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Ephraim

Community nestled in central Utah valley thrives on pioneer heritage, modern college

EPHRAIM, UTAH

The same year that the Manti Utah Temple was dedicated seven miles to the south in 1888, another less spectacular event occurred seven miles to the north in Ephraim. On the top floor of the Cooperative Mercantile Store in that small Sanpete County community, the Sanpete Stake Academy began.

Jennifer Ostlund and her family are among newcomers who enjoy Ephraim's lifestyle.
Jennifer Ostlund and her family are among newcomers who enjoy Ephraim's lifestyle. Photo: Photo by Greg Hill

Though it had humble beginnings and struggled for decades, the modern incarnation of the academy — Snow College, named for Church President Lorenzo Snow and Erastus Snow, an apostle — is today the focal point of Sanpete County's largest city with a population of about 5,000. The Church turned the school over to the state of Utah in 1932.

The historic roots of Ephraim and the college are clustered around the center of town.

Snow College's campus now begins about a block west of the building of its roots. The campus was generally peaceful on Friday, June 20; most of the 4,000 students who attend during the school year taking the summer off. Anchored by the Noyes Building completed about 1905, the college is a mixture of traditional and modern facilities on a sprawling, open campus with abundant lawns and mature trees.

On this hot summer day, there was plenty of excitement on the playing field just west of the school's football stadium. Hundreds of young men and young women enjoyed water games, a part of youth conferences for stakes from Utah's Salt Lake, Utah and Washington counties. Snow College is a popular location for youth conferences and welcomes them with open arms — and a large banner strung over Main Street on the north end of town.

Ephraim Co-operative Mercantile Association building, dating from 19th century. Was original home of early and ZCMI co-ops, as well as Sanpete Stake Academy which evolved into Snow College. Photo by Greg Hill
Ephraim Co-operative Mercantile Association building, dating from 19th century. Was original home of early and ZCMI co-ops, as well as Sanpete Stake Academy which evolved into Snow College. Photo by Greg Hill Photo: Photo by Greg Hill

In the summer, there is plenty of room for the youth to enjoy housing, meals, activities and spiritual gatherings on campus and the adjacent LDS institute building. Those playing in the water were also able to travel to Manti the night before to view the Mormon Miracle Pageant on the temple's hill.

Ephraim Utah Stake President Kim C. Averett showed off for the Church News some of Ephraim's Pioneer heritage that afternoon. He began at the institute where he is one of 10 faculty members. He pointed out that the institute sits on the site of the original location of Fort Ephraim, built by early settlers.

The influence of the Church is strong in Ephraim, President Averett noted. A high percentage of Snow College students are Latter-day Saints. There are two student stakes to go along with the seven wards of the Ephraim Utah Stake.

President Averett told the Church News that a higher percentage of students — about 80 percent — attend institute from Snow College than attend institute from any other college.

Southwest corner of Snow College campus in Ephraim. Photo by Greg Hill.
Southwest corner of Snow College campus in Ephraim. Photo by Greg Hill. Photo: Photo by Greg Hill

There are challenges for students at the junior college in the small, isolated community, about 120 miles and a mountain range removed from Salt Lake City, President Averett said, including "mall withdrawal." But, he assured, there is a good social life centered in the institute, often outdrawing events at the college. One popular activity, he said, is Thursday evening quilt nights when about 30-40 male and female students show up to create quilts to be donated to the Church's Humanitarian Center.

Brigham Young sent pioneers — mostly from Scandinavia — to settle what has become Ephraim in the mid-19th century. Some of the structures they built have been preserved, providing a pioneer flavor that complements the nearby, modern college.

On the same block as the institute is the cooperative store, a Greek revival-style structure built with oolite stone. It was saved by local citizens from demolition in 1969. The Pioneer-era building was restored and today houses the Ephraim Cooperative Mercantile Association where locally-made handicrafts dominate the merchandise on the first floor, with a reception hall on the second floor.

Next to the store on Main Street are the granary, now housing the Central Utah Art Center, and the bishops' storehouse. Also within walking distance are other pioneer homes and commercial buildings. A block west of the co-op is Ephraim Pioneer Park, which includes two log homes, the Hans Hansen home and a monument near "the Peace Tree" where a peace settlement in 1868 eased conflicts between settlers and Native Americans.

Rheta Cluff, Moroni native, helps run the Ephraim Co-op. Photo by Greg Hill.
Rheta Cluff, Moroni native, helps run the Ephraim Co-op. Photo by Greg Hill. Photo: Photo by Greg Hill

The population of Ephraim today is a mix of longtime residents of pioneer stock and newcomers, many drawn by the college. Rheta Cluff, born and raised in nearby Moroni, is an employee and champion of the Ephraim Cooperative Mercantile. "I love this building; I can't imagine tearing it down," she said.

On the other end of the demographic spectrum is Jennifer Ostlund who has lived in Ephraim with her family for about a year. Members of the Ephraim 2nd Ward, the Ostlunds relocated from the Wasatch Front when Jennifer's husband, Michael, was hired as Snow College's head basketball coach. Speaking in the Snow College bookstore where she is an assistant manager, Sister Ostlund called Ephraim "a different, relaxed way of life" where people "ride ATVs to Wal-Mart."

Jennifer Ostlund, a transplant to Ephraim. Her husband, Michael, is Snow College's head basketball coach and she is bookstore assistant manager. They moved from Bountiful. Photo by Greg Hill.
Jennifer Ostlund, a transplant to Ephraim. Her husband, Michael, is Snow College's head basketball coach and she is bookstore assistant manager. They moved from Bountiful. Photo by Greg Hill. Photo: Photo by Greg Hill
Ephraim Utah Stake President Kim Averett, an institute instructor, poses next to monument of Ephraim's Old Fort, just a half block from Snow College and the Ephraim Institute. Photo by Greg Hill.
Ephraim Utah Stake President Kim Averett, an institute instructor, poses next to monument of Ephraim's Old Fort, just a half block from Snow College and the Ephraim Institute. Photo by Greg Hill. Photo: Photo by Greg Hill

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