President Ezra Taft Benson was officially recognized as Utah State University's most distinguished alumnus in a special ceremony in the church president's office Wednesday morning.
The leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received a citation and two medallions honoring him as the USU Centennial Alumnus for the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and as one of 30 alumni selected by USU to receive its own Centennial Recognition Award.Both the national association and USU are celebrating their 100th anniversaries this year. The association published a book containing 10 distinguished alumni from its 125 member universities. The association selected an alumnus to represent each institution as a centennial alumnus.
As part of its centennial celebration, USU selected 30 outstanding alumni who were recognized at a dinner last month. President Benson was unable to attend, so the presentation was arranged for Wednesday.
USU President Stanford Cazier and Vice President William Lye made the presentation.
"President Benson, Walter Cronkite of the University of Texas is in good company," said Cazier as he gave the church leader the award. Cronkite was selected as the distinguished alumnus from that school.
President Benson responded that although the awards were a joy and a honor, "I don't feel worthy of all of this recognition."
Cazier replied, "I wouldn't want to correct the prophet of the church, but we think you are."
The citation notes President Benson's long list of accomplishments in two distinct careers, one in agriculture, the other in the church.
"Following his election in 1952, President Dwight Eisenhower selected you as his secretary of agriculture. You served in that position for eight years, acting as a spokesman for agriculture at a critical time," the citation reads.
It also highlights President Benson's church callings and his sustaining as LDS Church president in 1985.
"On the occasion of its centennial, Utah State University is pleased to award to you, Ezra Taft Benson, its special Centennial Recognition," the citation says.
After graduating from Oneida Stake Academy, Preston, Idaho, President Benson entered USU in 1919. It was at USU where he met his wife, Flora. He related their meeting for his USU visitors, telling them it was his favorite memory of his days on campus.
He left USU in 1921 to serve a British Isles mission. After his mission, he returned to college at Brigham Young University. He graduated with honors and then earned a master's degree from Iowa State University.
Among others who also received the national association's awards were President Jimmy Carter, Georgia Institute of Technology; J. William Fulbright, University of Arkansas; Supreme Court Justice Byron White, University of Colorado; Hubert Humphrey, University of Minnesota; Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, Oregon State University; and comedian Bill Cosby, Temple University.