By Dr. Douglas Alder
When students arrive at Dixie State University campus in St. George, Utah, they can enjoy an inviting landscape with fountains and statues, athletic fields, two gymnasiums, and many well equipped classroom buildings, computer laboratories, two theaters, an art gallery, two concert halls, dormitories and a student center with a food court, a book store and a dance hall. A fine library is at the center of campus, with a park on each side. There are two other parks, the Encampment Mall and the O. C. Tanner Fountain Plaza. It is a walking campus with parking for cars on the perimeter. Above all, there are professors, about 175 of them plus adjunct teachers, and vibrant students—about 10,000. Together they are engaged in the excitement of learning.
This is quite a contrast to the initial condition of the site in 1963 when the enrollment was 385 college students. They had just moved to the new campus from the one downtown built in 1911. When they arrived at the 700 South location for the new college there was no landscaping or parking, no student center or athletic fields. Girls recall that they wore tennis shoes to get through the dust to the buildings—the Gym, the Fine Arts Center, the first phase of the Science Building and Home Economics building—then they changed to regular shoes and carried the rubber ones. The Shilo Dorm, a small cafeteria and a furnace were also in place. It took a decade for the students, townspeople, faculty and staff to plant grass and trees. What a change today—and what changes are coming in the future!
The story of Dixie University on the old campus includes two decades of belonging to the LDS Church system of academies from 1911 to 1933. During that time there were about 25 faculty members who taught high school juniors and seniors as well as college freshmen and sophomores on the four-building campus on the town square.
During those years a tradition was begun to involve the students in college government as well as a vibrant social life–dances, clubs, choirs, band, orchestra, theater, field trips, debate team trips, and painting the “D” on the hill. Athletics were important on both the high school and college levels and the teams were both called “Flyers.” The colors were blue and white and they traveled to meet teams at Snow College, Ricks, Weber, Cedar City and even Eastern Arizona.
In 1926 the LDS Church decided to close most of its academies because public high schools were coming into existence. The church chose to create high school seminaries next to them instead of maintaining their own academies. By 1933 it became Dixie’s turn to be closed. It was a traumatic crisis for the southern Utah community. Delicate negotiations with the state legislature made it possible to transfer the college to the state in 1935 but the local citizens had to pay the costs of keeping the college alive from 1933 to 1935. They did that through donations and labor, continuing the tradition of supporting the college.
In 1935 the State Board of Education took over financing the college and high school. There were about 200 college students and about the same number of high school students. The board wanted the two split, with the high school coming under the direction of Washington County. The community resisted. They felt they needed the two to be together to provide a good-sized student body for the many social and academic programs. Also the county did not have the funds to build a new high school.
There were a couple of close calls between 1935 and 1963 when various state leaders proposed closing the college, but they were outmaneuvered because the local citizens were doggedly loyal to the college and willing to donate to keep it alive. Finally the local citizens, particularly the Dixie Education Association, raised the funds to purchase four blocks of land on 700 East and 100 South for a new campus. They presented that land to the state that in turn agreed to fund a few buildings for a new campus there. In 1957 the gymnasium was finished and by 1963 four other buildings were ready for college students with the high school students remaining on the downtown campus.
Dixie State University came by its name through many changes. In 1888, the LDS Church established the St. George Stake Academy. After functioning for five years in the basement of the St. George Tabernacle, it was closed. Then in 1909, Stake President Edward H. Snow, who also served in the State Legislature and the state government in Salt Lake City, began urging LDS central leaders to authorize the founding of a high school in St. George under their sponsorship. Snow argued that students in Washington County who wanted to graduate from high school had to travel outside the county at considerable expense to do so. With the support of Apostle Francis M. Lyman, who visited St. George for a stake conference, the Church agreed. A building was constructed on the town square using funds from both the central Church and from the local congregations between 1909 and 1911.
When it opened, the institution was called “The St. George Stake Academy.” It offered three years of high school and in 1912 the fourth year was added, allowing students to graduate from high school. In 1914, a year of teacher preparation was added and in 1916 the second year of college courses were begun. As a consequence of those changes, the school’s name was changed to “Dixie Normal College.”
Why did they use the name “Dixie”? It was the result of the community’s aspiration. The name “Dixie” was already used to identify the area. Within a year of the school’s beginning, students wrote the word “Dixie” on the Red Hill overlooking the town. The next year they painted the letter “D” on the Black Hill. The locals wanted the name “Dixie” linked to their high school. That attitude has continued generation after generation. When the students published their first yearbook it was called “The Dixie.”
In 1923, the word “Normal” (meaning teacher preparation) from the college name was removed because many students were taking two years of college in fields other than education. The name “Dixie Junior College” was then adopted. That name was retained until 1972 when the name was changed to “Dixie College.” In 2000 the next major development occurred. Following a long effort by a local citizen committee, the Utah State Legislature authorized Dixie to become a four-year state college with the name “Dixie State College.” Two-year degrees (Associate Degrees) were still offered but so were four-year Bachelor’s degrees. The institution did not abandon its role as a community college but added focus on four-year programs in many fields. Much of this expansion was linked to the amazing growth of the county that was ten times its population in 1965. In 2013, the Utah State Legislature expanded the role of the institution to become a university. After much debate on campus and among the alumni and community, the name “Dixie” was retained, resulting in the designation “Dixie State University.”
1911–1913 – St. George Stake Academy
1913–1916 – Dixie Academy
1916–1923 – Dixie Normal College
1923–1970 – Dixie Junior College
1970–2000 – Dixie College
2000–2013 – Dixie State College of Utah
2013–present – Dixie State University
- It became a community college and quickly grew to over 1000 student enrollment.
- The campus was expanded as new buildings were added for vocational programs as well as business and humanities and a library. Science and home economics facilities were expanded, and a second dormitory was built.
- The college mascot was changed from “Flyers” to “Rebels” in 1951.
- Hansen Stadium was built, as well as six tennis courts.
- Social life thrived—clubs, teams, radio stations, student newspaper, yearbook, dances, traditions, assemblies, plays, musicals, choirs, orchestra, band, intercollegiate competition were active organizations.
- The original Dixie Center was built including the Cox Auditorium, Burns Arena, Smith’s Convention Center and Eccles Fitness Center.
- Enrollment grew to 2000 students and then continued upwards gradually.
- Several new facilities were added—the Browning Learning Resources Center, the Gardner Student Center, the Udvar-hazy Business Building, the Hurst Baseball Stadium, the Cooper Fields, the Encampment Mall.
- The Institute for Continued Learning was created for retirees as well as the Elderhostel Program (now called Road Scholars).
- A National Advisory Council was created to help with fundraising and other projects.
- The Rotary Bowl was initiated to bring national junior college winners to compete at the end of the football season.
- The library was doubled in size and named for Val A. Browning, its major donor.
- The Eccles Fine Arts Center replaced the old Fine Arts Center and included the Sears Art Gallery.
- Computerization of the whole campus was instituted, including administrative services, library, student computer labs, classroom computers, faculty and student services.
- Property was obtained on the north side of 100 South, including the Harmon’s Grocery Store for the Art department and the Vocational campus and the LDS Institute for the Mathematics Department and several administrative offices.
- Property was purchased around the campus to expand student housing and other programs.
- A branch campus was built in Hurricane.
- Community members undertook a campaign to gain four-year status for Dixie State University which the legislature and Governor Leavitt agreed to in March 1999.
- Dixie became Dixie State University and had to move from NJCAA to NCAA status in athletics.
- Enrollment grew dramatically to 6000, then 8,000, then to over 9,000. Many four-year programs were added to the curriculum by 2011, including 22 new bachelor’s degrees.
- The Russell C. Taylor Health Sciences Building was dedicated on the IHC hospital campus.
- The Jeffrey R. Holland Centennial Commons was dedicated in September of 2012. It provides a one-stop student services center, a new library, the English Department, career center, business services, and information technology.
- Plans were developed for Dixie State University to become a state university. The state legislature and the Board of Regents agreed to the goal of university status for Dixie to be completed when funding became available and more faculty were added.