The Rexburg Idaho Temple will be dedicated Sunday, February 10th by President Thomas S. Monson. The dedication was postponed a week from its original date, due to the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley.
The 57,504 square foot temple on 10 acres stands on a hill proximate to the BYU-Idaho campus and will serve a community that from its pioneer birth has been noted for its faithfulness and hardiness. This temple will be a special blessing to the students on campus, many of whom are returned missionaries.
A cultural celebration will be held February 9th to mark the joyous opening of the 125th operating temple in the Church. These celebrations were the inspiration of President Hinckley, who wanted the temple placed deeply in the hearts of the youth who, with every practice and every costume change, would be thinking about a temple coming to their midst.
Every Stone a Sermon
Elder J. Golden Kimball’s words at the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, seem an appropriate summary of the Rexburg Temple community. “Every stone in it [the temple] is a sermon to me. It tells of suffering, it tells of sacrifice, it preaches — every rock in it, preaches a discourse. Everything about the Temple speaks of the things of God and gives evidence of the faith of the people who built it.”
Those who pioneered Rexburg were made of staunch stuff. In 1855, Brigham Young sent a small party of men to the Upper Snake River Valley to consider its suitability for settlement. Returning after spending a summer there, they reported that it had frosted every night. Native Americans had given the same assessment of the area: “It’s nine months winter and three months late fall.”
President Young said, “That’s all right, perfectly all right. When we need that country it will be all right and we will settle it.”
The colonizing finally came in the early 1880’s, as a railroad line crept up into Idaho Territory and new accessibility piqued the interest of seven men from Logan — including Thomas E. Ricks.
At the groundbreaking ceremony for the temple in Rexburg on 30 July 2005, Richard F. Smith, great-grandson of Fred Smith, one of the first settlers, said, “The First Presidency did not tell them when to leave to come up here and accomplish that task. But because of their keen interest and excitement, much similar to the excitement we feel today, they left in January.
Their travel was difficult. It was a cold, snowy winter. Taking tools, supplies, plows and other implements so they could start farming as soon as possible, they set off in several wagons and sleighs.
On 11 March 1883, in honor of Thomas E. Rick’s stalwart service to the Church, the town was officially named Rexburg. Of course, for a time many of the early settlers called Rexburg “Mosquito Flats” because of the infestation of the annoying insects.
The little community grew rapidly and was unique in Church pioneering efforts because other than the original group of leaders, Church members were not called to go to Rexburg by their leaders.
When the challenging circumstances of building a community wore thin, locals held on to the promises made in 1884 by Elder Wilford Woodruff, then as apostle of the Church:
The Spirit of the Lord rests mightily upon me and I feel to bless you in the name of Jesus Christ. I promise you that the climate will be moderated for your good. I can see these great sagebrush prairies, as far as the eye can reach, turned into fertile fields. I bless the land that it shall yield forth in its strength. Flowers and trees and fine homes shall grace this valley from one end to the other. Schools and colleges of higher learning shall be built so serve you that you may learn the mysteries of God’s great universe. I see churches and meetinghouses dotting the landscape, where the God of Israel may be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Yes, and as I look into the future of this great valley I can see temples — I can see beautiful temples erected to the name of the living God.
A School that Survived
In response to a June 1888 letter from the Church Board of Education recommending that communities establish academies, the Bannock Stake in Rexburg remodeled a meetinghouse to accommodate a school. The new principal, Jacob Spori, said the day the school was opened, “The seeds we are planting today will grow and become mighty oaks, and their branches will run all over the earth.”
In the early days of the academy, that influence must have seemed distant at best, because the school struggled to survive for several years. Principal Spori worked tirelessly and almost single-handedly to keep the school open. He farmed and worked on the railroad for a time, donating not only his school salary but also some of his earnings from other jobs to help pay the salaries of the other teachers. Even then, sometimes the teachers and subsequent principals went without pay to try to reduce the deficit of the school, but the Bannock Stake Academy (later the Fremont Stake Academy and then Ricks Academy) kept functioning.
It was an uphill battle. During the Depression, the Church financial situations were increasingly dismal, and many Church schools were closed. Several times, Church leaders tried to give the college to the state, but the state declined.
Hyrum Manwaring, college president at the time, noted that the “heart throbs and benedictions” of the pioneer settlers were “built into the mortar and stone of the massive building” and current residents would be true to their trust by fighting to keep the school open.
Two decades later, the town’s devotion to Ricks College was again tested when the Church decided to move Ricks College to Idaho Falls, a larger community that they thought could more efficiently serve students. Rexburg was stunned, and during the next four years residents tirelessly worked to plead their case for keeping Ricks College in Rexburg.
M.D. Beal, a retired professor, voiced in a letter to Church leaders the commitment of past and present Church members to the school in Rexburg: “The faith and devotion of the pioneers has been renewed whenever the status of the school was in jeopardy. Now they are disturbed again … I submit that Ricks College cannot be moved. Schools have souls, and attempts to shuffle them about may be expedient but they are not wise.”
Rexburg weathered another assault when the Teton Dam burst on 5 June 1976, flooding all of Rexburg that was located on the flat land with water eight to ten feet high. The “college on the hill” literally became a refuge. Ricks College housed thousands who were displaced and served 386,000 free meals during the next three months. The characteristic Rexburg faithful resilience enabled citizens to dig out and rebuild.
One person, showing the sense of humor that helped many get through the crisis, imparted a less of the flood: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures in the basement. Upstairs, maybe, but not in the basement.”
Since the flood, both the college and the town have grown continually. Another stunning change of course came to the school when “without warning” President Hinckley, announced on 21 June 2000 that Ricks College would become a four-year school renamed BYU-Idaho. Since then, the acceleration in building, implementing curriculum changes and fostering the student activity program has been dizzying.
Most recently, Church members have been united in their excitement for the Rexburg Temple dedication.
For the Rexburg Temple, skilled artists and designers have provided distinctive interior features on canvas, in glass and in fabric.
Leon Parson, Rexburg native and a member of the art faculty at BYU-Idaho, was selected to create the murals for the newly constructed temple, while Utahn Tom Holdman constructed the nearly 700 art-glass windows.
For Holdman, a contributor to several other temples, the Rexburg Temple provided a unique challenge. Implementing a wheat motif symbolizing the agricultural economy of the community, Holdman used glass from several parts of the United States and Europe. Each window required as many as 350 pieces of cut glass to create the intricate designs.
Art in the Temple
Parson, a renowned wildlife painter and illustrator, tackled the monumental task of painting eight panels, 10 feet high and 27 feet long, as murals for two rooms in the temple. The scope of the project required construction of a special “studio” — a metal farm equipment shed renovated to serve as a painting location — and two years of work (six days a week and often as much as 14 hours a day).
Composition of the murals includes local landscapes and wildlife, from the River Bottoms to the glorious Teton Mountains. The technique employed, expanding a 2” x 3” space to a 2’x 3’, required “considerably larger brushes,” according to Parson. Transferring detail from the smaller space to the larger canvas necessitated “exaggeration of color and intensity, as much of the detail disappears in the distance,” the artist explained.
Details in the murals subtly depict the geographic surroundings in Rexburg. Parson studied more than 25,000 photos to create the compositions, paintings that have locals acknowledging the familiar surroundings. “I’ve had people say to me, ‘I feel at home when I see these paintings.’ That’s because I painted home; it’s home to me,” Parson added.
The local geography sets the overall tone for the temple interiors. A landscape by Linda Curley Christensen illustrates the remarkable coloring of the Rexburg sunsets and serves as a backdrop for the green, gold and purple color scheme employed in the furnishings. Local artists Gerald Griffin and Jim Wilcox contributed original paintings, as did artists Valoy Eaton and Michael Coleman.
Of particular note in the interior is the stonework of Idaho Travertine. Local stonemasons describe their contributions as “a labor of heart and soul,” an opportunity to use their well-honed skills in their own, local temple.
A spirit of love and service thrives in Rexburg today, a spirit that acknowledges the fulfillment of Woodruff’s prophecy with a temple in its boundaries, a thriving economic circumstance and a vibrant institution of higher learning.
This article was prepared by the LDS Newsroom at lds.org.