Patriotism Practiced — World War I
When students reported for school on October 12, 1914, they not only had a new principal and several new faculty members, but a campus with an improved appearance. Much work had been done during the summer to improve the campus, as well as the interior of the main building, under Principal Andrew B. Christenson’s direction. An improvement readily noticeable by all was a newly installed light at the approach to the academy. One observer noted that “more lights for these grounds and buildings will bring this institution more into the city.”
Principal Christenson characterized the new teachers as the “strongest faculty this year that had been sent out from Utah to any school.” He indicated that “a number of them had been offered much larger salaries elsewhere but had chosen this field because of the splendid outlook for the school.”
Hyrum Manwaring, one of the new faculty members, had first visited Rexburg to give the oration at the July 24, 1914, celebration. He included in his memoirs his first impression of the academy and Rexburg:
"On the evening of July 23, I came to Rexburg to deliver the “oration” at the big 24th of July celebration. I came in on the train, and entered Rexburg with some very serious disappointments and misgivings. However, I stayed at the new home of President Mark Austin, and had a good sleep in Idaho’s fresh air. Next morning I arose very early, and walked up the hill to see this “Ricks Academy,” where I had contracted to teach. In the early dawn I beheld a sad but magnificent sight. Ricks Academy seemed nothing but a bold massive stone building imposingly standing in the center of a rough, rugged ten acre plot of ground. Four stone pillars formed its gate, and a plank walk led to its front door. . . . The east front was enclosed in a high wire fence, and inside of this enclosure were numerous rows of black willow posts meant some day to be trees. On the west front was a heavy elongated stone wall, sage brush, and clumps of lava rock.
"For some time I stood stunned, bewildered, and seriously disappointed at what I saw. Then I walked slowly up that board walk and into the massive building. Here I saw spacious halls, and large bare classrooms badly worn and marred by ten or twelve years of hard use. This sight did not lift my spirits but was more depressing. Again I walked outside and looked the whole scene over again. I then walked farther up the rugged sage brush hill, and looked down on the town called Rexburg. I saw a sprawled out, rough, unkempt city. It had straight, wide, unkempt streets, and solid buildings made of that same gray stone. Two large livery stables, two blacksmith shops, and other smaller buildings were constructed of rough lumber. This sight did not improve my feelings. I stood lonely and very depressed and silently shed tears to think I was bringing my dear wife and children to this place to try to make a home. I climbed further up the slope, and looked farther over the great valley. I suddenly seemed to catch the spirit of the pioneers, and to dream of the great potentials that lay before me. I thought I saw the future of a fine residential city, and a great college. I also felt that I could make a real contribution to the future development of both. Later that morning when I went to the great new tabernacle to deliver my speech, I was again startled and surprised. The great auditorium was filled with young vigorous men and women. They looked energetic and eager to work at any task that was hard and challenging. As I stepped to that pulpit for the first time, I was inspired as I have seldom been, and made a speech that was full of hope and enthusiasm. As I gave courage and determination to my eager listeners, I received ten fold of that spirit for myself. I finished that day full of that old pioneer spirit which builds empires. I left Rexburg happy and enthusiastic with the potentials I saw and experienced. I felt that I had found a challenge for my young mind, heart, and muscles."
Founders Day was celebrated on November 20, rather than on November 12. This gave a little more time for the new principal and faculty to get settled in. Founders Day began with a general assembly at the academy. Then a parade, led by the academy band, wound through the city streets, ending at the tabernacle. Before entering the tabernacle for the ceremony, each class was photographed on the steps. Principal Christenson gave the welcoming address. Blackfoot Stake President James Duckworth gave the keynote address. In the afternoon, contests were held between classes, followed that evening by a ball. Principal Christenson’s first Founders Day was considered successful.
A top priority for Principal Christenson was building a gymnasium. He spoke to the district board executive committee. His recommendation for another building for athletic training and events was based on his assertion that using the auditorium in the main building was not conducive to good discipline. More room also was needed for laboratory work and the library. Fremont Stake President Austin presented the recommendation to Superintendent Horace Cummings, who agreed to present the issue to the board in Salt Lake City. President Austin and Principal Christenson traveled to Salt Lake City to buttress Horace Cummings’ presentation. Getting a hearing in Salt Lake City was encouraging, although almost a year passed before a new building was authorized.
The 1914 Christmas edition of the Current-Journal contained an article seemingly designed to increase public awareness of the needed new building, and perhaps bring some pressure to bear on decision-makers. “Plans are now under way for increasing the facilities,” the article noted.
"A new building is proposed that will contain a modern gymnasium, laboratories and class rooms. The institution has outgrown the present quarters and must provide for a greater attendance. Work will probably commence on this improvement very soon. The Ricks Academy is destined to grow to a large and influential school."
Although planning had been done, for the newspaper to announce that work probably would commence soon suggested information that no one else had yet received. However, the suggestion provided a reason for local citizens to question district Board of Education members often, as well as the general Church board, as to why the building was not yet in progress.
The academy classes of 1915 and 1916 (the seniors and juniors) wished to leave a lasting memento of their stay at the institution. As a means of making the academy more visible, the classes determined to raise money to install fifteen-foot-high incandescent lights shaped into an R and A on the roof of the main building. By March 5, 1915, framework for the lights had been completed by the Electric Sign Service Company of Ogden, Utah, and shipped to the academy.
While excitement was building for the day when lights on the building would be completed and turned on, academy students could contemplate effects of local option on prohibition. The local sheriff, I.N. Corey, and his deputy, H.A. Munns, had been quite successful in locating caches of illegal alcohol. They made a public display of emptying the booze down the storm gutter. Academy students were warned about staying shy of those who bootlegged whiskey. The Idaho Legislature passed statewide prohibition legislation early in 1915, and Governor Moses Alexander signed the bill that would take effect on January 1, 1916.
March 20, 1915, was the annual cleanup day. While men and boys were busy on the grounds, building interiors were cleaned by the girls. Helen Kearney went to the dark closet under the stairs on the first floor in the main building. She was unaware of an opening in the floor and fell through to the rock floor of the basement. She was badly bruised. Her glasses broke, cutting her face. She was taken to the hospital. Rumors that the young woman had fallen from the third-story window and was lucky to be alive quickly circulated through town, but were dispelled. Helen recovered enough to be back in class the following week.
Academy students and faculty gathered on the public school grounds on April 16, 1915. Torches were lighted and a parade, led by the academy band, proceeded up Main Street to the front gate of the academy. School songs were sung and the student-body president, Jesse Roberts, formally presented to Principal Christenson the senior and junior classes’ gift, the large R and A letters affixed to the top of the building. The cost of the project was $250, which had been raised entirely from students. Principal Christenson was pleased to accept the gift on behalf of the academy. Fremont Stake President Mark Austin, speaking on behalf of the academy Board of Education, complimented the students on the magnificent gift. The lights could be seen for several miles.
Principal Christenson spent part of the summer of 1915 in Utah attending to business interests. He also met with the Church Board of Education. Early in August he announced Church board authorization of academy curriculum expansion to accommodate first-year college courses. That news was greeted with enthusiasm. Sacrifices by those involved with the academy during very trying times seemed to be further rewarded. He also announced authorization for a new academy building—a gymnasium. Permanency of the institution seemed assured, and two of Principal Christenson’s major goals were now going to be realized.
Principal Christenson was still concerned as school started in the fall of 1915 that an adequate library was not available. He intended to see that situation remedied before a new building was built. Lucile Christenson Tate noted in her biography of her father that one night after school he took several seats and screwed them to the dance floor in Room 33 (the auditorium). When he reported to the local board what he had done, they were annoyed and considered reprimanding him. They had to decide between redoing the auditorium floor or finding another place for social and athletic events. They chose the latter course and secured the bottom floor of the tabernacle for dances, Woodvine Hall for basketball practice and games, and Flamm’s Hall for “dramas, recitals, and operas.”
The Fremont Stake presidency and bishoprics held a special meeting on January 22, 1916, to discuss plans for the new academy gymnasium, which was to be built of rock to complement the existing building. The estimated cost was $30,000 to $40,000. Those present agreed that a new building would increase the academy’s capacity to some 750. A decision was made to begin quarrying and hauling rock to the building site, but work was immediately delayed by exceptionally heavy snow. Then financial conditions caused further delays.
During his address to forty-three graduates of the class of 1916 on April 13, Principal Christenson noted that two years of college work had been approved for the academy beginning the next academic year. Also approved was the new building, with work scheduled to commence as soon as possible.
To provide impetus for getting the building under way and to gain support and approval for the project, a stake priesthood meeting was held. About $10,000 was subscribed at that meeting, which, hopefully, would signal local determination to meet obligations incurred in the building project. Most financing had to be raised locally.
For several years city authorities had been encouraged to build an avenue from Main Street to the academy. But the mayor and city council did not think support was widespread enough to warrant spending public funds to build the street. As the town expanded toward the academy, the necessity of uniting downtown Rexburg with the academy became more and more pressing. The Commercial Club made the matter part of its agenda on March 13, 1916. After a show of support from members, a committee composed of Mayor Fred S. Parkinson, R.S. Hunt, T.J. Winter, James R. Wright, and Arthur Porter, Jr., was appointed by club officers to take the necessary steps to get an avenue opened. A finance committee also was appointed. The two committees raised the money to secure the right-of-way to get the avenue built. Both the community and the academy supported the street project.
The avenue was completed and opened the last week in April. The city council passed an ordinance officially naming Rexburg’s newest street “College Avenue” on June 28. Many in the community and at the academy reasoned that the new street would facilitate movement of building materials, and surely construction on the new campus building now could commence.
During the summer of 1916, R.B. Crookston, the academy athletic coach, traveled to Illinois to attend school. While in the Midwest, he was assigned to visit several gymnasiums and bring back ideas that could be used in the gymnasium design. Optimism was still high that the building soon would be under way. However, another year passed before a contract was awarded to begin the building.
A vocational work program was initiated that summer. This provided that “in place of some of the usual school work there would be substituted practical home work to be done under the direction of teachers,” a field supervisor, and a home economics teacher. This home study program continued for several years and provided the basis for George S. Romney’s master of arts thesis at Stanford University in 1921.
The twenty-ninth academy school year commenced on October 2, 1916. Idaho Governor Moses Alexander came to town on October 9. Academy students and faculty joined townspeople to hear the popular governor speak on issues of the day. Speaking to a standing-room-only audience in Flamm’s Opera House, Moses Alexander discussed the course of the war in Europe, approving of President Woodrow Wilson’s determination to keep the United States out of the conflagration. However, he did speak on behalf of preparedness in case the country became involved. His address was received enthusiastically.
Many had long anticipated that Founders Day 1916 would include dedication of a new gymnasium, so there was marked disappointment that the new building was not yet started. However, the parade was memorable, going for the first time down College Avenue to Main Street. College Avenue was quickly becoming a street with several new buildings and businesses. The academy’s economic impact was clearly instrumental in the opening of many new businesses in Rexburg.
At a stake presidency meeting early in December, a revised estimate showed that the gymnasium building would cost $55,000 to $60,000. Each ward in the academy district agreed to pay its higher assessment. Everyone agreed the building needed to be the best possible.
Soon after the term commenced in January 1917, Principal Christenson announced that the academy would provide the community with a patriotic program commemorating George Washington’s birthday. On February 22, the commemoration began with a parade led by the academy band from the academy to the tabernacle. The day was bitterly cold and snow was falling, but townspeople were not deterred and the tabernacle was packed. After several patriotic songs, speeches, and readings, Principal Christenson had to announce that the featured speaker, Oscar Kirkham of Salt Lake City, had been unable to get to Rexburg, perhaps because of the storm. In his place, President John W. Hart of the Rigby Stake spoke. President Hart noted that he had traveled nine miles through the storm to be in attendance at the commemoration and was quite surprised to be asked to speak. But he delivered an effective address encouraging academy students to be loyal not only to the school, but also to the country.
Mayor Fred S. Parkinson next spoke about the benefits of Ricks Academy to the town. Having been accused of being partial to the academy over other businesses, he assured his audience that he was partial to any business that built up the town - and the academy fit in that category. He believed the academy helped improve the moral atmosphere of the community, and he would further support any business that had the same goals for the community. At the close of the program, lunch was served to about 400 people. A basketball game and dance ended observance of Washington’s birthday in grand fashion.
The spring debate topic illustrated increasing concern with military preparedness. The topic was: “Resolved, that the United States should adopt a system of compulsory military training for men.” Academy teams debated the issue with Fielding Academy on March 23. By that time, the question had become moot. German violation of American neutrality had caused diplomatic relations to be severed, and President Wilson was preparing to give the final ultimatum: a declaration of war.
A “monster patriotic demonstration” was held on March 29 in Rexburg with more than 6,000 people joining in. Led by the academy band, most of those who paraded through town did so double file on the sidewalks because of the slushy street. More than 400 from the academy joined in the parade, along with school children from Rexburg and surrounding communities. Lines estimated at two miles long were “thrilled with patriotic fervor.” At the head of the parade was Henry “Hank” Pelton, Rexburg’s only Civil War veteran. He had served the Union as a drummer boy. Although quite elderly, he still marched, carrying a flag.
Only half of the crowd that gathered at the tabernacle could get inside. School children participating on the program were asked to leave when their part was rendered so more adults could get in. Pronounced a “minuteman,” Albert Heath, a member of the academy executive committee, gave a “stirring appeal to the patriotism of the assembly.” He called “on all to forget national prejudice, political differences of opinion and join with a solid support of President Wilson in his effort to deal with foreign nations in the present crisis and maintain the honor of the American flag and the security of American rights.”
James A. Langton from the academy was the day’s orator. He “spoke of the splendid history of this great nation of free people and of the righteous wars they had been called on in times past to wage in the interest of humanity.” His oration was often interrupted by applause.
The demonstration of patriotism concluded with unanimous approval of a resolution read by attorney C.W. Poole reaffirming “allegiance and devotion to the flag and Our Country, to the Constitution of the United States, the laws and institutions of America, and the cause of popular government.” Support was pledged to “the President of the United States, and . . . Congress in whatever measures they may deem necessary to adopt to meet the present crisis, for the protection of American citizens at home and abroad, and to defend Our Country, the flag and our institutions.” The meeting adjourned amid mounting speculation that the small community of Rexburg soon would be asked to respond to a call to arms. The prevailing attitude was that if the call came, the community was prepared to answer. In the next two days, March 31 and April 1, 1917, the first nineteen men from Madison County enlisted in the Idaho National Guard, which had been placed under federal government authority.
Several of the men had been educated at the academy. To see the men sent off properly, a going-away ceremony was provided at the depot. On behalf of the Commercial Club, W. Lloyd Adams gave each man a Bible. A collection was taken up in the crowd and the proceeds divided among the recruits. Patriotic speeches and much back-slapping encouragement were given. One observer summed up people’s attitude: “Rexburg is now well represented among the nation’s defenders. These boys, like others who go to their country’s defense, deserve the special good will and gratitude of their community as well as of the nation at large.” Most of the men ended up in France later in the year, and one, Thomas C. Neibaur of Sugar City, returned home with a Congressional Medal of Honor for uncommon valor.
Interestingly, Madison County recruits were on their way to training camps before war had even been declared. On the evening of April 2, 1917, President Wilson addressed an extraordinary joint session of Congress and asked for a declaration of war. Idahoans and the rest of the United States were soon to have their patriotism and resources tested. On April 6, President Wilson signed the War Resolution, which had passed Congress by a large margin, and the United States was officially involved in the “war to end all wars” and the “war to make the world safe for democracy.”
In a public address early in April 1917, President Wilson called for the nation’s farmers to work harder in the fields. Governor Moses Alexander urged the farmers of Idaho to do their patriotic duty and plant more foodstuffs than they originally had planned.
Principal Christenson sought to be relieved from his tenure at Ricks in 1916. He said he had agreed to a two-year commitment to the academy and he had completed it. However, he was convinced to stay for the 1916-1917 academic year, but spent quite a lot of time away from campus. In his absence, Hyrum Manwaring intimated that school could be terminated early to get students into the fields to help get crops planted, but he wanted to wait to get the principal’s approval. Upon his return, Christenson gave approval and April 20, 1917, was chosen for graduation day. Graduation exercises were rather abrupt, without the usual weeklong series of activities. The Alumni Association did not even meet. The annual ball was held, but by the time graduation ceremonies were held many students had already gone home. Exigencies of war called for altered plans, and no one minded.
In spite of demands from the war in far-off Europe, attention focused on academy affairs in mid-April. Information was received that the $41,190 contract bid on the new gymnasium had been awarded to C.A. Tolboe of Provo, Utah. The plumbing and heating bid of $15,800 went to a local contractor, P.O. Thompson. Eli McEntire was chosen superintendent of construction.
E.P. Oldham and Carl J. Johnson hauled the first wagon load of rock from Charles Briggs’ stone quarry on June 12. C.O. Jeppson hauled the rock prepared as the cornerstone. Included in the box secured in the cornerstone was a current catalog of general Church and stake authorities, “Washington’s Birthday Edition, 1917” of Student Rays, “Excerpts of Minutes Concerning Ricks Academy Gymnasium Building,” the cornerstone program, and a list that included the president of the United States, governor of Idaho, mayor and city council of Rexburg, police judge, watermaster, water superintendent, and chief of police.
The cornerstone was laid for the gymnasium on June 15, 1917, by Nathan Ricks. The academy executive board headed by Albert Heath presided. Yellowstone Stake President Daniel G. Miller was the principal speaker. The school song, “Happy Ties,” was sung. The benediction was pronounced by Bishop Parley J. Davies of the Milo Ward. The building was to be completed and dedicated by October 15 so it could be ready for use during the fall term. That proved to be an overly optimistic expectation.
Early in June 1917, Principal Christenson asked for, and was reluctantly given, his release from his position at Ricks Academy. He left with the best wishes of the community, the academy staff, and the district Board of Education. He had accomplished his agenda as far as seeing college work added to the academy curriculum. He was disappointed that not only was the gymnasium not built, but that construction work was proceeding quite slowly.
He was replaced by George S. Romney, a faculty member at Brigham Young University, whom Superintendent Cummings nominated on June 19. Principal Romney met with the Church board on June 22 and began planning for the ensuing academic year.
The thirtieth academic year commenced on October 8, 1917. Principal Romney and faculty members had traveled extensively throughout the academy district encouraging attendance. When the academy opened, progress on the new gymnasium was obvious, and there was optimism that the building would be completed in time for Founders Day. The academy was quite well attended, but young men of draft age were conspicuously absent. In fact, young men just younger than draft age were working the fields and stayed home to help raise crops to feed the men “over there.” Principal Romney received a letter from one of his former students now in the Army training camp at American Lake, Washington. The soldier reported that “Mormon boys there in the Army had organized themselves and were holding meetings on Sunday.”
Construction of the gymnasium was delayed because of a shortage of workers caused by the war. A tragic accident also occurred on November 12 when a painter, F.E. Hall of Portland, Oregon, fell from a scaffold about forty feet above the ground. Critically injured, Hall died the next day. His wife had preceded him in death, but he was survived by six children, two of whom were serving in the Army. The saddened community raised funds to give him a proper burial.
Another unexpected delay was caused by the lava rock at the site. Excavating the rock proved to be much more difficult than expected. The new building was not finished in November, so Founders Day, which had been postponed from November 12 to November 23, was again postponed until December 21. The celebration was held on that date, but in the tabernacle because even the assembly room in the new building was not yet available. The Founders Day program was attended by a large number of people. As part of the program, Stake President Mark Austin presented prizes won for work to aid the war effort done by academy students during summer vacation.
"Isabelle Weeks of Archer received $50 for the best acre of potatoes, 590 bushels being the yield; Leslie Bell of Salem received $50 for the best acre of beets, with a yield of 19 and 1/2 tons. For making the best bread, May Barnes 1st, $25; Crissie Long 2nd, $15; Jennie Wood 3rd, $10. For making the best dress: May Johnson of Burton 1st, $25; Yvette Raymond 2nd, $15; Merle Lee 3rd, $10."
Both Superintendent Horace Cummings and Principal Romney spoke at the program. Everyone looked forward to completion of the new building, but no one was ready to predict when that would be.
Basketball claimed the attention of the academy early in 1918. Optimism was high. Clyde D. Packer, who would provide a major impact on Ricks athletes and athletics for many years to come, had been hired. His basketball players included Marion G. Romney, the principal’s son who had played the previous year for Deseret Gym in Salt Lake City. (Romney later became an apostle and a member of the First Presidency of the Church.) Overall, players were experienced. The new gymnasium was completed enough for games to be played there. Coach Packer set the tone for the season when he announced that “other high schools in the Upper Snake River Valley will have to fight, and fight hard, until the last whistle blows to win from us.”
During the winter of 1917-1918, the “Great War” required full attention. In the Upper Snake River Valley, academy students led out in efforts to help promote home-front war efforts. They assisted with liberty loan drives, “smilage” programs, Red Cross work, and rationing programs. Their biggest contribution was promotion of agriculture. “Ricks Academy Students Help Uncle Sam to Feed the World” noted a headline in the Idaho Falls Post. With student help, agricultural production in the Upper Snake River Valley set record after record. Mark Austin, academy Board of Education president and involved in beet sugar agriculture, was lavish with praise for academy efforts and proclaimed that students’ efforts would “stand against any work of boys or girls in the United States.”
A reporter for the Deseret Evening News of Salt Lake City noted production records set by several girls including Isabelle Weeks, who “plowed 43 acres, harrowed 10 acres, loaded 10 tons of hay, handled the derrick fork, assisted in planting and harvesting 23 acres of potatoes and raised 590 bushels of potatoes on one acre thereby winning a cash prize of $50.” According to the reporter, boys were so successful in food production that the majority “decided there was more money on the farm, better health and more independence than there was in following other vocations of life.”
An agricultural institute under the auspices of the University of Idaho’s department of agriculture was held on campus in February 1918. One Rexburg citizen, John X. Anderson, did not think it was proper for a public institution to be holding meetings on the campus of a private institution. He wrote a letter to the state Board of Education complaining about the situation and asking for clarification. He was informed that the academy had the only available facilities for the size of institute being offered, and that while some academy faculty had been asked to instruct the institute, they were asked only because they had the expertise to do so. Furthermore, the state Board of Education had no apology to make concerning the arrangement.
Anderson also questioned the propriety of holding a state-sponsored summer school on the academy campus. Principal Romney had petitioned for and received approval from the Board of Education for a summer school. Dr. Enoch A. Bryan, state commissioner of education, responded to Anderson by pointing out:
"In this state there are schools and colleges belonging to the following denominations: Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, Friends, Latter-day Saints, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventists, Nazarene, Lutheran (Swedish), Lutheran (German), and doubtless others. With none of these have we any quarrel. With all of these we desire to preserve friendly and if possible, helpful relations. All will be treated with the same consideration, as nearly as possible. The school law recognized their legitimate existence. Our prejudices for or against the peculiar tenets of each will not be permitted to disturb our legitimate relationship with each."
March 1, 1918, was a day to celebrate. On that day the district Board of Education was present to formally open the new building. People gathered from near and far to tour the facility, which included a swimming pool, kitchen, dining room, and domestic science department classrooms on the first floor. The second floor was the auditorium. The third floor was the gymnasium, which had already been the scene of several basketball games.
Although the public was impressed with the new building, they were equally impressed with an announcement made by Mark Austin, president of the Board of Education. He announced the institution would be known as Ricks Normal College. He praised the college as an asset to the community and the faculty, under the direction of George S. Romney, whose title was changed from “principal” to “president.” To cap the day’s festivities, a dance was held in the evening in the new auditorium.
To officially christen the new building, the faculty ladies club hosted faculty in the new dining hall on March 12. St. Patrick’s Day provided the theme. Agnes Lovendahl was toastmistress. After dinner, the party moved to the gymnasium where various games were played.
The faculty felt the need to help raise funds to pay off the rest of the indebtedness on the new building. After all, the building could not be dedicated until paid for. The faculty staged the play Milestones in the new auditorium on March 22, 1918. They raised more than $100 and presented the money to the district Board of Education.
President Romney encouraged Ricks College students to participate in the social functions on campus, rather than attend public dances. This encouragement elicited some criticism that the college was very narrow in its social goals. Attempting to clarify the policy that public dances were to be avoided, the college noted that “the standard of Ricks is clean living; that neither boys nor girls should use tea, coffee, tobacco, nor alcohol; that pure language only be used; that chastity and virtue are more precious than life.” Furthermore, "there are some 472 students attending the institution and the majority of them are away from home. Should these students be encouraged to associate promiscuously with all classes who may gain admittance to a public dance it is clear what dire results would follow. In fact, statistics show that many innocent lives have been ruined through improper acquaintances formed in the public dance."
The college set standards of conduct, and students were expected to abide by them. Community citizens wishing to attend college social functions, including dances, were also expected to abide by college standards.
The first graduation held at Ricks Normal College was on April 13, 1918, in the auditorium of the new gymnasium building. Although no college students graduated, forty high school seniors did. President Romney called attention to the new facility on campus and to growth of the college. Elder Stephen L. Richards gave the graduates their charge. After diplomas were handed out, graduates were directed to take a seat on the rostrum next to college students. Then the junior class was directed to move to the seats vacated by the seniors; sophomores to the seats vacated by the juniors; and the freshmen to those vacated by sophomores. Attention was then directed to the empty seats, which constituted a high percentage of the seating. This was used to illustrate that each successive class was bigger than the preceding one. Prospects were high that the new freshman class due in the fall would be even larger.
Summer school of 1918 was well attended, with some 325 students enrolled. Various classes were taught by twelve faculty members. Enrollment in summer school was especially significant because the stringencies of war still dictated increased food production and many were employed tending crops during the summer. That was the patriotic thing to do. But those on campus also were determined to show that they were patriotic. They bought Thrift Stamps, helped prepare Red Cross supplies, and held a patriotic dance on the Fourth of July in the gymnasium.
Clarence Baird, a teacher at Ricks, headed for San Francisco on July 28. United States Provost Marshal Enoch Crowder had issued a call for all the nation’s educational institutions to send representatives to the Presidio near San Francisco for six weeks of officer training. The men then returned to their institutions to teach military classes. The U.S. Army paid expenses, plus a private’s salary, and provided a uniform. Baird did well in officers training school and returned to Rexburg, but did not resume teaching at the college when fall semester commenced on October 7. He had accepted a commission as second lieutenant in the Army and went to war. Anyway, there were too few young men at the college to make teaching military classes worthwhile.
Some 225 students registered at the beginning of fall term. Many young men who registered left immediately for the fields, intending to return to college when crops were harvested. Just a few days after classes got under way, the influenza epidemic that had swept across the nation arrived in Rexburg in full fury. The college, as well as all other schools, was closed, church meetings suspended, and public assembly forbidden. The public assembly ordinance was largely ignored, but as a precaution gauze masks were worn. Many citizens were on hand with their masks in place to witness the first raising of Old Glory up the new seventy-five-foot Liberty Flag Pole, which was erected during the fourth week of October at the intersection of Main Street and College Avenue.
A few days after the Liberty Flag Pole was erected, word was received at 3 a.m. on November 11, 1918, that the rumored armistice had been signed and the war was over. Immediately, word was spread. People in Rexburg, awakened by the sound of bells, horns, and whistles, quickly gathered on Main Street to celebrate. A bonfire was built in the street, the local band assembled, and dancing and celebrating became the order of the day. A large number of those dancing in the light of the bonfire wore the gauze masks that had been decreed by the county board of health. The celebration continued all day. Mayor Nathan Ricks declared the day a holiday, and all businesses stayed closed.
Several days after the signing of the armistice, families gathered for the Thanksgiving holiday. Many humble prayers of gratitude were expressed that the war was over. The caissons had ceased rolling along and the boys “over there” would be coming home to be reunited with parents, brothers and sisters, wives and children, and sweethearts. Soon apparent were the facts that the war had not made the world safe for democracy, nor would it be the last war. But that had no relevance that Thanksgiving Day.
Ricks Academy and Normal College students could take pride in their response to the war, but they were still not back in school. The influenza epidemic had not yet run its course. Someone, probably students, circulated rumors that the college would not commence classes in the foreseeable future. President Romney announced that the public should not listen to those “unwise enough to scatter information that we are not to continue school because of the influenza.” School would start “as soon as the quarantine is lifted and the authorities see fit.” That was expected to happen late in December. He concluded, “We feel that by working hard we will be able to make up a good school year yet.” By late in December, the influenza epidemic had lessened in intensity. Only five homes contained cases by December 20. The local theater had reopened to the public, although gauze masks were still advised. President Romney announced that the college would reopen on December 30. “Provision is being made that those who enter will be able to make their credits by putting in extra time,” he noted. “This is very important to our young people and they will be glad to take advantage of the opportunity.”
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