Last fall, when the old Orem High School was being torn down, Rollie Bestor got one of the old bricks for each of his four children.
During their tenure at the school, each of the kids had received the Tigerama Award, given to the student that the teachers felt had contributed most to the school that year. When their youngest son, John, got the award in 1980, it was the first time that any family had had every one of their children get the Tigerama Award, Rollie says.
He prepared a little plaque to be attached to each brick, and as he thought about all that the kids had done not only then but ever since, "we fell in love with our kids all over again," Rollie says.
He and his wife, Phyllis, "wanted to say thank you to them, not only for what they have done, but also for giving us the feeling that perhaps some of what we tried to do as parents was successful."
That, he says, is what every parent wants: to know he was successful in guiding his children along the path to adulthood. "I felt like they have rewarded us with the finest compliment a parent could have."
Kurt is probably the best-known of the Bestor offspring. As a musician, he's done everything from score movies to write symphonies. His annual Christmas concerts have been a Salt Lake tradition for more than 20 years.
He was also very athletic in school, Rollie says. "He could have done very well, but he was drawn to music early on. I'm still amazed when I go to his concerts and see everything he puts into them."
Jill, who now lives in Rexburg where her husband, Ron Anderson, teaches at BYU-Idaho, was also a star swimmer and involved in other activities in school. She is now the mother of five and was named Citizen of the Year in Rexburg a few years ago. "She steps out in areas that she feels needs attention," Phyllis says. "She's now head of the Madison School District Foundation, which looks for ways to raise money for the schools."
Carrie and her husband, Lon Henderson, live in St. George and are the parents of six children. "She's also a mover-and-shaker in the community," Rollie says. And she was the one who started Pinnacle Music for Kurt as his music career began to take off. Plus, she's published a cookbook of German recipes, her family heritage.
John could have been an Olympic swimmer, Rollie says. "He could have been another Mark Spitz. But he realized he would have to move to California for more training and decided to forgo that." John is now associated with the FBI and is currently stationed in Atlanta, but he has worked with counter-intelligence all over the world. He was involved in Operation Phish Phry, a large cyber-fraud takedown; worked in Egypt and the Middle East, where one task was to keep tabs on Moammar Gaddafi; lived and worked in Nairobi. He recently received the FBI's second-highest award from the U.S. Attorney General.
Rollie and Phyllis "don't want to sound like we're bragging," she says. "Every family has achievements to be proud of. We are just very happy with who our children have become." Back when people would ask what she hoped her children would do when they grew up, "some people might say doctors or lawyers. I just wanted them to do something good for the world. We wanted them to develop a serving attitude. And they have."
They were all very young when the family moved to Utah from Wisconsin; Kurt was the oldest at age 7. Rollie was coming to work on a Ph.D. and to teach physical education and coach swimming at BYU. He was one of only 26 non-Mormons teaching at the Y. at the time.
"We weren't quite sure what we were getting into," Rollie says. "Back in Wisconsin, no one ever asked what religion you were." He was a Methodist, who had also been a Christian Scientist before becoming a Catholic, when he married Phyllis. "I just thought we should be the same." After all, he says, Phyllis changed who he was. He was drifting, had actually considered leaving school when he met her. "When we started dating, it all came together, academics, music, athletics. We just had to find our own niche."
They built their first house in Provo, in an area lovingly dubbed "Celestial Circle" because of all the LDS church leaders who lived there.
"We were accepted; our children were accepted," he says. A decade later, they were Mormons. "That story could fill a book," he jokes. In fact, it will. Phyllis is writing a book called "How to Live Among the Mormons for Ten Years and Not Be One …"
Phyllis spent her career as a teacher. "Back then I was the only woman in the neighborhood working outside the home, but we had a relationship that made it work. Teamwork became an asset, and our children learned independence."
As a teacher, "she was in tune with the children, and that enabled us to be more effective parents," Rollie says. And they shared tasks, he said. "She'd go to school, and I'd be here doing the canning."
Their parenting style evolved, he says. It didn't happen all at once. But looking back, he sees several techniques that he thinks make a difference.
First, he says, "We always encouraged them to take risks." He remembers holding the rope for Carrie so she could fly in a ninth-grade production of "Peter Pan." "We urged them to find other ways to fly."
They all took piano lessons, but each one also was expected to learn a second instrument. For Kurt, it was the trumpet; Jill played the French horn; Carrie, the oboe and flute; John, the trombone."
They encouraged their children to "do it Mozart's way, then do it your own way," he says.
Children, he says, "can lurk in the shadows, or they can get out there and be a part of life. And there are many creative ways to get the job done."
They learned early on the power of example. "I was driving with Carrie and threw a candy wrapper out the window. She asked, 'Dad, why did you do that?' I felt so bad; I've never done it again. I learned you can't preach and not follow through."
The whole idea of mixed messages is "so powerful," Phyllis says. "If you want to teach your children not to speed, you must never speed. If you have any rule, you have to live up to it, too."
The Bestors encouraged their children to stick with whatever they started. "John was a decathlete at BYU. That took incredible tenacity," Rollie says. And that carried over to other parts of his life.
"One day he decided he was going to get a second minor degree in voice. We thought, 'no way; he's never even sung in public.' But he found the best teacher, Clayne Robison, and convinced him to give lessons. To get his degree, John had to sing in front of a jury, and after that we got a call from Clayne saying he thought John had the best set of vocal equipment on campus."
Another principle the Bestors tried to teach their children is that sometimes it's OK to make a mountain out of a molehill. "Take something that has a little potential and reach higher, make it bigger," Rollie says. As a teacher and coach, he met many students who were not going to succeed in traditional sports. "But I could see a little molehill. Some of them became my best swimmers."
Above all, say the Bestors, they encouraged their children to be themselves. "We wanted them to magnify their calling in life, to live a dynamic life," Phyllis says, "but we didn't want them to compare themselves with others. They had to be themselves, find their own roles."
And that's what they've done, Rollie says; it's what makes him the proudest.Comment on this story
"Did we always know what to say to do? No! Did we provide critical counsel and direction as they continued to 'spread their wings?' We always tried our best to do so. There isn't a handbook that tells you exactly how to raise a child, how to motivate and encourage the child through the learning and growing years nor how to handle the thousands of questions and new experiences all children go through."
But today, Rollie and Phyllis Bestor have the satisfaction of knowing "that for the most part our sincere parenting efforts paid off."
It's a feeling they wish for every parent.