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Snow College Historical Sketch

Founded in 1888 by Danish settlers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for the purpose of educating themselves and their children, Snow College was first called Sanpete Stake Academy and was begun at the urging of Church leader Canute Peterson, who supported the church's emphasis on education. Built entirely with local donations, including “Sunday Eggs,” the school had a rocky start as the locals struggled to finance their dream.

The Academy’s first principal, Alma Greenwood, was assisted by teacher Miss Carrie Henry. The first class of 150 students met on the top floor of the Co-op Store, the building which still stands today, located on the corner of Main Street and First North.

Mr. Greenwood resigned at the end of 1891 and was replaced by Principal George Christensen, who served only one year and left to continue his schooling. He returned twelve years later and became a teacher at the Academy.

From 1892 to 1921 Newton E. Noyes served as principal, giving his name to the still-occupied administration building. When Mr. Noyes began his years of service, the staff had grown to four full-time teachers and two part-time employees. Tuition for preparatory courses was $4.50 for fifteen weeks of study; for intermediate courses, the cost was $6.50 for fifteen weeks.

In 1900 financial woes sent Mr. Noyes to Church headquarters to plead for assistance for the school, and Church President Lorenzo Snow authorized $2,000 as that year’s appropriation. In gratitude, the Sanpete patrons named their school Snow Academy after Lorenzo Snow and, at his request, after another early pioneer, Erastus Snow. The name of the school was changed to Snow Junior College in 1922 and finally to its present name of Snow College in 1923.

Newton Noyes was followed as principal by Wayne B. Hales who served from 1921 to 1924. By this time the student body had grown to 339 pupils, but only 59 were in the college program. In the fall of 1923 plans developed to transfer the high school students to the local board of education.

The next leader of Snow College was Milton H. Knudsen who served from 1924 until 1933. When the high school students were transferred to the local board of education, Snow accepted the first four grades of elementary school in return. President Knudsen strengthened the college’s normal school by providing each student with valuable experience in teaching under the supervision of skilled instructors. In the last year of President Knudsen’s administration - owing to financial difficulties caused by the Depression - the church deeded Snow College to the state.

Knudsen was followed by Dr. I. Owen Horsfall, who served from 1933-1936. Dr. Horsfall stressed self-improvement of the faculty, and in the summers of 1935 and 1936, 70 percent of the teachers were doing graduate work. During Dr. Horsfall’s administration the teacher-training programs were dropped from all two-year schools in the state. As a result, Snow’s curriculum was reduced from twenty courses to five, and many feared the college wouldn’t be able to survive.

In spite of the changes, Snow received strong support from the community and experienced exceptional leadership under another long-term director, James A. Nuttall (1936-1953). A celebration of its first fifty years in 1938 showed the remarkable characteristics of this small school: a strong and loyal alumni group which boasts a long list of distinguished people, dedicated faculty who were willing to sacrifice salaries for the school’s survival, and a pervading feeling that those affiliated with the school have called the “Spirit of Snow.”

In 1951 Snow became a branch of Utah State Agricultural College (now USU) in Logan. It remained an adjunct to USU until 1969 when it became a member of the State System of Higher Education.

Following James A. Nuttall came Lester B. Whetten, who led the institution from 1953-1956. Director Whetten’s emphasis for Snow, as stated in the 1953-54 school catalog, was in accentuating the school’s role as a community college for the benefit of every citizen within a fifty-mile radius to “improve his education and broaden his satisfaction with life.”

Whetten’s successor, J. Elliot Cameron, came to Snow from the position of Superintendent of Schools in Sevier County. During Director Cameron’s term (1956-58), the faculty grew to twenty-six teachers. Although the campus was still contained on one block, plans were made to expand the campus and the student body size.

When Cameron left, the faculty’s choice, Floyd S. Holm, was appointed director in 1958; a popular and effective leader, he served until 1974. The school made a significant transition from fighting for its existence to stressing academic excellence. School and community pride in Snow’s reputation was at an all-time peak.

The next president was J. Marvin Higbee. He served from 1974 until 1982. The Higbee era was seen as a time of change, appraisal, and growth. Vocational courses were expanded, and the Snow Activity Center—the largest such facility provided in Utah to a two-year college—was funded. The campus expanded to the west of Ephraim with plans for a Career Center.

Under President Steven D. Bennion (1982-1989) the funding for the Career Center was obtained, and the Snow College Foundation was formed to acquire needed funds for the college and its students. The college celebrated its Centennial with a year of activities honoring alumni and recognizing the successes and accomplishments of the first one hundred years. The school continued to build its reputation on an outstanding academic offering, and Snow became the first two-year school in the state to offer an Honors Program. The school was also recognized for its theatre productions, forensic awards, music contributions, outstanding journalism, noteworthy programs in English as a Second Language, and athletic accomplishments—including the 1985 National Championship football team.

Gerald J. Day continued to lead the school through significant change. During his administration (1989-2001), the Humanities Building was renovated, and the Lucy A. Phillips Library was remodeled. The Greenwood Student Center was also built, and the Noyes Building was restored. In addition to increasing the number of physical facilities, President Day was also helpful in increasing the number of employment and educational opportunities for the people of Central Utah. House Bill 114 officially made the former Sevier Valley Applied Technology Center a branch campus of Snow College. Snow College South became the Applied Technology Division of the college, and a new Fine Arts Division was created.

During President Michael T. Benson’s tenure (2001-2006), a home was needed for the newly created Fine Arts Division. President Benson secured private funding for the new performing arts facility, the George S. and Delores Doré Eccles Center. With this major addition to campus, five other facilities (the Old Gym, the old Social Science Building, the Varsity House, the old theater, and the old South Ward Music Building) were demolished. Fundraising efforts were a focus during President Benson’s presidency, and substantial, private donations to the college reached historical levels. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel visited the college, and academic excellence was emphasized.  

That tradition of excellence continued while Scott L Wyatt served as president. (2007-2014).  He led the college in growth initiatives and strategic planning, including approval of the college’s first four-year degree, implementation of technology-enhanced classrooms, construction of Karen H. Huntsman Library, and a new 400-bed student housing complex. In spite of a national economic downtown, he championed an aggressive marketing campaign, enhanced the college brand, and led the college to a 40% increase in student enrollment. 

Gary L. Carlston embodied the “Spirit of Snow” during his time as president (2014-2019). He was known as a bridge-builder and collaborator. He worked to unify the Richfield and Ephraim campuses, emphasizing that the college is one institution with two campuses. Faculty and staff were particularly thankful for the historic appropriations he secured, which were used for compensation. The infrastructure on both campuses improved as well with the addition of the state-of-the-art Graham Science Center, the Bergesen Athletic Center, new fitness centers on both campuses, and the education wing of the Sevier Valley Center.

When Bradley J. Cook became president in 2019, few could have anticipated what would happen in the world during the next three years. Despite navigating through a world-wide pandemic, historic changes to higher education, and political unrest, Cook was relentless in his optimism and his call for employees to “reimagine” what was possible. His tenure (2019-2022) is best remembered for a $5 million capital campaign for need-based scholarship aid, expanding online learning options, securing an additional $4.5 million in funding from the legislature, and creating a Technical Education Division to effectively serve as the technical college for the six central Utah counties. 

 As the 18th president of Snow College, Stacee Yardley McIff is passionate about serving all students, particularly those who come from rural areas. Creating lasting partnerships to serve the needs of the community while maintaining Snow’s high-touch, hands-on approach to learning, President McIff has the vision to lead the school into the future.