The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always had a great commitment to education. When its early members were forced from their homes and established communities in the eastern United States, their desire for knowledge still burned strong.
Following their western exodus, numerous Church academies were established in the pioneering communities to provide the basics of education and spiritual growth. Most of these have since been absorbed into their respective state educational systems.
Of the original academies, only Brigham Young University–Idaho and Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, remain as part of the Church Educational System.
Laying the foundations
On November 12, 1888, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints created Bannock Stake Academy in Rexburg, Idaho. Three teachers were appointed to provide the basics in elementary education and spiritual growth.
Jacob Spori served concurrently on the faculty and as the first principal from 1888 to 1891. When the Academy found itself in debt, Spori gave up his salary for a term to help make up the deficit.
Charles N. Watkins served as the principal from 1891 to 1894, during which time members of the stake were asked to contribute money to help keep the school open.
In 1894, a new principal, George Cole, was hired; but financial problems continued. In order to keep the school open during the winter of 1895–96, Cole and the faculty agreed to work for one-third of their salary in cash and the rest in produce.
A period of constant change
As the population grew, it became necessary to divide the geographical area designated by the LDS Church as the Bannock Stake. Fremont Stake was created, and thus in 1898 the school was renamed Fremont Stake Academy.
That same year, Douglas M. Todd replaced Cole. Still having limited resources, Todd introduced a high school program—the only one in the upper valley at the time. Under his administration, a stone building was begun which was later named after Jacob Spori.
In 1901, Ezra Christiansen, who later had his name legally changed to Ezra C. Dalby, became the principal. During his 13 years of leadership, the Academy moved into the newly finished stone building and became a standard high school, normal school, and commercial school.
In 1903, the school was renamed again as Ricks Academy in honor of Thomas E. Ricks, who had been president of the Bannock Stake and chairman of the school's first Board of Education at the time the academy was founded.
Andrew B. Christenson, who served as principal from 1914 to 1917, was instrumental in adding a year of college work to the curriculum, bringing water to the campus to beautify the grounds, and beginning the construction of a new gymnasium.
From academy to college
In the summer of 1917, George S. Romney replaced Christenson as principal. At this time, the school was granted state certification (which allowed its graduates to teach in the state of Idaho), the Academy became Ricks Normal College, and the principal became its first president.
In 1923, the school was renamed Ricks College.
Hyrum Manwaring became acting president of Ricks College in 1930 when the school was in danger of being either closed or turned over to the state of Idaho.
Things looked bleak when the state legislature defeated a bill to take over the college; but through President Manwaring's efforts and the support of the patrons, the school remained open and became fully accredited by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges.
John L. Clarke became president in 1944, and served for 27 years. He helped make Ricks into a four-year institution and then saw it change back to a two-year college.
President Clarke struggled through the years when the Commissioner of Education tried to move the college to Idaho Falls. Under his administration the college grew from an enrollment of 200 to 5,300 and its two original buildings multiplied to become two dozen.
Henry B. Eyring became president in 1971. His administrative and public relations skills ensured the college's successful transition from a regional junior college to the nation's largest private two-year college.
He oversaw the construction of additional buildings and developed new technical and vocational programs.
President Eyring opened the college to two thousand people left homeless by the Teton Dam flood in June 1976. Classes were temporarily canceled as students became involved in the relief efforts.
In 1978, President Eyring was succeeded by Bruce C. Hafen. Under his leadership, the college acquired 130 acres in the Teton Basin for its new Outdoor Recreation program. Construction included the Fine Arts Center, Livestock Center, Outdoor Learning Center, and Viking Stadium.
During President Hafen's tenure, the general education program was revised and the learning assistance programs were established.
Joe J. Christensen became president in 1985 and served during the centennial year of Ricks College. During his tenure, the college reached its enrollment limit of 7,500 students.
Campus projects during President Christensen's tenure included the doubling in size of the George S. Romney Science Building and a major landscaping project in the closure of a through-street which had previously dissected the campus.
Dr. Steven D. Bennion became president in 1989. Among his accomplishments at Rick College were the creation of two new academic divisions, new guidelines and refinements in the admissions process, and the continued expansion of computers for both student and employee use.
In 1995 construction began on a new classroom building for the religion and humanities departments, the John Taylor Building.
Dr. David A. Bednar took the helm of Ricks College in 1997. Construction during the early years of his tenure include the Spencer W. Kimball Student and Administrative Services Building, the John Taylor Building, and the Radio and Graphic Services Building.
A new era
On June 21, 2000, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Board of Trustees of Ricks College announced that the school would change from being a two-year junior college to a four-year institution. The school officially became known as Brigham Young University–Idaho on August 10, 2001.
To meet the needs of BYU–Idaho students and the transition in academic programs, the physical facilities were expanded to include the Gordon B. Hinckley Building, the Student Health and Counseling Center, the Henry's Fork Outdoor Learning Center, the Thomas E. Ricks Building, and University Village family housing.
Additions or renovations were also made to the Ezra Taft Benson, Mark Austin, Joseph Fielding Smith, and George S. Romney Buildings and to the David O. McKay Library.
Accreditation at the baccalaureate level was gained June 30, 2004, through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The Commission also reaffirmed accreditation at the associate level.
When President Bednar accepted the call to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Robert M. Wilkes accepted the position of interim president of BYU–Idaho effective December 1, 2004.
Kim B. Clark was called as president of BYU-Idaho in August 2005. Elder Clark served as president until April 2015 when he was sustained as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 4, 2015.
Clark G. Gilbert was called as president of BYU-Idaho in April 2015 and serves as the current president of the university.
While "rethinking education," the commitment to quality education and spiritual growth remains as strong today as it was when the founding fathers sought to build an institution of learning and growth for those living in the sage-brushed Snake River plains.