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
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,
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
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.