One of the state's most distinguished awards programs to recognize scholastic excellence among high school seniors wound up its 27th year recently.

The purpose of the Deseret News-KSL Sterling Scholar Awards program, instituted in 1961, is to publicly recognize and encourage the pursuit of excellence in scholarship, leadership and service.The sponsors developed the program to focus attention on the truly remarkable performance of the state's best scholars and to assure Utah citizens that the highest ideals of excellence and service are being sought by an encouragingly high proportion of the students, their teachers and their parents.

By conducting a competition involving more than 90 high schools in five separate programs with a potential of more than 1,080 high school seniors, and by presenting cash and tuition awards, the Deseret News and KSL seek to commend and encourage excellence among all the students.

The success of this community service involves each of the 40 school districts in the state. This vast area of 85,000 square miles, the primary circulation area of the Deseret News, is equal in size to Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland and West Virginia combined.

Cost and time for such a program runs into thousands of dollars - without any charges to the participating high schools.

Why does the Deseret News sponsor public service programs such as this for the community?

The answer is simple: We're a part of the community and, hopefully, a leader in the community.

Perhaps the purpose was best described by the first editor of the Deseret News, Willard Richards, in volume one of June 15, 1850. The prospectus, in part, states that the purpose of the Deseret News is:

". . .to record the passing events of our State, and in connexion, refer to the arts and sciences, embracing general education, medicine, law, divinity, domestic and political economy and . . . to promote the best interest, welfare, pleasure and amusement of our fellow citizens."

Therefore, the Deseret News continues its community service programs that promote the best interest, welfare, pleasure and amusement of Utahns.

In addition to the Sterling Scholar Awards for high school seniors, the newspaper completed its 12th annual statewide spelling improvement program and spelling bee for public, parochial and private schools.

Forty youngsters from around the state spelled their way into the championship finals and one, from Vernal, will represent the Beehive State to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., May 29-June 4.

These educational programs are just two of those involving elementary and high school students. Other programs have been carefully assessed and categorized into purposes.

Here are some of these purposes and the programs for Utahns to enjoy:

Health and physical development - Athletic awards, such as all-state teams, athlete of the month, and prep of the week; the Salt Lake City Corporate Games, marathon, ski school, 10,000-meter road race, and training runs.

Educational services - Newspaper-in-Education, including workshops and guides for using the newspapers; plant tours, production and distribution of video on the news-paper, speakers for career days, Sterling Scholar Awards and spelling bee.

Promotion of patriotism - Fourth of July Cavalcade, reminder to display the American flag on holidays, and the sale of American flags.

Support of the visual and performing arts - Corporate art collection, juried art show, Messiah Sing-In, Salute to Youth concert, and special sponsorships, such as military band concerts.

Welfare and social services - Santa's Helping Hand, parties for handicapped youngsters.

Reader service and involvement - Academy Awards contest, football picks contest; Christmas I Remember Best, Home and Summer Living Show and the Wild West Stampede.

In the field of physical development, the Deseret News launched the first marathon ever held in Utah 19 years ago. This 26.2-mile race captured the hearts of long-distance runners who experienced "the agony of de feet." Other marathons were started in Utah, but only two remain.

Today, the marathon is held in connection with a shorter and more popular race, the 10K, during the pioneer celebration in July.

Over the years the newspaper has had other programs that have had lasting effect on individuals. Remember the suppressed desires contest when the newspaper fulfilled the secret wishes of its readers?

One dream came true for a Utah couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary without a honeymoon during that half century. The Deseret News sent them by train to Denver for a "golden honeymoon" at the Brown Palace Hotel.

And then there was the U.S. Air Force veteran who had never been in an airplane, so the newspaper arranged for a flight in a jet aircraft from Hill AFB.

Thousands of boys and girls learned how to swim in the annual school sponsored in cooperation with the American Red Cross. And tens of thousands have enjoyed "the greatest snow on Earth" through the Deseret News Ski School each winter.

The ski school is one of the nation's longest continuing clinics of its type and still under the direction of Alf Engen, who helped to start it in 1948.

A marathon of another type was held during the development of the Jordan River Parkway. To show the potential of the river, the Deseret News kicked off its Jordan River Marathon of canoes and other vessels from 7800 South to Jordan Park.

Each year the newspaper has the opportunity to sponsor or co-sponsor a variety of programs. But the question is always asked, "Will it benefit the citizens of the state?"

If it does, the Deseret News will do it.