STANDING as a silent sentinel on the hill, the Thomas E. Ricks Building overlooks the campus of Brigham Young University–Idaho and the city of Rexburg. The Ricks Building’s vantage point at the top of campus is a perfect location to observe how far the area has come since it was settled in February of 1883. Where the hill was once bare, it is now thriving as thousands of students come from all around the world for their education. The journey started by the building’s namesake, Thomas E. Ricks, continues to grow, and his memory will be honored as his name remains a lasting part of the BYU–Idaho campus.
As the newest facility on campus, the Ricks Building opened its doors to students for Winter Semester 2005. Its unpretentious design mirrors Thomas E. Ricks’ life—quietly dedicated to service and function, to exploration and learning. The 56,200-square-foot, L-shaped building includes 23 classrooms, 58 offices, and four secretarial reception areas. The Ricks Building houses the Department of Mathematics; the Department of Psychology; the Department of Sociology and Social Work; and the Department of History, Geography, and Political Science. The building’s completion fulfills President Gordon B. Hinckley’s reassurance given in June 2000 when announcing that Ricks College would become a baccalaureate-granting institution named Brigham Young University–Idaho. He said, “The memory of Thomas E. Ricks will continue to be appropriately honored and perpetuated.” Even though the name of the school has changed, the “Spirit of Ricks” remains. Awareness and respect for those who paved the way continue to thrive. The foundations of this campus are not built with brick or stone; they are built with obedience, love, and service to the Lord.
Thomas Edwin Ricks was a devoted father and husband, a courageous explorer and colonizer, an enterprising businessman, and an instrumental leader in founding the school now known as Brigham Young University–Idaho which carried the Ricks name from 1902-2001. A convert to the Church, Thomas E. Ricks demonstrated a willingness to serve from an early age when he toiled in the construction of the Nauvoo Temple. At the age of 20, he crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley and was later called or volunteered five times to assist others in their trek west. During one exodus, Thomas and others met with Indians who had driven off their cattle. Three shots left him on the ground. As related by himself later, Thomas struggled for life and felt uncertain of his fate until a voice came to him, clearly and audibly: “You will not die; you will go to the valley of the mountains and there you will do a great work in your day and generation.”
Thomas did just that as he worked as a colonizer to identify potential settlement locations in what became the states of Utah, Nevada, and Idaho. He knew there was a great potential yet to be realized, especially in starting an academy in Rexburg. Ricks said, “We must educate our children as there are important positions awaiting them.” The mission set forth by Thomas E. Ricks extends over time and generations whether the education came from the years of an academy or now as a university. At the funeral for Thomas E. Ricks, President Joseph F. Smith said, “It may be a long time before we find another man his equal in honor, mind, and unswerving loyalty to the cause of God and his people.”
When Elder David A. Bednar announced that a new facility and the nearby demonstration gardens would be named the Thomas E. Ricks Building and Gardens, he said, “It is most appropriate that this new academic building and beautiful garden area bear the name of Thomas E. Ricks as a lasting tribute to his valiant and pioneering educational efforts.”
The changes to the Ricks Gardens come not only in name but also in function and format. Byron John, the Department of Horticulture faculty member who oversees the gardens, says they were a bit hidden before but will now be used and experienced by more people. Walkways have been added as the Gardens have become a quad used by students going to the Ricks, Hinckley, Benson, Taylor, and Kimball Buildings. One hope is that students will feel encouraged to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the landscape. Formerly known as the Horticulture Research and Demonstration Gardens, the gardens were originally approved in 1974 as a 10-acre classroom extension for the horticulture program. The plot developed through hands-on learning projects as students added elevations to the landscape, constructed features, and planted a vast variety of trees and vegetation. “The gardens were built year by year for over 30 years. The result was a little bit choppy,” explains John. “The remodel brought unity and cohesiveness by pulling everything back together. Visually and functionally they make a lot more sense.”
In dedicating the Thomas E. Ricks Building and Gardens on February 18, 2005, Elder Bednar expressed appreciation for the Ricks heritage and the tradition of loyalty. “The on-going tribute we pay to Thomas E. Ricks, a tribute far more meaningful and significant than naming a university or a building or a garden in his honor, is that the workings of the Holy Ghost in this sacred and set apart place are affectionately and warmly referred to as the ‘Spirit of Ricks.’”
He continued, “The ‘Spirit of Ricks’ suggests the spirituality, the desire for obedience, the personal caring and warmth, the humility and modesty, the friendliness, the genuine concern for others, the bright smiles and cheerful hellos, and so many other things that make this university an unusually inviting, supporting, and nurturing place.”
As this Spirit is preserved and enhanced, the Thomas E. Ricks Building will stand as a silent reminder of pioneering perseverance and the ascending aspirations of those who continue to follow pathways of education in an environment of faith.SM