Utah Heritage Foundation tour group of teachers was standing outside LDS Business College on South Temple last summer admiring the historic old mansion's exterior. Ken Beesley saw them and asked if they'd like to come inside and see the interior renovation completed so far. "Oh, our groups have never been allowed inside," said the tour guide. "Is that so?" replied Beesley. "Well, I'd love to show you around. Come on in."
That's a nice story, and as LDS Business College begins its second century of service, it points up the astonishing changes currently taking place on the school's Salt Lake City campus, changes that are injecting new life into the venerable institution.Is "astonishing" too strong a description of the renovations under way in the physical facilities, curriculum and esprit de corps at the college under Beesley? Perhaps, but that's the word that springs to mind.
Strictly speaking, the school is not a "college" in the usual sense of the word. There is no football team, no cheerleaders, and the degrees are for two-year associates in such disciplines as management, marketing, accounting, data processing, fashion merchandising, interior design, office administration and health services.
But don't tell the school's 800-plus students they're not attending a "real" college. Most of them think LDS Business College is Harvard, Yale and Stanford rolled into one.
For the younger students, the school gives them a head start - in a low-key, personalized environment - on an eventual university degree. For the older ones, it represents their "second chance" to learn a skill and get a good job.
Did I say the college has no cheerleaders? Correction: it has one. His name is Ken Beesley.
Beesley, 62, was appointed president in March 1986, after 10 years with the Office of the Church Commissioner of Education for the LDS Church. A Salt Lake native, he attended Brigham Young University, graduated from the University of Utah, earned a doctorate at Columbia University and spent 10 years in New York as a professor at Columbia's Teacher's College.
He later took a position as executive dean of Fresno State College and then, in 1970, got a call from then-LDS Commissioner of Education Neal A. Maxwell that resulted in his return to Utah. In March 1986, President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency of the church, called Beesley and gave him some news: The board of trustees of the LDS Business College (which includes the First Presidency as officers) had a new and challenging assignment for him.
Beesley's assignment was to succeed retiring President R. Ferris Kirkham, who had presided for 25 years, a period, says Beesley, in which the school had operated without subsidies, a difficult task for any educational institution. Kirkham's non-subsidized budget, said Beesley, had accomplished a great deal and had kept tuition affordable but had not allowed for much in the way of renovation.
The building at 411 E. South Temple, in which the college is now housed, was first constructed in 1880 as the home of former Salt Lake City Mayor James Sharp. (The college itself was founded in November 1886 as the Salt Lake Stake Academy and held classes in the old LDS Social Hall.) The current structure didn't come into being until 1904 when businessman Enos A. Wall bought the house and commissioned legendary Utah architect Richard K.A. Kletting to turn it into a peer of the other "Brigham Street" mansions.
Kletting was equal to the task, and the Wall home, renovated and expanded into something resembling a French Renaissance villa, became one of the city's more elaborate residences, complete with an early Otis elevator, ballroom, tennis court, three-car "carriage house" with tunnel connecting to the main house, elaborate woodwork and molded plaster ceilings, frescoes, crystal chandeliers . . . everything that a turn-of-the-century mining millionaire could desire.
But there was little to indicate the home's original grandeur when Beesley walked through the door that day in March, 1986. The mansion had been closed for several years following Enos Wall's death, then eventually sold in 1926 to the city's Jewish community for $75,000. It served as their "Covenant House" - community center - until 1950 when it was sold to the Pacific National Life Assurance Co., which added the west office wing.
In 1961, the LDS Church bought the building, and it became the Business College. In 1974, the east wing library was constructed. Through it all, the main building had continued to deteriorate. Even worse were the sporadic attempts by each of the tenants to "modernize" the once beautiful building. Wall and Kletting would not have recognized the interior of the home they had so painstakingly designed and furnished.
Over the decades, the fine furnishings and chandeliers had disappeared, the carved woodwork vanished under endless coats of paint, the damask walls covered with sheetrock, the mosaic floor violated by asphalt tile. It was not a pretty sight that greeted Beesley on his first day.
But it wasn't just the building that had major problems, Beesley was soon to learn. In the age of the word processor, most of the students were still pounding away on typewriters. The curriculum needed total revamping to bring it up to date with what businesses needed and expected of today's graduates.
It didn't take Beesley long to realize that LDS Business College needed major surgery and he had just been appointed physician in charge. He had two choices: throw up his hands and quit or roll up his sleeves and go to work. As he has for all his career, Beesley chose the latter.
The "Beesley Plan" for putting LDS Business College back in business was based on four priorities: curriculum, faculty development, equipment and physical facilities. To get things started, he instituted an "open door" policy in the president's office. You want to talk to the main man? No problem. The doctor is "in." The students and faculty - 17 full-time professors and 40 part-time, all specialists in their fields - had a lot to talk about.
Next, he tackled what he considered the most urgent priority: the school's curriculum. Calling in former BYU data processing chief Gary Carlson to coordinate the task, Beesley set about bringing the college into the real world of business - 1980s style. No student, he declared, would graduate from LDS Business College without being computer literate. Typewriters, for the most part, were out, personal computers were in.
Physical facilities were Beesley's fourth priority, but that is the most obvious and welcome change to everyone who walks through the door. The classy, old-world atmosphere that has been restored in the school's public areas is a delight to everyone who enters, but particularly the faculty and students.
A lot of work remains to be done, but the restoration work that Beesley, his wife, Donna, and staff have accomplished by enlisting skilled volunteer labor and donations from business executives and through prowling antique shops and church surplus property - Beesley has become a master scrounger - has to be seen to be believed. (You want to see it? Drop by, the welcome mat is out. If he's available, the president himself will show you around.)
One of Beesley's proudest accomplishments to date was the discovery of the home's original dining table - its carvings match those around the main fireplace in the original dining room. Through the generosity of a Salt Lake businessman, the school was able to have the table returned and refinished. It now sits in the Enos Wall Seminar Room on the second floor. (The benefactor, not LDS, has provided a number of other important artifacts in the restoration. He requests anonymity.)
Mrs. Beesley was fortunate in meeting a woman who is the great-granddaughter of Enos Wall. She was able to provide an invaluable cache of early photographs depicting most of the rooms as they appeared in the home's glory days. The photos now hang in each of the rooms and serve as inspiration to Beesley as he methodically goes about the task of restoring the house, one room at a time.
But Beesley's no renovation "purist." He will take authenticity when he can find it, but otherwise is more than satisfied with simply re-creating the turn-of-the-century look. One shining example is an oval, leaded glass window that is now a focal point in the restored study area where students gather around a roaring fire to hit the books.
Only a few of them know that, before Beesley began his quest, the window resided in a toilet stall of a second-floor faculty men's room. > "I didn't think it was doing much good in there," said Beesley. "I thought we should share its beauty with everyone."
LDS Business College is not a for-profit entity. In fact, the church now subsidizes the operation to the point where a quarter of every student's tuition is, in effect, a scholarship. The school's policy is open enrollment: Any high school graduate is eligible to enroll. There is no religious requirement for enrollment although 90 percent of the students are LDS and 40 percent are from outside Utah, including more than 100 foreign students. About 200 are over age 25.
Most of the students work their way through, taking classes in the morning and going to their jobs in the afternoon. Beesley said 90 percent of the school's graduates are placed in jobs, an extraordinarily high figure for any school. About 15 percent go on to four-year universities.
Classes are small, and all professors get to know their students on a first-name basis, one of the school's best attractions. With the current student body at more than 800, Beesley believes the school can accommodate a total of about 1,500 students without adversely affecting the one-to-one relationship between professors and students.
The college is fully accredited by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, the same entity that accredits Utah's universities. The school is a junior college and is a unit of the LDS Church Educational System, consisting of Brigham Young University in Provo and Hawaii, and Ricks College, Rexburg, Idaho, elementary and secondary schools and institutes of religion and seminaries worldwide.