Go to institute, early graduate tells students

GRANT, Idaho — Eldred Lee is tall and slim and flashes a ready smile. Especially when the 87-year-old talks about the Church's Institute of Religion program. As one of the first graduates of institute, which was established at the University of Idaho in Moscow in 1926, he keeps his graduation certificate carefully preserved in a scrapbook. It has water marks from a flood years ago, but clearly seen on the yellowing paper are the signatures of then-Church President Heber H. Grant and Elder John A. Widtsoe, along with the date — June 10, 1935.

Eldred Lee
Eldred Lee

Brother Lee, who lives with his wife, Ornealo, in the Grant Ward, Menan Idaho Stake, doesn't mince words when he talks about the impact the institute program had in his life. "It was very important because it was through taking those classes in institute that I decided to go on a mission. I took a class on the early Christian church. Somehow, all the teachings I had received prior to that time just seemed to fit together in the history of the Church. So after I graduated, I was called to the Danish Mission and was there nearly three years. They didn't take missionaries then until they were 20 or 21."

Today, some 66 years after Brother Lee received his graduation certificate, the Church's Institutes of Religion are still nurturing testimonies and producing missionaries and temple marriages. (Please see accompanying article on the 75th anniversary of the first institute.) In 1931, a young Eldred Lee starting university courses could not have dreamed of how the tender roots of a new program of which he was a part would reach throughout the world. During his first year in Moscow, there were about 90 LDS students among some 2,000 attending the University of Idaho. Four years later, when he was a senior, that number had grown to 350 LDS students.

And it was because word got out about institute, he said.

"This was during the Depression. The first year, we ate at a neighbor's home. We paid board," Brother Lee recalled.

By his third year, however, students were able to pay board to live at the institute building and use the kitchen facilities where to save money they all took turns serving. They paid $8.50 per month. "Word got around about the meals in the hall. There were large numbers of students who came here."

Not all were LDS. "Usually, there were one or two students who joined the Church a year," Brother Lee said. He remembers one friend, Rodney Pearson. "Although he was not a member of the Church, he associated with the members of our group. When he came home, the first thing he did was marry a good LDS girl [and later joined the Church]."

Brother Lee, who has five children and 18 grandchildren and who received his bachelor's degree in animal husbandry, is quick to offer advice to today's LDS students. "Take time and go to institute. Take all the classes you can, because it will have a lot more influence upon your personal life than anything you'll get out of college."

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