Skips to main content

John E. Bennion

Remarkable Life Illustrates the Power of Hope 

What beautiful music. I think it’s a pleasure to be here. I’m still pretty nervous. Since the Cosmo thing came up, I’m glad to have a little rebuttal. Remember when I was doing that I was down at Arizona State in Phoenix. They were still in the same conference as BYU. I was out there doing my thing before the game started, and there was some guy sitting under the basket, and he motioned for me to come over. And so, “Oh, okay. Go fraternize with the enemy.” Turned out, he said, “Hey, I went to BYU, and guess what? Five years ago, I was Cosmo the Cougar.”

      And I said, “Oh, that’s nice.” And I thought in my mind, I said, “Boy, I hope this guy gets a life.  You know, when I’m old I hope I’m talking about something other than Cosmo.” And, here we are, over 40 years later, and we’re still talking about Cosmo, and it was one of the great, fun things that I did.

      So we got this mission call, and we’ll talk a little bit about that, but one of the first things I noticed was the initials of our mission. Georgia Atlanta North Mission. GANM. Oh, I’m going on a mission “Gangnam style.”  So, I’ve given a couple of talks since the call, and you’re the first group that I’ve dared say that to, because I knew that you would get it. The others, not so much.

      But today I’d like to talk about the subject of hope, and the power of hope. And it’s my prayer that the Spirit will be with us as we talk about this and think about it, and ponder how it applies in our lives. I think of hope as sort of a forgotten virtue, or the stepchild, or the middle child—there it is stuck in there between faith and virtue, and faith, hope and charity. Well, you know, how did hope get in such a lofty group? Faith is the first principle of the gospel, right? And charity is better than all of them, and it’s the most important—it never faileth, it’s part of the Relief Society motto, and it’s the greatest of all—charity. What’s hope? It’s not defined in the scriptures. Is it the same thing as faith? Well if it’s the same, then why did it get mentioned? If it’s not the same, well, how’s it different, and what does it mean?

      So how do I get it, how can I have it? What can we do about this? Today I’d like to share with you some thoughts about hope. Particularly for some of you who might need a little extra dose of hope, feeling discouraged, or somehow things aren’t working out exactly the way you’d planned. So we’re going to talk about what hope is, why it matters, see that it’s a choice that we make, it can be learned, and it can be shared with others.

      How many of you, by the show of hands, are familiar with this thing called the Strengths Finder program, that we have here in the curriculum recently? Good, just about all of us, and pretty soon I’m sure it will be 100 percent. You’re probably aware that the Strengths Finder program was developed by the Gallup organization, one of the world’s leading polling companies. The Strengths Finder program, I understand, is based on about 10 million surveys and thousands of interviews. These same people have done work and interviews and research on the field of hope. And they’ve printed a book which was loaned to me, and it’s called, “Making Hope Happen.” It’s written by one of the senior scientists at Gallup. And it’s also based on millions of interviews, and millions of surveys and thousands of interviews. And so I’d like to share with you today some of the information that comes from it. We don’t have time to talk about it in depth, but I borrowed this from the Business College library, and it will be back there this afternoon, and you can check it out and read it, and it’s really fascinating.

      I’ll be using some of the terminology that the Gallup people use regarding hope and combining it with some of the things that we learn in the gospel through the scriptures and our modern prophets. And I pray that we’ll learn, that when we take our faith and hope and combine it with hard work, we’ll then develop the characteristics of charity, and we’ll become the kind of person the Lord wants us to become, full of Christ’s love for all people and with the willingness and capability of serving.

      So, really, what is hope? Well it turns out that word is used quite loosely with many definitions, varying levels of intensity. Some, you might hope for good weather. You might hope for your favorite team to win the World Cup. You might hope for a good raise. Some of these things we have some influence over; some things we don’t. We have some choices, and we can have some strategies for achieving these hopes, particularly good grades. There is not much we can do, except maybe Andre; he can help out Madagascar in the World Cup, but the rest of us aren’t going to make much difference there. But we can make a difference in our grades and in our lives.

      And today we’re going to discuss two definitions of hope—one from the Gallup research and the other from the gospel perspective. They’re quite related, with a few differences. Again, my hope is that we’ll benefit from pondering these together. So let’s start with the gospel context. This is from President Uchtdorf in the general conference shortly after he was called into the First Presidency. He said, “Hope is the abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill his promise to us. It is confidence that if we live according to God’s laws, and the words of his prophets now, we will receive desired blessings in the future. It is believing and expecting that our prayers will be answered. It is manifest in confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance” (“The Infinite Power of Hope,” October 2008 general conference). The highlights there in that, in the now, and the patient perseverance, are mine, as I’d like to focus on those aspects of hope. The willingness to live in a certain way now in order to receive blessings in the future, and to persevere in those efforts with patience.

      Oops, patience with the technology. So, go back up one. [Referring to images on a screen that accompany his talk.]

      So in the Gallup context, they define hope as the combination of four fundamental beliefs:

1.      My future will be better than my past.

2.      I have the power to help make it so.

3.      There are many paths to that brighter future, but none of those paths is free of obstacles.

4.      Hope is more than optimism or wishful thinking, it is the power to act and to succeed and to overcome obstacles.


      I’d like to share with you the story, the brief story of a man whose life exemplifies hope, both from a gospel perspective and also from the Gallup context. And I hope you’ll learn from his story that hope is a choice, that it can be learned, that it can be shared with others, and that it can lead to eternal life when partnered with faith and good works and charity.

      Alright, so this is a young boy, [on screen] and the one on the left, his name is Hyrum Smith Shumway. Now, he’s not related to Hyrum Smith, and he didn’t like the name Hyrum, so he went by Smith for his life, during his life, or he was called “Smitty” by his friends and in childhood. He was a pretty normal little boy, raised in the town of Lovell, Wyoming, which is just east of Yellowstone National Park. If you’ve been to, if you’ve ever set foot in Lovell, Wyoming, please raise your hand. Oh, we’ve got a few. I’m not one of them. But basically, it’s in the middle of nowhere, for those of you who haven’t been there. But Smith wanted to be a doctor, and so he went off to college at the University of Wyoming.

      So, Smith Shumway went to the University of Wyoming, and he did what most college boys do. He picked a major, and he always wanted to be a doctor, so he picked pre-med. And he dated lots of pretty girls. He also started losing his hair a bit early, but in general life was good. Unfortunately as graduation approached, World War II broke out. So, like many of his peers, Smith volunteered for the military and became an officer. He became a second lieutenant in the Army. Back in those days, the Air Force was part of the Army, and the Army officials wanted him to be a pilot. But for some reason he didn’t want to be a pilot, he wanted to be in combat. So he signed up for the infantry. He was assigned to the First Infantry Division, which was also known as the Big Red One. This was the most prestigious division in the Army, which had fought in all the major campaigns of World War I, and would later play a prominent role in World War II, as we’ll see in a minute.


      So he went home, said goodbye to his family. This photo is with his sister, Beth, and then he headed off to Fort Benning, Georgia, for infantry training.  One thing led to another, and on June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day, he, with about 160,000 of his closest friends, the young men of the Allied forces, landed on the five beaches across the 50-mile stretch of the coast of France on the English Channel. How many of you noticed, again by a show of hands, that last Friday was the anniversary of D-Day, the 70th anniversary? Good, you saw that on the TV. You know, this was covered by CNN and other news programs, and major heads of state were there from all the countries that participated in the war. And really, D-Day was one of the major turning points in the history of the modern world. And Lieutenant Shumway was on one of these barges.


      The first infantry landed on Omaha Beach, which turned out to be the most difficult of the five landing beaches. Lieutenant Shumway was one of those. Omaha Beach quickly gained the name, or the nickname, the moniker of “Bloody Omaha.” On that day, about 2,000 American soldiers were killed. There were another 70,000 that were seriously wounded. And those who weren’t dead or wounded were basically shell-shocked, as the attack on Omaha Beach almost failed. But by the end of the day, the Americans succeeded in getting a tenuous foothold on the beach about one mile inland, not the five to 10 miles that were in the plan. They had much heavier casualties than were expected and also much heavier casualties than occurred on the other four beaches. Fortunately, the men of B Company of the 18th Regiment of the First Army did not suffer any fatalities, because they landed in the afternoon rather than the morning, when most of the casualties occurred.


      Over the next two-and-a-half months, the allied armies made slow advances, pushing the Germans away from the coast, and then back towards Paris, and then ultimately to Germany. About midway in this first two months, which is called the Battle of Normandy, about six weeks after D-Day, Lieutenant Shumway was advancing with his men along a small road in northern France, accompanied by tanks, very much as shown in this photo. The soldier in the left foreground might be Lieutenant Shumway, because this photo was taken on the same day, in the same region, within a couple of kilometers of the incident which I’ll now explain.

      Lieutenant Shumway was walking beside a tank, and the tank was to his right. All of a sudden, the tank triggered an explosion of a mine, which blew up the tank, and hit Lieutenant Shumway as well. Here are some excerpts of what he recorded in his journal a few years later. He made the journal by dictating it into a tape recorder, which was later transcribed by his children.

      “When we passed this tank, a horrible explosion occurred. Many people say you don’t think when you get hit, but I can truly say I did. I thought, ‘Something has happened to me, and I don’t know what. But I’ll be okay in a second.’ There was a steady, strong current of air hitting my face, chest and legs, and I seemed to hang suspended somehow. There was a deafening sound, and it just kept ringing. And it seemed as if it would never stop.

      “It occurred to me that one of my legs might be blown off. So I bent over and used my left hand, which later proved to be the only part of my body that wasn’t hit, and felt my legs. My right thigh was bloody, my left knee was bloody, and my right hand was numb and all bloody. And whether it has some fingers missing or not, I neither knew nor cared right then. I started to get very weak all of a sudden. My chest was starting to hurt, and I felt it with my left hand, and knew that it was a bloody mess also. I couldn’t see, so naturally I felt my face. It was also bloody. I wondered if my lungs were punctured, as my chest was an aching mass of flesh.

      “Everything was black, and I was getting kind of scared. I’d been stunned at first, but now pain was engulfing me.  I remember thinking, ‘Golly, am I going to die? Do I want to live? If I can take a deep breath without something breaking, or blood filling my lungs, I’ll be okay.’ When I found that I could still breathe good” –that’s a quote, that’s not from your English teacher—“I knew I wanted to live. I was filled with hope that I wouldn’t die, because I could still breathe. I remember spitting quite a bit when my aid man came up. There seemed to be a fine gravel in my mouth. After a few seconds of thought, I figured out it was my teeth. Why I couldn’t have passed out sooner I don’t know, but anyway, I finally did.”

      Lieutenant Shumway was rushed to a field hospital, which must have looked like this. This is a photo again of the same region, same day, of the Level 1 field hospitals for the soldiers.


      The entire right side of his body was filled with shrapnel from his head to his toe, shrapnel meaning small fragments of metal and dirt that varied in size from about a grain of sand up to about a quarter. Over the next couple of days Lieutenant Shumway was in and out of consciousness, and he was transported to successfully bigger and better-equipped field hospitals until he found himself in a real hospital in England.  His right eye was completely gone, but the doctors hoped to save the left eye. Before the surgeons started to operate on his left eye, Lieutenant Shumway asked them what they thought the odds of saving his eye were. The doctor thought for a few seconds, and then answered, “About one in 50,000.”

      Lieutenant Shumway then asked the medical staff if there were any Mormon elders around that could give him a blessing. The answer was no, so he asked if they had any olive oil. Again, the answer was no. So he asked if they had any oil of any kind. They said they had some mineral oil, so he asked for that. He asked them to pour some of the mineral oil onto the palm of his left hand, the one that still worked. He then put his left hand on his head, and gave himself a blessing. He said that it gave him the peace that he needed.

      The eye was not saved, and Lieutenant Shumway was permanently blind. He spent the next two-and-a-half years in various hospitals, undergoing multiple surgeries and rehabilitation. He tells the story of one of the nurses he was talking to, and he reached up and he felt his face. And he couldn’t see anything, but he could feel that he had a lot of stitches in. So he asked the nurse about how many stitches he had in his face. And she said, “Well, more than 100.” And then he felt the rest of his body, and he could tell that he had stitches everywhere, and major chunks of flesh had been ripped off the right side of his body, particularly his chest and his thigh. And he said, “Nurse, would you mind, you know, tell me, how bad is it?”

      And she said, “Well, I don’t personally think it’s that bad. But let’s put it this way; if it had happened to a woman, she’d be devastated.”

      So, this photo [on screen] was taken when Lieutenant Shumway first returned home to his parents and siblings in Wyoming. They wanted to take care of him for the rest of his life. But he still wanted to make something of himself. The only blind person that he knew, that he had ever seen, in his entire life, was a blind man who begged on the streets of Lovell, Wyoming. Smith knew that he did not want to spend his life like that. During his two-and-a-half years of rehabilitation, he learned that blind people can do quite a few things. Medical school was no longer an option, so he had to recalibrate his life’s ambitions. His big, main hope now was not to be a doctor. His main hope was he wanted to be able to support a family and get married. So he took a job in Baltimore, Maryland.

      His job was to go meet with factory owners, and sit down with them and discuss jobs in their factory that a blind person might be able to do. He then would go fill that job for one or two months and demonstrate that a blind person could handle it. And at the end of that time period, he would then take a different blind person and put that other person into that job. He did this for several years, and in the course of doing this, he learned after the fact that he was the number one highest producer in the nation of qualifying jobs for the blind people. He qualified more than 25 different jobs that blind people could do.

      Brother Shumway said that the hardest part of his job was convincing other blind people to even try. It was harder to convince the blind person that he could do it that it was to convince the factory owner that it could be done.

      So, one of the girls that Smith had dated before the war was a lovely LDS girl named Sarah Bagley from Star Valley, Wyoming. Have you been to Star Valley? Yeah, very nice. Not quite as “nowhere” as Lovell. But it’s still quite a ways from civilization. While Smith was working in Baltimore, Smith and Sarah started to corresponding, and the long-distance relationship started getting serious. Sarah didn’t like knowing that someone else, some stranger, would have to read her letters to Smith. And she also didn’t like the idea that when he was going to write her, that he would have to dictate them to someone else, who would write them. So she learned how to write in Braille, and Smith had learned how to do that in rehab. So that they were able to Braille back—this must be the precursor to texting, because they were communicating in a language that nobody else understood.

      So he proposed to her, and this is how he proposed: You know, I know to a lot of us this is like a big deal, how you propose, right, and the guys like to go really fancy. Well, this is what he said. He said to Sarah, “If you will read the mail, sort the socks, and drive the car, I can do the rest.” She accepted, but the parents were opposed. And so, there were some tender and tense conversations between Sarah and her parents, but at the end, they went ahead with the marriage and got married, and in the Salt Lake Temple in 1948. And one of the great ironies of this story is that the father of Sarah, who objected, later turned blind in his older age. And Smith became his counselor to help him adapt to blindness.


      Okay, so they got married in the Salt Lake Temple, and that was great. And then, bang, within the first year, girl Number 1 arrived. And then a year later, they had two. And a year, well, a couple years later, they were up to five, but they were all girls. And they knew there was a boy, they knew they needed to have a boy, there was a boy in their family attendance. So he finally showed up as one of the twins, he was Number 7, and then the sister was a girl. So there were eight kids born, seven of them girls, and I saw this, and thought about this, and they had eight kids in the first 10 years of their marriage. And I said, if that’s not hastening the work, I don’t know what is. There’s all eight of them, and I married the one third from the left [photo on screen].

      So in the middle of his first 10 years of marriage Smith received a job offer to be the head of rehabilitation for all blind and deaf children in the state of Wyoming, which he accepted, and they moved to Cheyenne. This was the start of a 30-year career, for which he received numerous national honors for his successful service to the blind and deaf. And he credited his success to two key factors: Number 1 is that he inspired them through example. Many people classified as blind were actually partially sighted but not Smith. He had two glass eyeballs that he had to take out every night and soak them in a solution before he put them back in the next morning. As soon as these people, these blind people realized that, really he took away their excuses. And so he really inspired them to step up and to do the most that they could do.

      The second was that he did not accept any excuses. He’d listen carefully and patiently, and empathize with people’s problems, but he always worked with them until they found a solution to whatever it was that prevented them from having some level of success in their life. Brother Shumway also served as a bishop for seven years. To the best of our knowledge he was the first blind bishop in the church. Sister Shumway said that the young people liked Bishop Shumway because he didn’t judge them by their looks.

      All eight children got married in the temple. This picture [on screen] was taken just a few yards away over at the Salt Lake Temple. After his retirement, the Shumways volunteered for a senior mission in England where they had great success in reactivation. They actually served in the same area where he trained prior to his blindness. In the missionary service he was a living testimony of the power of faith in Jesus Christ, combined with hope of a brighter future, and his ability to make it so, which blossomed into charity, which is putting it into action by blessing the lives of others. Following their missionary service Smith was called to be the stake patriarch. In that capacity he served for many years. Smith and Sarah had their share of challenges in their life along the road. One of their daughters died of cancer in her mid-thirties, leaving four young children behind, and Sister Shumway died of cancer shortly after their mission, leaving Brother Shumway on his own for his last 20 years of his life.

      This is a photo [on screen] of Brother Shumway with his prettiest, and favorite, and most special daughter, walking along the hills overlooking Omaha Beach. We took him back to France several times, retracing his steps and documenting his remarkable life, and his role in one of the greatest events of modern history.

      Brother Shumway became somewhat of a celebrity in Normandy. Of all the war veterans who returned to France with their families afterwards, he was one of only a few who have noticeable war wounds, and the only blind war veteran that they had ever met. His cheerfulness astounded them. He remained cheerful and positive and hopeful and dedicated to serving others, within the limits of abilities but magnified by the Lord. He passed on to the other side three years ago. Before he died he expressed his gratitude for being blind, kind of the ultimate turnaround, because he felt like he’d learned things that he couldn’t learn without being blind, and he could help people and teach people that he would not have been able to reach otherwise, unless he’d been blind. So, as you know, the sum that I know, the day that he died was the first day that he’d seen any of his children and any of his grandchildren.


67572455_130654659101.jpg      So, let’s try to tie Brother Shumway’s life back to hope. Let’s start with the Gallup definition of hope, and let’s recall Brother Shumway’s life. He wanted to be a doctor, and he set about to gain the necessary education, but he hit an obstacle—the explosion of a mine. He recalibrated his goal—his next goal was to live. Once he got that, he then wanted to retain his sight. Well, that didn’t happen. So he recalibrated again, he wanted to avoid begging and be able to support himself. When he did that, he raised his goals again. He wanted to marry and have a family. He did that, he recalibrated yet again. His faith and hope and hard work were turning into charity, the true love of Christ, and helping other people, as he dedicated his life to helping other people, like himself, find the hope that he had found.

      Hope is more than optimism or positive thinking. It’s the power to create, not just wish for a better future. He was a positive and optimistic thinker, but he consistently did the hard work necessary to create his future. And he was blessed and strengthened by the Savior and His Atonement.

      He found the sweet spot of hope, which is between wishful thinking and despair. He avoided both. He evaluated his circumstances, abilities, resources, realistic options, and went to work. He avoided feeling entitled, and he certainly wasn’t passive. He invested in the future, for himself and for his family. And we can do the same.

      So how can we build our hope? It’s really the same way that Brother Shumway did. It’s to envision a realistic, exciting future, identify the barriers, work your way around those barriers, multiple pathways, options, plan B, work hard, and make the revisions as needed. I was just going to tell you a little bit about, you know, some of the same things in my life. I always wanted to be, I knew I was going to be, a great basketball player. And things didn’t quite work out. And the coach at BYU didn’t like me. The fact that I wasn’t good enough didn’t matter. But, you know, blame the coach, right?  So I wanted to have plans. My plan B was to be Cosmo the Cougar. So I went and tried out for Cosmo. And, just because I didn’t make the basketball team, so I knew the coach and I weren’t best buddies. Weren’t “BFF.” So I went and I tried out, and I got cut, and of course it was unfair. Nobody’s ever been cut who thought it was fair. And so I did the Cosmo, but it was not my first choice, it was my second choice. But because of that Cosmo the Cougar I met my lovely bride, which I would not have met if I hadn’t done that. And that’s a different story for a different day.

      But, you know, identifying what you want, going for it, and then being able to adjust and not be discouraged, and not become bitter, and not have despair, and making the adjustments you need to do what you can do and not whine or complain about what you wished you’d been able to do. I just want to mention the great opportunity it’s been for me to serve here at the LDS Business College.

      This is another example. I wanted to go on a mission. My wife and I wanted to go serve a mission. We had one problem: our second oldest daughter is handicapped. She’s got cerebral palsy, a severe case. And she can’t—she functions at about the level of a six-month-old. And so, you can’t turn in mission papers if you have a dependent child at home. So I said “Okay, what’s plan B? I can’t do it, but I still want to serve.” So I start looking around, say, “What can I do, how can I help?” And so I assess my alternatives, my talents, my resources, and I’ve a pretty interesting business career, so maybe I can help out at business. And one of my resources was President Richards; he’d been a neighbor. I knew he was over here, so I went and knocked on his door and said, “You need any help?” And one thing led to another, and I wound up on the faculty.

      I think I’m the only faculty that’s never taught a class. Because I came in and I started working on special projects. But it’s, I lied, I taught substituting twice. But I didn’t teach a math class. I came over here thinking I was going to teach business, because that’s what I’ve been doing for 40 years. I didn’t teach a single business class, but I was able to take some of the skills and the background that I have to work with President Richards and the other members of the staff and faculty to help the school work on this coming transition. We want to take care of the future students as well as the current students. And how do you do that smoothly and transition the focus towards more jobs has really been an interesting challenge. I want you to know I’ve learned great things from working with great people here. They are diverse, but they’re dedicated. They all have different skills and backgrounds, but they work together to try to make this the place that the Lord would have it be. And you folks have such a great opportunity.

      I just think about what a great place this is. You know, a small student body, 2,000;  there’s no reason you can’t get to know all of them, from 60 different countries. This is huge. And I thought someday I might be called on to do a devotional, and I said, okay, while I stand up there, I’m going to tell them one piece of advice. And my advice, besides getting hope, is take advantage of the time you spend in that elevator. President Richards mentioned that doesn’t mean unscrewing the light bulbs. I think it’s just a great chance for you to meet people. If there’s someone in that elevator that you don’t know, introduce yourself, say “hi.” They feel just as awkward as you do.

      And if you see an old person, you say, “What’s an old guy like you doing here?” And just, you know, liven it up and make it fun. Just practice being outgoing, and basically make a commitment that you will never wear your earphones in the elevator. Okay, there you go. That’s my advice. Just talk to people and be friendly, and it’s such a small group, you could have an instant network worldwide for the rest of your life. You folks are great people, you’re going places. The Lord will bless you.  It’s my prayer that He will continue to bless you. I have a testimony of this gospel, of this school, and of the power of hope. I leave it with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Close Modal