Benson family commemorates shared heritage with tree decorating party

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BYU chemistry students place decorations provided by the Benson family on a Christmas tree in the Benson Building. The decoration party allowed descendants of Ezra Taft Benson and students to connect with each other. (Hannah Miner)

Traditions cherished by a past president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were resurrected Dec. 3 when the family of Ezra Taft Benson partnered with the Benson Building staff to host a Christmas tree decorating party on the BYU campus.

Chemistry students and Benson family members mingled together, discussing the former prophet’s legacy while decorating a Christmas tree. The tree was adorned with musical instruments and pages from Handel’s “Messiah,” a testament to both President Benson’s love of music and his spirituality.

President Benson passed away in May 1994.

“It’s great to connect people that are in the building that is his namesake with his family,” said Jacob Shaner, a junior studying chemistry. Shaner said he helped drive attendance to the event by publicizing it through Y-Chem, BYU’s chemistry club.

“One thing I like about the Benson Building is there’s a whole case dedicated to President Benson and his heritage,” he said. “It has actual things he owned. You can get a sense of who he was. It’s fitting this event is here.”

Senior music major Douglas Benson Ferry, President Benson’s great-grandson, said he agreed. He said the event helped him feel closer to his heritage.

“It’s cool to come in here to see his portrait,” he said. “It’s sort of a special connection that I have.”

Ferry said events like the Christmas tree decorating party help people think of past prophets and leaders.

“We get to consider the contribution they made,” he said. “You realize, this is our time. We get to be the stalwarts now.”

Ferry said he only met President Benson once, and he was a newborn baby at the time. President Benson was on his deathbed.

“On his deathbed, he had a particular blanket,” he said. “Now I have his blanket. It’s in my apartment.”

Lucilla Benson Rhees, a granddaughter of President Benson’s and a BYU alumna from 1991, said events like this help her remember who she is.

“As we remember our history, it defines our identity,” she said. “We’re defined more by our legacy than by our future.”

Lynna Benson-Stewart, President Benson’s granddaughter and a BYU alumna, said remembering past prophets helps younger generations feel connected to them.

“There’s so much rich spirituality there. Each prophet had a focus in his ministry,” Benson-Stewart.

Granddaughter Mary Benson Richards, agreed. “The more time passes, the more people forget the influence of past prophets.” Richards, also a BYU alumna, graduated in 1983 with a degree in flute performance and is now a concert flutist.

“Events like these humanize the prophets,” she said.

The Benson family Christmas tree stands in the ground floor study area of the Benson Building. The tree will be available for viewing by students throughout the remainder of the month.

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