Quotes on Bean Willard

The second example is from the life of Willard Bean, a remarkable man who became known as the “fighting parson.”  In the spring of 1915, Willard and his new bride, Rebecca, were called by President Joseph F. Smith to serve a mission for “five years or longer” in Palmyra, New York.  (Vicki Bean Topliff, Willard Bean, “The Fighting Parson”, Huntington Beach, California, 1981, p. 87. For the account of their life in Palmyra, see pp. 86–131.)  Their task was to occupy the recently acquired Joseph Smith home and farm and to reestablish the Church in the hostile environment which still existed at the time in Palmyra.

The Beans were rebuffed on every front as they settled into the Smith home.  The townspeople would not speak to them or wait on them in their stores.  Passersby would pause in front of the home and shout obscenities.  Their children were assigned to sit in the back corners of the schoolroom and were shunned by the other children in class.

Willard, who was an accomplished athlete and had been a prize-winning boxer, decided to improve public relations by putting on a boxing exhibition in Palmyra.  A ring was set up in an old opera house, and the “fighting parson” challenged all comers to a boxing match.

When the night of the exhibition arrived, the toughest men in Palmyra sat in the first few rows.  One by one they entered the ring, only to be carried out again in a matter of seconds!  This continued until the seventh challenger was similarly disposed.

Brother Bean’s fighting abilities were more spontaneously employed on another occasion as he walked along the unfriendly streets of Palmyra.  A man watering his front lawn one afternoon suddenly turned the hose on Willard and taunted: “I understand you people believe in baptism by immersion.”  The spry, athletic Willard reportedly vaulted over the fence separating them and replied, “Yes, and we also believe in the laying on of hands!”  (Willard Bean, “The Fighting Parson,” p. 14.)

Although Brother Bean’s methods were a little unorthodox and definitely not compatible with the current approved missionary program of the Church, they were nonetheless effective.  The people of Palmyra began begrudgingly to yield and to accept the Beans as the good people they were.  In time, they were invited to participate in local churches and to join the civic organizations of the day.  They established a branch of the Church and helped acquire the Hill Cumorah and the Martin Harris and Peter Whitmer farms.  The “five years or longer” mission to which the prophet had called them stretched to nearly twenty-five years before it concluded.  During that time, the attitude of the people of Palmyra had changed from hostility toward the Beans to toleration, then admiration, and finally to love.  The power of good lives is truly great. — Elder Marlin K. Jensen, “The Power of a Good Life,” General Conference, April 1994