Joe J. Christensen Conducts College Centennial
At a faculty and staff meeting on August 13, 1985, Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Quorum of the Twelve announced that Joe J. Christensen, assistant commissioner of Church education, was to be the twelfth president of Ricks College. President Christensen told faculty and staff that he was “overwhelmed at the assignment. I’ve been invited to board a fast-moving train which, for all I know, is going on the right track. I hope I can get on the train without stumbling.”
Born near Preston, he was the first Idaho native to be president of Ricks. In March 1983, while he was president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, he commented to his wife, Barbara, that he had a feeling they would be involved with Ricks College. He was not sure what the involvement would be, maybe teaching religion or as a counselor. He had spent about thirty years in the Church’s educational system and had an academic background in guidance and counseling. While involved with the Church commissioner’s office, he had been on the Ricks campus several times as a devotional speaker or for commencement, but had not become very well acquainted with the school or faculty.
He knew President Hafen would be leaving Ricks for Brigham Young University, but he was not interested in applying for the Ricks position—he enjoyed his work in the commissioner’s office. However, he was instructed that an appointment had been made for him to be interviewed near the end of July 1985. Shortly after concluding the interview, he received a call inviting him to President Gordon B. Hinckley’s office the next morning. He then knew he would be called as president of Ricks College. His 1983 premonition had come true, although his affiliation with Ricks was more than he had imagined.
President Christensen’s background in international travel to establish and nourish seminaries and institutes and his fluency in Spanish especially fit him for the increasingly international composition of the Ricks student body.
He was acutely aware that on November 12, 1988, Ricks would be 100 years old, and that he would likely be the centennial president. He recognized the unique chance the centennial provided to focus on the institution’s history and future. Almost everything with which he was involved for the next three years would have some centennial tie.
One of the first centennial projects was a $10 million Centennial Capital Campaign to run from 1986 through 1990. The campaign committee consisted of the administrative staff, working with Charles “Tiny” Grant, the campus development office director.
President Christensen quickly gained the respect and love of faculty and staff. Vice President Dean Sorensen, speaking for the faculty, commented that “we have been impressed with Joe’s steady, balanced perspective and his willingness to look at all sides of the issues. His philosophy is that ‘it’s a mighty thin pancake that doesn’t have two sides.’ Joe is interested in every part of the college,” Sorensen continued. “Whether [he is participating in] music, high-tech, agriculture, languages, social sciences, sports, or religion, he’s absorbed and interested.”
His inauguration had been scheduled for November 8, 1985. However, due to the death of Church President Spencer W. Kimball on November 5, the inauguration had to be rescheduled.
Early in 1986, the expanded agricultural program was getting a lot of attention. “We’re training students to think like managers, to look ahead, make decisions,” noted Gordon Gibbs, chairman of the Livestock Production Management Department, in a Church News interview. “Our whole point is to produce managers.” Called “corral-fence-level education” by Gibbs, the program put theory into practice. Several graduates of the agricultural programs were in managerial positions. They credited the Ricks approach for preparing them for management.
During spring semester, the college purchased a corner residential lot at Second South and First West streets. With that purchase, the campus was squared off. The lot was cleared and used for additional stadium parking. The college now owned 255 acres in Rexburg, the agricultural complex located on 120 acres west of town, and Badger Creek outdoor learning center located on 200 acres in Teton Basin.
In his baccalaureate address to 1,335 students, faculty, and guests, Elder L. Tom Perry noted that preparations were under way for the college centennial. Governor John Evans, attending baccalaureate, spoke about the college centennial, and also about the centennial of Idaho statehood on July 3, 1990. He noted that the Idaho Centennial Commission had been established to plan the centennial celebration, and that he had appointed a Ricks faculty member, David Crowder, to the commission.
Ferron W. Sonderegger brought an international program for senior citizens to campus during the summer of 1986. He initiated the Elderhostel program and taught the first course. He took the Elderhostel participants to Spencer, helped them find opals, and then taught them how to make jewelry of their own. The Elderhostel soon grew far beyond that one class—a tribute to Sonderegger.
During fall semester, excitement was building for homecoming. Planned as part of homecoming week was the inauguration of the new president. President Christensen was informed that Church President Ezra Taft Benson would attend the inauguration. Everyone was thrilled. Many years had passed since the Church President had been on campus. Other special guests scheduled to be at inauguration were all three of Christensen’s elementary school teachers, two of his college professors who had been on his Ph.D. committee, his seminary teacher, and his high school baseball coach. Also planning to attend were three former presidents of Ricks: John L. Clarke, who was living in Rexburg; Henry B. Eyring, the First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric; and Bruce C. Hafen, dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU.
The inauguration commenced on October 10, 1986, with President Benson presiding. In his inaugural address, President Benson said, “I thank the Lord for a man of the caliber of Joe Christensen. God bless him. I love this institution. . . . I have always loved [Ricks]. And it didn’t take that Livestock Center for me to love [Ricks] even more.” He testified, “There is a God in Heaven and I know that as I know that I live. I invoke my blessings upon this institution and its future goals and all the things to come.”
President Benson had been scheduled to give the charge to President Christensen, but delegated that responsibility to Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, chairman of the Board of Trustees. “This institution is unique among colleges,” Elder Nelson said.
"Here are taught truths that are eternal, unchanging and ever more. These are the anchors to which your faith is fastened. By your strength and meekness, you, in turn, attract faculty and students to follow your example, as you follow that of the Lord and Master of the earth on which we dwell.
In giving you this charge we entrust to you the hopes and dreams of parents who pray and sacrifice for their sons and daughters. Out of the world of debauchery and decadence they have preserved and plucked their choicest few. For a season, they are yours to nourish, to cultivate, and to bring toward the full flower of their potential. . . .
We charge you to inculcate courage, tolerance, and faith among those you lead . . .
We charge you to motivate your faculty to keep on the forefront of developments in their chosen field of endeavor. It is imperative that standards of scholarship be high—that qualities of integrity, industry, and dependability be unimpeachable.
Above all, we charge you to teach the unending truth of divine law. . . . To heed the voice of living prophets will bring everlasting joy to students and faculty alike.
And so, President Christensen, in behalf of the Board of Trustees, and in behalf of all who have faith in the institution over which you preside, I charge you to educate your students in truth."
President Christensen defined the concept of in loco parentis (in place of parents) as he responded to the charge. He explained that the college had the parental responsibility to teach, nurture, and protect. “We must not violate the trust placed in us by concerned parents and church leaders wherever they are.” Furthermore, “Ricks must continue to be an island of intellectual and academic opportunity with all values and standards intact.”
At the conclusion of President Christensen’s response, Ardeth G. Kapp, the Young Women general president and a member of the college Board of Trustees, pronounced the benediction. Ricks College’s centennial president was now official.
The homecoming parade featured President and Sister Christensen, and Julie Virchow, the homecoming queen. The parade turned out better than the homecoming game. Ricks tied with the College of Eastern Utah. That tie was the only blemish on Ricks’ record for the season. They concluded the regular season with a nine-win, one-tie record and were ranked number three nationally.
The football team accepted an invitation to play in the Kansas Jayhawk Bowl Classic in Coffeyville, Kansas. There they played the number two junior college team in the nation, Coffeyville Community College. “An Evening With Ricks” was presented to some 300 people in the local junior high school auditorium on December 5. President Christensen talked, as did John Berryhill, a returned missionary and defensive back on the football team. The Ricks College American Folk Dancers performed and a slide presentation about Ricks was shown, generating a lot of positive publicity for the Church in the area.
Ricks won the bowl game 26-24 and hoped to be ranked number one when the final rankings came out the next week. But Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, with an 11-0 record, including a victory in the Mid- America Bowl in Tulsa, Oklahoma, received the top ranking and Ricks was number two. The difference was the homecoming game tie with the College of Eastern Utah.
If the excitement generated by the football season was not enough, students could attend the Idaho State University sponsored Ricks College Exchange Day on October 15, 1986; the stage play The Man Who Came to Dinner directed by Robert Nelson on October 18; or the Anne Murray performance on November 14. Actually, they could take in all three. If you needed a date, for $2 “The Dating Connection,” run by Dean Taylor out of his Chaparral Apartment room, could set you up. To get in the right spirit to end the semester, you could take a date to the Christmas devotional under the direction of the music department, the Concert Chorale performance, and the annual performance of Messiah.
By January 1987, the Centennial Capital Campaign was moving along quite well. About 32 percent of the $10 million campaign already had been contributed. A Centennial Committee, with Brent Kinghorn as chairman, chose the theme, “A Century of Commitment, Summits Yet to Climb.” A new logo representing the theme had been drawn by Richard Bird of the art faculty. Several projects were on the drawing boards. A heroic-size sculpture was planned that would represent the heritage and mission of Ricks. A committee would review the submissions and make a recommendation to the president’s staff for one artist to be engaged. A Church media promotion, sound-slide presentation on Ricks heritage, television and radio spots, pictorial history booklet, and sports and manuscript histories of Ricks were being prepared. Departments and divisions were to determine how to best contribute to the centennial. All performing groups would concentrate on the theme in 1988. The combined choirs were scheduled to perform at an April conference session that year. A display room was set aside in the Manwaring Center to recognize academic excellence. A scale model of the college was constructed and placed in the Manwaring Center. Special historical vignettes were written to be presented in lectures and broadcast on KRIC-FM. Additionally, the Alumni Association was working on funding and developing a veterans memorial to be unveiled during 1988.
While plans were being made and centennial projects were coming from drawing boards of the planners, the men’s and women’s basketball and wrestling seasons continued with more victories than losses during the spring semester. Our Town, Camelot, and See How They Run were performed. The Chamber Orchestra, Serenata String Trio, Sound Alliance jazz ensemble, A Cappella Choir, College Choir, Women’s Choir, Concert Chorale, Symphony Orchestra, and Symphonic Band all performed. “In the Village Square” was presented by the International and American Folk Dancers, and the Clogging Championships and Vikette Invitational were held on campus. The Ballroom Dance Team took first place in modern and Latin competition at the BYU Invitational Ball. If you were more interested in science than athletics, drama, music, or dance, you could get rained on by attending a “thunderstorm” in the planetarium. President Christensen’s wife, Barbara, was honored as the Exemplary Woman at Women’s Week. Commencement on April 16, 1987, was attended by Governor Cecil Andrus, Church Education Commissioner J. Elliot Cameron, and Presiding Bishop Robert D. Hales, who gave the major address. President Christensen gave his progress report. Convocations held in the afternoon completed matriculation of more than 1,100 students.
The Church News reported in June that the Scroll had been named by the American Scholastic Press Association “as one of the top five junior college newspapers in the United States.” Allen Palmer, the journalism advisor, commented that “the award is one of the highest the Scroll has ever received.” Earlier in the year, the Scroll had been judged the top junior college newspaper in the fourteen-state Rocky Mountain Collegiate Press Association area.
Jim Gee, assistant academic vice president for support services, noted that 7,370 students enrolled fall semester of 1987. That was a 439-student increase from fall 1986, the largest increase since 1985 when tuition had been decreased 20 percent. Student enrollment was getting close to the 7,500 limit imposed in March 1988.
As the college was gearing up during fall semester of 1987 for the coming centennial, the centennial of the United States Constitution was getting a lot of attention. Alyn Andrus, the history department chairman, who recently had been appointed to the Idaho Centennial Commission, wrote two articles published in New Perspectives about the Constitutional Convention and ratification of the Constitution. Devotional speaker Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke about the Constitution as a document written by wise men whom the Lord had raised up for that very purpose. Since the United States was “to be the host nation for the kingdom of God in the last days,” the Constitution as written, ratified, and amended gave this nation “religious freedom and economic adequacy” to prepare for the last days. Judge J. Clifford Wallace of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Diego, California, paid tribute to the Constitution in a forum assembly.
The “Weekender” section of The Rexburg Standard Journal on September 24, 1987, commented: “Homecoming . . . was so full of activities last week that [it was a wonder] college students had time for classes.” Kristen Hansen was crowned homecoming queen. President Emeritus John Clarke and his wife, LaRae, led the parade as grand marshals. The name of Fourth South Street was changed to Viking Drive at a ceremony that included participation by the Disneyland Side Street Strutters. As occasion demanded, the Strutters were directed by Thor, the Viking mascot. The football team, buoyed up by the new sixty-five-member pep band under Kendell Nielsen’s direction, sent the College of Eastern Arizona on their way home thinking about their 48-3 loss.
The Vikings were invited to play Walla Walla Community College in the first annual Centennial Bowl in the Idaho State University Minidome. When the contest ended, a total of eighty points had been scored. Fortunately, Ricks scored forty-two points to win the game and receive a thirteenth-place national ranking.
With forty-one wins, the volleyball team established a new season record for number of wins. Also setting a new record was the wrestling team. Nine qualifiers, the largest number in Ricks’ history, traveled to the national finals in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. The team ended up second nationally, about eight points behind the champion, North Idaho College. Coach Bob Christensen was named National Junior College Wrestling Coach of the Year. In April, he was inducted into the Ricks Athletic Hall of Fame.
Ricks not only acquired more national attention during the fall semester of 1987, but also acquired more land. President Christensen was instrumental in acquiring 95 of the 400 acres comprising Squirrel Meadows, located east of Ashton in Wyoming. “The college has every intention of leaving the area in as nearly a natural state as possible,” Christensen explained. The property “is located in a very important portion of the greater Yellowstone area and considered by many to be part of the most intact ecosystem in a temperate climate on earth.” Jack Bond, the biology department chairman, noted that the area was suited for field biology, zoology, and botany, with an abundance of flora and fauna. “This is a great opportunity for students,” he said. The president would have liked to purchase the other 300 acres and preserve that portion for a field laboratory, but that required approval of the college Board of Trustees, plus private donations.
Fifteen nursing students flew to Israel at the beginning of 1988, after preparing to participate in the BYU Travel Studies program. The nurses and their advisors left January 6, 1988, and returned in time to graduate in April. They trained at Arab hospitals in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. “I see this experience as a choice addition to the excellent training our Ricks College nurses receive,” President Christensen commented. “Those who are privileged to go will gain the opportunity of clinical experience and service in the incomparable setting of Jerusalem. Their lives will be permanently blessed.”
Students and visitors in the Hart Building in January 1988 could watch Ricks alumnus, star basketball player, and Athletic Hall of Fame member Eddie Palubinskas putting finishing touches on the athletic tile mosaic he had created and donated to the college. He had worked for three months on the ninety-six-square-foot mosaic, creating a beautiful piece of art for the Hart Building.
Ricks faculty member John D. Walker was honored at the annual Chamber of Commerce Farmer-Merchant Banquet on January 20, receiving a Conservationist of the Year award for his research on no-till farming. Walker had received national attention for his experimentation at Ricks.
The Idaho Legislature on February 23, 1988, recognized the centennial by proclamation:
"SENATE PROCLAMATION 104 BY STATE AFFAIRS COMMITTEE A PROCLAMATION
COMMENDING AND CONGRATULATING RICKS COLLEGE ON THE OCCASION OF ITS ONE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY.
We, the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Idaho assembled in the Second Regular Session of the Forty-ninth Idaho Legislature, do hereby respectfully represent that:
WHEREAS, Thomas E. Ricks founded the community of Rexburg in 1883; and
WHEREAS, within five years the settlers undertook establishment of an institution for the purpose of bringing educational opportunities to the young people of the community; and
WHEREAS, first known as Bannock Stake Academy, founded on November 12, 1888, the institution was later known as Fremont Stake Academy, Smith Academy, Ricks Academy, named in honor of Thomas E. Ricks, Ricks Normal College and, in 1923, became Ricks College; and
WHEREAS, Ricks College, an institution within the education system of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is the oldest continuously operating private educational institution in the State of Idaho; and
WHEREAS, the first class consisted of 59 scholars, while over 7,300 students are enrolled today, making Ricks College the largest private junior college in the nation; and
WHEREAS, the current class includes students representing 49 states, 36 foreign nations, and 12 religious affiliations; and
WHEREAS, Ricks College contributes to the entire range of cultural and intellectual activities including placement of students and faculty among the ranks of musicians, debaters, thespians, athletes, scientists and scholars of renown; and
WHEREAS, the diversity of physical facilities includes an agricultural complex along the Snake River, an outdoor education facility at the foot of the majestic Teton Mountains, and the historic 1902 Jacob Spori Building at the heart of the present modern campus; and
WHEREAS, November 12, 1988, will mark the One Hundredth Anniversary of the founding of Ricks College.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT PROCLAIMED by the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives assembled in the Second Regular Session of the Forty-ninth Idaho Legislature, that we commend and congratulate Ricks College on the occasion of its One Hundredth Anniversary."
Signed by: James E. Risch, President Pro Tempore, Idaho Senate; Tom Boyd, Speaker, Idaho House of Representatives; Mark G. Ricks, Senate Sponsor, Senator, District 31; Richard L. Davis, House Sponsor, Representative, District 31.
Perhaps things seemed to be going too well spring semester. At least twenty sophomores who “know how the school dominates everything from what we watch on TV to what we do in our free time” wanted some questions answered. They printed an underground paper named Evian—“naive” spelled backward. The anonymous group said the paper’s purpose was not to “question gospel doctrine.” Rather, the paper was to provide a forum “to bring about a different opinion to a campus whose thoughts are stagnant.” The major “different opinion” expressed took issue with the recent decision to filter Music Television and the earlier decision to exclude cable movie channels that showed R-rated movies from campus and student apartments. President Christensen, whose open door policy was widely known, reiterated that any student wishing to discuss perceived campus problems with him was welcome to do so. He did not censure the group, recognizing that freedom of the press was important in American life. After a spate of letters to the editor in the Scroll, Evian disappeared.
There were too many positive activities on campus to spend much time worrying about or discussing issues that some thought negative. Elder Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, presided over creation of the Ricks College Fourth Stake on March 5, 1988. Assisted by Regional Representative Clayter Forsgren, Elder Nelson called Jay L. Risenmay to be president of the new stake with Karl Edwards as first counselor and Brent Hill as second counselor. Kay W. Beck was called as stake clerk; Norman Ricks, stake patriarch; and Cheryl Reeser, Relief Society president. Presidents of the other stakes remained the same: G. Farrell Young, First Stake; Robert M. Wilkes, Second Stake; and Charles “Tiny” Grant, Third Stake. When three new wards were created during the summer, each stake contained nine student wards.
The Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus from Salt Lake City came to Ricks on March 26, performing as part of Women’s Week. One week later, on April 2, the Ricks College Centennial Choir performed in the Saturday afternoon session of the 158th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City. The Centennial Choir, under the direction of Florence Bowman, was accompanied by tabernacle organist Robert Cundick. They sang “A Song of Praise,” written by Ricks faculty members Norman Gage and Darwin Wolford. Faculty member Wilson Brown arranged for the choir “Where Can I Turn for Peace.” After the session, Ricks alumni and friends were invited to a reception in the Lion House garden where they were greeted by former Ricks presidents John L. Clarke, Henry B. Eyring, and Bruce C. Hafen and President Joe J. Christensen. Appearance of the choir at general conference and the president’s reception marked the official commencement of Ricks’ centennial year.
“Ricks College is the finest place I know for students to spend their first two college years, for three reasons, academics, developmental opportunities and religion,” commented President Christensen in an interview by Lee Warnick, Church News staff writer. “Ricks students get an experience that is pretty well self-contained within the framework of the gospel,” Christensen explained. “The faculty is committed to the gospel, the students are committed to the gospel, and our whole intention is to provide an experience that stresses academics in a religious environment.” What about the future? Growth will be a major challenge. But there will be other challenges. “We’ll need to make sure that the faculty is continuing to be refurbished, updated and strengthened,” he said. “And we’ll work to make sure we are keeping up to pace with what I expect to be a revolutionary rate of technological development.” Furthermore, President Christensen said all this will be done while maintaining the “spirit of Ricks.” What is that spirit? “When you get a great faculty and staff and incomparable student body in a well-housed facility, all in the context of the gospel, you really have a winner,” he concluded. “All of that added together creates a feeling and a spirit that we’d hate to lose.” The combination “all adds up to the spirit of the gospel in action, really.”
Appropriately, President Christensen focused on the life of Jacob Spori for his address to 1,516 graduates on April 21, 1988. He called attention to Spori’s sacrifices to see that the fledgling institution stayed open. He also recalled some of the history of Thomas E. Ricks. He encouraged the graduates and audience to honor the memories of those founders of Ricks College.
Former Ricks President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, was featured speaker at commencement exercises. He reminded students to continue their education by developing habits that would lead to life-long learning and to remember that they are children of God when they encounter situations that lead to discouragement.
Daniel Hess, a Ricks alumnus and recently retired faculty member, was the featured speaker at the largest May graduation to date. Two hundred eighty graduates listened to Hess recall some Ricks history. He tied that history into the centennial theme, pointing out that each student still had “summits left to climb.” Hess recently had been honored, incident to his retirement, by President Christensen for thirty-two years of service to the college.
During the summer of 1988, the Alumni Association’s efforts to complete the war memorial centennial project got a boost by the Church News. Publication of a notice asking for information to complete the list of Ricks alumni who had died in the world wars or Korean and Vietnam conflicts provided the Alumni Association with several names to add to the memorial.
On July 6, 1888, just a few months before the founding of the future Ricks College, Elizabeth Spori, the daughter of Jacob Spori, was born. On July 6, 1988, just a few months before the college centennial was celebrated, Elizabeth Spori Stowell turned 100 years old. She had graduated from Ricks Academy in 1908. More than a bystander in the 100-year history of Rexburg and Ricks, she had actively participated in many events during the century. She knew each administrator of the institution and could recall their significance to Ricks. A large number of family and friends attended a special open house on July 5 and 6 in her home.
Another Ricks club received national recognition in July. The Ricks College Design and Drafting Club was chosen best in Division 1, which included all colleges and universities offering a degree in drafting-design. Ricks received the Outstanding Student Chapter Award for 1988. “Success in this national contest reflects well on Ricks College, instructors and students,” commented Phillip Nowers, executive director of the American Institute for Design and Drafting.
More national attention was given Ricks early in August when Thor, the college mascot, won awards in every competition at the United Spirit Association All-Western Collegiate Championships. Thor beat out all mascots, including those from four-year institutions. The Ricks Spirit Team placed second in the junior college division.
Registration for the centennial academic year 1988-1989 was done largely by telephone. The college had developed call-in registration in November of 1987, and tried, unsuccessfully, call-in registration again for spring semester of 1988. By the summer of 1988, improved phone lines allowed students with a touch-tone phone to register without coming to campus. Ricks was the first college in Idaho to use phone registration.
A record number of students registered for the fall semester of 1988, exceeding the 7,500 enrollment cap by 194 students. College officials then tried to consider ways to limit fall 1989 enrollment. The open door policy was still in effect as far as test scores and high school academic performance were concerned.
President Christensen met with the faculty on August 22, 1988, to urge faculty members to “not lose the personal touch in spite of the increase in student enrollment.” He also reminded the faculty about setting proper examples for dress and grooming standards. Academic Vice President Dean Sorensen called for further commitment to excellence for the college centennial. “We can provide one of the most distinctive learning environments in the whole world,” he said. “Magnify your contributions and eliminate those things that will hold the school back. The youth of today deserve the very best we can give them.”
The counsel of President Christensen and Sorensen was buttressed by Elder Boyd K. Packer at the annual faculty and staff banquet. He advised employees to so live that promptings of the Holy Ghost could be received in whatever capacity they served. He concluded his address by pronouncing an apostolic blessing: “I invoke the blessings of the Lord upon you as you begin the next 100 years. . . . As you face the challenges of the world, I bless you to have the talent and versatility to respond to those challenges.”
Elder Russell M. Nelson spoke at the first fall semester devotional. He brought President Benson’s greetings and counseled students to do those things that would “prepare your minds and hands so you can qualify to serve people.” He concluded his address by wishing Ricks College a happy 100th birthday and told the students to make the year “the greatest year ever.”
President Christensen spoke at the second devotional of the year. He offered suggestions to students for a successful centennial year: strive for academic success, do not waste time, do not follow those who are a negative influence, be active in the Church, be reverent and worshipful, be good citizens, become aware of Ricks’ history, and remember all that is implied by Ricks being sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The centennial homecoming on September 22 to 24 included the crowning of Denise Warner as homecoming queen as part of the pageant “Summits Yet to Climb.” Also that evening, the homecoming concert was performed. Saturday morning’s parade was led by President Christensen and his wife and by past Ricks presidents and their wives as grand marshals. Parade floats depicted Ricks’ history.
At halftime of the homecoming game, a centennial sculpture created by Edward Fraughton was unveiled. After homecoming, the bronze statue was placed in a permanent location north of the Manwaring Center. The centennial piece was not the first work by Fraughton on campus. He had sculpted the bust of Thomas E. Ricks. Fraughton’s statue was not the only one to get attention. Matthew Geddes of the art faculty restored a sculpture of Eliza R. Snow on loan from Brigham Young University. That sculpture was placed in the Snow Center for the Performing Arts. Another statue was soon to be part of the campus. An heroic size statue of a Viking was sculpted by Karl Quilter of Bountiful, Utah, who also sculpted the Angel Moroni used on several temples. The Viking statue, a gift of the student body in honor of the centennial, was placed on a rotating base in the foyer of the Hart Building. It faces the football field during football games and the basketball arena during basketball games.
The Viking football team did its part to see that centennial homecoming was memorable, defeating Snow College 51-29. Especially appropriate was an invitation for the centennial football team to participate in the Centennial Bowl in the Pocatello Minidome. Playing in the bowl had been a goal all season. Ricks trounced Walla Walla Community College 40-7. The win capped a fall athletic season that also saw the women’s cross country team win the national title and the nationally ranked women’s volleyball team compete in the national tournament.
November 11 was Armistice Day, a day to remember those who had devoted part of their lives to protect and preserve freedom, and especially to remember those who “gave the last full measure of devotion.” A drive to develop a fitting memorial for Ricks College veterans was completed as a centennial project under the direction of the Veterans Memorial Committee chaired by George Arliss Willmore. Elder L. Lionel Kendrick, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, in his dedicatory address commented about the plaques on the wall inscribed with the names of honorees. I hope “it is never necessary to add another section” to the wall, he said. Robert Hess played taps at the conclusion of the ceremony and this most moving of centennial ceremonies was concluded.
Ricks was 100 years old on Saturday, November 12. That evening President Christensen welcomed members of the President’s Club to the annual banquet. Later everyone was invited to the Associated Students’ birthday party and dance in the Manwaring Center. The defining moment came at midnight when the president and others blew out 100 candles on the huge birthday cake. JoLynn Davis, the Ricks Food Services bakery manager, had worked for a week to bake and build the cake. Five feet long at the base and six feet tall, the top layer was sculpted into the shape of the Spori Building. The cake fed about 600 people and sheet cakes fed another 1,500. A benchmark was set for Ricks’ bicentennial birthday party.
Several local newspapers printed special Ricks College centennial editions. Of President Christensen’s several interviews, perhaps the interview printed in the September 22, 1988, edition of the Idaho Falls Post Register is the best synopsis of all the interviews. Asked to reflect on the projects of which he was most proud since becoming president, he listed improvement in faculty salaries, acquisition of part of Squirrel Meadows, addition to the Romney Science Building, remodeling of the Life Science Building basement, working with the city to close First East Street, development of the Badger Creek facility, and reaching the halfway point in the Centennial Capital Campaign that had the goal of $10 million.
As for the future, he hoped for additions to the Snow and Administration buildings using donated dollars rather than Church appropriated funds, developing intramural fields, expanding summer school, increasing the size of endowments for the benefit of the students, and “during the next decade, I believe that we will be in an area of refinement in all areas at Ricks College, particularly in improving teaching skills and serving the students even better than at present.”
Jerry Roundy wrote a fine summation of the meaning of the centennial, printed in New Perspectives, December 1988:
"The centennial year is an exciting year, but those of us who work and teach at Ricks must not lose sight of the fact that no amount of fanfare can convince people that Ricks is a great place unless greatness exists within. We hear talk of a ceiling on enrollment and a moratorium on building, but we never hear talk of a ceiling on excellence. That is because there never can be. Excellence comes from the individual and is an inward, rather than an outward trait. For we who instruct, no amount of technological gadgetry can replace the warmth of a teacher in the classroom. . . . Nothing can replace an understanding teacher.
"As the centennial year progresses, let us remember that we have not 'arrived.' There are more 'Summits to Climb.'"
Typically, winter semester enrollment dropped about 500 students. Winter semester of 1989 saw a new winter enrollment record set with more than 7,500 students enrolled for the continuation of the centennial year.
By January 1989, the centennial capital campaign had raised about 65 percent of the goal of $10 million. That $10 million was already designated for specific programs. A campaign was under way to raise another $6 million to build a new administration building. The Church had placed a moratorium on construction of new buildings at Ricks using Church funds. Charles“Tiny” Grant, director of development, was charged with raising the funds.
Another fund was established during the centennial year. The Perpetual Education Fund was established as a loan fund to help students pay for their education. Students receiving a loan from the fund were required to repay the loan at one and a half the amount that was borrowed. The fund was started with students pledging $20,000.
The identity of Thor, the college mascot, was revealed during a basketball game in late February 1989. Ken Solomon, a sophomore from Logandale, Nevada, had kept his identity secret while helping generate enthusiasm for athletic teams during the centennial year.
Several faculty members performed in new and varied roles as the centennial year came to a close. Inga Johnson and Richard Robison sang leading roles in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Kenneth J. Brown received the Exemplary Faculty Award at the Faculty Association banquet. Academic Vice President Dean Sorensen appointed John Galbraith as chairman of a new division created when the Division of Arts and Letters was divided. Retired faculty member George Patterson, his wife Laura, and their family were honored by the Alumni Association as the Golden Centennial Family. Both George and Laura were alumni, as were ten of their twelve children.
Women’s Week on March 23-25, 1989, included a fashion show of wedding dresses from the past 100 years. Maile Sue Mataele of Honolulu was named Woman of the Year. Steve Young, a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers football team, and actor Gordon Jump hosted the “Centennial Spectacular,” written and directed by Reed McColm, a Ricks alumnus and playwright.
Darwin Wolford’s greatly anticipated centennial oratorio Behold, He Cometh! premiered on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1989, at a college four-stake fireside. The oratorio was directed by Kevin Call and performed by the ninety-member Symphony Orchestra; combined 135-voice College Choir and Concert Chorale; faculty soloists Richard Robison, Michael Belnap, Elizabeth Bossard, and Gwyn Harris; and Rebecca Parkinson at the Ruffatti organ. The oratorio, as described by Wolford, was an ecumenical work that fit the “Summits Yet to Climb” segment of the centennial theme. “The theme . . . suggests a look into the future to a second century rather than a reflection on the past,” he explained. “Events of the world all point to the second coming of Jesus Christ.” After the premiere performance, the oratorio was performed on April 5 in the Idaho Falls Civic Auditorium and on April 7 in Salt Lake City as part of the Temple Square Concert Series. On April 26, the evening before graduation, the oratorio was performed twice in the Barrus Concert Hall. Each performance was acclaimed as a masterful reminder of future events.
The centennial concluded on April 27, 1989, with diplomas being presented to more than 1,400 graduates of the centennial class. Barbara Winder, general president of the Relief Society, spoke to graduates and advised them to conquer new summits. “Yes, there is pain and hard work involved in the climb,” she said. “No one can travel your journey for you.” But there are support systems to help in the journey, especially the Holy Ghost. So “enjoy your journey. There is a lifetime of mountains to climb, summits yet to reach,” she concluded.
President Christensen counseled each graduate to continue to practice the Code of Honor. “Every standard of dress, grooming, and conduct . . . is based on enduring principles; and if followed through-out your lives, you will be happier and more successful,” he said.
Everyone was aware that President Christensen’s address was his valedictory. He and faculty member Melvin Hammond had been called at April conference to the leading councils of the Church—Christensen to the First Quorum of the Seventy and Hammond to the newly created Second Quorum of the Seventy.
President Christensen’s tenure had been one of the shortest since early academy days. But his accomplishments were many and significant. He was extolled for his leadership of Ricks: “He’s been a man in harmony with the position he’s held,” President Emeritus John Clarke commented. Church Regional Representative Clayter Forsgren noted that Christensen “has been exceptionally successful at presenting Ricks College to the public.” Rexburg Mayor John Porter said, “He will be remembered for presiding over Ricks College’s centennial year. . . . He emphasized high moral values and a love for cultural development.” Faculty member LaMar Barrus noted, “I will remember him for the gentle and loving way that he administered.” Athletic director Glenn Dalling said, “I’ll remember his down-to-earth leadership. He’s a tremendous leader.”
President Christensen’s calling as a General Authority necessitated a search for a new president for the college. The search did not last long. Dr. Steven D. Bennion, president of Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, accepted the position. He resigned from Snow College and assumed the president’s position at Ricks on July 1, 1989.
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