Monday, November 12, 2018

BYU-Idaho Predecessor, Bannock Stake Academy, Has Building Dedicated [otd 11/12]

On November 12, 1888, Mormon pioneers dedicated the school building for the Bannock Stake Academy in Rexburg, Idaho. With this small start, the Academy can justly lay claim to being the first organization in the state that eventually grew into an institution of higher learning. Not the first actual college, however; at least three Idaho schools taught college-level classes before them.
Principal Spori. BYU-I Archives.

The Stake selected Jacob Spori, a highly educated Swiss emigrant, as the first Principal. He and two other instructors ran the Academy initially as an elementary school.

Rexburg had been established by members of the LDS Church, led by Thomas E. Ricks, in January 1883. The town grew quickly, achieving a population of over 800 in early 1884 and burgeoning to over 1,400 by the end of that year. The Bannock Academy was among a host of local schools created by the Mormon church to teach standard academic subjects along with LDS religious doctrine.

Donations from members paid for desks and remodeling the log structure that served as a Ward meeting house. From the dedication onward, tight finances plagued the school. Funding was so scant that Spori covered its first-year debts, and the salaries of the other teachers, out of his own pocket. He resigned after three years for the sake of his family.

The Academy’s survival remained in doubt all through the Nineties under the two succeeding Principals: At one point, the entire staff served without pay for a half year, accepting foodstuffs in lieu of tuition so they could at least eat. A new Principal who came on board in 1899 began to phase out the lower grades, turning the institution into a high school.
Main building, ca. 1905. BYU-I Archives.

To accommodate the expanded curriculum, the Stake first purchased a building in Rexburg, and then arranged for the construction of a more suitable structure on land south of downtown. Workers put the finishing touches on the structure in time for the start of the 1903-04 school year. By then, the Church called the school the “Ricks Academy,” in honor of Thomas E. Ricks, who had died in September 1901.

Later, it became first Ricks Normal College and then just Ricks College. The institution barely survived crisis after crisis. In the early Thirties, the church tried to give the school to the state of Idaho as another junior college. Protesting any added drain on the state’s education budget, legislators spurned the offer.

World War II created yet another crisis. The draft and vital war work severely depleted the pool of potential male students. On top of that, several faculty members were called up. In May 1945, Ricks awarded degrees to its first, and only, all-girl graduating class.

However, after the war, returning veterans quickly changed the class mix and, in fact, caused a major housing crunch. From 1948 to 1957, the school transitioned into a four-year curriculum and then back to two-year status.

For a few years after that, it appeared the school would be moved to Idaho Falls. That crisis passed also, and in June 2000 it gained an assured 4-year status, now operating as Brigham Young University-Idaho. Today, BYU-Idaho is thriving. They have recently completed (mostly) a major new building program.
References: [Hawley]
David L. Crowder, The Spirit of Ricks: A History of Ricks College, Ricks College Press, Rexburg, Idaho (1997).
Jerry C. Roundy, Ricks College: A Struggle for Survival, Ricks College Press, Rexburg (1976).

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