Let's Not Give Ricks Away
Early in January 1935, a newly reorganized Ricks College committee began developing plans for the forthcoming legislative session. Another attempt to give Ricks College to Idaho received their full attention. John W. Hart, who had been committee president for the last two years, vacated the position in favor of Rexburg Stake President Peter J. Ricks. President Hart remained as president of the college Board of Education. Other committee members were George Hoopes, Arthur Porter, Jr., J.E. Graham, Earl Soelberg, C.W. Poole, Frank Turner, Arnold Williams, and President Hyrum Manwaring as secretary.
The committee decided to approach the Legislature with two plans. The first plan was simply to give the college to the state. The state would appropriate money from the general fund of the state to operate the college. The second plan concerned establishing junior college districts in the state funded by a small state appropriation and local taxation. Ricks would still be deeded to the state but would receive most funding by taxing citizens of the local junior college district. The argument would again be forwarded that educating youth of the state was state responsibility. The fact that the Church had provided for the college for forty-six years should be applauded. But the Church was in the process of divesting itself of secular education responsibilities. To give a substantial number of Idaho’s young people opportunities for advanced education close to home, the state must accept responsibility for Ricks College. The plans and arguments seemed reasonable to the committee and local citizenry. They were optimistic they would seem just as reasonable to the Legislature.
The acquisition of Ricks College had been brought before the state Board of Education in mid-December, but in a context that did not please those of the Upper Snake River Valley. A delegation from the Idaho Association of the Deaf appeared before the state board to file a complaint about the administration of Dr. P.C. Potts and about overcrowded conditions at Gooding State School for the deaf and blind. They advocated the state purchase Ricks College for use as a state school for the deaf. The state school for the blind could remain in Gooding. The plan, although solving overcrowding conditions at Gooding, was certainly incompatible with plans of Rexburg’s citizens committee for the college. The state board did not pursue the proposal, much to the relief of the citizens committee.
The bill to give Ricks to the state in 1935 originated in the House as House Bill No. 71, sponsored by Representatives Lorenzo Jensen, William J. Hayes, J.C. Siddoway, Wilford J. Taylor, and S. Reed Andrus, all members of the House from the Upper Snake River Valley. The bill specified that the college, built to accommodate 600 students, would release title as of July 1, 1935. The state would appropriate $80,000 for two years to the state Board of Education for school administration. The junior college plan was not included in the bill. The bill was brought to the floor of the House on February 5. Representative Jensen, a Madison County Democrat, led the debate for passage of the bill. He reviewed the history of the school, pointing out that the Church had appropriated as much as $35,000 in the past for school operation, but had decreased the appropriation to only $10,000 for the current school year. He said “the school is so handicapped today it is barely functioning.” If aid from the state was not forthcoming then “that institution which has served the citizens of our section of the state so well, must be closed.” In an impassioned plea, Jensen “called upon the commonwealth to accept the institution in the interests of education.”
Arguing against the bill was Representative B.F. Wilson, a Camas County Democrat, who “objected to the burden the state already is bearing in maintaining its institutions.” That was the standard argument against accepting the college. Representative D.C. Ray, a Bannock County Democrat, added another dimension to the debate. He made light of Church appropriations for the school. “The Latter Day Saints church is one of the greatest financial institutions in the United States today and is well able to take care of the institution,” he argued. When debate was closed and votes counted, House Bill No. 71 had passed by a nine-vote margin of thirty-four to twenty-five. Then the bill went to the Senate.
House Bill No. 71 was introduced in the Senate by Senator L.Y. Rigby of Madison County on February 20, 1935. Led by Washington County Democrat George Donart, a coalition of senators from areas where state institutions were already located assured defeat of the bill. They argued that any appropriation for another state educational institution would dilute funding for existing institutions. The Senate defeated the bill by a vote of seventeen to twenty-four. Senator Rigby had his vote changed from aye to nay so he could call for reconsideration. He did just that on February 21, 1935, and reconsideration was passed by voice vote. Rigby moved the measure be sent to the finance committee. There the bill died. The anonymous “Poet Lariat of the Third House” recommended that the “third house” would introduce a bill: “Third house bill No. 1, by the retaliation committee—Donating the University of Idaho to the LDS Church.”
Following an established pattern, members of the local Board of Education traveled to Salt Lake City to meet with the First Presidency and new commissioner of Church education, John A. Widtsoe. They were accompanied by fourteen local businessmen. They were assured that an appropriation would be made to help see the college through until 1937 when another attempt would be made to give Ricks to the state. However, most funding for the institution had to be raised at the local level. The Church appropriation was raised from $10,000 to $13,000.
Looking back at the 1934-1935 school year, President Manwaring wrote:
"The school did not seem to belong to anyone, or to have a place in educational circles. The church did not want it, the state would not have it, and the district board did not know what to do with it. The president and faculty just went ahead and ran it the best they could with their very limited budget and the trying conditions of the financial depression."
While legislative maneuvering was taking place, the college continued to operate as usual. Leadership Week was another success. John Anderson and Joseph Catmull directed the opera The Two Vagabonds. M.D. Beal’s top debate team of Arland Christensen and Elmo Smith won four of six debates against four-year colleges at the Linfield College tournament in McMinnville, Oregon. The basketball team, despite an overall record of seven wins and nine losses, won the Idaho junior college championship. The annual High School Campus Day and Ricks College Girls Day were held jointly for the first time and brought many people to campus on May 10. Two new social clubs were on hand to greet prospective students: Jester’s Club for women and Ambassadors for men. Two hundred small trees were planted and 200 pounds of grass seed was dispersed to further beautify the campus. Student-body elections were held for the first time in the spring rather than fall. After a vigorous campaign, Arthur C. Porter, candidate of the Spring Spizz Party, was elected president. The sophomore class “sneaked” away to Lava Hot Springs; the freshmen headed for the Snake River west of town for a day of games. And eighty graduates listened to Dr. Adam S. Bennion deliver the baccalaureate sermon and Dr. Carl F. Eyring deliver the graduation address.
At the regularly scheduled spring meeting of the college Board of Education on May 17, 1935, President Manwaring gave his annual report on school activities—academic, athletic, and extracurricular. He noted summer session would commence on June 3, and it was expected to be well attended. He told the board that steps were being taken to see that Ricks became a member of the Northwest College Accrediting Association. The board approved the faculty list for the coming year and gave authorization to hire three new faculty to accommodate the expected expanded enrollment. And, certainly of most importance to the faculty, a raise in salary for faculty was approved.
Ricks’ forty-eighth year commenced on September 16, 1935. More than 200 students registered for fall quarter. As usual, freshmen had to take a national test for English placement. Edna Ricks, an English teacher, also gave a test she developed. One student, Joseph Eddy Martin, passed the national test with a high score but flunked the Ricks test. Miss Ricks counseled, “Eddie, since your national test score was so high, I cannot require you to take my bonehead English class, but I recommend you do. You need it badly.” Martin took “bonehead English.”
Coach Packer’s “basketeers” had played a Blackfoot all-star team in Blackfoot during the holidays. On January 10, 1936, the all-stars were in Rexburg for a return contest in the college gym. The Vikings won 57-56. “With a display of wild shooting, wild passing, . . . poor teamwork,” and very little “creditable playing,” the Vikings were lucky to win, wrote the sports reporter for The Rexburg Journal. “Ricks has the talent to produce a real team if the boys will seriously practice. We have some fast, clever players, who only need to get together.” The Vikings did get together. They enjoyed a successful season, winning both the Idaho junior college title and the championship of the Utah-Idaho League tournament. Several basketball players were also members of the track team that received substantial publicity in the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News. Berkley “Brick” Parkinson advanced to the conference tennis championship finals before being defeated.
President Manwaring invited a Northwest College Accrediting Association representative to visit campus. Visiting during February 1936, Dr. Woodward declared that he was “well impressed with the faculty, college plant and laboratories, and the quality of work being done at the institution.” Another visit was made by Dr. Stringer, who certified Dr. Woodward’s assessment. In April, word was received from the Seattle office of Dr. Fredrick E. Bolton that the North Western Association of Secondary and Higher Schools had granted full accreditation to Ricks College. That meant that the sixty-eight “graduates of this year will carry credit that will be given full value, practically anywhere in the United States; and that universities will accept them without question.” Accreditation seemed to vindicate all the sacrifices made to maintain a quality program. The fact of accreditation was prominently noted in the 1936-1937 college catalog.
The college Board of Education executive committee met on March 25 to hear President Manwaring’s report on the status of the college. He indicated that the college had produced fine athletes, debaters, musicians, actors, and academicians in all disciplines. He was optimistic about the visits of the representatives of the Northwest College Accrediting Association. College Registrar Gene Conger was asked to give a financial accounting. He reported that the college was operating in the black and the school year would end with all bills paid and no deficit. Committee members agreed “that the outlook for Ricks College is brighter than for a number of years past.”
President John W. Hart died on April 5, 1936, ending a remarkable career in public and church service. Respect accorded him by the First Presidency and General Authorities of the Church certainly played a substantial part in any support given to Ricks.
President Hart’s death necessitated a change in the college Board of Education presidency and executive committee. The full board met on April 24, unanimously electing Peter J. Ricks as president, Albert C. Choules of Driggs as vice president, and retaining Gene Conger as secretary. President Manwaring gave the board the good news that a recent communication from Dr. Franklin L. West (appointed commissioner of Church education replacing John A. Widtsoe) indicated the Church had granted an increased appropriation to help sustain the college until the next legislative session.
The college board met on May 29 at the conclusion of graduation exercises. A group of local citizens met with the board, offering their services to promote the school. They favored “an aggressive program for getting the school accepted as a state institution.” Dr. Fred J. Pack of the University of Utah encouraged graduates at commencement to be optimistic about their future, but there was still considerable anxiety about the future of Ricks College. The Rexburg Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the First Presidency, dated August 24, 1936, making an interesting proposal. Church leaders were talking about building a temple in Idaho. “The church has notified this community of their purpose to discontinue to maintain Ricks College, as a Church Institution,” noted the letter. “The erection of a Temple here would compensate in the event of such a loss to the people, and bring a blessing instead for their sacrifices in this direction.” That blandishment, however mild, did not work.
Student-body president for the 1936-1937 school year was Jack Cushman. He had been the Renaissant Party candidate in the spring elections and was the first student-body president who was not a Latter-day Saint.
Late in August the college registrar was informed by W.W. Godfrey, director of the Idaho chapter of the National Youth Administration of the Works Progress Administration, that young people from families receiving assistance from the WPA could receive work at the college to pay their expenses up to about $15 per month. The work could increase the number of students attending the college. Most students needed some work to help with expenses. But for some, $15 was only enough to pay tuition, board, and room.
Ted Parkinson did not have money for a coat. He went through the winter without one. He would get out of bed at four in the morning, trying not to disturb his roommates Keith Archibald and Joseph Martin. He would “go to school, crawl through a window to get inside where it was warm so he could study,” Martin recalled. “The night watchman knew his circumstances, so he never bothered him.”
The new year started with plans for introduction of another Ricks bill into the legislative session starting the second week in January 1937. Everyone hoped by the time Leadership Week commenced on February 9 that the Legislature would have acted favorably for Ricks College.
John W. Condie, state superintendent of public instruction, was on record of being in favor of a state junior college system. He pointed out that only one-third of Idaho’s high school graduates continue their education. The two-thirds who do not are mostly too young to go into industry, even if they could find jobs. Creation of junior college districts with institutions locally available would be a decided boon to young people who otherwise could only stay at home. He recommended districts in Rexburg, Twin Falls, Boise, and Coeur d’Alene. Those pushing to get Ricks transferred to the state concluded they had a powerful ally.
House Bill No. 46 was introduced by Arnold Williams, S. Reed Andrus, and Wilford J. Taylor, Democratic representatives from Madison, Bonneville, and Jefferson counties. The bill, patterned after those of previous sessions, offered Ricks College as a gift to the state. The bill called for an appropriation of $80,000 to operate the college until December 31, 1938. Thereafter, Ricks would be operated as a junior college within the state system. Immediately after the bill was introduced, Representative W.C. Thornton of Gooding informed the House that he was considering asking the state to accept and operate Gooding College. That caused immediate problems for House Bill No. 46.
On Saturday evening, January 23, information was received in Rexburg that House Bill No. 46 had just passed the House by a vote of thirty to twenty-four. The fact that the House had passed the Ricks bill by a wider margin in 1935 did not go unnoticed. An intense campaign again was under way to convince everyone, especially legislators, that the best interests of the state were to accept the pioneer educational institution. The physical plant could accommodate 600 students and was in good order. Arthur Porter, Jr., who had gone to Boise for the fourth time to lobby for the Ricks bill, used his newspaper, The Rexburg Journal, to speak to a broad audience. He pointed out benefits to the local economy and for the state of having Ricks stay open as a state institution. Clearly, “acceptance of this institution is a logical and practical proposition to the state.”
The senate sponsor of House Bill No. 46 was L.Y. Rigby. Interest in the bill was high; the gallery was packed to hear the debate. In addition to restating reasons why the state should accept the gift of Ricks College, he introduced a new argument. “The southeastern Idaho community needs such an institution, and the state should assume the burden of operating it, rather than leave that to members of the Church, who are supporting it now in addition to contributing to the state-operated institutions.” The implication that the state had a moral obligation to alleviate the “double taxation” that supported the institution of higher education in Rexburg had not heretofore been publicly made. Double taxation had certainly been talked about in Rexburg and surrounding stakes. There had been some fear that adding moral responsibility to practical arguments for the state accepting Ricks might add fuel to some anti-Mormon sentiment. Even President Hart had worried about “them” against “us” coalitions developing among state legislators. Apparently Senator Rigby, realizing that all practical reasons for taking the college had not been sufficient in the past, decided to add another dimension.
Senator E.H. Anderson of Elmore County spoke on behalf of the bill. He “ridiculed as subterfuge the plea that the state could not afford to carry on this school.” Ten thousand dollars had been appropriated to “feed ducks” and the liquor commission had received an additional $25,000 above its usual appropriation, “and still the senators object to providing $80,000.00 for the biennium for this educational institution,” Anderson said.
Opposition was pointed. Before another educational institution could be added to the state, existing state hospitals and prisons had to be funded. If more of the state’s resources were put into higher education, less would be available for public education and could “pauperize” high schools and grade schools. Education was a “racket.” Colleges were mainly interested in athletics at the taxpayers’ expense. Perhaps most telling was the argument advanced by several that they had no college education and they were successful. When the votes were counted, House Bill No. 46 went down to defeat. The sixteen ayes to twenty-eight nays surpassed that of 1935 by five votes. A Lewiston Tribune editorial, reprinted in the Moscow Daily Star-Mirror, noted:
"The state senate acted wisely in rejecting this offer, after again looking the gift horse in the mouth. When all the arguments are in there still are two good reasons for the refusal: (a) There is no convincing evidence that the church which established and operates Ricks College is no longer financially able to continue its support of the institution; (b) neither is there evidence the people of Idaho desire or can afford to make this expansion in the state educational system. "
Senator Rigby was not giving up. He introduced a revised Ricks bill, calling for the state to accept Ricks as a gift, but appropriate $60,000 for the biennium rather than $80,000. The attempt was futile. The vote, taken on February 27, 1937, was thirteen for to twenty-nine against. President Manwaring, though optimistic by nature, was having a hard time maintaining his optimism, feeling Ricks College had become a forlorn orphan.
While politicians in Boise were debating, the college kept right on functioning. Leadership Week was again successful. The Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Pirates of Penzance was performed before “large and appreciative audiences.” Ricks hosted the fifth annual college speech tournament with Ricks taking first place. Basketball games were played, devotional and forum assemblies were attended, social development continued with various activities, and religious and secular education continued in spite of uncertainty for the following year.
Because of reduced funding during each of the past several years, coupled with determination to make do and not go over the budget, buildings needed repairs. Some faucets leaked, there were holes in some of the linoleum, floors creaked, and some walls had cracks. Perhaps the deterioration had something to do with some of the pranks played by some students over the last three or four years. President Manwaring arrived at his office one day to find a “huge boulder” on his desk. Another time he found “a one-seat privy . . . in his office.”
M.D. Beal’s cow was the focus of the most infamous prank. President Manwaring was out of town and Beal was acting president. He noticed that his cow was missing early in the morning. Upon arriving at school, he was told by the custodian where he could find the cow. “My cow and a dozen chickens belonging to a neighbor were put in the library,” he wrote in his memoirs. Getting the chickens into the library, which was in the administration building, was no problem. Getting the cow up three flights of stairs into the library meant that several were in on the prank. By the time the cow and chickens were discovered, the library was a shambles. Getting them out of the library and building was no small trick. Beal acted quickly. Using information provided by friends, he called twelve young men to the president’s office. “All questions and answers were recorded by Opal Christensen in the presence of Marriner D. Morrell.” The ad hoc committee voted to expel the “rusty dozen.” The “rude fellows” were notified that they were expelled. “They were subdued and apologetic, but they took the bitter pill without comment.” When President Manwaring returned, he “lifted the expulsion upon payment of slender fines to defray the custodian’s extraordinary labors.” The cow caper became part of the school’s folklore.
To see if he could arrange for continued operation of the college, President Manwaring traveled to Salt Lake City late in March to meet with the Church Board of Education and Commissioner Franklin West. By 1937, David O. McKay, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, “had become the dominant educational advisor in the church.” His influence was evident when President Manwaring received the welcome news that Ricks was to be maintained as a Church school. The budget was set with the Church appropriating $25,000 and a salary schedule was drawn up.
Commissioner West and President Manwaring made the announcement to the local press and the effect was immediate. “It is now reported by the administration of Ricks College that new life and growth will begin with this new status.” Everyone would be welcome at the college but must maintain the expected “high standard of living and conduct.” Academic training would be strengthened, there would be “wider extracurricular activity,” development of good character would be emphasized, and each student could “get first class college training at low cost.” Even with the new salary schedule, faculty would be making about what they had ten years earlier in 1927. The local Board of Education would still administer college affairs. Once again board members were all Church members. J.E. Graham and P.H. Craven had resigned. Forgotten in the euphoria of the moment was the fact that the Church Board of Education had not specified how long the Church intended to continue operating the college.
A public meeting was held on May 3, 1937, in the county courthouse under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce. On the agenda was one major item: buying and remodeling a building for a Ricks College dormitory. They had a building in mind, the Espe Building on College Avenue across from Taylor Chevrolet, which could be remodeled to accommodate eighty to ninety students. Funds were raised by selling notes to pay the $15,000 needed to buy, remodel, and furnish the building as a coeducational dormitory. Girls would occupy the upper floor, the boys the lower. “Even though the boys and the girls are in the same building, their living quarters will be definitely separate, and they will be under careful supervision. Boys will never enter the upstairs apartments, and the girls will never enter the boys apartments downstairs.” However, they would eat meals together. “Experience shows that more culture and refinement is developed in the common dining hall than where the young folks are divided.”
To live and eat in the dorm would cost about $17 per month. For children of local farmers, they could get credit on their board for produce they brought to the kitchen. There was no doubt that the dorm would be ready for the start of the 1937-1938 school year, so getting signed up as quickly as possible was important. Blueprints were quickly in the hands of contractors for bidding.
Two-thousand copies of the latest edition of the college catalog extolling the value of attending Ricks for secular and religious instruction were mailed in mid-July 1937. Ricks was considered a full-fledged Church school again. For the past few years, in an attempt to sound secular for the state’s benefit, “ethics education” had replaced “religious education” in the curriculum. “Religious” education was restored, “ethics” classes were offered, and for the first time, incoming freshmen were required to take a Church history and doctrine course or a course in moral and ethical conduct. Social development was enhanced with athletics, music, drama, debating, and clubs. Living in the new dormitory, now called a “residence hall” (under the management of Artell and Verla Chapman), would make attendance so comfortable and the cost so reasonable that many would want to attend Ricks rather than some other college.
The fiftieth class began testing and registration on September 20. A large freshmen class seemed to point to record enrollment. Students living in the residence hall seemed “happy and contented” and were conducting themselves “wonderfully well.” Attending the opening assembly was the largest group of students since Ricks had become a junior college. President Manwaring advised “that each student reach up for self expression and self development” and “take a vital interest in the moral and religious program of the church school.” Students were encouraged to get involved by working with various committees for the semi-centennial celebration to take place on October 15. The greatest homecoming in the history of the school with the theme “A Bigger and Better Ricks College” was planned.
The anniversary celebration could not be held on October 15 because a substantial portion of the student body and area farmers would be in the fields harvesting bumper crops of potatoes and sugar beets. Somewhat reluctantly, the celebration was rescheduled until Armistice Day on November 11.
Thousands gathered along Main Street on November 11 to watch the semi-centennial celebration opening parade led by American Legion representatives. They were followed by four marching bands, floats made by various college clubs and local merchants, students dressed up to represent the historical and educational background of Ricks, and students just having fun. The parade ended at the tabernacle where each class sat together in reserved areas. The American Legion was acknowledged with a moment of silence. Then bands played, songs were sung, and speeches and tributes were given. The crowd headed from the tabernacle to the fairgrounds to cheer on the home team. Not since the game against McKinley High School of Honolulu a few years before had so much enthusiasm been generated for a football game. The fans were not disappointed. The Vikings defeated the University of Utah freshmen 12-7 in a hard-fought game. Celebrants visited the campus after the game to view exhibits and attend a reception in the new residence hall. The pageant, mostly researched and written by M.D. Beal, was performed in the college auditorium and included historical sketches of each administration. The college’s struggle for survival was skillfully portrayed. Everyone came away with a better understanding of the past and with renewed optimism for the school’s future. The festivities concluded with the alumni ball at Playmore Hall.
A change was made in the Utah-Idaho junior college basketball league in which Ricks played. Heretofore, the winner of the Idaho and Utah divisions played each other to determine a league champion. Ricks and the other league members would now play each team in the Utah-Idaho League with five home games and five away games. The team with the highest percentage of wins was to be declared league champion. That put added pressure on Coach Packer and the team to prepare as if each game were the championship game. The Idaho Junior College League continued to crown a champion based on win-loss records. Ricks played twenty-three games, winning twelve and losing eleven. The Vikings won the Idaho junior college championship, but tied for second with Snow College in the Utah-Idaho League with an eight and four record. The perennial nemesis, Weber Junior College, won the title.
The Viking pep band, under the direction of John Anderson, was highly praised for significantly contributing to the basketball season. A column in The Rexburg Journal complimented the pep band: “With their pep music and clever novelty numbers the crowd could see the home town defeated and still feel as though we had won. This organization adds much to the atmosphere of combat and keeps everyone in the mood to enjoy a game. Those who do not like basketball should go to a game to hear the band. You’ll find it is worth the money.”
The most far-reaching advertisement ploy to date for Ricks College and Rexburg took place on May 19, 1938. A postal service airplane landed on the runway south of the college to pick up mail. May 15 to 21 had been designated as National Air Mail Week. The Rexburg post office agreed to place the official college logo (a Viking ship in the middle of a circle with the college name, Rexburg, Idaho, and Founded 1888 around the circle) on all letters going by airmail. People were encouraged to send letters anywhere in the world to advertise the college and the city. A large volume of mail flew across the United States and to several foreign countries.
The college was further advertised in a Rixida issue, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the school. The yearbook was dedicated to the school’s founders: Thomas E. Ricks, Karl G. Maeser, and Jacob Spori. The first copy was presented in a special assembly to SarahAnn Barnes, a member of the first academy faculty.
Seventy-six graduates of the semi-centennial class, college administration and faculty, parents, and friends gathered in the tabernacle on May 29, 1938, to hear the baccalaureate sermon by Elder Stephen L. Richards. That began a week full of activities for the graduates, culminating in commencement exercises on June 3 in the tabernacle. A substantial number of graduates indicated they would continue their education. Most of those concluding the education curriculum were assured of teaching positions once certification procedures were completed.
Early in June 1938, the old Zions Co-operative Mercantile Institution building, built under the direction of Thomas E. Ricks, was being demolished. The building was the last tie to the early years of Ricks College. After the Rexburg ZCMI closed, the Church had purchased the building for $3,500 in 1901. The academy moved from the old First Ward building to occupy the second floor of the building. The academy operated there until 1903. James H. Wallis had attended academy classes in the ZCMI building. “The old building was a meeting place of intellectuals,” he recalled. “The old walls resounded to the eloquence of such notables as Dr. [Karl G.] Maeser, Ben E. Rich, Dr. J.M. Tanner, Jacob Spori, President Thomas E. Ricks, William F. Rigby, Heber Sharp, Ezra C. Dalby, and others.” Others “made the building ring with their music.” By 1938 the building had deteriorated to such an extent that repairs were impossible. Most named by Wallis “preceded the old building to dissolution.” Those who remain “are reminded that time is the leveller of great and small.” Destruction of the building seemed like the passing of an old friend, the passing of an era.
By the end of July 1938, the latest edition of the college catalog, with some notable changes, had been mailed. Student fees raised from $67.50 to $75 per year. Included in the increase were first-time registration and health fees. To moderate the fee increase, the cost of living in the residence hall would remain at $17. Other changes noted in the catalog were an emphasis on religion classes that were expanded to more closely conform to those at Brigham Young University and advanced English classes would be required for graduation.
The Viking basketball team handed the college and Coach Packer three championship trophies for the new case constructed in the Spori Building. They won the Idaho junior college, Utah-Idaho conference, and Rocky Mountain junior college championships. That Coach Packer added the championships to his record before retiring was especially fitting. Norman Holman took high point honors, ending the season with 245 points. Known for his skill in football, basketball, and track, Holman was named top athlete at Ricks for the year. Sports and other events were reported in the Viking Scroll. (The Purple Flash had become the Viking Scroll.)
The basketball, track, and tennis teams would finish the school year with the knowledge that they would be the last for Coach Packer. Late in December 1938, he announced that he planned to retire at the end of the school year in 1939. He had been athletic director and coach at Ricks for twenty-two years, amassing a winning record envied by many contemporary coaches. He decided to devote full time to his dry farm. As in coaching, he was successful in agricultural pursuits.
President Manwaring announced Coach Packer’s retirement and a successor. Lowell C. Biddulph accepted the offer to be athletic director and coach. Biddulph was anticipating entering medical school when the offer came from Ricks. Accepting the offer meant a change in career plans. That decision meant several generations of Ricks students would benefit from this remarkable man and his equally talented and remarkable wife, Ruth.
Winter quarter registration was on January 3, 1939. This was the first time students registered for winter quarter after the Christmas holiday. At least thirty new students registered. The dormitory was filled to capacity. Only a few had dropped out after fall quarter to get married, go on missions, or because of financial distress. Beets and potatoes had frozen in the ground in the fall and commodity prices were low. Some who had counted on being able to bring potatoes to help with their dormitory fee had to stay home.
J. Wylie Sessions of the Church institute in Logan, Utah, accompanied by J. Karl Wood of South Cache Seminary, met more than 100 Lambda Delta Sigma pledges in the Fourth Ward chapel on February 25, 1939, to formally initiate them into the organization. Both men and women were invited to pledge. The Church encouraged a Lambda Delta Sigma chapter, stressing “social, spiritual, educational and physical development,” be established in all colleges with enough Latter-day Saints to organize one. The purpose was to provide “closer social contact between students of the L.D.S. church who are in college.”
Early in April the Church Board of Education announced Hyrum Manwaring’s reappointment as president of Ricks College for another year. Arthur Porter, Jr., noted that “during the dark days of depression when the L.D.S. church had withdrawn its supervision of the college and the state of Idaho refused to take the school, President Manwaring and a group of loyal instructors at the school held on. Then, the church took the school back again and in the reappointment of President Manwaring indicate their intention of continued support.” He was gratified with the Church appropriation of $32,000.
The classes of 1909, 1919, 1929, and 1939 were honored at the alumni luncheon prior to commencement on June 7, 1939. Seventy members of the class of 1939 received associate degrees. Commencement speakers, notably Dr. N.A. Pedersen, dean of the college of arts and science at the Agricultural College in Logan, Utah, gave advice on how to cope with the continuing economic hard times. He also spoke about needed negotiations to solve the problems of warring nations. The graduates had a shaky world “to set right.”
During the 1938-1939 school year, the local Board of Education was just a figurehead. President Manwaring had written a letter to each board member on November 17, 1938, thanking them for their service, expressing confidence in the reorganized Church educational structure, and asking for “future loyalty even though you may no longer be an administrative officer.” The local board disbanded before the 1939-1940 school year began.
The first dance of the 1939-1940 school year was held at Playmore Hall. The jitterbug was the latest dance craze. “When we were young it was the custom to hold a girl as close as possible and whisper sweet words in her ear,” one observer noted. The idea of jitterbugging “it seems, is to stand about two feet apart and try to kick each others teeth out. Well, anyway, they seem to have fun doing it so it must be O.K.”
Early in September 1939, President Manwaring announced a new religious program would be instituted on campus starting with the upcoming school year. For the first time, students would have their own Sunday School and Mutual Improvement Association. Students called to leadership and teaching positions would serve for a quarter, then other students would be called ensuring that a high percentage of the student body would have the opportunity for service and training. Richard Hill of St. Anthony and Joan Elkington of Idaho Falls were called as presidents of the young men and young women of the Mutual Improvement Association. Lowell Biddulph, Marjorie Ellsworth, and M.D. Beal were faculty advisors. Neal Machen, a returned missionary from nearby Burton, was called as Sunday School superintendent with Lowell Shepherd as first assistant, Clifford Hansen as second assistant, and Nina Jordan as organist. Hugh C. Bennion, Marriner Morrell, and Joseph Catmull were faculty advisors, and, along with President Manwaring, taught Sunday School classes.
All eyes were on the new football coach and his team. Not all football players had reported on September 11, so Coach Biddulph did not know how to assess the season’s prospects. A reluctance to make rash predictions would become the trademark for the coach. Coach Biddulph’s first season ended with wins over Carroll College, Weber, and Westminster, and four losses. Basketball season went considerably better. Biddulph coached his first basketball team to a thirteen-win, seven-loss record and the Idaho Junior College League title. His track team also competed well.
When high school teams showed up at Ricks in March 1940 to participate in a basketball tournament, they found a remodeled gymnasium. Additional seating had been added on the sides with new seating built on each end of the court so about 1,000 spectators could be accommodated. The most appreciated change was that the circular stairs in the corners of the gym that led to the bleachers had been removed. The stairs had actually projected onto the playing floor and caused more than a little concern during high school tournaments played there—not to mention that college players did not think too kindly of the obstruction on the playing floor. In addition to past complaints about the stairs, complaints also had been registered that players in afternoon games spent part of each game blinded by the sun. The windows were frosted so direct afternoon sun did not reflect off the floor.
Early in March, Ricks College was invited to provide music for Saturday sessions of the forthcoming general conference in Salt Lake City. John Anderson, director of the music department, announced that he would like a choir of 250 to 300 members. Ricks could provide 150 from various singing groups. Anyone from the Rexburg and surrounding stakes wanting to add their voice to the choir was encouraged to sing. Knowledge that Ricks, the “L.D.S. College of Idaho,” and Rexburg would be advertised to some 10,000 people in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, as well as to a large radio audience, was exhilarating. The invitation to sing in general conference had some impact on registration for spring quarter. As usual spring quarter registration was lower than winter quarter, but more than 280 students registered. Well over half participated in the choir.
The conference choir presented concerts in the Rexburg Stake Tabernacle on April 3 and 4. The concerts helped put finishing touches on songs to be presented at general conference, as well as showcase stake choirs from the Rexburg, Idaho Falls, Idaho Falls North, Blackfoot, Teton, Shelley, Rigby, and Yellowstone stakes. Stake choirs added special music to the concert. Those attending the concerts would hear the “greatest music festival ever presented in this part of Idaho.” Admission of twenty-five cents was charged to help defray transportation costs to and from Salt Lake City.
For the Saturday, April 6, conference sessions, women of the choir wore pastel dresses and men wore dark suits and white shirts. One conference speaker noted that the choir “gave the appearance of a flower garden.” John Anderson conducted the choir in singing six anthems. Choir members did not know their music was being recorded. “We were very much surprised to find how well we sang,” reported a choir member in the 1940 Rixida. Apparently, many were impressed with the beautiful singing under Anderson’s superb direction. Congratulations for the fine performances were received from J. Spencer Cornwall, director of the Tabernacle Choir; numerous congregation members; and several General Authorities, notably President David O. McKay, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. Greatly moved by the music, he commented that there were to be no more attempts made to give the college away.
The rest of the school year almost seemed anticlimactic. Classes were completed, dramatic and musical productions performed, intercollegiate and intramural athletics concluded, the usual high school campus visits arranged, and summer school planned. But the general conference performance by the college and the publicity generated, especially with the assurance that no more attempts to give the college to the state were to be made, continued to be the highlight of the school year. The trip would play prominently in recruiting efforts for the 1940-1941 school year.
Ninety-seven graduates listened to Commissioner Franklin West’s counsel at commencement on May 31, 1940. “Character development in surroundings of sobriety and chastity, unhampered by acquisitions of such destructive habits as smoking and drinking was a distinct advantage in preparing men and women for lives of usefulness and patriotic service,” he said. Furthermore, he “decried the evil of ‘petting,’ advising girls that some boys of his acquaintance had explained to him that they only ‘petted’ girls who possessed no other charm or intellectual interest.”
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