It is amazing—though not surprising—how many people really care about what is happening to and for students at BYU–Idaho. Often, that interest leads to financial contributions of anywhere from a few dollars to many thousands of dollars every year. But why? What is it that motivates so much generosity? What is it, this year, that is prompting so many to give the specific amount of $177?
Providing the “BYU–Idaho Experience”
In talking with alumni in particular, I learned that many desire to help today’s students get the same life-changing experiences they had. They support the institution that provides the environment for specific experiences like personal association with teachers, social growth, and some other aspects unique to the campus in Rexburg, Idaho.
I had a wonderful discussion with Pearl Anderegg Anderson ’54 of Texas who is 91 years old this year. As we talked, she said, “I first attended in the late 1930s, back when some of the kids put a cow in the library” (though she said she had nothing to do with it). “We enjoyed ourselves and, besides that prank, had a lot of very good experiences. I gave because I believe those good things are still happening there.”
“Those good things” are now happening for an incrementally increasing number of young men and women from every one of the United States and 40 countries
around the world.
While here, students serve, lead, and associate with other committed young adults; they sometimes meet and marry their eternal companions. They gain valuable experiential learning, and they leave with degrees to serve and lead throughout the world.
Blake Chamberlin ’82 of Texas said, “I’m sure the school is continuing the tradition of what was there when I went. It was small enough and the teachers weren’t completely involved in research, so we had PhDs teaching instead of graduate students. I got a good education; I respect that and want to continue that possibility for others.”
Donations from people like Blake simply enhance the overall experience students have at BYU–Idaho.
When it comes down to figuring the actual cost of providing a quality college education, those who attend BYU–Idaho benefit from a tuition that is greatly supplemented. Some alumni tell me they feel a need to “give something back” to the institution that provided so much toward their development.
“I know that those of us who went there received far more than we ever had to pay for,” says Shane Nelson ’77 of Florida, “so even though I’m not necessarily affluent, when I do get a call or a letter, it makes me feel good to give a little back.”
Whether it carried the name Bannock Stake Academy, Ricks Normal College, Ricks College, or Brigham Young University–Idaho when we attended, it will forever be part of us—who we are and whom we become.
Alumna Tamara Bagley Henry ’91 of Nebraska says, “I gave because I had such a good experience there. I got a good education and I gained a religious background that has strengthened my testimony.”
A General Feeling of Philanthropy
“When you help others help themselves, you’re truly helping them, versus just giving handouts to them,” says Tamara Henry. “Giving to BYU–Idaho is going to help them get an education so they can help themselves through life.”
Tamara captured the core of why we do what we do. It is that “teach someone to fish” idea. It is acting on our love for others. I have come to learn that “philanthropy” is the term that describes it.
Some years ago I attended a luncheon at which the keynote speaker was Jon M. Huntsman, a well-known philanthropist and CEO of Huntsman Chemical, the largest privately-owned chemical company in the world. He presented a wonderful message that day; however, the thing I remember most was something his wife Karen shared prior to his speech.
In her introduction, she said that soon after they were married and pinching pennies like any newlyweds, she discovered that her husband had been giving $50 a month to help another member of their ward.
That day Sister Huntsman taught me that one does not become a “philanthropist” only when one is wealthy. Philanthropy can develop at any time in our lives because it is essentially giving out of a love for one’s fellowman. In a broader perspective, as we assist in the education of young people, we are also fulfilling something important personally in regard to building the kingdom.
While there are often additional reasons for giving to BYU–Idaho students, philanthropy, especially within a Latter-day Saint society, is usually the ultimate catalyst for a gift that improves a mind and a saves a life.
Jacob Spori and $177
Lives are made better anytime alumni and others give, in any amount. This year however, something interesting is happening. Hundreds of contributions of exactly $177 are being sent to BYU–Idaho.
In March 2004, a letter from President David A. Bednar was mailed to many alumni and friends of the university. In it he recounted a unique sacrifice made by Jacob Spori, the first principal of this institution.
To sum up Spori’s experience, after just two years of existence, the fledgling school was $177 in debt. Principal Spori felt personally responsible and not only applied his salary to cover the deficit, but worked on the railroad for a time and used those earnings to help pay the salaries of the other teachers.
President Bednar’s letter included an invitation to honor Jacob’s sacrifice by giving $177 to BYU–Idaho this year. The response has been remarkable.
Of course, many valued gifts were given in various amounts, but the $177 challenge brought about some interesting results. Of the $177 donations, 84 percent represented the largest gift ever given to the institution by those individuals. It had been over two years since 22 percent of them had given anything to BYU–Idaho, and 66 percent of those who gave $177 this year had given less than $50 previously.
Recently President Bednar said, “It is gratifying to see the list of those who have responded to our specific request in behalf of the students presently attending Brigham Young University–Idaho. Many gifts of exactly $177 have come in already this year. These gifts are but a sampling of the regular, ongoing contributions of time, talents, and treasure through the years. Certainly we can only begin to imagine the good that thousands of alumni-leaders will continue to accomplish throughout the world after having benefited from the generosity and sacrifice of so many.”
Continuing the Tradition
By and large, many of those who gave $177 this year did so because they were touched by what Jacob Spori did so long ago. They liked the historical significance of the target amount. While they acknowledged that a gift of $177 in today’s dollars will not go as far as Spori’s did, they wanted to do their part.
Shane Nelson gave $177 this year. He said, “I was touched by Jacob Spori’s story and thought, ‘Well if I give $177, I know it’s not the same as it was back in 1890. But it’s a target amount that has some meaning, and it’s something I can contribute.’ It might have been a little bit of a stretch for us, but it was reachable.”
Of his $177 gift, Blake Chamberlin said, “It seemed like it was reasonable to meet the challenge the same way Jacob Spori did in the past. I liked the historical context of giving what one of the founders of the school gave, so I gave out of a respect for the history.”
Since the time of Principal Spori and the initial financial struggles, all contributions to the school reflect a tradition of sacrifice over the years. More than once, it was the rallying together of community members and campus personnel that kept the school afloat during these times of economic crisis.
Many times over, alumni and even students have pooled their resources to begin or maintain programs to help the student body.
Much of what is deemed the “Spirit of Ricks” comes from a perpetual feeling of hunkering down, lending a hand, taking some extra time, giving a little more, and sheltering one another from rough winds (pun intended) on campus. Throughout the lifetime of BYU–Idaho, these expressions have come in the form of, or along with, financial contributions. These gifts are trustfully presented to those who lead the school.
Faith in the President and Board of Trustees
“I have a lot of faith in the leaders,” said Shane Nelson, “and feel that whatever it is we give—whether it be tithes or any other contributions like those given to BYU–Idaho—that it will be treated as sacred and that they’ll use it appropriately in whatever fashion is most beneficial, whether it’s used to help those who can’t afford schooling or whatever will help the most.”
Some people give simply because they are invited to do so and trust that their gifts will be used appropriately. More often than not, instead of directing their gifts to specific university philanthropic priorities (areas through which support can be given) they allow the president and Board of Trustees to use their donations for priorities that need it most.
Regarding those philanthropic priorities for BYU–Idaho, a new set for 2005-2009 has recently been approved by the Board of Trustees. While a few priorities have been added to the existing list, no major changes in direction have occurred. The focus on students remains constant amidst change—a recurring theme among the administration.
In the End, It’s About the Students
At a gathering of BYU–Idaho employees on August 27, 2002, President Bednar said, “The hallmark of this institution is readily apparent when visitors come to our campus and say, ‘I can’t believe how student-focused the faculty are, the staff are, all of the employees are.’ Think of that scenario, given what we have heard about the climate of critique in the secular world wherein students frequently are considered a ‘bother.’ Here at BYU–Idaho, the students are and always will be the focus of everything we do.”
Every employee hired on campus is interviewed and observed regarding their individual attention toward the ultimate good of the students. Likewise, the BYU–Idaho Board of Trustees chaired by the First Presidency, the vice presidents, and others who oversee the philanthropic contributions ensure that any gift given to the university benefits students.
There are many reasons people care about the students of this university and act on those motivators. This year students have been collectively and personally supported by more gifts than ever before, a good number of them in the amount of $177.
Ultimately it’s about the students—their experiential learning, their quality of academic training, and their opportunity to even attend.
As always, the students thank you. And we thank you. SM
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