Junior College Again! In Idaho Falls?
President John Clarke was surprised by a letter he received from the First Presidency making Ricks a junior college once again. The February 3, 1955, letter stated:
"Before President McKay left on his journey to the missions of the South Pacific, he suggested that we, the undersigned [Presidents Stephen L. Richards and J. Reuben Clark, Jr.], acting for the First Presidency, notify you that by action of the Church Board of Education it had been decided to fix the status of Ricks College as a junior college in the Church educational system.
"We shall not attempt to set forth in this communication all the reasons which induced this decision. We may say to you, however, that the conclusion was reached without any reflection whatever upon the work of Ricks College and the administration of its affairs. The major consideration was the proper integration of all the units of the Church education system. . . .
"We give you this information at this time knowing that the preparation of your catalogue for the coming school year is near at hand, and that this information will be essential in its conforming the work of the College to the plan herein set out. We shall expect these matters to be arranged with the administration of the Church School System.
The letter caused President Clarke “considerable mental anguish as he contemplated the future of the college,” noted Jerry C. Roundy in his book, Ricks College: A Struggle for Survival. President Clarke wrote a lengthy letter to the First Presidency, dated February 19, 1955. He noted the shock and surprise he received from the February 3 letter:
"Part of the shock perhaps was natural and I trust excusable as I viewed in my mind the obliteration of the fruits of a difficult struggle by the faculty and friends of Ricks College, including of course the help of the Church Board of Education, over a period of eight to ten years. This is the time it has taken to place Ricks College firmly in the ranks of accredited four year colleges. The other part of the shock was because of the tremendous and permanent blow this new policy would give to Ricks in the training of Church and community leaders in our area.
"The surprise element, however, has caused me even greater mental and spiritual anguish as I have reviewed the matter in my mind. After most serious reflection I feel that the matter, involving as it does the future of Ricks College, warrants plain speaking.
The “plain speaking” part of the letter noted that curriculum decisions and the junior college status decision had been made without consulting President Clarke. Furthermore, important matters relative to Ricks had “never been discussed in any formal or informal way with the Church School Administrator as even a possibility of a policy recommendation on his part.” President Clarke concluded his letter:
"Let me also state that I claim no particular administrative rights in this matter except those growing out of relationships of confidence and candor between superior and inferior officers and common sense application of the Golden Rule and also the right of a party to be heard or an institution to have its case presented by those who know its situation thoroughly. These are I realize ethical rather than legal concepts."
Roundy wrote that President Clarke attached a “long memorandum detailing objections to the recent action by the General Board. There were fifteen points in all [which], in summary, dealt with the destruction of the teacher training program and the psychological and damaging blow it would be to faculty, administrators, and patrons of the school.”
The information that Ricks would revert to a junior college quickly circulated. To dispel rumors, notification was given on April 7, 1955, by the Church Board of Education that Ricks College would revert back to a junior college. A letter to faculty, administrators, students, and patrons of Ricks stated, “After long and careful consideration we [First Presidency and Board of Education] have come to the conclusion that Ricks College will be of more service to the church, and have a greater destiny as an integral and permanent part of the church school system by being a first class junior college than by continuing as a relatively small four-year college.” *
The change was to take place by the 1956-1957 academic year. Beginning in the fall of 1956, only freshman and sophomore classes would be offered. Students were encouraged to take two years of college at Ricks and then transfer to Brigham Young University for the next two years. “Brigham Young University is to be the senior university of the church with Ricks College a strong junior college.” To ease the blow, “it is planned that the auditorium building, which is now in the process of construction, will be immediately completed. The present budget of Ricks College also authorizes preliminary plans for the development of a library, classroom and office building.” Recognition was paid to the college “during the past few years while it carried on a limited upper division program.” Finally, appreciation was expressed “to those who, during days of adversity, have supported Ricks College, and we ask their support in this new program for the proper integration and development of a unified church school system, in which Ricks will have an important part.”
For the next several days after the announcement, Western Union telegraph lines were kept busy by local patrons of the college. As a show of unity, several members of the Chamber of Commerce sent telegrams on April 11. Rather than answer each telegram, the First Presidency sent a telegram to President Clarke asking him to
"kindly acknowledge receipt of these telegrams for us. Please advise the senders that we regard their telegrams as indicative of their interest in the college and the territory it serves. Give them our assurance that all phases of the situation have been given intensive and searching study and that we are convinced that nothing of profit would be gained by reconsidering the conclusion reached. We take the liberty of soliciting through you the cooperation of our friends who have sent the messages to us in carrying out the program which has been outlined which we are fully persuaded will operate to the advantage of the whole church and ultimately to the satisfaction of the patrons and friends of Ricks College."
President Clarke sent a letter to Arthur Porter, Jr., secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, and enclosed a copy of the telegram from the First Presidency. “I want you to know that all of us here at Ricks College deeply appreciate the interest in the School which prompted you to send your telegram,” he wrote. “However, I am confident, as is stated in the telegram, that the decision regarding Ricks College cannot be changed and certainly not at the present time.” He noted the assurance that the campus would be developed for “increasing enrollment and increased facilities.” President Clarke acknowledged that college staff members “are deeply disappointed in what has happened,” but “we feel that our course now is to go forward and develop the school as quickly as we can in accordance with the program.”John Porter, publisher of the local newspaper, wrote to the First Presidency with his assessment of local feelings about the change in status. He received the following reply, dated May 25, 1955:
"This will acknowledge, somewhat belatedly, your letter addressed to President David O. McKay, concerning the change of status of Ricks College. May we express appreciation for the spirit of courteous consideration which is evident in your letter. We thank you also for the fair manner in which your announcement of the change, and your editorial concerning the same, were written.
"You call attention to a number of items concerning the recent history and development of the school and the disappointment which you indicate many will suffer by reason of the abandonment of the four-year program. We had anticipated that many would be disappointed, but we are concerned with your statement that “there is considerable bitterness over the announced change.”
"It is difficult for us to understand how the people, particularly members of the Church, can justify “bitterness” against the Church and its action if they will but review the unusual concession made to Ricks College many years ago when all comparable institutions were turned over by the Church to the states in which they were located, with the Church maintaining institutes in their stead. Ricks, as a unit in the educational system, has been preferentially treated for many years. “Bitterness” is scarcely the attitude of appreciation for the concessions that have been granted and we cannot believe that the word characterizes the feelings of many.
"You mention that you are concerned with “the feeling of distrust for the future that is now being voiced by many people.” We would share your concern if such a feeling exists. We feel sure that those who understand the nature and genius of the Church organization will not be inclined to ascribe to the General Authorities any motive or intention other than to be entirely fair to all the people of the Church. We are aware that the establishment of an educational institution in a given area is regarded as not only a convenience to the people of the area, but also an economic advantage to the business interests of the community or communities in the vicinity of the school. You point out that the people of Idaho want their children to remain in the State, and that it is to their advantage not to send students out of the State to finish their education. Others who have written to us have also stressed this economic advantage and State pride even more emphatically than you have done.
"We believe that upon more mature reflection, members of the Church will concur with us that these items, important as they may seem to the local people, cannot be controlling factors in the determination of Church policies and the expenditure of Church funds. It is our aim and purpose to distribute the institutional facilities of the Church within the means available to meet the needs of the membership with the ultimate objective of promoting the whole Church and Kingdom of our Father in the world. Within the Kingdom ecclesiastical considerations must always have priority over those of a geographical or political nature. As an illustration, we have returned to the contributors tithing paid with the stipulation that it be used locally.
"We make these observations as a reminder of the fundamental concepts which must ever underlie the building of Zion. Members of the Church who understand these concepts will not permit state and community loyalty to deter them from giving cooperation to plans and policies calculated to advance the interest of the entire Church.
"Those in the Rexburg area who are inclined to complain at the change of status in Ricks College would do well to remind themselves that they are not losing a College, but acquiring one with a more permanent prospect not heretofore enjoyed. The provision for a four-year course to meet the requirements of teachers was never developed to a point that insured stability because it was never fully realized how expanded it must become to meet the requirements for the issuance of bachelor’s degrees. It was recognized all along that it could not duplicate nor be a competitor of the Church university—not a Utah university, but the Church university at Provo. Now, with a unified Church School System, more perfectly organized to meet the anticipated needs of the future, Ricks may take its place with an assurance that it will be one of what we hope to be many Junior Colleges serving a great purpose in the educational system. At the present it is the only Junior College in the system. With the cooperation of all the people it may lead the way in determining the effectiveness of such colleges in the education of our youth. We are sure that the patrons of Ricks can much more advantageously spend their time and energies in cooperation with the Church School Administration in building up a great Junior College than in efforts for reconsideration of the decision which has been reached after long and patient and prayerful consideration.
"Again we thank you for the kindly courteous letter you have written, and we confidently look forward to your help in reconciling the thinking of the people in support of the great project which holds so much of promise to the communities affected.
Townspeople were probably not as concerned with the reduction to junior college status as with knowing that the college would be a permanent fixture in the community. They were willing to continue to aid the college in any way possible. But, there were still many who complained that the reduction was the next step in a plan to close or move the college. Those complaints were abated when Dr. Ernest Wilkinson, administrator of the Church Unified System, announced that a contract for the completion of the auditorium soon would be awarded. The contract was awarded to Clarence Bean and Sons Construction Company, which had been awarded the original contract. Now the company could complete the project it had started. By May, construction was proceeding on the building. President Clarke announced that more than $130,000 in subcontracts had been awarded for utility work and metal work. He anticipated enough of the building would be finished that some classes could be held there in the fall.
Now that only two more senior class graduations were certain, there was much scurrying about by juniors and seniors to ensure they could complete all requirements for graduation. Freshmen and sophomores would be able to take some upper division classes during the 1955-1956 school year and summer school, but, as of September 1956, the college would only offer lower division classes. Sophomores, especially, had to make a decision whether to continue at Ricks or transfer to another institution. They would be welcomed at Brigham Young University.
Elder Marion G. Romney was featured speaker at the baccalaureate service on May 23, 1955, held in the tabernacle. His being there added to the sense of permanence of the college. After all, he was a Ricks alumnus and football star of yore. Many anticipated he would be a voice for Ricks in the councils of the Church.
The 1955-1956 school year, the last for seniors, commenced with an increase in enrollment. All classes necessary for seniors to complete graduate requirements were offered. But the Curriculum Steering Committee headed by President Clarke had been at work and curriculum adjustments for a junior college were in process.
Returning and prospective students had all received a copy of “Ricks: Your Friendly Idaho L.D.S. College.” On the cover a sketch by Oliver Parson illustrated the front entrance to the new auditorium. On the first page, a picture of Mack Shirley, 1954-1955 student-body president, demonstrated a “great big friendly smile” and waving “hello.” The pamphlet noted social activities and groups while exclaiming there were “no cliques at Ricks.” Athletics, intramurals, musical groups, drama, and academics provided a place for everyone to participate and find “happiness and well-being,” whether they were a “high school hero or just another awkward adolescent.” College faculty members were never “too busy to incline a sympathetic ear toward the many problems and questions that beset the beginning college student.” Even President Clarke’s “office door is always open to the student who may merely wish to chat or to those who may come to him with difficult personal problems. This genial Captain of the Viking collegiate ship is a man of long experience in teaching the youth of the Church.” Enrolling in Ricks assured that individuality would be emphasized. “To Pres. John L. Clarke and his Ricks faculty, each student appears as an individual child of our Heavenly father with a soul very precious in His eyes. Every effort is made at Ricks to build faith and testimony in Jesus Christ and his great Latter-day work.” The Church directive to revert to a junior college would not change that fundamental aspect of the college.
The football team coached by Berkley “Brick” Parkinson and Gordon Dixon and captained by Nyle Garn and George Arliss Willmore, won seven, losing only one to Boise Junior College. The basketball team, under Parkinson, posted an excellent 26-5 overall record, winning the ICAC with a conference record of 13-1. The last track team as a four-year school did well as usual; the baseball team did poorly.
The new year of 1956 started with a great deal of uncertainty about Ricks’ future. Everyone knew that at the end of summer school the school would revert to a junior college. The effects of that transition were unknown. Even though the new auditorium was completed enough so a few classes were being held there, work seemed to have slowed down. (Work had not slowed down. Finish work was being done, seemingly slow compared to erection of the superstructure, but all work was not completed until 1957.) To compensate for limited usable space in the auditorium, 2,500 square feet of space in the temporary housing units was converted to classrooms.
The last graduation ceremony as a four-year school was held on August 10, 1956. This allowed several who needed the summer school session to complete graduation requirements. Seemingly representing a regression as far as many were concerned, the ceremony was perhaps more melancholy than graduations ordinarily are. Dr. Lowell L. Bennion, father of future Ricks President Steven D. Bennion, was commencement speaker at the ceremony held in the Fourth-Sixth Ward chapel. President Clarke extended his congratulations to the historic class and presented bachelor’s degrees to forty-five graduates.
The 1956-1957 academic year commenced with a slight drop in enrollment, but not as much as had been feared. The very comprehensive college booklet, “Ricks College Opens Its Doors to You,” helped many decide to enroll. Some faculty had resigned, not wishing to teach exclusively lower division classes. Their replacements included Daniel S. Hess, Donald P. Merrill, and Ferron W. Sonderegger, who went on to complete long careers at Ricks. The faculty now consisted of forty-five full-time and sixty-nine part-time members. The faculty started the year with a 5.1 percent salary increase. The Church had appropriated funds to make Ricks a first-rate junior college.
Reverting to junior college status had an immediate detrimental effect on athletic programs. Ferron W. Sonderegger, the new football coach, had only a few returning players, and they had little experience. Coach Parkinson in basketball and Coach Biddulph in track had the same problem. All sports had losing seasons during the year. They would not recover and develop winning teams again for several years. It was 1964 before football again had a winning season; 1963-1964 for basketball. Wrestling became part of the intercollegiate program under Coach Carl Bair, providing excitement and winning seasons for the next several years. Track continued to produce individual champions while struggling for team titles. Baseball continued to struggle. Boxing, coached by Daniel Hess, became a club program and then was phased out altogether. Part of the long recovery time for winning athletic programs can be directly attributed to the circumstances with which the college coped over the next few years.
While athletics did not fare well, the college received national recognition in another area. College bookkeeping classes, taught by Grant R. Thomas, had entered the nineteenth annual International Bookkeeping Contest sponsored by Gregg. Papers had been submitted to judges meeting in New York City. The September-October 1956 issue of Business Teacher magazine carried news that Ricks College had finished seventh in the collegiate division. They had competed favorably against well-established business colleges with national reputations.
The first Ricks College student ward was organized during the year. Gordon Dixon was called as bishop with Daniel Hess as first counselor and Burton Johnson as second counselor. College students away from home now were part of a united student congregation. Students who attended the college but lived at home were to remain in their home wards. The ward got a number in January 1961 when the College Second Ward was organized with Artell Chapman as bishop and Ferron W. Sonderegger and Ralph McBride as counselors.
Winter quarter was completed early in 1957, and spring quarter was under way with all programs functioning nicely. The only problem, which did not matter too much to students, was overcrowding in the buildings and barely enough student housing on campus and in the community. Community patrons were concerned about the lack of building activity. Many could easily recall the big hole that had remained so long that it was often referred to as “the grave” for the college. Even though the hole was now covered with a beautiful auditorium, where were the dormitories and library?
In December 1958, Dr. Wilkinson wrote a lengthy summation of the events from January to July 11, 1957. He noted that “in January of 1957 a preliminary report was made to the First Presidency which showed that only about 35% of Latter-day Saint junior college students in Idaho Falls were going to Rexburg.” If more were to be persuaded to attend Ricks, a $6 million to $8 million dormitory building program was necessary. When the First Presidency received the report and the suggested cost for buildings to accommodate the projected 2,000 non-resident students, they “decided that before commencing on a housing program which would ultimately entail an expenditure of a sum of that kind, it should consult with all of the stake presidents of the fifteen surrounding stakes and take a full look at all the facts.” Dr. Wilkinson was then directed “to prepare a full resume of all pertinent data with respect to both Rexburg and Idaho Falls and submit the same at a meeting to be held with them on April 8, 1957, without any recommendation of any kind.”
The fifteen stake presidents were notified of the meeting to be held on April 8, the day after April conference concluded. Since most of the stake presidents already would be in Salt Lake City for the conference, staying over would be convenient. President Clarke was no longer a stake president. He recently had been released and Delbert G. Taylor had been sustained as the Rexburg Stake president. So President Clarke was invited in his capacity as president of the college.
As President Clarke and Dr. Wilkinson were walking to the Church Office Building to attend the meeting, Dr. Wilkinson mentioned that “we’re going to discuss today the proposal to move Ricks College to Idaho Falls.” He had not told President Clarke the purpose of the meeting before because (according to Jerry Roundy who interviewed President Clarke about the meeting) “I knew it would be upsetting to you and I wanted to protect you as much as I could.” President Clarke told Roundy that “this came as a great shock.”
President McKay outlined the purpose of the meeting, emphasizing that a final decision was yet to be made. Thirteen of the fifteen invited stake presidents were present and according to President Taylor (in a personal interview with Jerry Roundy), “Many of us were stunned by the proposition, but we were there to listen.”
The meeting was turned over to Dr. Wilkinson for his presentation. He commenced with the following statement:
"The facts which I shall present to you today are not presented by me as an advocate of the position that Ricks College should be moved to Idaho Falls or that it should stay in Rexburg. Our sole purpose is to present all facts to you so that the First Presidency may have the benefit of your judgment. If any of you have any other facts which are not revealed in our study, the First Presidency will be happy to have them as a basis for final resolution of the problem by the Board of Education. The sole question before the Board of Education is that of whether Ricks College will achieve a greater destiny by moving to Idaho Falls than by remaining in Rexburg, both in terms of number of students to be served and the quality of that service."
Dr. Wilkinson set about presenting the facts using several well designed charts to illustrate why he advocated moving Ricks to Idaho Falls. He noted the sacrifice, both physical and monetary, of those who founded and perpetuated Ricks. But sentiment could not overrule practicality, and facts proved the school should be moved, he said. Comparisons between Rexburg and Idaho Falls in population growth, Church membership, number of children (future students), economies, and employment possibilities showed Rexburg coming up short in each category.
At the conclusion of Dr. Wilkinson’s presentation, President McKay asked for each to state his opinion. President Taylor recalled that “surprise and distress rendered some of us nearly speechless,” and “rebuttal seemed rather out of order, hence most all of the statements made indicated a disposition to follow the leadership of the First Presidency, which was to be expected under the circumstances.”
Dr. Wilkinson recalled “after a full discussion of the factual matter presented together with information given by members of the thirteen stake presidencies present,” President McKay asked for opinions. He noted that eleven of the thirteen stake presidencies concurred that “Ricks College would have a much greater destiny and future if it were moved to Idaho Falls.” Of the two dissenters, one felt the school “should remain at Rexburg. The other presidency asked for further time to consider the matter.” One of the dissenters was President Taylor. He requested of President McKay an opportunity to present the Rexburg side of the story. President McKay agreed.
President Taylor arrived home early the next morning. He immediately wrote a letter to the First Presidency, dated April 9, 1957:
"It is perhaps needless for me to say that my thoughts have been completely occupied with the results of yesterday’s meeting since I left it. I hasten to write these few lines, and then as soon as time permits I will gather some information that I think will be worth careful consideration. You mentioned yesterday that you wanted all the facts before a decision was made.
"Dr. Wilkinson did a masterful job of selling yesterday. It is evident that he spent more than a year in accumulating the information that he presented, and then the time and audience was planned perfectly. It hit us cold. We were not prepared to present any facts or information, and if we had done so, he was prepared for rebuttal, and certainly we were the last ones to want to create an argument.
"In spite of the tremendous presentation that he made, there were many weaknesses in his arguments that should be seriously considered and we want the opportunity to present them. Several important matters were not even touched upon.
"Are we sure that a large school is the best school, and the most economical? Dr. Wilkinson seems to promote this idea. The temper of the discussion seemed to indicate that we must try to do the most good for the most people. This will bear analysis, also in the interest of the minority as well as the majority, whether the school remains in Rexburg or is transplanted elsewhere.
"A careful analysis of the employment situation, which was presented with great emphasis, will bear reconsideration. Per capita there is as much employment in Rexburg as there is in Idaho Falls. There will always be more jobs in Idaho Falls, but there will equally always be more people to fill them.
"I am sure the facts do not justify the conclusions drawn. I still believe that “the price of education is desire.”
"Dr. Wilkinson indicated that the value of the Ricks College campus is about a million dollars. I am sure this campus could not be replaced elsewhere, with equal accommodations now available, for $3 million and perhaps considerably more, not including the land.
"My purpose in this letter is not to present the many reasons that I have been thinking about, that will justify the school remaining in Rexburg, but I will gather the information as you have requested so that you can have all the facts before you when a decision is made. I will try to do so with unselfish motives as best I can.
"I am sorry that it seemed necessary for some of the brethren to draw a conclusion without hearing the much evidence that can be developed and presented in favor of keeping the college in Rexburg.
"The program yesterday seemed to be slanted in one direction, even though, I am sure, that Dr. Wilkinson’s motives are genuine. It is significant, however, that he avoided references to studies which show that the modern trend of the twentieth century is to locate colleges and universities in rural areas and in small communities.
"It was a privilege and a pleasure for us to meet with you brethren yesterday. I left the meeting confident that your words of assurance to me provided the opportunity to present facts which will influence your decision."
President Taylor added a postscript: “I arrived home about 10 o’clock this morning. Fifteen minutes later I received a telephone call about Dr. Wilkinson’s proposals. None of us here, who were at the meeting, have given out any information. We will try and handle this on a basis that will keep people from being stirred up.” Those at the meeting had been requested not to preempt any announcement by the First Presidency. The postscript implied that someone in Utah had leaked the information. By the time President Taylor had arrived in Rexburg, the proposed move of the college was known far and wide and the people were already stirred up.
Upon receiving news of the proposed move, “excitement, apprehension and deep concern were felt and voiced” by members of the North Rexburg Stake, according to the quarterly historical report. “Meetings were called, committees organized and action was started immediately by officers of both Stakes to gather all the information possible to help persuade the First Presidency and the Church Board of Education that the school should remain in Rexburg and be built up with much-needed new buildings in the immediate future.” Some remodeling and repairing of the tabernacle had been approved but were suspended pending resolution of the college issue. A proposed seminary building adjacent to Sugar-Salem High School was considered and tabled, also pending resolution of the college location issue. As no final decision had been made by June 30, 1957, the report noted the “general morale of people in the area had reached a new low by the end of the quarter.”
Not only did the two Rexburg stakes quickly organize committees to amass information, but so did the Chamber of Commerce. Telegrams and letters were sent from Rexburg to Church headquarters with information. Because of no official word from Church headquarters, all kinds of personal interpretations were being voiced. Remarkably, the two stake presidents were able to keep things under control, at least until April 17 when Gene Shumate, owner/operator of KRXK radio station in Rexburg, broadcast information about the proposed move. Hearing the broadcast seemed to mean that the proposed move was more than rumor. Telephone calls and telegrams were quickly made to Church headquarters for verification and information. President Taylor called Shumate and criticized him for releasing information. Shumate responded by writing a letter to President McKay dated April 18, 1957:
"President Taylor of the Rexburg Stake is upset over the fact that news of the current investigation into the advisability of retaining Ricks College in Rexburg has been broadcast. I have explained to him my position in this respect and feel that you are entitled to the same explanation. . . .
"The news of anything of this sort which effects many people cannot be kept secret. Through no fault of the authorities, the word preceded their return from Salt Lake City last week. Day by day the stories grew out of all proportion. To attempt to put this into true perspective and lay at rest some of the rumors and near hysteria on the part of some businessmen, yesterday I released a brief story to the effect that a local committee was working on information concerning the community and Ricks College to present to the authorities in Salt Lake. The purpose of this report was to answer a proposal that Ricks be moved to Idaho Falls. This morning I reported that the meeting would be next Tuesday.
"These are bare facts (true, I was sure) and the public was entitled to hear them. They were broadcast without violating any confidences. They were not relayed to me by local authorities. They have served to convince the public that the subject was being explored in an orderly and fair manner and that no snap decision had already been made.
"Let me repeat, President McKay, that if you feel there is fault to be found up this way concerning this matter—lay it at my door. There is much joy in my business of serving the public to the best of my ability; unfortunately, not everyone agrees with how the public should be served in specific instances, and in those cases we have to make a decision. If we didn’t, we would no longer serve."
Shumate’s letter was followed the next day, April 19, by one from the Rexburg and Rexburg North stake presidencies to the First Presidency:
"In the light of what has taken place the past several days with reference to Ricks College, we feel it is wisdom to write you an explanation before our meeting next Tuesday.
"Conscious of the position which you Brethren hold and the great cause we represent, there is nothing that cuts us deeper or disturbs us more than your criticism or your rebuke.
"Perhaps a brief statement of our problems here will help clear the picture and give some assurance that we are laboring for a oneness of purpose with all our hearts.
"As stated in previous letters, the news of what took place in our meeting Monday, April 8, reached Rexburg before we did. It continued to spread, and anxious inquiries were made, even from communities outside Rexburg. We were pressed for some clarification of news of most disturbing nature to the people of this valley.
"In view of repeated assurances that the College was to stay in Rexburg and would provide accommodations to meet an expanding enrollment, the people here regard it as incredible that President Wilkinson would make another attempt to move the School to Idaho Falls and that his arguments were apparently making a favorable impression.
"You can appreciate that the people of this valley are particularly sensitive to an issue which has come up again and again in different forms. In 1954 businessmen, civic groups, and enterprising citizens of Rexburg sought information which would influence personal and community planning. They now confront us, as leaders, with a copy of the telegram dated March 17, 1954, addressed to the Eighty Fourth Quorum of Seventy, which states: “Rest assured there will be no change in Ricks College.” To the Rexburg Lions Club, on July 9, 1954, a letter from the First Presidency stated: “The matter has already been referred to the committee with instructions to proceed with projects already recommended so that the people of Rexburg will have an assurance of the future stability and excellency of this institution.”
"On the occasion of the reduction of Ricks College to junior college status a letter was received from the First Presidency to Mr. John C. Porter, of The Rexburg Standard, saying, “Those in the Rexburg area who are inclined to complain at the change of status in Ricks College would do well to remind themselves that they are not losing a college, but acquiring one with a more permanent prospect not heretofore enjoyed.” They indicate that the only conceivable interpretation of these communications was that the College would remain and expand in Rexburg.
"The feeling is strong among the people here that President Wilkinson has never relinquished the fight of three years ago and has purposely frustrated the bright prospects referred to in the foregoing quotations, so as to make the move to Idaho Falls more convenient and seem more plausible. We who heard his presentation felt that there was a disposition to regard Ricks College as a proven failure.
"Our present judgment dictated that we should affirm to some of the community leaders that President Wilkinson had reintroduced his proposal and had given a persuasive presentation of his views. We conveyed to them your assurance to us, that no decision has been made or will be made until all the information against such a move could be presented before the First Presidency and the Executive Committee of the Board of Education.
"We have urged and we continue to urge everyone to be calm and to be confident that right will prevail, and above all to avoid any further publicity or agitation. The newspapers and radio stations promised to be silent on the issue, and the telegraph office said they would not send any messages bearing on this matter without first consulting us.
"You have a letter from KRXK explaining the incident yesterday. We were shocked when the radio announcement came to our attention. We know, Brethren, that these and many other indiscretions work against the cause that means so very much to us at this time. They are contrary to our thoughts, actions, and prayers which bear so profoundly on the mutual well being of all of us here.
"You will understand that the Institution, which in the minds of many people seems in jeopardy, is regarded among us as an almost living presence. We cannot help but feel that the community pride in Ricks College is one with the pride in the Church.
"We sincerely pray that ample time will be granted to successfully present the information we have for your careful consideration. We promise it will be factual and revealing."
While local people were gathering requested information, another meeting was held at Church headquarters dealing with the subject. The First Presidency and the Board of Education met on April 16, and “after a full review of the matter,” according to Dr. Wilkinson, they “resolved by unanimous vote to move Ricks College to Idaho Falls.” However, “if Church officers in Rexburg desired any additional hearing . . . they would be accorded that privilege by the Executive Committee.” Since the Rexburg side of the story had yet to be told, there was little doubt a meeting with the executive committee would be requested. If, after another meeting, the executive committee “felt any facts justifying a change of decision were produced,” they would “report back to the Board of Education.” President Stephen L. Richards, First Counselor in the First Presidency, was dispatched to Idaho Falls to secure an option on 160 acres of land southeast of the city that had been under consideration as a site for the college for some time. News of the decision to move and the acquisition of the land was to be released after all arrangements were completed.
Letters from Ricks alumni were sent to various people in Rexburg to be used to buttress the information sent to Salt Lake City. Many of the letters had to do with comparing the environment of Rexburg to that of Idaho Falls. “I feel strongly that Rexburg is a much better location for the education of Mormon youth in terms of the environment which it provides,” wrote alumnus Harold T. Christensen, the head of the department of sociology at Purdue University. “Though granted that no environment is perfect, the larger city almost invariably submits to the various vices which tempt men and women and it is my understanding that Idaho Falls does not have too good of a reputation along these lines now.” Parley Rigby of Idaho Falls wrote to M.F. Rigby, the Ricks College physician, indicating that, in regard to employment and the cost of living in Idaho Falls, there were not enough jobs for the high school students who needed part-time employment and the cost of living was “at least 10% higher than it is in Rexburg.”
Rexburg Mayor J. Fred Smith wrote to President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and drew several comparisons between Rexburg and Idaho Falls. All Rexburg mayors were Latter-day Saints “devoted to the cause of keeping Rexburg a clean, moral city; few, if any, city administrations in Idaho Falls have reflected the desires of good faithful Latter-day Saints.” Currently, Idaho Falls has “over seventy (70) bars dispensing alcoholic drinks; liquor by the drink has never been available in Rexburg since years before the earliest days of prohibition.” Even “when gambling was legal in Idaho, it was never permitted in Rexburg; Idaho Falls had all the law permitted and did not throw it out until forced to.” Finally, “Rexburg is, and always has been, a place where parents can send their children, confidently expecting them to return as clean and virtuous as when they left. Moving Ricks College twenty-eight (28) miles to the South would accomplish no possible good, but on the other hand, can irreparably harm the Church, Ricks College and Rexburg.”
Franklin Carl Day, bishop of the Idaho Falls Fifth Ward, wrote to President Taylor that “there seems to be quite a strong group opposing everything the Church stands for, thus permitting too many bars and other undesirable places to exist in the city. In Idaho Falls it seems to be a business with the city to keep the bars open.”
By the time of the April 23 meeting with the executive committee of the Board of Education, the above information had been received at Church headquarters. By the second meeting on April 26, a letter had been received by the First Presidency from John J. Walz, president of the Chamber of Commerce, and the other officers, noting the economic devastation moving Ricks would cause in Rexburg. “Rexburg has built its economy around this institution, especially in recent years, with the understanding that it would be permanent.” New business interests have invested in Rexburg because of the “assurances . . . of . . . permanence” of Ricks. “Also many new homes have been built here, including those by forty or more teachers, for the same reason.” Ricks “is a vital part of Rexburg. To remove it to a neighboring city that has always been against us and our ideals would be a cruel and devastating blow.” The chamber reminded the First Presidency of the Latter-day Saint pioneers who had established Rexburg and Ricks and the sacrifices of the townspeople and others through the years to keep the school going.
According to Dr. Wilkinson, the executive committee meeting with Rexburg delegations on April 23 and 26, 1957, “concluded no new evidence sufficient to change anyone’s mind had been presented.” Those from Rexburg then asked to meet with the First Presidency, and a meeting was set for April 30. The Board of Education released information to newspapers on April 26, indicating the move to Idaho Falls was being considered and seemed likely. With the news release, John Porter no longer felt constrained from publishing information in his paper, The Rexburg Standard. “Residents of the Rexburg area were stunned last week by the announcement that the Board of Education of the LDS Church was considering moving Ricks College from Rexburg to Idaho Falls,” Porter editorialized. “Surprised and stunned are mild adjectives. They were also hurt because it was only in 1954 that assurances had been received that Ricks College was here to stay and would be improved and made a definite part of the Unified LDS School System.” Porter used his newspaper to keep attention focused on the issue.
On April 26, “representatives of eight Upper Valley communities and twenty civic organizations,” responding to the news release, adopted and forwarded to the First Presidency a resolution to have Ricks retained in Rexburg.
The Rexburg Chamber of Commerce had prepared a four-page pamphlet endorsed by area communities and civic organizations. The pamphlet entitled “Ricks College, Ideally Located at Rexburg, Idaho” contained graphs illustrating population growth of Rexburg and Idaho Falls, Ricks enrollment from 1944-1945 through 1956-1957, and comparative growth of Ricks and Brigham Young University with BYU growing 27. 1 percent while Ricks grew 35.5 percent from 1953-1954 through 1955-1956. The pamphlet included other statistics on Rexburg’s economic strength. Also noted were assurances given in 1954 and 1955 that the college would remain in Rexburg. The pamphlet concluded by noting, under the heading, “Rexburg and Ricks College—the Ideal Combination,” that the student body represented “students from 32 stakes in Idaho and 23 stakes outside Idaho—for a total of 209 wards in all—from seven mission fields—from nine states and five territories or countries—and from nine religious denominations.” Because it is a Latter-day Saint community, the “school has been able to contain and satisfy the social and cultural demands of students with a variety of wholesome recreational activities, appropriate to college experience and consistent with Latter-day Saint ideals.”
On April 30, a delegation from Rexburg met with the First Presidency. To help Rexburg citizens better understand the Church’s position, a delegation from Church headquarters, including President McKay and Dr. Wilkinson, decided to go to Rexburg for a meeting. At that meeting Wilkinson was to present the material he had presented to the thirteen stake presidencies on April 8. Those in Rexburg also could make a presentation if they desired. The meeting was set for June 1. That meant the Rexburg side of the story could be more carefully prepared.
The letter-writing campaign picked up steam during May. M.D. Beal, a former faculty member, set the tone with a letter to President McKay dated May 2, 1957. “Others may debate the practical considerations involved in this proposal; I desire to stress the spiritual aspect only,” Beal wrote. “It is well known that Ricks College students disclose a distinctive spiritual quality which effectively conditions them for educational, religious, and civic service.” Furthermore, “as you know, the faith and devotion of the pioneers has been renewed whenever the status of the school was in jeopardy. Now they are disturbed again. One wonders in all conscience how often the perpetuity of a successful, living, growing institution should be threatened.” Finally, “I submit that Ricks College cannot be moved. Schools have souls, and attempts to shuffle them about may be expedient but they are not wise. . . . Sensitive people are closely observing this case. May they have no cause to deplore the execution of this move, which is obviously being promoted by men who do not understand the people and conditions in Idaho.”
In response, President McKay wrote, “I am impressed by the sincerity in which you express your views. You may rest assured that no action will be taken until prayerful and full consideration is given to the question.”
To illustrate depth of local commitment to the college, directors of the Chamber of Commerce initiated a project to collect funds for a college scholarship fund. They set a goal of $15,000. “Within twenty-four hours this goal was reached,” John Walz noted in a Western Union night letter dated May 3, 1957. “In thirty-six hours the fund has increased to $18,725.00 with much more indicated. We feel this a definite indication of the feelings of the people in our area, and also that with the drive instigated we have only scraped the surface of a vast future scholarship potential.” This significant gesture received much attention by the First Presidency.
While all the agitation over moving the school was proceeding, so too were classes. But the removal question dominated both class and private discussions. President Clarke wrote to Dr. Wilkinson expressing the desire that a decision be made quickly on the issue because the “present uncertainty is so upsetting to the morale of our present students, prospective students, and their parents.” President Clarke was commencement speaker at several high school graduations, and everywhere he went he was questioned about the proposed move. He feared a detrimental effect on recruitment efforts and lower fall quarter enrollment because he could not answer the question.
The continued flow of letters to Salt Lake City had an effect. President McKay decided to visit Ricks. He and Dr. Wilkinson drove to Rexburg on May 21. President Clarke was not expecting them and was surprised to be informed they were on campus. Word quickly spread and several from the community joined in escorting the visitors about campus. Eldon Hart, who was in charge of the physical plant, was the official escort. During the tour President Clarke did not minimize campus needs, a fact that President McKay appreciated and acknowledged. President McKay was thorough in his visit. Not only did he visit all campus buildings and the downtown dormitory, but he visited a few private homes where students lived. He ate lunch in the cafeteria and listened to stake and community leaders, students, and faculty. Then he and Dr. Wilkinson went home. Just having President McKay show up on campus encouraged everyone.
The Rexburg meeting convened on Saturday afternoon, June 1, 1957. Elder Marion G. Romney had accompanied President McKay and Dr. Wilkinson. Howard Salisbury, the chairman of the Division of Humanities, had prepared the Rexburg presentation. Of course, he had received a lot of assistance. Howard Salisbury was an eloquent speaker. His presentation lasted about two hours and centered primarily on the emotional and spiritual strain that would attend removal of the pioneer-developed college. He spent some time talking about local economic stability and used visual aids to prove his points as had Dr. Wilkinson at the April 8 meeting. After Professor Salisbury concluded his presentation, Dr. Wilkinson then gave much the same presentation he had given on April 8. Both Salisbury and Dr. Wilkinson came away confident they had carried the day. No decision on removal was announced by President McKay.
After the June 1 meeting, many letters were addressed to the First Presidency or Dr. Wilkinson. “The facts as presented by President Wilkinson seem to be very convincing through his professionally polished deliverance,” John Walz wrote. “However, had they been presented by an average individual, their convictions would have considerably less merit.” Walz wrote that “the statement made, that everything possible had been done to be fair to Ricks College on student enrollment is not correct. If all fairness had been exerted, we would not have the small building program on the campus here, while Brigham Young University has to dedicate several new buildings at one time to keep up with their building program.” Walz noted that “throughout my entire lifetime Ricks has operated under the plague of uncertainty, and as a graduate of this school I can say it has affected and does affect every student attending as no one wants to graduate from a school that may discontinue. The blow to us holding four year degrees from a now junior college is bad enough.” Walz included several other arguments already well known to the First Presidency.
Lack of a decision was beginning to wear on everyone. John Porter wrote in a June 12 editorial: “We hope a decision on Ricks College will be reached soon. The longer it is kept hanging, the wider the cleavage that certainly is developing over the issue.”
Early in July, President McKay received yet another delegation from Rexburg with a new incentive for maintaining Ricks College in Rexburg. According to Dr. Wilkinson, they discussed “a letter sent to him [President McKay] signed by the ‘Upper Valley Real Estate Board,’ stating that the people of Rexburg had signed pledges ‘to accommodate 1570 students in their homes.’ On the basis of this letter it was represented that a dormitory building program would not be necessary if Ricks College were left in Rexburg.” If the college was moved to Idaho Falls, “a large dormitory construction program would have to be engaged in” because rapid growth had created “crowded conditions.”
President McKay received another telegram from John Walz on July 9. “For the past 92 days our community of Rexburg has been a caldron of anxiety, disappointment and in some instances animosity regarding status of Ricks College,” he said. “Most phases of business activity have been at a complete stand still.” Walz noted again the “$20,000 in pledged scholarships for students at Ricks in Rexburg is ready and waiting your go ahead signal, so that scholarships can be issued in the very near future to insure increased enrollment at Ricks this fall quarter.” He concluded, “We stand united in our desire for your counsel and suggestions to build a bigger and better Ricks College in Rexburg.”
The decision was made two days later on July 11, 1957. Ricks College would remain in Rexburg. That afternoon President McKay met in his office with President Taylor, President Walter F. Ririe (President Taylor’s counselor), Steven M. Meikle, Sr., and Arthur C. Porter, who had flown to Salt Lake City hoping to visit with President McKay. President McKay gave them the welcomed news. Within a very short time the news was in Rexburg and Idaho Falls. The Thursday edition of The Rexburg Journal carried the story under the headline “RICKS TO STAY IN REXBURG, President McKay Says Promises Must Be Kept.”
Dr. Wilkinson, in his “Ricks College, A Statement,” gave two reasons for President McKay’s decision: his concern that the statements made in the past about Ricks staying in Rexburg had been construed as a commitment, and his reliance on the information on available housing in Rexburg and the cost of building dormitories in Idaho Falls.
John Walz, on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and surrounding communities, sent a telegram to President McKay expressing appreciation for “your decision regarding Ricks College. It reaffirms our confidence in your interest and desire regarding this fine institution. Again we assure you we stand ready to do our full part in this great project and trust the much needed buildings will soon be under construction. The entire Upper Snake River Valley is grateful for your decision.”
North Rexburg Stake high council members, meeting on Sunday morning, July 14, received their ward speaking assignments for that evening. They were asked by President O.P. Mortensen to “express feelings of gratitude for the decision announced this week that the college is to remain in Rexburg.” The Rexburg Stake presidency met with the North Rexburg Stake presidency on July 15 and “read copies of letters that are proposed to be sent to President Wilkinson and Stake presidencies in the area on the future status of Ricks College, now that the decision has been made to have it remain here.”
To show appreciation, the Rexburg Chamber of Commerce quickly turned $20,000 over to the college scholarship committee and pledged all aid possible in securing the college financially. President Clarke wrote to John Walz, thanking him for the scholarship money and noted that “in using this money we expect to do all in our power to attract students to the college who might not otherwise have been able to come and who through their talents and abilities will be able to make contributions to the school as well as affording them the opportunity to further their higher education.”
While the removal issue was being played out, spring quarter ended, baccalaureate and commencement were held, and the first session of summer school was almost over. The college administration had to work fast to see that prospective students for fall quarter were notified that the school removal issue had been resolved and plans could proceed for attendance.
* More than forty years later and with remarkable growth in Ricks College occurring during the intervening four-plus decades, the college has become one of the strongest junior colleges in the nation. During the last decade the college witnessed the establishment of enrollment ceilings and the marked increase of student qualifications to enter—both academically and spiritually. By remaining a two-year college, Ricks has been able to provide an opportunity for twice as many students to have a Ricks experience—they just stay for two years instead of four years. In a worldwide church, to give twice as many students the opportunity to come is a substantial blessing.
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