By Caru Das
Last evening Vai and I attended the annual BYU President’s outdoor barbecue (lots of vegetarian options) at the Campus Visitors’ Center. The function’s recipe is for Utah County Commissioners, Utah State Representatives, Utah Valley Clergy, and BYU Administrators to informally dine in a convivial atmosphere.
The first such dinner we attended, perhaps 15 years ago, was sponsored by then President Rex Lee. President Lee had a great sense of humor and always relished telling at least one funny story, usually at the expense of BYU graduates. Vai and I liked him a lot. Before the BYU Presidency he was an advocate before the United States Supreme Court.
Subsequent to Rex Lee, Merrill Batemen assumed the Presidency’s duties. He didn’t place humor quite as highly as President Lee, but was always completely warm and friendly to Vai and myself. When the temple opened in 2001, he sent us the following gracious words, on BYU letterhead.
June 5, 2001
Mr., Caru Das
International Society for Krishna Consciousness
8628 S. State Rd
Spanish Fork, Utah 84660
I read with delight and appreciation the Deseret News article relating to the opening and installation of your beautiful temple, and I want to congratulate both you and Vai for your faithful leadership in our valley and perseverance in this most aggressive undertaking.
We are gratified at the completion of this beautiful edifice, and we receive it in our surrounding communities with anticipation of the good it will bring to further enhance our friendship and celebrate our diversity.
Please know of our heartfelt appreciation for all that you do to make our community one of peace and beauty. You are good friends and we are indeed blessed by your presence.
Sincerely, Merrill J. Batemen”
In those days, the dinners, followed by local entertainment, were held at the President’s home. Only in the last three years was the venue moved to the Visitors’ Center, which has an nice outdoor, tree shaded lawn.
Current (last four years) BYU President Cecil Samuelson cordially greeted us. Before dinner we chatted with Mike Morely, State Representative from Spanish Fork, and his wife Kristen, Chris Herrod, Representative of Provo, and Ken Sumison Representative from American Fork. Clergy Kathleen West of the Episcopal Church knew from one of her parishioners who visits the temple that the default religion of my youth was Episcopalian. Linda Walton, Chaplain at Utah Valley University, mentioned we were included in the Interfaith Directory she just published and invited us to pick up several copies. We said hello to John Lewis of the Presidents Council, and Larry Atherton, the Utah County Commissioner very active in United Way. Stephen White, the second Utah County Commissioner, called me by name with perfect inflection on the first syllable of Cha-ru, as did Gary Anderson, the third UCC, with whom we were seated at dinner. Gary (whose charming wife was Molly) said one of his daughters loves the temple and thinks about “becoming a Krishna.”
Entertainment by Brush Fire, otherwise known as the BYU Folk Music Ensemble was, well, “entertaining.” They were cello, two violins, mandolin, two guitars, banjo, and percussionist. Before one piece the announcer asked us to imagine what “O Suzanna… I come from Alabama, my banjo on my knee..” would sound like if adopted by other countries around the world. They did the following renditions of the American Folk Classic - Chinese, Jamaican Reggae, Russian, and Indian, replete with emulated sitar sounds and Bollywood inflections - very funny.
Next year, undoubtedly, the new multimillion dollar deluxe Visitors Center, just dedicated last Saturday, will be the venue.
Ron Clark, Director of Promotions for the University, told us he will continue to steer the Visitor’s program for another three years before retirement. Ron, who is one of the most saintly and wonderful people we have ever met, hugged us vigorously and repeatedly, assuring that, after retirement, “you are going to see a LOT more of me.”
Ron boomed out the following rhetorical question at us, within earshot of about all other attendees. Provocatively he intoned, “Do you know what the Church leaders in Utah Valley and at Brigham Young University say about you? (‘gulp, no’) They say, “’There are THREE temples in Utah Valley: the two L.D.S. temples in American Fork and Provo, and the Krishna temple in Spanish Fork.’" Being included in the same sentence with that twosome is the highest honor one can receive locally.
Nobody makes us happier we located in Utah than Ron. Ron always says, meaning every word, “if there’s anything you need, ANYTHING, you just call me and YOU GOT IT, my friends.” When I think of persons who are walking the Latter Day Saint walk, Ron is foremost in my mind, along with Jon Huntsman, Orrin Hatch, Gary Herbert, Stanley Green, Jim Toronto, Robert and David Baird, Kent Canon, Werner Wordsworth, Robert Frampton, Donnell Willey, Clark Thornock, Dale Boman, Lane Henderson, and others.