It was a calm, sunlit late September morning as our ferry churned its way across Dalco Passage in Puget Sound just north of Tacoma, Wash. Mike Lewis, the Ricks photographer, and I were on assignment for this magazine. Our destination was Vashon Island, right in front of us, with its thick mantle of trees looking like a green cap surrounded by water. The island’s heavy vegetation leaves little room for a beach, the water almost lapping at the tree roots.
As our car rolled off the ferry, a narrow road engulfed us with tall trees on both sides, causing disorientation, as if lost in a jungle. After a wrong turn here, a wrong turn there, and after asking for directions (oh, how men hate to do that!), we saw the small sign by the road with the familiar Ricks College logo and the words “Quest” printed below. We had found the college’s newest satellite campus.
For 53 current students, the vast majority of them just out of high school, the Ricks College experience included a stay on Vashon. The students are part of the college’s Quest program inaugurated last fall. About 100 students are part of the program, with the other half studying at Badger Creek Ranch near the Rexburg campus, or taking classes through Continuing Education.
“This place is just awesome,” freshman Natalie Barfuss of Boise, Idaho explained in typical teenage fashion. “We have the best of both worlds,” she said, referring to the small-town rural conditions on the island, and the nearby big-city opportunities found in both Tacoma and Seattle.
Quest, according to Ron Campbell, director of the Division of Continuing Education which administers the program, is a direct response to one of the seven guiding principles for Ricks College outlined in President David A. Bednar’s inauguration talk- “more students must be blessed. All worthy youth of the Church deserve a Ricks College experience,” the president said in February 1998. With an enrollment limit again in place, Quest allows for additional admissions. Campbell describes the program as “short term and high impact,” and likens its goals to the “righteous sociality” concept outlined in President Bednar’s inauguration speech. Upon completion of the program, students are automatically enrolled for the winter semester, Campbell says.
Much as would happen if students were on the Ricks campus, takes place on Vashon. As Emily remembers, “By the third night, all the girls were sitting in the hall talking. We just, like, bonded. We were sisters in the Gospel.”
Students gather near the southern tip of Vashon on Morningside Farms, a former Morgan horse farm now owned by the Church. Vashon is accessible only by ferry from Tacoma to the south or Seattle and Bremerton from the north. With lush vegetation and tall trees, the farm is crisscrossed by seemingly endless rows of white fences, carefully manicured grounds, an apple orchard, a stocked fishing pond with a picturesque gazebo nearby, and numerous barns, all in immaculately clean condition. The main house commands a breathtaking view of the Sound and looks toward 14,411-foot Mount Rainier, which appears to rise just behind the suburbs of Tacoma. Near the house is a five-car garage and an enclosed bath house. The 110-acre property was donated to the LDS Church in 1997. It is administered by Church leaders in the area. In addition to the gift of property, the donors, recognizing a need, built two dormitory buildings to house about 60 students on one end of the property. The women’s dormitory building includes a classroom that doubles as a dining hall with a kitchen attached. The men’s dormitory, in a separate building, is only a few feet away. The program’s director lives in a separate house on the property. A female assistant lives in one of the rooms of the women’s dormitory.
Mark McMurdie, a freshman student from Dallas, Texas, attended Ricks for a Summer School term in 1999 prior to joining the Quest program. His typical 16 credit-hour class load on Vashon included courses in sociology, religion, natural science, and backpacking. An online class was also available. In addition to the classes, some of them taught by Priesthood leaders from the area, the students participate in field trips to Seattle, Tacoma, and the Olympic Peninsula. They visit museums, zoos, businesses, industrial areas, and historic sites. They are involved in service projects such as Seattle area food banks and Church canneries.
The future looks bright for the Vashon facility. During the summer months it is used by stakes in the area for camps and youth conferences. Barns, because of their immaculate condition, are converted to makeshift sleeping areas. For the first time next winter, Ricks will also offer the Quest program on Vashon for the Winter Semester 2001.
Information about Quest will be included in all registration packets to those students accepted to Ricks for the fall of 2000. Further information is available from Ricks College Continuing Education, 103 ASB, Rexburg, ID 83460-8011; or by calling (208) 356-1040; e-mailing at firstname.lastname@example.org; or online by clicking here.
All too soon our time on Vashon had to end. The act of leaving or returning on a ferry seems the equivalent of shutting or opening a door on an area of tranquility and closeness to nature in exchange for the hustle and bustle of big-city living. It truly is the best of two worlds.
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