The Board of Education of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a circular letter to all stake presidents in June 1888. The letter advised establishment of academies in each stake “where religion could be taught as well as academic subjects,...where the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants could be used for texts.”
The letter coincided with a ruling by the Idaho territorial superintendent of education that attendance at a church-sponsored school would meet the compulsory attendance law and with pronounced anti-Mormon legislation on the local and national levels. In Idaho, the 1884 Test Oath Act had disenfranchised members of the Church, as well as deprived them of other civil rights. “Born in the travail of a people being shorn of their political and civil rights,” noted Merrill D. Beal in Sixty Years of Educational Endeavors in Idaho, the academy “was designed as a shield for their children against gentile taunts and reproaches. The Mormons had been relegated to third class citizenship. They were in pariah-status in the schools and all civic places.” Educational opportunities for Latter-day Saint children were severely disrupted because of anti-Mormon prejudice. Parents did not want their children educated in a system in which parents had no voice or control.
Thomas E. Ricks, president of the Bannock Stake based in Rexburg, recommended organization of a stake Board of Education in July 1888 in keeping with wishes of Church leaders. A local Board of Education was selected and sustained under the direction of Church Apostle Lorenzo Snow in August. The board included President Ricks, James E. Fogg, and Jacob Spori. Also named to the board were the bishops of the Teton, Parker, Lewisville, and Iona wards: John Donaldson, William M. Parker, Richard Jardine, and James E. Steele, respectively.
The local board met with Church General Authority, Elder Lorenzo Snow, who announced the appointment of Karl G. Maeser, president of Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Utah, as the supervisor of all Church schools. Brigham Young Academy was to be the pattern for Church academies.
Elder Snow recommended that a stake academy be established. He said the Church would pay the principal’s salary, while other faculty expenses would be paid by local Church members. An executive committee, headed by President Ricks, was established to plan an academy. A place was found to house the academy at a meeting of the executive committee on September 9, 1888. The First Ward meetinghouse in Rexburg would serve with minimal remodeling. President Ricks was authorized to contract Church authorities about securing a principal and seeking Church support.
The local board met and discussed remodeling plans on September 16. President Ricks had contacted several businesses seeking the best price on school desks. He explained the board had at its disposal “$186.10 in cash, forty bushels of wheat and two steers” with which to purchase desks. He was authorized to go to Salt Lake City to buy desks and confer with Church officials about a principal. President Ricks corresponded from Salt Lake City with the executive board, indicating that he had purchased three dozen desks at $40 per dozen and that authorization had been obtained to remodel the First Ward meetinghouse. Furthermore, Jacob Spori, who had arrived with his family in Rexburg on June 20, 1888, had been selected to be the principal. He was the most highly educated man in the area with degrees in mathematics, arts and music, and metallurgy. He could speak nine languages, but his English was difficult to understand as he spoke with a heavy brogue.
Principal Spori spent several days in Provo getting instruction from his good friend, Karl G. Maeser. He intended to pattern the newly named Bannock Stake Academy after Brigham Young Academy, but found the pattern did not transfer well. Bannock Stake Academy essentially would be an elementary school with three levels - primary, preparatory, and intermediate. Principal Spori would teach the intermediate class, and Sarah Anne Barnes was hired to teach the primary students for $1 per day. Mrs. Barnes recalled fifty-two years later that she accepted the teaching position as a “mission call” from President Ricks. Axel Nielson was hired for $200 per year to teach preparatory students.
Acting upon Elder Snow’s advice, the Board of Education decided to seek donations from stake members to fund the academy. Optimistically, they expected all preparations would be completed for a mid-October opening. However, donations were slow in coming and October passed. Remodeling was completed and the building was furnished for schoolwork by November 12, 1888, the date set for dedication.
November 12 was clear, but quite cold. Nevertheless, most people showed up for the dedication. President Ricks spoke and offered the dedicatory prayer. The new academy “was to give spirituality precedence over worldliness; the principles of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ were to be taught side by side with arithmetic, geography, reading and other mundane subjects.” Principal Spori addressed the crowd. Among the things he prophetically pronounced: “The seeds we are planting today will grow and become mighty oaks, and their branches will run all over the earth.”
The First Ward meetinghouse “consisted of a log cabin with a large auditorium, built of rough pine lumber. The building...had shingles, a luxury in that day.” With new desks in place, students in their places, and faculty prepared, the future of Ricks College was in session. Students enrolled during that first ten-week session at any time, bringing the total by the end of the session to eighty-five students. Students were taught religion, grammar, arithmetic, reading, spelling, geography, physiology, hygiene, natural history, United States history, and vocal and instrumental music.
Additionally, “priesthood meetings were held every week, also theological meetings and some domestic meetings and with few exceptions every Friday evening a philosophical society” met for discussions. “The teachers took an active part in the Sunday School and associations.” Students and teachers “labored harmoniously together,” noted one observer, with the majority of students showing “earnestness, diligence, and good conduct.”
Tuition for the school term was set at $4 for intermediate students, $3 for preparatory students, and $2 for primary students. Some families with several school-age children could not afford to pay tuition for all of them. Several children paid their tuition by splitting wood for the stove and others paid with home-grown produce. Several attended, promising to pay later. Some did pay later, others did not.
The academy struggled to survive that first year. Principal Spori worked hard, unselfishly, and almost single-handedly to see that the school remained open through the first difficult years. When the 1889-1890 school term ended, he felt personally responsible that his stewardship of the academy had not been good enough to avoid a deficit of $177. He suggested to the board that one way to cut the deficit was for him to work on his farm and not draw his salary, but still be available to teach and administer the school. The board agreed. In addition to applying his salary toward the debt, Principal Spori worked on the railroad for a time, using some of his earnings to help pay salaries of other teachers. Back for the 1890 fall term, he had all fifty students to teach himself as Axel Nielson had resigned and Sarah Ann Barnes was ill.
Principal Spori had used his own resources to aid the academy to such an extent that he was in debt. He resigned on July 23, 1891, so he could put his “house in order.” Personal finances were not the only factor in his resignation. His wife recently had inherited several thousand dollars, family debts soon would be paid, and money would be available to invest in agricultural developments. The board accepted his resignation with reluctance. He continued to serve on the Board of Education until 1895, although his attendance was sporadic. He had set the example of selfless service, which became a characteristic of principals of the fledgling academy.
Karl G. Maeser recommended a replacement for Principal Spori that the local board accepted. Charls N. Watkins accepted the position at the salary of $900 per year, but his prospects for success could not have been more dismal. The academy was struggling to pay its way. A national economic depression exacerbated the situation. Families struggled. Sending children to school often meant one less person at home to help with chores or provide income. Responding to the depressed economy, Watkins’ salary was reduced to $600 in 1893. There was only one other teacher at the school, so the principal was involved not only with administering the academy, but also with teaching on a full-time basis.
Elder Franklin D. Richards, a Church apostle, visited Rexburg, encouraging the Saints and counseling them from going into debt. He proclaimed the importance of Church schools and said “education was as dangerous as whiskey if...not the right kind of education.” The academy remained open and continued to provide the “right kind of education,” even though showing a deficit at the end of the term.
Watkins resigned the principalship in 1894, but remained at the academy as a teacher. He was replaced by George Cole, who had been teaching in Malad. The new principal had to contend with the deficit, as well as decreasing enrollment. One reason for declining enrollment was the phase out of elementary classes as the academy moved toward becoming a high school. A reporter for the local Silver Hammer newspaper noted that “the attendance of the Academy could be greatly increased if there was more enterprise shown in the construction of dwellings to enable parents from a distance to bring their children to town.”
So severe was the economic status of the academy that Principal Cole and four of his teachers taught the last half of one year without pay in an attempt to reduce the deficit. They continued to accept produce in lieu of tuition, which meant they could continue to eat.
Principal Cole resigned May 27, 1899. Prior to his resignation, the name of the academy was changed. Because of an expanding Latter-day Saint population, Bannock Stake was divided on August 6, 1898. The new stake, encompassing Fremont County, was given the name of Fremont Stake. The academy’s name change to Fremont Stake Academy reflected the new stake name.
Douglas M. Todd became the new principle, and he moved the academy into the twentieth century. The historical significance of that move, no doubt, was lost since he had the same financial worries as his predecessors. But the school had progressed and was still functioning, unlike a substantial number of other Church-operated stake academies that had been started about the same time.
Principal Todd worked to develop the academy into a high school. Elementary students could attend local grade schools, but no high school existed in Rexburg or several of the surrounding communities. However, the First Ward meetinghouse was inadequate for an expanded curriculum. The Zions Co-operative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) building, which had an empty second floor, became the location for Fremont Stake Academy. The building was purchased by the Church in 1901 for $3,500. In addition to successfully arranging for high school classes, Todd instituted a classroom teacher preparatory course. Despite hard economic times, he worked diligently to see that the faculty was paid regularly.
Williams F. Rigby had been involved in a substantial and successful advertising campaign to attract settlers to the Upper Snake River Valley. He announced at the March 1900 Fremont Stake conference that a new Fremont Stake Academy building, authorized late in 1899, would be built as rapidly as possible on ground that had been purchased a few blocks south of downtown Rexburg. The modern building, with dimensions of about 126 feet by 130 feet, would contain three floors with considerable classroom space and a large auditorium, and would cost an estimated $30,000. He reminded people of the settlers’ sacrifice to help fund the academy from its start in 1888. He pointed out the dedication of faculty members who often received little or no money but accepted produce to sustain them while they taught. Now people with greater means and better prospects would be called upon to help build and pay for the academy’s new home.
President George Q. Cannon of the Church First Presidency laid the cornerstone on June 25, 1900. Several townspeople questioned the wisdom of choosing a site so far from downtown, arguing that a downtown location would be more appropriate. Others - perhaps being more visionary - argued that the town would grow to meet the campus. To the large number who gathered to witness the ceremony, the laying of the cornerstone was a symbol of the permanency of the institution and anticipated prosperity of the area.
To help fund the academy, Principal Todd was authorized to draw upon resources of the twenty-three wards in Fremont Stake. Wart assessments were based on the number of members of the ward and the amount of tithing paid by ward members. A total assessment of $2,100 helped put some stability into the academy’s economic base.
Principal Todd resigned in 1901. Although somewhat disappointed that the school had not expanded as much as he had hoped, he confidently announced that “this school will yet grow and surprise the world with its great men and women, because it was conceived in righteousness and dedicated to the service of God.”
President Ricks died September 28, 1901. His death necessitated a change in the Fremont Stake presidency and the academy’s executive board. President Thomas E. Bassett, first counselor in the stake presidency, became the nominal head of the stake. A new stake presidency was not called until stake conference on January 25 and 26, 1902. At the time, Bassett was sustained as stake president with James W. Webster as first counselor and Charles H. Woodmansee as second counselor. They also assumed the position of executive board of the academy Board of Education.
After Saturday conference sessions concluded, academy affairs were discussed in important meetings with the new stake presidency and Elders John Henry Smith and George Teasdale. Also in attendance were the presidencies of Bingham and Teton stakes, as well as Principal Ezra Christiansen. Principal Christiansen (who changed his last name to Dalby in 1907) had replaced D.M. Todd on June 15, 1901. Elder Smith said the “First Presidency could not sustain academies in each stake and that the stakes of Fremont, Bingham, and Teton comprise one educational district.” He suggested that presidencies of each stake comprise the board with five members constituting a quorum to transact business. President Bassett became president of the board.
The district board met again on Sunday. President Webster moved that the “building as formerly intended for a joint academy-tabernacle building for Fremont Stake be erected exclusively for educational purposes.” Since Fremont Stake was no longer an appropriate name, a motion was made that the institution be named Smith Academy, honoring the Prophet Joseph Smith and President Joseph F. Smith. Both motions carried unanimously, although not before Bingham Stake President James E. Steele voiced his preference in favor of naming the academy for President Ricks. Presidents Bassett, Webster, and Woodmansee were appointed as an executive Committee to take charge of business affairs of the new Smith Academy. President Bassett wrote to the general Board of Education and indicated the wishes of the academy board to rename the institution Smith Academy, adding Hyrum Smith to the Prophet Joseph and President Joseph F. Smith as being honored by the name.
At the February 27, 1902, meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, the matter of Smith Academy was discussed. Elder John Henry Smith’s motion carried that the academy be renamed Ricks Academy, honoring and memorializing Thomas E. Ricks.
At the academy board meeting on March 5, 1902, a letter was read “from the First Presidency suggesting that [the] school be named the Ricks Academy in honor of the last President Thomas E. Ricks.” A motion was made and carried that the name Smith Academy be reconsidered. Then a motion was made by “C.H. Woodmansee, seconded by J.W. Webster, that our institution be named the Ricks Academy in honor of the late President T.E. Ricks.” The motion carried unanimously. “Smith Academy” had lasted for thirty-nine days.
Erection of the new academy building required the board’s attention for many meetings. Plans drawn by architect C.M. Squires were presented by Presidents T.E. Bassett and J.W. Webster to the First Presidency during April conference and were accepted. According to an estimate, the building would cost about $40,000 and be built by a general contractor. President Joseph F. Smith suggested that hot air be used for heat. Rock was to be hauled by horses from the nearby quarry for 65 cents per ton. President Webster had a big red barn on his property and the workers bringing teams of horses boarded them there. Wards in the three stakes raised building funds.
Commencement exercises on May 14 and 15, 1902, were conducted amid an atmosphere of optimism. The school year had commenced with an enrollment of 165 students, 65 of whom stayed in school the whole year. Of the 65, one “graduated from the two years normal course, 21 from the eighth grade, while 40 others received certificates of promotion,” noted an article in the May 22, 1902, Deseret Evening News of Salt Lake City. The academy presently offered “a preparatory course, seventh and eighth grades, a two-year high school, and a two-year normal, and a missionary course, besides a course for the lady students in plain and art needlework.”
An “elocutionary recital was given by the High School class” on May 14, 1902. Proceeds from a fee charged to those who attended were to be used to buy a “principal’s desk, to be put in the academy.”
On May 15, ten students representing all of the students expressed “gratitude for the blessings of the school year, for the untiring labors of the teachers and for the blessings given by God which enabled them to pursue their studies undisturbed.” Former academy principal George Cole was the featured speaker. He alluded to a statement by George Q. Cannon “that no teacher who faithfully performed his duties in the Church school should ever want,” and testified that was so. Cole added that “during the days of travail for the academy it was prophesied that this institution would be one of the strongest factors for good in southeastern Idaho and that now that prophecy is being fulfilled.” Faculty members “expressed their gratitude to the students for cooperation, integrity and faithfulness, expressed the joy they had experienced in the year’s work, and the love that has developed for the institution and the students and prayed that success and the spirit of God might attend all.”
As enrollment increased at the academy, a housing shortage developed. During the summer of 1902, a boarding house or dormitory was authorized, and construction proceeded. The building was completed and dedicated in December.
The new stone academy building was completed in time for the opening of the 1903-1904 school year. According to Hyrum Manwaring’s description, the building was
a large stone structure of fine design, and monumental in appearance,...three stories high, and very commodious on the inside. There were two offices and six classrooms on the first floor. On the second floor there [were] two rooms for the principal’s offices, a library, and four classrooms. The third floor had a large auditorium and four classrooms. This gave four office rooms, a library, an auditorium, and fourteen class and laboratory rooms.
President Bassett received a check for $225 and “$75.00 in script, total $300.00, being the seventh monthly payment on account of the appropriation by t he Church Board of Education to the Ricks Academy for the school year 1903-4.” Despite the monthly payment from Church headquarters the Ricks Academy Board of Education spent much energy during 1904 securing short-term loans to pay immediate bills. After acquiring a $9,000 loan at 8 percent annual interest for three years from Deseret Savings Bank of Salt Lake City, several notes to various parties were paid off. The promissory note was secured by mortgaging the academy buildings and grounds.
Opening exercises of the academy term on January 16, 1905, included singing by the missionary class that “filled the hall with melody.” Apparently, the singing of the class had not always been so melodious. An observer noted that the class “showed to advantage the progress being made...in the divine art.”
Academy Exhibition Day on February 14 attracted considerable community attention. Many observers had traveled to Rexburg via the Oregon Short Line Railroad, which offered special reduced rates. Each class made special presentations, including religious instruction, class songs, a history quiz contest, recitations, physical and commercial geography, shorthand, and agricultural and English exercises. Additionally, visitors saw a “demonstration of volcanic activity” when a miniature volcano was ignited on the stage. “The belching fire and explosion of the cone were very spectacular and realistic.”
The only disappointment in the day was the non-appearance of Professor S.H. Clark of Chicago University. He was advertised as the guest of honor. Professor Clark, it seems, was snowbound in Denver. Presumably, he regaled fellow snowbound passengers with his noted rendition of Ulysses. Professor Clark’s slot was filled with free entertainment, consisting of songs played on the phonograph, a quartet, duet, solos, recitations, imitations, and a short comedy presentation by the “normals.” Activities of the day concluded with a repeat of the volcano erupting.
A housing problem surfaced early in 1905 that called for Rexburg City Council action. Local hotel owners began complaining that some home owners were using their homes for illegal purposes. Apparently, they were keeping regular boarders in their homes without a license. This hurt the hotels. The council listened to both sides of the story and decided that private homes being used for boarders should be charged a license fee like hotels. However, several home owners were lodging academy students who could not afford to pay hotel rates. The council decided that homes in which bonafide academy students were lodged would be exempt from the license fee.
Examinations, a program, and a dance held at Flamm’s Hall concluded winter term on March 17. Those completing the missionary course who would soon be called to the mission field were honored, as were the faculty. Concerning the faculty, the local newspapers editorialized:
It is marvelous what people in general expect of a school teacher. And yet, as a rule, it can be said that there is not a single parent in a district who governs her own children so well as does the teacher of ll those children of the district. Think of it! The parent who thinks nothing of losing her patience from once to forty times a day with her own children, expects the teacher, to control her temper and manage forty children who come from all kinds of homes. The average school teacher is a model of par excellence in government, temper and judgment when compared to the average parents, and in saying this we are not speaking lightly of the right kind of motherhood.
Spring session of the academy commenced on March 19 1905. There were 336 students registered, twenty-five more than had enrolled in the same term in 1904. However, there was some concern because the seventh grade class enrolled forty fewer students. In addition to 336 students, there were several “special students” who were enrolled when parents considered it convenient.
Forty students graduated from the eighth grade on May 15, 1905. Ordinarily, a high school graduation would have been held, but, for the first time, the academy extended graduation requirements to include one more year in school. This was considered an “indication of the growth of the institution.”
The academy summer school, primarily for school teachers preparing to take the Idaho state examination for first grade certification, commenced June 12, 1905. Classes on “school methods and management” were also available. Faculty for the term consisted of Professor John S. Welch of Chicago’s Yale Training School; Ella Murphy, a Salt Lake City educator; Grace M. Taylor Fremont County superintendent of schools; and Principal Christiansen.
“The summer school will be of great assistance to the teachers in this section,” the local Current-Journal noted. "It will aim to give them just what they need, and by diligent work they can qualify themselves for better positions, without great expense. There are splendid opportunities awaiting teachers who climb high enough to reach them. Too many are content to remain below where the ranks are overcrowded. Come and work upward."
Tuition for the session was $10. Additionally, room and board cost $3-$4 per week for those from out of town.
Elders Charles W. Penrose and Francis M. Lyman attended stake conference in Rexburg in July 1905 to reorganize the stake presidency. Presidents Webster and Woodmansee were released and Mark Austin and Albert Heath were sustained as counselors to President Bassett. The General Authorities met with the new stake presidency, as well as the other stake presidents of the academy district. Elder Penrose could report to the First Presidency that “a harmonious arrangement was reached with regard to the responsibilities of the four stakes in the question of the academy’s financial affairs.”
To advertise for the academy’s eighteenth year, the administration purchased large advertisements in several area newspapers. The advertisements noted a four-year curriculum for high school and normal students, as well as other courses of study. Notably: “Spiritual development and character building will receive special attention. The home life of the students will be carefully looked after.” Practically: “A good education promoted happiness, and increases the earning power of the individual from 100 to 1000 percent.” Philosophically: “Do not wait till next year. Every year counts. In youth an education can be had for the asking; in old age it cannot be purchased for any price.”
School commenced September 25, 1905. Thirteen faculty members had met to get acquainted and discuss the plans for the year. Several would be involved with teaching special classes in “music, drawing, elocution, manual training, and domestic science.” Some $200 worth of laboratory equipment had been purchased for physical science. The academy board also had rented Woodvine Hall for use by the physical education program. The curriculum included a band for boys only. The girls objected to the discrimination and petitioned to have a band class created for girls only. That class was established. The boys learned the first song, a waltz, and claimed victory over the girls’ band.
During the Thanksgiving holiday, November 28 to December 3, several students had a special assignment: they were to check with various wards in the area and encourage subscription to Student Rays. The student newspaper needed to generate more subscriptions to raise more income. A decision had been made to send the newspaper free of charge to all missionaries who had attended the academy. The first edition of Student Rays had been issued in March 1905 and soon would be recognized by Utah newspapers in Logan, Salt Lake City, and Provo, and often quoted in the Ogden newspaper.
Early in January 1906, the academy Board of Education was trying to determine how best to retire the debt of $16,500 against the academy building. The building had cost more than anticipated and the debt was accruing interest. The academy owned property on Main Street valued at $19,000 on which was located the dormitory, Studebaker, and ZCMI buildings. To secure completion of the academy building, a $5,000 mortgage on the property had been obtained.
The district Board of Education, desiring to create better economic stability for the academy, pay off academy debts, and avoid asking stake members to donate money outright to retire the debt, proposed organization of a joint stock company called the Mutual Investment Company. The company was to be capitalized at $25,000 in shares of one dollar each. The first goal of the company was to purchase the former ZCMI building on Main Street for $12,500. This money would be used to pay off academy debts. Counselor Mark Austin of the Fremont Stake presidency informed presidencies of stakes comprising the academy district about the company and how the company would benefit the academy. He indicated that the initial $12,500 would come from each stake buying an assessed amount of stock in the company. Individual investors would have an interest in the Main Street property relative to the amount of investment. They were informed that the property would surely increase in value and, when directors of the Mutual Investment Company determined to sell the property, interest would be paid on the investment.
The debt liquidation plan was presented to the priesthood of the stake. After much discussion, Principal Christiansen moved and Victor C. Hegsted seconded that the district board’s proposed company be adopted. The motion carried unanimously. To set the example, members of Fremont Stake quickly subscribed $1,660, which included $700 from the stake presidency. Before the meeting adjourned, $2,600 had been subscribed and directors of the corporation had been approved. The directors were all involved with the academy Board of Education and had a vested interest in seeing that money was raised and the debt extinguished.
D.M. Todd, former principal of the academy, spoke at the Monday morning chapel hour on February 26, 1906. He talked about his struggles to keep the academy going. He compared the present situation and noted the “progress with pleasure.” A feature of the hour was students singing the new academy song, “Happy Ties.” The lyrics had been written by Principal Christiansen, who also chose the name.
Happy ties can ne’er be broken,
Formed by you and me.
Far surpassing wealth unspoken
They’ll forever be.
Lift the chorus, speed it onward,
Loud for thee we’ll cheer.
Alma Mater, we all love thee.
Hail Ricks Academy dear.
When these fleeting days are over,
And our ways shall part,
Still by thee we’ll be united,
Still be one in heart.
The academy song was adapted to orchestra by Edward Dewsnup and played at the Friday night dance on March 2. The two-step could be danced to the music. The song “filled the dancers with enthusiasm and they filled the hall with song while they danced to it.”
At the conclusion of spring term, music teacher Oscar A. Kirkham announced that he would be leaving in May to pursue further musical studies either in the eastern United States or Europe. The community agreed with Principal Christiansen, who editorialized in the Current-Journal, that Kirkham “possesses the rare gift of stirring the hearts of young people to higher ideals and a loftier ambition. His work among us will never die.... We shall never forget [his] splendid work among us.”
At the academy board meeting on June 13, 1906, the question of retiring the academy building debt was again discussed. The investment company had not been as successful as anticipated. Board members decided to ask for greater involvement in the investment company. They agreed to sell the Main Street property to liquidate the debt. They set a goal of having the building paid for in time to be dedicated on Founders Day on November 12.
Apparently, some dissatisfaction with the proposed method of financing the academy was still being voiced as subscriptions were slow in being made. By July 1906, President Austin announced that every “obstacle that has hindered the organization of the Mutual Investment Company had been removed.” He now hoped “that the matter would be pushed and have all subscriptions in by October 1st so that the Academy could be cleared of debt and dedicated November 12th the eighteenth anniversary of its beginning.” He promised that “interest would be paid on all money that had been paid into the company in the early part of the year and as soon as the stock was all subscribed certificates would be issued.”
Ricks Academy commenced its nineteenth academic year on September 24, 1906. For the first time, several students were in the fourth year of high school or fourth year of normal school. They could look forward to being the first graduates the next year. Students and faculty also could be satisfied with the announcement that all credits obtained at Ricks Academy would be accepted at any institution of higher education in Idaho and Utah.
Attendance of some 400 students was anticipated for the new term. Townspeople were encouraged to rent living quarters to students. “The Academy alone cannot hope to meet all their needs,” Principal Christiansen noted. “The environment of their boarding places, and the general treatment that they receive in town will have a great deal to do with their improvement.” The Ricks dormitory was available for some students, but it also was being used as a hotel to generate income. The hotel concession was to go to the highest bidder. A stipulation was that students could not be charged more than $3.50 per week for room and board.
Trying to decide what to do with the dormitory was a perplexing problem to the academy Board of Education. The executive committee or the board, Thomas Bassett, Mark Austin and Albert Heath, rejected a proposal by a group in the community who wanted the dormitory converted into a hospital. The group pointed out that the city had no building that could serve as a hospital. They argued the dormitory would be satisfactory without much remodeling. The executive committee opted for the rental option. However, the stipulated charge for academy students caused some prospective bidders to back off, feeling a hotel could not be a paying proposition with that stipulation. The executive committee moderated the requirement by allowing the successful bidder to limit the number of academy students to fifteen. The successful bidder would operate the hotel from October 1, 1906, to October 1, 1907. Bids were to be in the hands of William E. Gee by September 30, 1906. The short length of time given to operate the hotel was a definite drawback because interested parties wanted a longer term investment. Consequently, no bids were received and the academy operated the building as a dormitory again. Early in 1908, Dr. George Hyde again tried to secure the dormitory for a hospital, and this time he was successful. By early April he had remodeled, papred, and painted the dorm.
Principal Christiansen also praised President Bassett, board members, and the “loyal people of the Snake River Valley who have contributed of their means” to pay off the last debt on the academy building. He concluded that dedicating the new building “is the most important event that has occurred in the history of the institution. The Academy will receive an impetus, that will be felt for good in all the years that are to come.” By way of comparison, the Current-Journal noted that “Ricks Academy has as many students as the State University at Moscow.”
By early September, enough money had been raised to pay off the academy building and grounds mortgage. Dedication of the building could proceed as planned. Elder John Henry Smith was the presiding authority at the dedication on November 12, 1906. He was accompanied from Salt Lake City by Elder Rulon S. Wells of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
The eighteenth birthday of Ricks Academy was observed in two sessions. Presidencies of the four stakes comprising the academy district were in attendance as were a substantial number of stake members. The morning session commenced with the academy choir singing the academy song. President Thomas Bassett welcomed those in attendance: “It is 18 years today since Pres. Ricks and Pres. Rigby organized the Ricks Academy in the First ward meeting house. It has grown until it has become the glory of Southeastern Idaho. In it we hope you will all feel at home today.”
Annie Spori, a second year normal student, gave a short history of the institution. She explained how the academy had grown “from a small and almost insignificant school, organized without a dollar in the treasury and an enrollment of 59 students, to the magnificent structure we see today, with an expected enrollment of between three and four hundred students.” She complimented her father, Jacob Spori, and George Cole whose leadership brought the academy “from a field of darkness and hardship into a field of peace and prosperity.” D.W. Nelson and Eric Johnson of the senior class spoke about the present status of the academy, predicting that in the future it would “become a great benefactor for good throughout this land, and...other departments will be added until it shall embrace all branches of learning.”
In the afternoon session, Principal Christiansen explained the “present situation and aim of the academy.” President Bassett then gave a financial report that indicated the total cost of the building, furnishings, and grounds was $63,475. Of that amount, Church headquarters had contributed $14,000. The rest had been paid by “people in this section of the country.” Services concluded with an address by Elder Smith. He announced his satisfaction with the institution’s progress and encouraged those who attended the academy to use their education “for the betterment of the human race.” Furthermore, he called upon students to “donate liberally to the school.” He recalled the pioneer beginnings of the academy and the struggle to maintain the school. Especially fitting was the building’s dedication on the anniversary of the founding of the academy. He concluded his address with an appeal to students to develop “within their hearts a love of their country and that if called upon,...be willing to lay down their lives in defense of their flag.” He then delivered the dedicatory prayer invoking the “blessings of God to rest upon the heads of all who are working for the Ricks Academy, and all who have aided in the construction of the building.”
The size, strength, and importance of the building indicated to those in attendance determination on the part of the Church to maintain the academy as a permanent part of the Church’s educational system. Still standing, the building is the historical focus of the campus. In 1964, the building was named in honor of Jacob Spori.
In the Current-Journal Principal Christiansen pointed out that the “Academy is now free from debt.” He optimistically announced that the “days of its poverty and distress are ended. And all the heavy burdens of former years have passed away.” The academy
lifts high its head among the educational institutions of this western country....No words can express, no tongue can tell the high destiny that awaits it in the future. It has been given into God’s hands for keeping. He has accepted it, and placed the seal of his sanctification and love upon it. Nothing can now stand in the way of its future progress, even the most optimistic cannot today realize its high destiny. It will shine as a beacon light to the ends of the earth, and add to the beauty and glory of Zion through all the coming years. Its praises will be sung in every land and thousands will drink from it as from a living fountain and thirst no more.