Thinking big: Michael Benson delivers the goods at Snow, SUU

Published: Sunday, March 25 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

After returning to the United States, Benson applied for teaching positions and found none. He roofed houses and sold suits at Nordstrom's for several months before landing a position as a fund-raiser at the University of Utah and later as a special assistant to U. President Bernie Machen and then secretary to the university board of trustees.

"After a few a years I decided I loved campus life and being around bright people and ideas and young people who are in the formative period of their lives," he says. "Acquiring knowledge seemed like a noble, worthy cause."

In 2001, at 36, he was named president of Snow College, making him the youngest college or university president ever in Utah's higher education system.

Benson, who already has served as the president of two schools, authored a book and graduated from BYU and Oxford, seems bound for other things, but if he's thinking that far ahead he's not letting on.

"I believe if you're given a task and you work hard, things will take care of themselves," he says. "If I hadn't produced at Snow, I wouldn't have been considered at SUU. I want to build on what's been done at SUU."

It hasn't all been mortar boards and building projects for Benson. The events of the past few months have marked a comeback from the lowest point in his life.

His marriage to the granddaughter of LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley united two of the greatest names in the church. The 10-year marriage, which produced two children, ended two years ago. That was devastating, Benson says.

"The divorce didn't fit," says Humphrey. "He had painted the perfect picture. This was a big piece of the chain that broke. People who knew him were shocked that this would happen to him. That was not part of the plan."

The situation was exacerbated by the rumor mill.

"When all that went down, there was nasty stuff spread about him, about the kind of father and husband he was, and that his faith in his church was failing," says Pike. "Well, I can tell you that I traveled with this man, and at the end of the day I saw him on his knees praying."

"It's worth noting that he always had (an LDS) temple recommend," says Mary. "He was hurt. He's not a critical person. I will admire him forever for how he handled it gracefully, never bitterly. He didn't respond. He went about conducting himself in an exemplary way. He was restrained and respectful."

Benson met the former Debi Woods on a blind date, and they married last summer. He calls her "the best thing that has happened to me in a long time." They had their first child earlier this month and named him Truman Taft — after his favorite U.S. president and his grandfather.

"The smile is back on his face," says Marlon Snow.

"I learned a lot of things about myself and my faith," says Benson, "and that's what kept me going. And I leaned a great deal on my family.

"You find out who your friends are," he says.

Says Steve, "There is a certain weight with bearing the name that he does."

Steve Benson should know. Years ago he made a very public and acrimonious departure from his LDS faith and distanced himself from his family, although family members say he has moved closer to them over the years. That, too, wasn't part of the Benson plan.

"It was hard on all of us," says Mary. "We all love Steve; he's our brother."

Mike and Steve have maintained a strong relationship and express mutual admiration and respect for the other.

Says Michael, "I've remained close to him. He's asked us to respect his decision and his agency in life, and I've asked the same of him. We don't attack and criticize the path each of us has chosen.

"In the final analysis, he's my brother, and I'll always love him."

"We've developed a bond that means a lot to both of us," says Steve. "He is very genuine. What you see is what you get. He is a very bright person with a real talent for connecting with people."

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