Utah State senior, Justin Bean, has an interesting heritage. His cousin, four generations back, is middleweight boxing champion, Willard Washington Bean. Some people may recognize the name from the book titled Willard Bean The Fighting Parson: The Rebirth of Mormonism in Palmyra by Vickie Bean Topliff or the book titled A Lion and a Lamb: The true story of a young couple’s 24-year mission to return the LDS Church to its birthplace by Rand H. Packer. The story of Willard Washington Bean and his wife Rebecca was also the subject of T.C. Christesen’s 2019 film, The Fighting Preacher.
In 1907, the Joseph Smith farmhouse and surrounding land was purchased by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1915, President Joseph F. Smith called Willard Washington Bean and his wife, Rebecca, to serve as caretakers for the Joseph Smith farm near Palmyra, New York.
Their original five-year mission would eventually turn into 24 years of service to the community. At first, they were met with fierce opposition from community members who harbored negative feelings towards The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Nevertheless, they persevered and forged new relationships and helped to acquire a few historic properties in the area.
Justin told the Deseret News, “It definitely showed his … passion for sharing the gospel, as well as standing up for what he believed in. He was courageous and didn’t fear anybody. He certainly didn’t fear any of the protesters or persecutors. He stood firm and was even willing to use his physical skills and fighting tactics to defend himself. It’s definitely no coincidence that he was chosen for that assignment.”
Justin served a two-year mission for the Church in Reno, Nevada, from 2015 to 2017. Soon after returning home from his mission, he became a part of Utah State’s basketball team, playing the position of forward. Although he has not followed in the footsteps of his ancestor Willard Bean as a boxer, he looks to him as an example. He told Deseret News that he is proud to be a Bean and to carry on his ancestor’s legacy.
Was the 6-foot-7 college basketball player ever tempted to punch someone or get in a fight on his mission like his ancestor? He told Deseret News, “There were a couple of crazy people in downtown Reno that I felt like could use some sense knocked into them for saying some pretty rude things. But at the end of the day, I didn’t have any boxing gloves on hand, and I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. So, I tried to use my words instead.”
Willard Bean’s father, George Washington Bean, is also a notable figure in Utah history. He came west with Latter-day Saint pioneers as a teenager and helped settle Provo, Utah. According to his obituary, he served as an interpreter, fostering relations with the Native American tribes, and later as a judge in Utah County.
Justin told Deseret News that he is proud to be a Bean and to carry on his ancestor’s legacy. He said, “It brings an added sense of responsibility in how I live my life, and a sense of pride, knowing I come from such a respected family. More than anything I want to live my life in a way that will honor my family.”