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Bednar's 2nd calling still comes as surprise

Published October 3, 2004 12:24 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sitting in the red plush armchairs on the LDS Conference Center podium reserved for the faith's apostles and staring out at 21,000 assembled Mormons, David A. Bednar couldn't stop thinking about an old "Sesame Street" song: "One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong."

But even in his humility, Bednar, who was named an apostle on Saturday, believes he was called to the church's highest quorum by a prophet of God. That makes it a decision he supports unequivocally.

And he didn't have much time to fret over it.

LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinckley made the call to Bednar on Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours before it was announced at the church's Semi-Annual General Conference.

This is the second time church authorities unexpectedly have summoned Bednar, who at 52 is the youngest apostle by a decade.

In 1997, he was a professor of management at the University of Arkansas when he got a call from Apostle Henry Eyring, asking whether he would be willing to be considered for president of what was then Ricks College, a two-year school owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Rexburg, Idaho. At that time, Ricks College was the largest private junior college in the United States with 8,500 full-time students.

Bednar agreed and was on the plane to Utah within days. When his son asked why the church wanted him when there were a lot more qualified people, the future apostle just shrugged and said, "I don't know."

Apparently, Mormon leaders liked Bednar. He got the job and soon set about helping direct the school's transition into a four-year university known as Brigham Young University - Idaho.

Bednar was born June 15, 1952, in San Leandro, Calif. and has only lived in Utah for his education. At BYU in Provo, he earned a B.A. in communications in 1976 and an M.A. in organizational communication a year later. In 1980, he received a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Purdue University in Indiana.

Soon after that, Bednar landed a job as assistant professor of management at University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. From there he moved to Texas Tech University as an assistant professor of management between 1984 and 1986. Then he returned to University of Arkansas first as a professor of management in the College of Business Administration, then Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the College of Business Administration and finally director of the Management Decision-Making Lab from 1992-1997.

He taught courses in organizational behavior, team management, total quality management, and managerial communication, and he has twice been the recipient of the Outstanding Teacher Award in the College of Business Administration. In 1994, he was recognized as the outstanding teacher at the University of Arkansas and received the Burlington Northern Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching. During all that time, he served in various LDS Church positions - as a bishop, stake president, regional representative, area authority and Area Authority Seventy.

"He's a very astute administrator and very bright," says J. Bonner Ritchie, scholar-in-residence at Utah Valley State College in Orem. "A very thoughtful, careful scholar, not a rabble-rouser in any way."

Ritchie, an emeritus professor of international organizational behavior at BYU, has worked with Bednar over the years. "We've talked a lot. He's incredibly likable, not an idealogue, very pragmatic," Ritchie said Saturday. "He crosses boundaries very well. People at Arkansas and Texas Tech liked him a lot."

At BYU-Idaho, Bednar has done a good job of elevating the school and reaching the kids, Ritchie said. At a press conference on Saturdayafternoon, the youngest and newest apostle was self-deprecating and funny. He was accompanied by his wife, Susan, and son, Jeff. They have two other sons, Eric and Michael.

"One of the sweetest moments of this morning was sitting next to Elder Uchtdorf and hearing him sing 'Come, Come Ye Saints' in that German accent - I served a mission to southern Germany," Bednar said. "I look forward to being his seatmate for a very long time."

pstack@sltrib.com