Utah, not yet a state, was still struggling to escape its Territory of Deseret designation. Grover Cleveland was president, and you could buy a 32-acre farm north of Salt Lake City for $2,400. Physicians, vocalists, public speakers and "the professions" all agreed that Santa Abie was the best of all medicines for throat, chest and lungs. (Beware of imitations!)
The year was 1888, and in Utah's Sanpete country, the biggest news of all was establishment of Sanpete Stake Academy to serve the higher education needs of "Utah's Scandinavia."Founded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the school was renamed in 1900 to honor two of the church's illustrious figures, Lorenzo Snow, fifth church president, and his distant cousin, Erastus, an apostle and promoter of Sanpete settlement.
The small institution's survival to note its 100th anniversary this year is a tribute to the tenacity and willingness of its central Utah supporters to sacrifice in its behalf.
In 1888, the energetic LDS populations that colonized small communities in the Sanpete area had recently completed the Manti temple, seen it dedicated and were ready to shift their focus to education.
The academy was established at the behest of Stake President Canute Peterson, Ephraim, who told then-LDS President Taylor, "This is the central place in the county, and I want you to build an academy here. If there is no objection and I don't think there will be I will lend you a helping hand. We must not neglect our children; if we do, we have lost our main object."
Historians recall that Peterson's wife, Sarah Ann, had a hand in the promotion of an academy in Ephraim.
"Man is at his most vulnerable when under the spell of a good dinner," wrote Sarah D. Jensen, a chronicler of 1888 events. "With Wilford Woodruff and John Henry Smith savoring dish after dish, intermittently touching snowy napkins to beards, and looking kitchenward with
frank anticipation of new and tantalizing odors, Sarah Ann Peterson moved quietly from kitchen to dining room surrounded by an aura of cooking fragrance. It was a good time to approach the authorities with the idea of an advanced school. When the unwritten history of Snow College is read, we may find that we are as deeply indebted to the cook stove artistry of Sarah Ann Peterson as we are to her husband."
The Sanpete communities were soon called on to make good the word of their ecclesiastic leaders, including Peterson and his counselors, Henry Beal and John Maiben.
An entry in the diary of one early president of the academy notes: "Through an oversight, the General Church Board has not made an appropriation for our academy. There being 12 in the faculty, it works a very great hardship on us. The Piano we have worked so hard to buy we have had to sell to pay Brother John Johnson that he might meet some of his pressing obligations."
When the church came upon hard times and was unable to send funds from Salt Lake City, local residents contributed "Sunday eggs and milk" and other commodities to help Snow limp by. Faculty members settled for the slim tuition fees their students could pay as salary and some years accepted their teaching positions as gratis "missions."
This January, a historic mural was unveiled in the Lucy A. Phillips Library commemorating the devotion of Sanpeters to their academy. The four 4-by-8-foot panels of the mural symbolize the Sunday egg donations hatching into greater educational accomplishments over the years. The artists, Osral B. Allred and Carl L. Purcell, captured the essence of the community college's contributions to the area.
Economics dictated a slow development of the campus. The Noyes Building, named for Newton E. Noyes, president from 1892-1921, was under construction for five years before it was ready for occupancy. Three-fourths of the cost came from local sources, and volunteer laborers were paid largely in produce and donated clothing. Another five years of now-and-again work were required to complete it. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in December 1987.
The academy's first graduating class of 15 included two young wom-en. Today, more than 25,000 alumni look back to Snow for all or part of their higher education. Their contributions to industry, business, education, the professions, agriculture, government and the trades have been significant.
The 1888 classes included students ranging from 11 to 33 years of age. The only requirement was a desire to be there. All except non-LDS students were required to take a course in religion, and the only way to get out of the regular Wednesday morning devotional was to get a permit.
Over time, the church's complement of 22 academies, created between 1875 and 1911, dwindled to six. Snow became one of three that passed from church to state ownership (along with Dixie and Weber) and continued as part of the Utah System of Higher Education.
The state took over the college in 1931 when the effects of the Great Depression were taking a toll of state and private institutions. Another Peterson, Peter Canute, a legislator from Ephraim, led the effort to prevent closure of the school. Snow had become integral to the economy and social structure of central Utah.
Among other highlights of the 100-year history are:
1929, enlargement of the campus with purchase of the blocks east and west of the original site. An athletic field was developed on one of the properties to further the college's competitive athletic programs.
1936, construction of the Girls Dormitory, through a federal work program and without cost to the state. College students built the structures with timber taken from the mountains east of the city.
1961, completion of the multipurpose building on the rapidly expanding campus.
1963, addition of the Student Union Building, followed the next year by opening of the Applied Arts and Sciences Building.
1978, opening of the Sports Complex, a handsome modern resource for the entire community.
A hundred years of struggle and slow but steady growth lie behind, but school leaders say with a confidence that those years have only laid a solid foundation for hundreds of years to come.