Joseph Dunkley Benson: compiled by Emily Lester(GGdaughter)
Contributor: Taneya Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
Joseph Dunkley Benson: A personal History written by
Emily Lester (Great-Granddaughter)
Compiled from existing documents and a taped interview of Colleen Benson
Law, Daughter of Joseph Benson
On November 12, 1900 in Whitney, Idaho, George Taft Jr. and Sarah Dunkley Benson gave birth to their second son, Joseph Dunkley Benson. Their humble home consisted of a two-room cottage situated on a forty-acre far. He was named after his grandfather Joseph Dunkley. Joseph was a kind and loving boy, full of sympathy for the less fortunate. Even as a young child, he was known for his willingness to serve others. In fact, when his mother needed something fixed around the house, she would say, “I’ll just save that until Joe comes home from school or has a free afternoon; and he’ll fix it for me.” This practice continued even after Joseph moved away from home.
Several of Joe’s favorites growing up included marbles, horses, homemade bread and milk with chokecherry jelly, and fruit. According to one of his sisters, he had a marvelous sack of marbles that continued to grow as he proved to be quite competent at the game. When it came to chores, Joe preferred to tend the horses instead of milking the cows. Apparently he was very good with them and would frequently help neighbors get stuck wagons out of fields. Additionally, he regularly drove four heads of horses hooked up to a big beet truck to the sugar factory with his brother.
When Joseph was just a young child, he would look through catalogs to find little things like knife sharpeners to sell. This experience, coupled with his people skills, probably led to his eventual career as a salesman.
When Joseph was about six or seven years old, he came down with a bad case of what we now know as rheumatic fever. However, at the time, medical skills were a lot more primitive and they diagnosed it as growing pains. There really was not much they could do for it. Consequently, he was ill and weak for a long time and stopped growing for a while so he was smaller than most boys his age were. Thus, his brother would walk with him to and from school for protection and to make sure he was okay. This illness probably damaged his heart and contributed to his early death.
One of the most character building experiences of his life involved his father being called on a mission to the Eastern States. When he received the call, there were seven children in the family with an eighth on the way. They had little extra money and it took all their savings just to buy appropriate clothing and pay for his trainfare. Yet, George Taft Benson faithfully left his young family and farm in the care of providence in order to serve the Lord. They could not afford to hire anyone to help; so the boys, the oldest being only twelve, ran the farm. Eventually, they found a couple that received room and board in exchange for their assistance. Also, they sold part of the cattle and a few horses in order to send money to their father in the mission field. These times were extremely hard; but it taught the children how important the gospel was to their parents and proved their willingness to make sacrifices. Consequently, all of the children born at that time made the gospel the center of their lives. In later years, every one of them said they were glad to have the opportunity to serve the church and sacrifice in order for their father to go.
Joseph was always very thoughtful to his family members. One of his younger brothers recounted the story of a time when the Idaho winter was particularly cold and snow came up past the waist. Joseph and three younger brothers were assigned to go round up the missing cattle before they froze to death. This was the first time that the youngest brother there had ever received such an assignment. They were out for hours before they gathered up the last of the strays and still had the long walk home ahead of them. Each of the brothers wore heavy clothes and had boots on, but the youngest one complained of the cold. Thus, Joseph took his own jacket off and wrapped it around his little brother. He also carried him part of the way home because the snow was so deep.
An excellent scholar with a brilliant mind, Joseph always excelled in his schooling at Whitney grade school, Preston High, and at Brigham Young University. He especially did well in his business classes. Many professors respected his abilities and he ended up becoming quite popular among his peers and teachers. In fact he was voted as president of the Commerce Club at BYU. These accomplishments were particularly amazing because he was often called home to help on the farm, and still managed to get high marks on his test. He loved school and was always anxious to obtain a degree.
In May of 1924 Joseph was called to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the North Central States. According to the mission journal he left for posterity, he enjoyed his mission and loved the gospel will all his heart. He also made a book of pictures from his mission, but unfortunately he never wrote anything on them so no one is sure whom they are of. His mission lasted nearly three years and included a large area. Several times he served as president in various branches and later also served as conference president. In this capacity, he spent a lot of time traveling all over the mission, helping train new missionaries.
During the course of his mission, Joseph acquainted an elderly sister who he baptized towards the end of his mission. She had no family of her own so she sort of adopted him and his later family. Joe’s children knew her as Grandmother Cromely. While they never met her, she would send them cards and presents on birthdays and at Christmas. In her letters, she recounted how much Joseph meant to her and how much the gospel he brought with him meant to her. She continued to keep in contact for the rest of her life.
Joseph first met his future wife, Iva Laura Jones at a Gold and Green Ball. She was on the stake board for mutual and thus was there helping with refreshments. One of Joe’s buddies asked her to dance and told her that there was a fellow standing over there who badly wanted to meet her and was claiming he was going to marry her. She jokingly replied, “You go ask him if he has his trousseau ready and everything ready for a home.” Later that evening, Joe and Iva were introduced and he asked her to dance. As they were dancing, he said, “You might as well prepare yourself for it, I’m going to marry you and I don’t give up easily.” She laughed and replied; “I’ve heard that before.” That Sunday he took her out and they later attended the Junior Prom together. After having been on a few dates with him Iva noted that although she felt she was treated with respect by other dates, she had never been treated as beautifully by anyone else before. He brought out the best in her, as he did with the majority of the people he knew and he gave her a special feeling of worth.
Several qualities that Iva admired in Joe included his sense of humor, humility, and friendliness. He never judged anyone. He chose his friends based on their character rather than on money or prestige. He was quite popular and admired by many. People would say that Joe never met a stranger. Also, he was very neat. He kept his clothes immaculate although sometimes they were a little well worn. Yet, the most endearing quality about Joe for Iva was his great love for his mother.
Joseph’s mother, Sarah Dunkley Benson was kind and very caring. The family used to say that Joe was always her favorite. During the last few months of her life while she was battling cancer, she wanted Joseph to be with her. So, he rented his home in Provo and moved up to Idaho with his family to stay with her.
On the other hand, Joseph’s Father was a very stern man and fairly opinionated. He was a hard worker and expected his children to be also. During one of their visits back home, “Grandfather Benson” was tormenting Joseph’s son, Joe, by spraying him with the garden hose every time he came outside. Sarah would tell him that he really should not tease him like that, but he thought it was funny. Later that night, all the men got dressed up for a priesthood meeting. The younger boys were mischievously laughing at something. When Grandfather Benson came out of the house, Joe was standing outside with the hose and one of the other boys turned it on. He pointed it right at Grandpa, soaking him. Grandfather was really angry but Sarah came out and said, “Leave him alone George, you’ve been doing that all day to him and he’s just following your example.” Needless to say, Grandfather Benson did not tease Joe anymore.
On September 8, 1927 Joseph and Iva were married to each other for Time and All Eternity in the Salt Lake Temple. Iva claimed she marred him for his outstanding qualities, his high ideals, his sincerity, and his ability to bring out the best in others. Joseph was twenty-seven when they wed.
Joseph treated his wife like a queen. In fact, it was difficult for Iva to get him to let her do anything strenuous because he would always try to find someone else to do it for her. For example, because Joe had always helped his mother do the wash on the farm, he vowed as a boy that his wife would never have to do that. Of course, when he was a child, it was much more of a chore because it required pumping water into a great big kettle that was brought in and heated on the stove. Then his mother would scrub the clothes and pump more water to rinse them. Finally, she would dry them by hanging them on bushes and the fence, or in the wintertime, all over the house because she didn’t have a clothesline.
By the time he married, electric washing machines and hot water heaters had been invented making the task much easier. Even so, he arranged for women to do their washing every week. However, as soon as a baby came along, Iva argued that she needed to wash the diapers more than once a week so he bought her the best washing machine he could find. Yet, even then they would send the heavy things like sheets and blankets to the cleaners because he did not want her to have to work too hard.
Joseph and Iva both wanted a large family like the ones they had grown up in. On March 12, 1929 their first child, Colleen, was born. About two years later they had a son named Joe Dell. They wanted more children, but it was not until just before he died that Iva found out she was pregnant with a third child. Joseph was often inclined to spoil his children. Iva had to be the disciplinarian in the home because he could not stand to spank them or speak crossly. In fact, Colleen only remembers one time when he did get angry with her. And, she is sure she deserved it because she kept arguing about wanting something she should not have.
Colleen and Joe learned right and wrong from their parent’s examples. They were always very active in the LDS church. Regularly they attended the Salt Lake Temple, and then would talk about how much it meant it them. Joseph often talked to his children about the gospel and told him the importance of serving others. He was always doing something for someone or going somewhere on some kind of church assignment. He was a useful asset to the Sunday School for many years. After all, he had a knack for handling disruptive classes of eleven, twelve, and thirteen-year-old boys.
Joseph and Iva were very careful with their money. They tried to save as much as they could, and never bought anything until they could afford to pay cash for it. As a result, it took several years to furnish their home. Economically, times were hard for most of the world. They were in the middle of a depression, and while Joseph had a good job, he could never be sure how long it would last because so many companies were folding.
Joseph worked as a regional representative for a company that made car repair kits. He often had to take business trips to Nevada, Idaho, and Southern California. However, his family was his highest priority, and he was always happy to be back home. When he returned he would bring surprises with him. One time he was unable to return in time for Colleen’s sixth birthday and therefore sent her a beautiful birthday card that expressed how much he wished he could be there and how much he loved her. This was very important to her. It was probably the first piece of mail she received with her name on it. When he did finally return he brought another surprise gift that was a dresser set of a comb, brush, and mirror.
Right after receiving this job, Joseph decided that he needed to buy a new car for all the traveling he would do. So he bought a brand-new Model T Ford. Whenever they were in a new city and accidentally broke a traffic rule while trying to find their way around, they would just spend more time taking the policeman for a ride in their car and did not get the ticket.
When the president of his company asked Joseph to spend some time in California setting up branches and hiring people there, he really did not want to go because it would mean leaving his family for over a month. So, he convinced Iva to take enough money out of their savings to bring their whole family down to Los Angeles for a sort of vacation. His motto was, “Don’t miss opportunities, they may never come again.”
Thus, they left in January to drive to Los Angeles. At that time, practically the entire drive was just desert, and the tracks across it were the only roads. Tires were not built as well then, and they had to repair several on the way. Additionally, and car had a fire under it once, and they had to stop to put it out. The Children thought this was a great adventure but Joseph had different impressions as he kept getting sand in his eyes when he was trying to repair things from little kids throwing it to put out the fire. Fortunately, Iva took the children to look for cactus and things so he could keep his temper down.
When they got to LA, which was a much smaller city back then, they rented an apartment in the middle of town. There was a flower shop on the corner where someone was always selling flowers from their gardens out front. Every day they would go down and pick out a bouquet to give to their mother. They also spent a lot of time going to the beach and had loads of fun. Little did they know then that this was the last vacation they would take together. A few months later the bank where they had their savings failed and Joe said that he was so glad they used their money to go to California because it would have just been lost.
Joseph loved to plan family activities that he thought his children would like. One winter they had a particularly hard and long winter and the children were longing to play outside. So, Joe said they were going to have a picnic. They packed a basket and got out the picnic blanket then sat down in the living room on the new carpet. Joseph built a roaring fire in the fireplace and they roasted marshmallow and weenies over it. The carpet surely had some damage caused to it, but Joe did not mind and said they needed something to be happy about.
Joe had an interesting nightly ritual. As soon as he was ready to leave the office, he would call to say he was headed home. Then, to keep awake while driving, he always sang a song that he made up by combining a few lines out of about six different songs. He had a beautiful voice and often made up songs with his children. Iva could hear him as soon as he turned onto their road. So, she would meet him at the back door, opening it for him. He would park his car in the garage, shut the door, walk in and kiss her on the cheek. Then he pushed his hat to the back of his head and go straight to the refrigerator to see what was in there. His favorite was cream pies, so Iva always made sure she had something like that.
Admirably, Joseph never felt like he was above anyone else. In one incidence, several couples including Iva and he were on their way to a very nice formal affair when a lady with a questionable reputation from about a block away called to Joe. She had done some of their laundry when Iva was down with the babies but Joe didn’t mention that. Instead, he walked right up to her, put his arm around her and introduced her to the other couples standing there saying she had helped them out in a time of need.
Joseph died April 24th, 1936 leaving behind two children and a wife who was pregnant with their third. He left for work one day feeling fine, but came home looking horribly ill. The doctors diagnosed it as streptococcus, which was very new then, and they were just beginning to recognize it. They did not have any antibiotics to fight it. Consequently, the family had three out of four friends who had it die of the illness within just a few weeks.
Their son Joe was sick at the same time with Scarlet Fever. He was in one room and his Dad was in the next with the hall between them. They would talk across the hall making all sorts of plans for that summer. Without even realizing what was happening little Joe saw the paramedics carry his Dad out on a stretcher.
Joseph was always a charitable man inside the family and out. He was always perfect in the eyes of Iva, and never criticized or found fault with her. He never spoke an unkind word to her, and made their marriage the best nine years of Iva’s life.
Years after his death people would come up to his family and tell them of the wonderful things he did for them. Times were hard for many because of the depression. But, as long as Joseph had a job, he knew he could help others. He used to take baskets of food to the families where there was illness or a death. Also he anonymously sent coal to several widows homes during the wintertime. One of the ladies eventually got the deliveryman to reveal where it was coming from, and she told the others. They all expressed their gratitude to him by sending his family cakes.
Joseph Dunkley Benson left behind a tremendous legacy. He served selflessly, never telling anyone about what he did. When he saw something that needed to be done, he immediately went to work. He never put off till tomorrow what should be done today. Throughout his life he always put his family first. The gospel, of which he had a strong testimony, was also a big part of his life. He was considerate of everyone and kind to all he knew.