Steven D. Bennion spent many boyhood hours milking cows, gathering eggs and weeding the garden on his family's Salt Lake County "farm." Every summer, as a teenager, he worked long hours on an Idaho ranch.
The hard labor wasn't a prelude to a career as a rancher. Bennion, like his father, chose the academic life instead, eventually rising to a lofty height; he now is president of Snow College.But Bennion says he learned a valuable lesson from all of those chores and summers on the ranch. And it was the lesson that his father, retired University of Utah dean and well-known community worker, Lowell L. Bennion, had intended: He learned how to work, developing a strong sense of self along the way.
"My father and an older brother, Wayne, spent a couple of years in western Juab County working on the ranch of a favorite uncle. That was a really impactful experience in teaching them how to work and about the value of work. I think because of that, he wanted his boys to have a similar experience," Steven Bennion said.
But, in the case of Lowell Bennion, "his boys" eventually took in quite a group.
In 1961, when his own sons "were pretty well grown," Bennion opened a boys ranch in the Teton Valley, three miles from Victor, Idaho, near where his own sons, including Steve, had spent their summers. It operated for 24 years, attracting 1,820 boys ages 12 to 15 from across the country.
"I'd always wanted a ranch of my own, so I thought I'd share it with some boys," the ever-modest Lowell Bennion says simply.
But, as his son and ranch alumni will attest, Lowell Bennion had more in mind.
He wanted to give boys, in that awkward time of early adolescence, a place where they could develop a positive self-image as they worked in nature. It was never a place for boys who ran afoul of the law, but one where regular young boys had an opportunity for self-development.
The senior Bennion cashed in an insurance policy to buy 160 acres and then convinced several former students to purchase the adjoining 160 acres to complete the ranch.
For almost a quarter of a century, the boys came for mornings of work building fences, barns and bunkhouses; afternoons of horseback riding and fishing; and evenings of debating politics, social life and the meaning of life.
"It was exciting to see a 12-year-old stand up and say, `I think . . .' " Lowell Bennion says.
Older teens acted as counselors.
"One of my first jobs was to put in fence posts working alongside Lowell," recalls University of Utah senior Brian Schmidt. "I was just a city slicker. I had no idea what I was doing. My first pole hole was two feet wide."
But Schmidt went on to learn how to build a fence and a barn. He later served as a counselor, as did his brother, Jeff, now a Sandy pediatrician.
And, in true Lowell Bennion style, he also injected them with a little community spirit. The boys painted the houses of widows in the valley and were involved in other community projects.
The non-profit ranch was never advertised, but it was always full. It closed in 1985 due to financial and other obstacles.
But many of the ranch's alumni, who now have sons of their own, wanted just such a place to send their own boys.
"It's hard to describe, but it offered freedom and there was a sense of magic about it. Somehow Lowell could bring a lot of different people together and it seemed to work so well," Schmidt says.
So alumni dedicated to keeping Lowell Bennion's vision alive decided to do something about it. In late 1988, a California philanthropist purchased the property so the ranch could be reopened.
A foundation board, headed by Steven Bennion, was organized to direct the nonprofit ranch. Members include the 81-year-old founder, Lowell Bennion; Ted Jacobsen; Richard Nelson; Lorin Pugh and Jeff Schmidt.
Bennion Teton Boys Ranch will once again welcome boys June 19. There will be two four-week terms this summer. Open to boys 12 to 15, the ranch is nonsectarian. It costs $625 for one term and $1,250 for both. Boys may earn $50 for consistent work during the term.
For information, contact Steve Peterson, 123 N. 460 East, Ephraim, UT 84627, 283-4195.