The Mongolian ambassador to the U.S., Batbayar Ulziidelger, visited BYU on Friday, Oct. 13 to honor Richard Cook with the Order of the Polar Star for his service in education to Mongolian youth.
Dozens gathered in the Hinckley Center that evening to see Cook, the first mission president of Mongolia, be awarded Mongolia’s highest civilian award: the Order of the Polar Star.
Cook was awarded the Order of the Polar Star for his years of helping Mongolian students receive an education from BYU-Hawaii. After he and his wife, Mary Cook, began their missionary service in Mongolia, Mary was asked to help instruct at the teacher’s college in special education. Meanwhile, Richard worked with the Mongolian minister of finance to help modify the Mongolian financial system from its previous communist structure. During that time, he also requested BYU send accounting textbooks to a local university in Mongolia, which they then implemented into their teaching.
The Cooks were called to serve as the first mission leaders of the Ulaanbaatar Mongolia mission in 1995. Since then, the Cooks have helped Mongolian youth attend Church-sponsored educational institutions like BYU-Hawaii.
“When my husband says education opens the doors to opportunities, we have story after story,” Mary said.
According to Ambassador Ulziidelger, Richard’s commitment to Mongolian youth has made a significant impact.
“Richard’s dedication, generosity and patience have touched the lives of countless individuals and have helped to shape a better future for Mongolian youth,” Ulziidelger said.
The recognition of Richard was interesting for many BYU students in attendance.
“I thought it was amazing to see because I didn’t know what has gone into supporting the education of Mongolian students,” Ruthie Cook, a 23-year-old nursing major at BYU, said.
Other students such as Ethan Nielsen, a 22-year-old BYU student in mechanical engineering, were impressed by the power and authority of those in attendance at the event.
“I’m kind of shocked this is such high authority in one room,” Nielsen said.
Even Cook, recipient of the Order of the Polar Star, was shocked Ambassador Ulziidelger traveled all the way to Provo to present the award.
“If you were to tell me a year ago that all this would happen, I wouldn’t believe it,” Cook said in his remarks after receiving the award.
The event included many distinguished guests, including BYU-Hawaii President John S.K. Kauwe III. In his address, President Kauwe spoke of the Mongolian students at BYU-Hawaii.
“The students of Mongolia are incredible people and incredible leaders. They are good, kind, care for each other … and are an important example on our campus,” Kauwe said.
According to Cook, more than 500 Mongolian students have been educated at BYU-Hawaii.
Cook repeatedly emphasized the importance of receiving an education throughout his remarks, and highlighted how the Lord enables people to accomplish the tasks He calls them to do. He also expressed his hope for Mongolians to return to their country after receiving their education to help build and improve Mongolia.