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Orrin Hatch had leadership beginnings at BYU

Published: Thursday, Jan. 3 2013 5:25 p.m. MST

During Orrin Hatch's senior year of high school, he got his first taste of elective politics by being voted class vice president and winning a citizenship award. Hatch also won Baldwin High's mock presidential election in 1952. (Senator Orrin Hath) During Orrin Hatch's senior year of high school, he got his first taste of elective politics by being voted class vice president and winning a citizenship award. Hatch also won Baldwin High's mock presidential election in 1952. (Senator Orrin Hath)

Orrin Hatch didn't plan to run for student body president at Brigham Young University, let alone win. With between 18 and 21 academic credits, a full-time job and a wife expecting a baby during the summer semester of 1958, Hatch "was carrying a heavy load trying to get by in school," he said.

He happened to walk through the old Joseph Smith Building as student body nominations were being held for the coming semester and sat down for a moment to watch.

"There was Jeremiah Saunders and he was a real character, and he was saying, 'I don't even know his name except Elder Hatch, but he was one of the greatest missionaries in the Great Lakes Mission — I nominate him!’ ” Hatch said.

"I was mortified and was sinking down in my chair ... but this guy was a real character; everybody was just roaring and somebody said, 'Is Elder Hatch in the audience?' So I went down there."

He was officially nominated as a candidate for student body president, and Saunders — a man he had helped while serving his LDS mission just a year before — offered to be his campaign manager.

Orrin Hatch met his wife, Elaine, in an astronomy class during their sophomore year at BYU. They never had a date before he left for his mission, but they wrote weekly for two years and fell in love through letters. The couple married in August 1957. (Senator Orrin Hatch) Orrin Hatch met his wife, Elaine, in an astronomy class during their sophomore year at BYU. They never had a date before he left for his mission, but they wrote weekly for two years and fell in love through letters. The couple married in August 1957. (Senator Orrin Hatch)

“ ‘Oh, be a good sport about it,' I thought, 'I'll do nothing about it anyway,’ ” Hatch said. "But the next day I walked on campus and there were 'Hatch for President' signs all over campus; I couldn't even think straight!"

At one point, Saunders had Hatch ride a donkey around campus during an election event, something he did while mortified and incredulous, he said, though it probably helped him gain recognition.

"Lo and behold, when elections were held, I was elected summer-semester student body president," Hatch said. "I threw everything I possibly could into it. We had excellent students, and we had one of the best-run summer student bodies according to the leaders there. It was something I really enjoyed."

Sometime after the election, a reception was held and Hatch attended as the newest student body president of BYU.

"It was a big inside-outside soiree, I was wearing the sweater they gave me with the insignia," he said. "I was so self-conscious I walked right into a solid pane of glass to go outside! I was so nervous and stupid about it, I thought, 'What's happened here?' And then I walked into it again! I was just so shaken up to be there for that function as (student) president of BYU."

A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Orrin Hatch (bottom, second from left) served for two years in the Great Lakes Mission, which included areas in Ohio and Indiana, and he believes his mission experience was the most important two years of his life. While on his mission he met Jeremiah Saunders, the man who nominated him for student body president at BYU. (Senator Orrin Hatch) A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Orrin Hatch (bottom, second from left) served for two years in the Great Lakes Mission, which included areas in Ohio and Indiana, and he believes his mission experience was the most important two years of his life. While on his mission he met Jeremiah Saunders, the man who nominated him for student body president at BYU. (Senator Orrin Hatch)

He credits the fact that he was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh Law School and received his law degree to the fact that he earned a bachelor's from BYU.

Similarly, being elected for student body president and working with "wonderful people" was an experience he believes got him started on his path to future national leadership, which now will include a seventh term in the U.S. Senate.

"I will always love BYU for what it did for me," Hatch said.

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