BYU grad put service before self

C. Laird Snelgrove receives diploma, succumbs at age 91

With ice cream to make, young C. Laird Snelgrove left Utah State University to help his father establish a family business in the 1920s. And through the years, service to others crowded his personal ambitions, including education, into the background.

But his determination to reach one personal goal — a university degree — stayed with him until it was fulfilled when, at age 91, he became the oldest graduate in BYU's history. He received his diploma from BYU president Merrill J. Bateman in a special ceremony in his Salt Lake City home on Feb. 13.

The ceremony was arranged because Brother Snelgrove was suffering from cancer. He died four days later on Monday evening, Feb. 17.

After suspending work on his degree in 1930, Brother Snelgrove served a mission and fulfilled many other Church callings, including mission president in Argentina in the early 1960s and as regional representative, part of his service being with members in Latin America.

Finally, in 1979, he made the time to return to school. But it was still a 24-year haul for him to fulfill the requirements for a BYU degree, a milestone he reached with the completion of two science classes last December. Brother Snelgrove looked forward to attending commencement ceremonies with the rest of his graduating class in April, according to his youngest son, Richard. But shortly after his last semester ended, cancer was diagnosed.

Through the efforts of family, friends and others, the BYU Board of Regents was informed of the situation and approved the early bestowal of his diploma. In the brief ceremony attended by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Bateman, also of the Seventy, presented Brother Snelgrove with a diploma representing the Bachelor of Arts degree he earned, majoring in Spanish. Sister Snelgrove sat at his side, with children, grandchildren and other family members close by, their love evident as they emotionally witnessed the joyous event tempered by sadness over his illness.

"You have to admire the incredible determination of this man to accomplish what he has accomplished," President Bateman told the several dozen people who crowded into the home to honor Brother Snelgrove.

Though Brother Snelgrove wasn't able to speak, "he was aware of the event," Richard said. "He cracked a smile at the right times to show he understood."

Elder Bateman noted that Brother Snelgrove completed course work with an A- average, "so it's not just an average performance."

Sister Snelgrove said that some encouraged her husband to find a school where it would be easier to earn a degree, but he was set on getting it from BYU. And, she added, he didn't want to take any school credit for "life experience," of which he had plenty.

After the degree was bestowed, Elder Ballard told the new graduate that the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Seventy were aware of the event and "send their love and their congratulations on this wonderful achievement. We love you very much, Laird, and congratulate you."

Sister Snelgrove then spoke again, saying, "He's been a great example to his family. Not only to his family, but to his community. With all the people with whom he has served, including the United States government and Church service, I think he has affected not only people in our country, but people throughout the world. And I think with this example (earning a degree), it will be even more so, especially to young people.

"I'm the only uneducated one in the family now," she added with a smile. "I've only had two years at Arizona State."

They have six children — Patricia, Maridell, Joy, C. Laird Jr., Stephen and Richard — and 16 grandchildren.

When he started working with his father in the ice cream business, Brother Snelgrove wasn't paid, Richard said. But his father used his "back wages" to support him during his mission to Mexico. It was a geographically large mission, Richard, said, with the mission president living in Los Angeles. Brother Snelgrove was one of the first missionaries sent back into Mexico after the revolution in that country.

Even his civic service involved the Church, Richard said. As a volunteer with the International Visitors Utah Council, Brother Snelgrove hosted foreign visitors in Salt Lake City, often giving them their first exposure to the Church. He freely spoke about the gospel as he showed visitors around Temple Square and other Church sites.

He continued his open communication about the Church with visitors when, during the Reagan administration, he was assigned as an escort officer to host important dignitaries as they toured throughout the United States. "He wanted to establish goodwill for America and the Church," Richard said.

Brother Snelgrove stayed busy right up until the illness stopped him. Richard said that when he was diagnosed, "he didn't complain or fear death. He just said he had unfinished business."

Continuing, Richard said, "His graduation is symbolic that he had goals and focused on them. His long-term goal was to focus on the gospel of Christ."

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