WSU looks back on its history

Weber State University, which originated in a red-brick church on the southwest corner of Grant Avenue and 26th Street as Weber Stake Academy in 1889, has just celebrated its 125th anniversary.

Having started with an estimated 100 students, WSU now boasts an estimated 26,000 students and 125,000-plus alumni who will have graduated with a WSU bachelor’s, associate’s or master’s degree by the time the Dream 125 campaign concludes.

“Weber began as pretty much a high school,” said WSU history professor Gene Sessions. “They taught mostly night school and vocational courses.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints originally owned the school. During the Great Depression in 1933, Weber Stake Academy became state property after ownership was transferred from the church. When the Utah Legislature removed its financial support in 1953, Ogden held a referendum to decide whether to return ownership of the school to the LDS Church.

“The residents of northern Utah rose up and had a referendum and said, ‘No, this our university and we want to keep it,’” said WSU President Charles Wight. “They forced the legislature to reverse their decision, and we are a public university today because of the great support we got from our community.”

Also, in 1953, the college became one of the first seven schools to offer an associate’s degree in nursing. WSU now graduates more nurses than any other school in Utah.

On Sept. 22, 1954, the school rose to new heights, opening the campus on Harrison Boulevard, which offered more opportunities for growth. By 1961, the Harrison Boulevard campus was populated with multiple buildings, including Buildings 1-4 and the stadium. In 1971, the Stewart Bell Tower was built and was the first campus facility to be memorialized after alumni and philanthropists Donnell and Elizabeth Stewart. WSU has now grown to 55 major buildings.  

The school’s first graduate program, the Master of Teacher Education program, was offered in 1978. WSU now offers 11 master’s programs and 225 undergraduate degree programs.

On Jan. 1, 1991, Weber State College officially became Weber State University. Other names WSU has been known by are Weber Stake Academy, Weber Academy, Weber Normal College, Weber College and Weber State State College.

The Community Involvement Center, now called the Center for Community Engaged Learning, opened in June of 2007. Since its opening, students have contributed more than 765,000 combined hours through the center.

“I am a really big fan of the Community Engaged Learning program,” said Livvy Gerrish, WSU sophomore and programming director of the WSU Student Association. “I feel like students spend a little of their time in the classroom learning things that will prepare them for their degrees and with things they are going to spend the rest of their life doing. The Community Engaged Learning program really helps their degree come to life. It helps them see that what they are learning really applies to the world and how it can make a difference.”

WSU has been named to the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for seven consecutive years.

“We are sending 10,000 students out into the community to do hours of community service,” said communication professor Brent Warnock. “That creates a connective point to the community that is insanely strong.”

The Ogden City Council signed College Town Initiative into effect on Oct. 2, 2013. The initiative aims to create a partnership between the city and the university.

“I think Weber State is the icon, is the epitome of what Ogden is about,” Warnock said. “I think the whole community seems to feed into Weber State. I do not know what the community would be without Weber State. Weber State is essential to the community.”

Sessions said he didn’t come out of high school with a great record, and WSU changed his life for the better.

“When I think about 125 years of Weber, I think about how it has changed the lives of so many people, including my own,” he said. “There are thousands upon thousands of students where that has happened.”

Famous alumni and former staff include Olene Walker, Utah’s first female governor; Damian Lillard, currently a point guard in the NBA; and 37 WSU football players who have been drafted into the NFL. Former coaches include Phil Johnson, long-term assistant to Jerry Sloan on the Utah Jazz, and Dick Motta, former professional and college basketball coach.

Sessions said that, despite the fact that WSU has more than 25,000 students, “Weber State has the sixth-smallest class sizes out of any school in America.”

Warnock said smaller class sizes are a critical part of a student’s success. “Weber State focuses on that by saying they want their average class size to be 25 students. The learning environment at Weber State is better than Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah.”

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