very enjoyable. To have the opportunity to meet a family, especially if they have children, and make it memorable for them can be really neat.”
Susan adds, “When he was a bishop, I learned how to share him with the ward. When he was a stake president, I learned how to share him with the stake. When he was an Area Seventy, I learned how to share him with the area. Now I’m trying to learn how to share him with the whole world. It’s been a great experience and the people we meet are extraordinary. We love them.”
The Bednars say they’ve learned a lot from the other apostles, who are “men of great faith called for a reason.”
“As good as these men are in public, they’re even better in private,” Elder Bednar says. “I get to see them when they have heartache in a family or physical pain when they’re suffering with something. Sometimes you read in the Book of Mormon and wonder what would it be like to know Captain Moroni. I serve with 14 of them. They are that good.”
Elder Bednar has been an apostle for 13 years and says the biggest lesson he’s learned is how well the Lord is aware of everyone.
A few weeks ago, the Bednars arrived in another country for a conference that was being broadcast from a missionary training center.
They were early and had an extra 10 to 15 minutes to meet and speak with the missionaries.
“I gave an overview of what I spoke about at General Conference – the distinction of being called to the work versus being assigned to a specific field of labor,” Elder Bednar says.
As they left the meeting, Elder Bednar leaned over to Susan and said, “Why in the world did I talk about that? If I’ve only got 10 minutes, why did I talk about that?”
“I was wondering why too,” Susan says.
The MTC president then asked Elder Bednar who had told him about the sister missionary sitting in the front row. Elder Bednar responded that he knew nothing about a sister in the front row.
“He then said the sister had her assignment changed three days ago and she’s been distressed. I think the message you just delivered was just for her,” Elder Bednar recalls.
Elder Bednar asked to go back into the room and meet the sister. She had tears in her eyes and said his message helped her understand why she was there.
“I told her, ‘I’m here for a lot of reasons, and maybe the major one was the Lord sent me to deliver that message, which I had not planned to do, so that you would know he knows you by name,'” Elder Bednar says. “What I’ve learned over the years is we’ll travel halfway around the world and we always find one person or a series of individuals that the Lord sends us to bless.”
The Bednars often travel together on international assignments, and Susan asks her husband to write down a list of the top 10 things that happened while they were on their trip.
“Every single time there’s an experience just like the one he said,” Susan says. “Someone has been touched and helped because the Lord knows they need a caress from heaven.”
TEMPLES IN EAST IDAHO
While at BYU-Idaho, the Bednars learned the Mormon church would construct a temple in Rexburg. In January 2008, three and a half years after being called as an apostle, Elder Bednar participated in the temple dedication.
Until that time, Mormons in east Idaho had traveled to the Idaho Falls Temple, which has recently undergone a major renovation and will be rededicated June 4.
During the April LDS General Conference, Church President Thomas S. Monson announced a temple will also be constructed in Pocatello.
“This is a sign of spiritual maturity, strength and growth,” Elder Bednar tells EastIdahoNews.com. “Temples are places of light and truth and goodness. That goodness has an impact not only in the temple for members of the church, but in the entire community as well.”
Last October, a temple opened in Star Valley, Wyoming, where Susan was born and raised. Her husband dedicated the temple there.
“I think temple growth (in the area) says more about the people than anything – their spirituality, their desires to have a temple and the fact that they will attend,” Susan says.
LESSONS LEARNED AND ADVICE
Over the years, the Bednars have learned lessons that they share with those they meet.
Susan says she will never forget the message Elder Henry B. Eyring, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught to a group of BYU-Idaho students.
He told them if they would pray every day to see the hand of God in their life, it would be made known unto them.
“It’s been amazing to me how many times I’ve seen the hand of the Lord act and intervene in my life every single day if I have the faith, courage and discipline to do that,” Susan says. “You have to act and pray or you miss the Lord’s hand in your life.”
Two years ago, the Bednars agreed to be featured on a broadcast event with Mormon youth from all over the world. Teenagers submitted questions via social media, and the Bednars answered from church headquarters.
“To the youth I would say it’s a complex world out there,” Susan tells EastIdahoNews.com. “There’s so much bullying and social media stuff where you can intimidate or ruin someone’s reputation. I would hope youth would remember who they are and be kind and reach out to everyone. I would also tell young people the same thing President Hinckley once said, that is to have faith – faith in the Lord, faith in yourself and faith in the future.”
Elder Bednar reminds teenagers that if they make good choices, things will work out.
“Be good boys and be good girls. It’s really that simple,” he says. “If we just do the simple things we know we should do as disciples of the Savior, he makes more of us then we can ever make of ourselves.”
EAST IDAHO AND THEIR LEGACY
Thirteen years after leaving Rexburg, the Bednars have fond memories and say they’ve left a “little bit of eastern Idaho” in the more than 100 countries they have visited.
“I do not miss the Idaho wind, and I do not miss the cold, but we miss the people, and we love them,” Elder Bednar says. “We spent eight of the richest years of our life in eastern Idaho. It was a tumultuous time with the transition, but I want to express gratitude and thanks for all of the people who we learned from and who influenced us in very positive ways.”
Elder Bednar says one of his favorite memories is running the steps of the outdoor stadium every day at 5 a.m. Students learned about his exercise routine and often showed up to join him – even on cold winter mornings.
Susan recalls speaking at a large meeting for female students and jokingly stating that she wishes she could “take them all home and feed them ice cream and cookies.”
“The next night, we heard a knock on the door and it was some students who said, ‘We’re here for ice cream and cookies,'” Susan says. “They brought the treats to our house and that started the tradition of us holding family home evening with the students every Monday night.”
As the Bednars reminisce about these special times, they hope former BYU-Idaho students, members of the LDS Church and people around the world know they love Jesus Christ and are trying to be like him.
“I would love to be remembered as a person who had charity and love, that I truly give my heart and soul to the people that I meet and that I gave my heart to the Lord,” Susan says.
And Elder Bednar says, “I don’t really want to be remembered except that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would know that we really tried to be, worked to be and yearned to be followers of the Master.”