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‘Selfless service’ was his legacy


REXBURG, Idaho — Nearly 100 years after classes first began in its predecessor, the new Jacob Spori Building was dedicated Aug. 22 by President Thomas S. Monson.

In his address before offering the dedicatory prayer, President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, paid tribute to Jacob Spori, the "first principal of what would eventually become Brigham Young University-Idaho," with three of the educator's grandchildren looking on from their seats in the art gallery of the new edifice.

Recognized at the small gathering were 90-year-old Edna Stowell Taylor of Rexburg; 78-year-old Paul Raschi Stowell of Logan, Utah; and 89-year-old Robert Kerr of Mapleton, Utah. The three were among several family members invited by BYU-Idaho to attend the dedication services of the building that bears a striking resemblance to the original Jacob Spori Building familiar to students at this Church-owned institution for nearly a century. However, the new 44,000-square-foot edifice is approximately 75 percent larger than the original building that burned during demolition in November 2000. (Please see accompanying box.)

Also speaking at the dedicatory services, held a few hours after BYU-Idaho's 2003 summer commencement program, was Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve, who is also Church Commissioner of Education, and BYU-Idaho President David A. Bednar.

In his address, President Monson spoke of the "very humble beginnings" of this "beautiful, expansive campus."

"In 1888, under the direction of Apostle Lorenzo Snow, a local board of education was selected for this area of Idaho. Jacob Spori became a board member, along with Thomas E. Ricks and others. With Elder Snow, the board determined that a stake academy should be established here in Rexburg. Jacob Spori, who had arrived with his family just a few months earlier, was selected to be the principal, for he was the most highly educated man in the area."

Jacob Spori, President Monson said, had degrees in mathematics, arts and music, and metallurgy.

After spending time in Provo, Utah, receiving instructions from his good friend, Karl G. Maeser, who at the time headed Brigham Young Academy, Jacob Spori returned to Rexburg where the small building which would house the Bannock Stake Academy was dedicated. During the dedicatory program in 1906, Thomas E. Ricks, president of the Bannock Stake, spoke and offered the dedicatory prayer.

"The new academy was to give spirituality precedence over worldliness, and the principles of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ were to be taught side by side with arithmetic, geography, reading and other subjects," President Monson said. "When Principal Jacob Spori addressed the crowd on that occasion, he prophetically pronounced that 'the seeds we are planting today will grow and become mighty oaks, and their branches will run all over the earth.' "

Principal Spori worked unselfishly to keep the school open after a difficult first year and felt personally responsible for a deficit of $177. "He suggested to the board that one way to cut the deficit would be for him to work on his farm and not draw his salary, but still be available to teach and administer the school. The board agreed."

In addition to applying his salary toward the debt, President Monson continued, Principal Spori worked on the railroad and applied some of his earnings to the salaries of other teachers.

After three years, and after having established a firm foundation for the academy, he submitted his resignation, which the board reluctantly accepted. "He had set the example of selfless service which became a characteristic of principals of the fledgling academy."

President Monson said Jacob Spori was a noble teacher and a model to follow. He encouraged the administrators and teachers at the dedication of the new building to treat students "with dignity and provide them your very best. You not only teach a subject; you also mold human nature."

He added, "In this beautiful structure we have the echoes of the past, the opportunities of the present and the brightness of the future."

Elder Eyring, in his brief remarks, spoke of his years as president of Ricks College and then his service in the Presiding Bishopric of the Church. "I think I have been prepared to be appreciative of what we do here today."

Continuing, he spoke of what the Lord might want those attending the dedication to speak of. "I realize that He would want to have us speak of dedicating hearts. . . . He would want us to mention Jacob Spori and the dedication of Jacob Spori to the school and the kingdom. . . . He represented the dedication of a life to the Lord and to education in the Lord's kingdom."

President Bednar said the new Jacob Spori Building "represents the beginning of BYU-Idaho. There is on our campus today a renewed spirit of pioneering and sacrifice and experimenting and serving — indeed a rethinking of education. And I wonder if any of us can possibly imagine what will be there 100 years from now."

E-mail: julied@desnews.com

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