Can't Get Ricks Through the Rigby Underpass
President Clarke made application to the Church Board of Education late in July 1957 for authorization to proceed with building projects, including dormitories that had been approved many months before. By the time Dr. Ernest Wilkinson received President Clarke’s application, he already had been “importuned by one of the stake presidents of Rexburg to come to Rexburg to make plans for a dormitory construction program,” Wilkinson wrote. “I informed him that the decision not to move from Rexburg had been based in large part upon the representation that dormitories would not be necessary and that I therefore had no authority to proceed with a dormitory program.”
Dr. Wilkinson received a letter dated August 5, 1957, from John Walz, president of the Chamber of Commerce, also asking that a dormitory building program be inaugurated quickly. Although enough housing was available for the expected increased fall enrollment, “we are sure that before another school year begins that dormitory facilities will be necessary to care for part of the load and replace present substandard facilities,” Walz wrote. Dr. Wilkinson responded to the requests for dormitory buildings by taking the matter to his superiors. He wrote that he was instructed to “have President Clarke of Ricks College make a very careful survey to ascertain the facts with respect to the student housing situation at Rexburg.” He said that the “Director of Housing at the BYU should render such assistance in that survey as needed by Ricks College officials.” The survey would be postponed until after fall quarter registration was completed at both Ricks and BYU.
When news of the housing survey was made known in Rexburg, letters again were written to General Authorities. Henry Dietrich, president of the Rexburg Real Estate Board, wrote to President McKay to explain a discrepancy between what they had previously determined was available student housing and what housing was actually available when students arrived. “We wish to state that since we made this canvass for student housing, approximately fifty new families have moved to Rexburg. Most of these are employed at the Atomic Energy Commission plant at Arco and they have chosen to live in Rexburg because of the school facilities and the possibility that the students could live at home while attending college,” Dietrich wrote. “Thus it has used up a lot of the housing that was available back in May and June when the canvass was made.” Dietrich assured President McKay that the board would do “everything possible to find housing for students who need it.”
John Walz wrote to President Joseph Fielding Smith, who chaired the executive committee of the Church Board of Education:
"For the past several weeks and from various sources word has continued to come to us that President Wilkinson is holding up the expansion of Ricks College facilities in order to “call the bluff” of the Chamber of Commerce assurances that housing for 1500 students can be provided for the approaching school year. In this connection we wish to call the following to the attention of the Executive Committee:
1. Our assurances, based on a house-to-house survey, was sponsored neither by the College nor by the Stake Presidencies of this area. The Chamber of Commerce is solely responsible and stands by its commitments.
2. An enrollment necessitating housing for 1500 students is not anticipated for the 1957-58 school year, though indications are that the number will go well over last year’s enrollment in spite of the uncertainty that recently existed until mid-summer and the present delay in constructive action.
3. To say that this gesture of cooperation on the part of the Chamber of Commerce implies agreement with the proposition that a college without dormitory facilities is practical or feasible is to go far afield from the forthright intentions of the Chamber. An even greater need exists now than existed a year ago when the amount of $500,000 was appropriated for this express purpose.
"We feel it our responsibility toward the cause of Ricks College to clarify this issue, to which disproportionate significance has apparently been attached. We express again our confidence in the judgment and inspiration of the Board of Education."
The housing issue took on more “disproportionate significance” when the BYU/Ricks housing survey was completed and the results were known. “Summarily stated, the Ricks College survey found only 622 acceptable accommodations in homes as compared with the 1570, including 240 on campus accommodations, listed in the survey of the Upper Valley Real Estate Board.” Dr. Wilkinson came to the conclusion that “these facts revealed, of course, that the decision of the First Presidency and the Executive Committee not to move Ricks College, had been based on information leading to misleading conclusions, and again raised the question of the type of building program needed at Ricks College.”
The annual production of Handel’s Messiah seemed to draw the college and community closer together during the Christmas season of 1957. Working together, the “college on the hill” had been secured. Most were unaware of currents beginning to stir that would disrupt the “era of good feelings” that had prevailed since the July 1957 announcement.
Increased enrollment for both fall and winter quarters encouraged administrators, who had ample reason to expect a drop in enrollment because of the removal imbroglio. President Clarke was so optimistic that increased enrollment would continue that he decided to increase the number of faculty to handle the expected growth. During the summer, thirteen faculty members were hired to begin the 1958-1959 academic year. Four of those—Albert W. Burton, Merle Fisher, Harold K. Nielsen, and Norman E. Ricks (a descendent of Thomas E. Ricks)—taught at Ricks to the conclusion of their teaching careers.
Early in May 1958, Dr. Wilkinson visited Ricks for a day. He returned on May 16 and spoke at the Friday assembly. Harvey L. Taylor accompanied Dr. Wilkinson to campus on May 27 to meet with President Clarke. During each visit matters pertaining to the building program were discussed, as well as the necessity to develop a master plan for the college.
President Clarke noted in his “President’s Report” as part of commencement on June 4, 1958, that “in a number of ways this has been and is a significant year in the history of the school.” He noted several items of special significance: celebration of the school’s seventieth anniversary; Ricks was the largest of 169 church-supported, two-year colleges in the United States; cumulative enrollment for fall and winter quarters was 1,000 students, reaching the highest total of day-time students enrolling for winter quarter in the school’s history; and the enrollment increase was 15.8 percent for the three quarters, the “highest percentage increase of any college or university in the intermountain area—showing a healthy condition and great prospects for the future years.” President Clarke said, “In fact, if we could maintain this year’s rate of increase for five years (which I feel confident could be done if adequate and competitive physical facilities were made available) Ricks College would have an enrollment of 2,082 students.” He also noted as significant that “Ricks this year has welcomed 35 foreign students from eight countries. This places us among the first five church-supported, two-year colleges of the nation in the number of foreign students enrolled.”
In his report, President Clarke paid special tribute to community support of the college and joint college-community activities. He noted the “raising within a 48 hour period of $18,000.00 in scholarship funds last summer” and community support of adult education, summer school, leadership programs, and correspondence and extension classes. “Other community-college programs and activities have made satisfying progress during the year,” he reported.
"Among them, the Ricks College-Community Symphony, recently given national notice by Newsweek Magazine; the Upper Snake River Valley Players; the College-Community Fine Arts Series; the series of Art Exhibits; the Program Service Bureau; the policy of allowing public use of our library; Radio and TV programs, with the cooperation of KRXK and KID; the science fair (first to be established in Idaho); the Seminary Youth Conference, bringing nearly a thousand young people together; the Journalism Conference; the Commercial Contest and Music Meets, and others not mentioned. These have all brought the college and its community together in worthwhile educational activities."
President Clarke asked for continued community support, especially in three areas. “First, . . . additional student housing [is needed] until new college dormitories can be erected, and even then to help with ever increasing enrollment.” Second, he requested the community provide “work opportunities to assist the many students who need such help and who are willing to work.” His third request was that the community continue to raise funds for “scholarships to help attract to Ricks the finest, the most highly talented and the deserving students we need to build the College.”
He concluded his report by stating the fundamental philosophy of Ricks College. “In all of our planning for the bright future, which I believe is the destiny of Ricks College, the paramount and overriding objective is to remain true to the ideas, attitudes and spiritual philosophy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
President Clarke was not insensitive to persistent rumors that the issue of removal to Idaho Falls was not concluded. There were some who claimed that the issue was still being debated. President Clarke’s “President’s Report” was a well-crafted statement designed to call attention to school progress, community support, national recognition, and commitment for a building program made but not yet begun. The “Ricks College Bulletin: Your neighboring, friendly college, Serving Idaho, the Northwest, and the L.D.S. Church” for May-June 1958 called attention in pictures and narrative to the comprehensive junior college program at Ricks and added some facts to further buttress the importance of the Rexburg college to the Church.
During the summer of 1958, the college initiated a comprehensive curriculum study by faculty and experts in junior college curriculum from California, Utah, and Idaho. The study, completed by the end of the 1958-1959 academic year, “resulted in a new statement of objectives and initiation of programs to promote attainment of the objectives. It resulted in the consolidation of many courses, the addition of some new ones, and a general strengthening of the academic offerings of the College.” By the time the study was concluded and curriculum adjustments were made, other changes were being debated for the college.
During the summer, President Clarke submitted a budget to Dr. Wilkinson for the college that included a funding request for the college building program. Included in the request were funds to build dormitories, which he concluded would cost $3-$4 million. “I sought the advice of the First Presidency on this request,” wrote Dr. Wilkinson in his “Ricks College, A Statement,” “and it was suggested in view of the facts as developed in the Ricks College Housing Survey, that the entire matter would again have to be reviewed at a subsequent meeting of the Board of Education.”
Before the issue of funds for the building program could be resolved, another issue with an impact on Ricks came to the forefront. A few years before, the Idaho Legislature had established six junior college districts in the state. Idaho Falls was the logical location for a junior college in the eastern Idaho district. Early in 1958 the notion of creating a junior college in Idaho Falls was being bandied about by local supporters and a few politicians. Establishing a junior college required the favorable vote of those in the district who would provide most funding for the college. What effect, if any, a junior college in Idaho Falls would have on Ricks was debatable. The issue was soon discussed by the First Presidency and Church Board of Education.
Students who enrolled for fall quarter of 1958 found themselves involved in many activities designed to commemorate the seventy-fifth birthday of Rexburg and the seventieth birthday of Ricks College. A joint community and college Diamond Jubilee was held on October 17 and 18 and November 1. The Friday evening program began in the college auditorium with Drue Berrett being crowned homecoming queen. Then a musical program entitled “70 Years With the Unconquerable Vikings” was performed. The musical was not only intended to give some historical interpretation of the college, but to prepare the football team for the homecoming game the following day. At the conclusion of the performance, a torchlight parade snaked through town. On Saturday morning a large crowd watched the Diamond Jubilee parade downtown. Most of the crowd were on hand for the homecoming game in the afternoon. The Vikings, coached by Ferron W. Sonderegger, were matched against Carbon College of Price, Utah. The Vikings won 21-14, paced by the exciting running of halfback Larry Atkinson, who scored two touchdowns and set up a third. The homecoming victory added to community pride felt at the Diamond Anniversary ball held Saturday evening.
The final phase of the celebration took place fourteen days later on November 1. A large platform had been erected in front of the Utah Power & Light building. Gene Shumate, owner and manager of KRXK, the local radio station, was master of ceremonies. Starting at 7:30 p.m. the college and high school bands began entertaining the crowd. After they finished, short speeches were made commemorating seventy-five years of progress for Rexburg, and then, as a fitting climax to the Diamond Jubilee celebration, Mayor Alexander E. Archibald threw a switch and Rexburg’s streets were illuminated by the most modern street light system “of any city in the West.” For several hours local citizens and college students walked up and down the streets, visiting or shopping in stores that stayed open until midnight. The Diamond Jubilee generated considerable pride in the community and the college, and created a euphoric all-is-well attitude.
Church members attending Sunday morning services on November 2, 1958, heard an announcement that a special priesthood meeting would be held in the afternoon in the Fourth Ward chapel. Elders Marion G. Romney and Hugh B. Brown would preside and conduct the meeting. Announcement of a special priesthood meeting with General Authorities present assured a large attendance. By the time the meeting commenced, rumors were widespread. Most had to do with the status of the college. Some were sure the removal question would be reopened for consideration; others felt Elders Romney and Brown would put to rest rumors by certifying the July 11, 1957, decision. Both positions were wrong.
Elders Romney and Brown were not there to announce reconsideration nor confirm the July 11 decision. They were there to announce a policy decision. Elder Brown made the announcement, echoed by Elder Romney, that after careful deliberation the First Presidency had decided to move Ricks College from Rexburg to Idaho Falls. Elder Romney asked for a sustaining vote. Of the 136 present, 132 voted to sustain, including the two Rexburg stake presidents, according to information published later by Dr. Wilkinson. Of the four, “one asked questions but said he would support the decision. . . . At the conclusion of the meeting two of those voting against sustaining the action informed Elders Romney and Brown that they were now ready to stand ‘wholeheartedly behind the decision.’ This left only one as voting against sustaining the decision,” President Wilkinson noted. However, information published later by a Rexburg group, and noted in the Quarterly Historical Report for North Rexburg Stake on December 31, 1958, indicates there were at least eight others who “did not vote and resented their ‘abstinence being interpreted as an affirmative vote.’ ” Nevertheless, the action had been overwhelmingly sustained.
President Clarke was in the congregation that fast day afternoon. He was aware of rumors that had circulated for some time. Yet, he had not been privy to any discussions of the First Presidency and Board of Education relative to Ricks. While he may not have been totally surprised at the announcement, he was as saddened as anyone.
Within hours after the decision was announced, the news was all through the Upper Snake River Valley. People north of Idaho Falls were especially distraught, while those in the Idaho Falls area greeted the news with enthusiasm. Most of those in Rexburg, including President Clarke, now considered the removal of Ricks to Idaho Falls to be certain. The Church option on the Idaho Falls property had been exercised after the July 11, 1957, decision, and ownership had been obtained.
But a vocal minority in Rexburg would not quietly acquiesce. Newspaper editor John Porter set the tone shortly after the November 2 announcement. “I certainly am not looking forward to the fight but I am not backing away. I feel our story should be told. I am not alone in this belief,” he editorialized in The Rexburg Journal on November 6, 1958.
"In the case of Ricks College our feelings are extremely deep and we feel that we are not overstepping the bounds of ecclesiastical or journalistic ethics in presenting the Rexburg story. The college may never be saved for Rexburg but at least we shall let the people know that Rexburg did not fail the school and that the excuse given for moving it is not valid and cannot be justified by the facts of the case."
In an editorial on November 12 in The Rexburg Standard and in his column called “Bald Statements” on November 13 in The Rexburg Journal, Porter continued to lay the groundwork for numerous articles. He set a pattern of constantly keeping previously published statements of President McKay and Dr. Wilkinson about the permanency of the college in Rexburg before the reading public. “I’m still fighting to keep Ricks College in Rexburg,” Porter wrote in “Bald Statements.” “If you don’t think so take a look at the front page of the second section. It tells the story why Ricks should remain in Rexburg and this may be the reason that a reversal of the recent decision is made.” The entire front page was given to the Ricks issue. It contained an aerial photograph of the campus, facsimile reproductions of articles from The Rexburg Journal and the Idaho Falls Post Register, quoting President McKay on leaving the college in Rexburg. It also contained several quotations ascribed to Dr. Wilkinson, some statistics on Rexburg, and some refutations of arguments that had been used early in 1957 for removal that had resurfaced.
Stake President Delbert Taylor wrote to M.D. Beal and indicated the frustration many felt. “I have been thinking about you with a desire to talk about this seemingly unexplainable situation,” he wrote. “It appears that we live to be tested every possible way and we never know what will come next. No one can explain why, at least at present.”
The First Presidency and Elder Marion G. Romney drove to Rexburg on November 15. Personally going to Rexburg was so important to President McKay that they drove through a blizzard to get there. They met with local ecclesiastical and business leaders, including editors of the Idaho Falls and Rexburg newspapers and Gene Shumate, the owner of KRXK radio station. During the course of an extended meeting, the basic reason proffered for changing the decision of July 11, 1957, was the competition that a junior college in Idaho Falls would be to the Church school in Rexburg. Having Ricks College in the more populous Idaho Falls would forestall any state competition for the large number of Latter-day Saint students living there. A large number of stake presidents in and about Idaho Falls had initiated the call for reconsideration of the July 11 decision based on the junior college issue. When the discussion was done, the decision stood: Ricks College would be moved to Idaho Falls. The First Presidency and party returned to Salt Lake City through the continuing blizzard.
Writing to M.D. Beal in Pocatello after the November 15 meeting, President Clarke commented about the shock of the November 3 announcement, “especially in view of the statement made fifteen months ago by President McKay.” The last visit of the First Presidency and Elder Romney
"clinches the decision to move. There is no question but that big things are planned for the campus in Idaho Falls. If one could forget (which is not possible) the impact of this move on Rexburg and the deep and strong feelings of the local people and many others regarding Ricks in the Rexburg setting then it would be easy to become excited about the prospects of Idaho Falls. As you know for a good many years now we have been faced with excuses, brush-offs, and kept in almost a complete state of frustration as far as getting any of the facilities we need so badly and in spite of it the school has continued to grow in enrollment."
President Clarke closed his letter with a note of resignation: “At the moment it appears that all of the faculty here at Ricks will have a part in planning the new campus which of course will be preceded by a look at our curriculum with our eye on the new setting in Idaho Falls.”
Even John Porter became discouraged. “Wilkinson Wins—Ricks College to Move” was the headline above a November 27 Journal article. But he was “going down swinging.” He wrote, “Ricks College observed her 70th birthday this year in Rexburg. She will probably observe her 72nd birthday en route to Idaho Falls, being moved over a highway of broken promises.” He concluded, “This will become a part of the Ricks College tradition with historians recording that Ricks was stolen from the people who had once saved the school from destruction.” Porter added a note: “After thinking things over, I have pulled myself up off the canvas at the count of nine and am still continuing the fight.”
Early in the fourth week of November the Chamber of Commerce announced plans to organize a “fact finding committee to delve into the rumors that seemed to have played a part in the decision to move Ricks College from Rexburg.” Two recent rumors prompted the organization of the committee. One apparently originated in Blackfoot stating that the reason Ricks was moved was due to Rexburg’s failure to provide housing. “College records show that 50 places are listed with the placement bureau now with no students in them. These will probably be filled during the winter quarter.” Furthermore, “Rexburg has kept pace with the demand for student housing even though it has been increasing every year by approximately 100 students.”
Another more interesting rumor, “probably started by an over zealous Idaho Falls booster,” indicated that “Phillips Petroleum Co. has agreed to give a large sum of money to the LDS Church to help pay the cost of building the new Junior College. This sum has been quoted at $1 million to $3 million.” The committee would find out “what Phillips Petroleum has to say about it.” What they said about it was quoted in a full page Rexburg Standard article along with most of the same information that had already been published in the November 13 Journal article. An official of Phillips Petroleum said, “We can state to you unequivocally that our company has had no part in any financial arrangement relative to the move of Ricks College to Idaho Falls, nor has it attempted in any way to influence the recent decision of the church authorities in respect to the move.”
Gilbert Larsen agreed to chair the fact-finding committee. Anyone was welcome to join the committee, anonymously if they wished. The committee would be known as the Committee of One Thousand. According to Larsen, the committee “is preparing a documentary story concerning Ricks College that is almost unbelievable. Facts surrounding the proposed move will be thoroughly publicized and distributed throughout the United States.” An informational meeting was held on November 29 in the Idamont Hotel dining room. Whether the Committee of One Thousand even came close to 1,000 members is unlikely. No matter the number, the effect of the committee cannot be understated.
While the Committee of One Thousand was soliciting members, Dr. Wilkinson was preparing a thirty-three page manuscript that would give the committee grist for their publication. He prepared and promulgated throughout the Church a booklet given the short title: “Ricks College, A Statement.” The long title on page one was an outline of the paper: “Statement of Sequence of Events, Information Considered by, and Reasons for the Decision of the Board of Education of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to Move Ricks College to Idaho Falls—Reasons for its Change of Mind,” by Ernest L. Wilkinson. It is dated December 12, 1958. The first twenty pages explained his view of the first attempt to move the college. Starting on page twenty-one, he noted that the announcement of November 2, 1958, was made after deliberations during October. He used the rest of the booklet to answer charges that had been leveled at Church authorities and at him in particular. He took issue with the notion that once policy is announced it is permanent:
"There have been constant attempts by newspaper publicity and otherwise to make it appear that the constituted authorities of the Church have not kept their word, since in 1954 and again in 1957 it was announced the Ricks College would remain in Rexburg. As Administrator of the Unified Church School System I regard these attempts as without foundation, either in law or morals. . . . To accuse the President of the Church of going back on his personal word when an administrative decision is changed is to ignore entirely the nature of an administrative decision. [That is,] the right to change administrative decision whenever the underlying facts change is inherent in any administrative body, the Church included."
He was right of course. Reversing the July 11, 1957, decision was not the first time a policy had been changed due to changing circumstances, nor would it be the last. The situation was fraught with irony. Those against the move argued that a policy made by the Church is a policy to be maintained at all costs; at the same time, they fought diligently to see that the latest policy of the Church regarding the college was reversed.
Perhaps if Dr. Wilkinson had stopped with his argument about Church administration, he could have been successful. But he took several paragraphs to question local pioneer veneration sentiment. He compared the founding of Ricks to other Church pioneer institutions that had long since ceased to exist or that now existed within state educational systems. Their founders “had sacrificed in the same way in their creation and operation, as the people of Rexburg had sacrificed, in the founding and operation of Ricks College.” And those institutions had been closed by administrative decision. “In this respect, the history of Ricks College is no different than the history of many other academies.”
But it was different. If Ricks had lasted only a generation as did many of the Church academies, it too would have disappeared without too much trauma. But by 1958 Ricks had survived seventy years of almost constant struggle. The story of those years of struggle was part of numerous pageants, plays, musicals, forum assemblies, patriotic gatherings, religion classes, and baccalaureate and commencement programs. Triumph over trials created a special “spirit of Ricks” that was hard to explain but not at all hard to understand by most people who had contact with the institution. Dr. Wilkinson may not have had the kind of contact that would lead him to understand that spirit.
Dr. Wilkinson took John Porter to task for his newspaper articles. That was probably a mistake. No one could accuse Porter of being dispassionate or objective about the removal issue. He had the means to keep the issue before the public—means Dr. Wilkinson could not match.
He concluded his booklet speaking “to the economics of transferring the Ricks College campus from Rexburg to Idaho Falls.” After drawing several comparisons as to the economics, Dr. Wilkinson said that the “tithing of the Church would thus be more economically and wisely used was one of the guiding considerations in the decision made by the Board of Education.” He reiterated that those who had contributed to the new auditorium could get a “refund of his contribution.” Furthermore, he said,
"I wish to assure the faithful and devoted members of the Church who live in Rexburg and its environs that I am prepared, when the occasion permits, to make recommendations which will be calculated to demonstrate to the community which so deeply feels the loss of the College, the generosity of the Church in making provision for appropriate utilization of the Rexburg campus, all of which will inure to the benefit of those who feel grieved by the decision."
Harold Matson and four other men, all Church members, representing the Rexburg Chamber of Commerce drove to Rigby on December 21, 1958, to attend a stake meeting where Dr. Wilkinson’s booklet was to be discussed. They expected to present the Rexburg side of the story. To their surprise they were denied entrance to the meeting. “We were certainly surprised to learn that instructions enclosed with the Wilkinson pamphlet instructed the Rigby officials to limit the meeting to a certain group and we were denied admittance,” Matson reported. Actually, each stake in the Ricks College district received instructions to limit attendance to specified groups when meeting to discuss the Wilkinson pamphlet—that is, each stake in the district south of the Rigby Stake. None of the stakes north of the Rigby Stake were authorized to hold meetings to discuss the pamphlet. Matson commented that “the method used by Dr. Wilkinson to present his side of the Ricks College story seems highly irregular and not in accordance with recognized church procedure.”
Early in February 1959, the Committee of One Thousand published their answer to Dr. Wilkinson’s booklet. Entitled “Dr. Wilkinson’s Role in the Proposal to Move Ricks College,” the sixty-four-page booklet, as explained in the preface, “is an attempt to express in writing the feelings of thousands of people who find it impossible to believe that the L.D.S. Church will ever move Ricks College from Rexburg to Idaho Falls.” The preface concluded with the following statement:
"For those who might question the motives of its writers, let it be understood that they are all responsible L.D.S. Church members who feel Dr. Wilkinson has deliberately distorted the facts to win his case. This booklet is an honest effort to tell the full story, without malice or prejudice, in the hope and prayer that truth will prevail, justice and fair play will have their day, and in the end Ricks College will be allowed to fulfill its greater destiny at the site of its pioneer founding."
The booklet contained several pages of pictures of the campus and the town. The 1957 master plan for the campus and a plat of the city were included. Much of the information contained in the booklet had already been printed in various newspapers. However, the impact of having it all compiled into one source was great. The booklet did not contain the name of the author or the publisher. This anonymity was criticized by the First Presidency in their response to the booklet, prompting Arthur C. Porter to accept responsibility for writing and publishing it. M.D. Beal wrote a note on the inside cover of a booklet that he sent to the president of Idaho State College. Beal noted that he had been asked to supply some information for the booklet, which he did. “A part of my contribution may be found on pages 11 to 19 inclusive,” he wrote. “I am not to be credited, and/or I trust blamed, for authorship.” Beal would later state he regretted the decision made by the Committee of One Thousand to publish the booklet anonymously.
John Porter editorialized in The Rexburg Journal on February 12, 1959:
"Now that the booklet has been published we ask that people let the pamphlet speak for itself. Some who read it, learning the full account of how the decision to move Ricks College was engineered, will write indignant letters that may be regretted later. They could injure the cause for which we all have worked so hard and long. . . . Church leaders all have copies and will read them. We think that a reconsideration may then be given. At least they will know the full story."
The initial reaction of the First Presidency was certainly not what had been hoped for. A “Notice” over the signatures of the members of the First Presidency was published in the Church Section of the Deseret News on February 14, 1959:
"A pamphlet carrying the title, “Dr. Wilkinson’s Role In The Proposal To Move Ricks College,” has been delivered to us. This pamphlet purports to be issued by an anonymous “Committee Of One Thousand,” and we are given to understand that a large circulation of it is contemplated. From reading the pamphlet we interpret it to be in substance an attack on the professional integrity of Dr. Wilkinson. It charges that for some years past he has deliberately planned the removal of Ricks College in contravention of official decisions, and that he caused to be issued and circulated a statement concerning the matter containing misrepresentations, with the implication that such were deliberate.
"Unsolicited by him we wish to state that the statement so criticized was prepared, issued and circulated by Dr. Wilkinson with our express approval; and further, that we regard the aspersions cast upon him and his professional honor as being unwarranted. He has our full confidence, not only as a man of the utmost integrity, but as an able and devoted servant of the Church.
"We deplore the reflection in the pamphlet of the “Committee Of One Thousand” cast upon the sincerity and good faith of the 10 stake presidents who either signed or subsequently confirmed a letter to us reporting certain developments in Idaho Falls which suggested urgent reconsideration of a decision to leave the College at Rexburg. We regard as presumptuous and without justification the effort made by this anonymous “Committee Of One Thousand” to project itself into matters pertaining to Church administration by the writing and circulation of the pamphlet herein mentioned, as well as other literature and other activities."
The “Notice” quickly became the basis for editorials and news items in numerous newspapers. A reporter for the Deseret News contacted members of the committee in Rexburg for their reaction. Committee members “said that their sincere intentions in publishing a book in the interests of Ricks College had been ‘misinterpreted’ in the First Presidency’s notice.” Gilbert Larsen said that “we are anything but an anonymous committee,” and named the other members of the steering committee as Dick Smith, Alton Anderson, John Porter, Arthur C. Porter, and Richard “Dick” Davis. The booklet had not been written “to cast any aspersions whatsoever on Dr. Wilkinson’s character,” but, noted the Porters, “he simply believes that locating a college is like locating a factory—where statistics indicate it would be in the industrial heart of a large population area.” The article noted other areas of misinterpretation and concluded with “a consensus of comment from committee members contacted Friday” indicating they have no desire or inclination to “object to a decision of the First Presidency.” However, “we do feel that up to now we have been quite ineffective in presenting the Rexburg side of the proposal in an adequate light.”
Despite the committee’s hopes, many considered the move would take place. In a KRXK editorial, Gene Shumate commented that a necessity for a new Rexburg city administration was someone who “can negotiate with Dr. Ernest Wilkinson as to the future use of the buildings at Ricks College, when the college moves to Idaho Falls.” In the April 1959 edition of the Brigham Young University Bulletin, Dr. Wilkinson noted that “the Board of Education last year decided to move Ricks College from Rexburg to Idaho Falls as soon as a modern campus can be constructed.” An article in the September 1959 issue of The Improvement Era noted that “Ricks Junior College is now serving the Idaho area. It is located at Rexburg but will soon be moved to Idaho Falls.”
Ricks College in Idaho Falls was to be the prototype for a series of junior colleges established by the Church. President Clarke was appointed chairman of the Curriculum Steering Committee for Church Junior Colleges, and Hugh Bennion, dean of faculty at Ricks, was a committee member. The committee was to develop a curriculum for the Idaho Falls college that could be accommodated to other planned junior colleges. Other committees were concerned with development of the physical plant in Idaho Falls. Several schematics were done showing the proposed master plan for the campus and individual buildings. Several Ricks faculty members were members of particular committees. When the total program was in place and other junior colleges built, these schools would become feeder institutions to Brigham Young University.
While curriculum and campus plans were being developed, there was no cessation of protests to the planned move. Pressure was maintained by The Rexburg Standard and Journal, the Committee of One Thousand continued to be active in promoting their booklet and disseminating other information, and hundreds of letters, telegrams, and telephone calls from all over the country ended in the office of the First Presidency or members of the Board of Education. Much of the correspondence mirrored that of 1957. The “evils” of Idaho Falls were graphically pointed out such as easy availability of liquor, immorality found in a big city, and venereal disease. Other correspondence had to do with carefully expressed refutation of the statistical data presented on behalf of the removal decision. How much importance was given to the “evils” and statistical data letters has to be conjectural.
The letters that probably had the most impact, especially on President McKay, were those from individuals who expressed a deep and abiding love for Ricks College. They wrote about the impact the college had on their lives; not only the secular knowledge acquired, but the faith-promoting, testimony-building instruction and activities. Ricks College was more than the college on the hill in Rexburg. Ricks symbolized a love of the gospel and education of pioneer forebears, and stood as testimony of the struggle of a pious people.
The anti-removal campaign continued through 1959 and 1960 and into 1961. As far as Rexburg residents were concerned, the months were characterized by despair and hope, bitterness and sensitivity, weakened and strengthened faith, argument and detachment. But the start of the building program in Idaho Falls was delayed. The longer the delay, the more encouraged local people became and the more discouraged Idaho Falls residents became.
Students and faculty were leaving the auditorium heading for classes May 2, 1960, when they were summoned back. President McKay had paid a surprise visit to campus and they would have the privilege of hearing him. He spoke about the Savior and about the purpose of Ricks College, as of all Church schools, to develop character. He did not make any announcement about the future of the college, but he must have once again been impressed with the devotion manifested toward the institution.
“The next significant date in Ricks’ history is March 16, 1961,” wrote Jerry Roundy in his Ricks College: A Struggle for Survival.
"According to a source extremely close to President McKay for over three decades, on that day President McKay made recommendations to the Authorities in the Temple that the Church make appropriations for the improvement of Ricks College at Rexburg. There is no doubt that President McKay felt strongly about keeping promises, and twice he had promised the college would not be moved. Now that promise was sustained by the Brethren when they agreed in that meeting to support the Prophet."
No one in Rexburg knew of the March 16 meeting. Over a month later on April 26, 1961, a short announcement was made over KRXK radio: “The First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced today it intends to construct three new buildings at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho.” That was it. No fanfare from Church headquarters. But the news traveled rapidly and within a short period of time even the skeptics were convinced no mistake had been made. The announcement was authentic. “To say that Rexburg residents were jubilant over the announcement is putting it rather mildly,” John Porter commented. “It was a great day in Rexburg and one long to be remembered.
There was great disappointment in Idaho Falls. An editorial in the Post Register, in a spirit of healing, paid tribute “to those Rexburg leaders who fought so determinedly to keep their traditional activity centrum, [and] the rest of East Idaho can only doff its hat in admiration. Not many cities in Idaho’s history can record such dogged resourcefulness in keeping a facility that was, to all intents and purposes beyond recapture.” But, capitalizing “on every opportunity” they “told their story with telling fervor anytime they could get an audience.” The editorial continued:
"The real significance of the announcement . . . this week was unfortunately lost in the maelstrom of jubilance in Rexburg and regret in Idaho Falls. That was that Ricks College is being expanded regardless of where this expansion is to come. The construction outlined for the Rexburg campus is indeed impressive. The fact that this time honored educational institution is to be built upon to further the educational opportunities in East Idaho is the most salutary thing about this week’s announcement."
April 26, 1961, is remembered to this day. But for many years there was a marked reluctance to talk about the whole episode by anyone involved, especially those who were vehement in arguing against removal.
No one wanted to reopen wounds. In the short history, Eighty Years, published for the eightieth anniversary, two sentences handled the episode: “During this period of time plans were announced to move Ricks College from Rexburg to Idaho Falls. However, many factors interplayed keeping the college from moving.” The anniversary pageant dismissed the episode with the comment that the college was not moved because no one could figure out how to get the buildings through the Rigby underpass.*
* This author, who had been hired by President Clarke in 1966 to teach history, was invited to attend a meeting with several from the college and the community to brainstorm how to present Ricks’ history for its eightieth anniversary in 1968. I was not very knowledgeable about the college’s history, so I sat and listened. After lengthy discussion, the meeting was adjourned. I had heard nothing about the removal phase of the school’s history during the discussion, so I naively asked, “What about the removal episode?” There was stunned silence, followed by some mumbling that maybe something ought to be included about it. Within a few minutes, everyone left. Norman Ricks then instructed me in the facts of life relative to the removal episode. He explained that even though six years had elapsed since the conclusion of the episode, feelings were still very tender, especially on the part of those who had made ridiculous statements about what they would do if the Church moved Ricks to Idaho Falls and those who heard the statements.
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