As I give tours of the mentor room in the gallery, I love to touch on the advice given to young James E. Talmage by his mentors. They told him to get an education, not with the intent of obtaining a degree, but to help build Zion. Nobody exemplifies this advice better than Joseph Kelly Nicholes.
As Nicholes started work on his Ph.D. in chemistry at Stanford University, he was called back home to be the St. George Stake President and president of Dixie College. Talk about a difficult church assignment! Yet he did not hesitate to give up his personal aspirations and put his education on hold in order to serve the Lord.
After 6 years of hard work and success in helping the Church develop in St. George, Nicholes joined the BYU faculty in 1933. He worked at BYU until his retirement and considered his greatest regret not earning his Ph.D. Perhaps his calling in life didn’t involve earning a degree. The Lord had another work planned forhim. Nicholes himself stated, “A teacher is more than the ordinary laborer or business man. In the life of a student he may be a prophet.” All the students he taught felt the influence of Nicholes. It was so strong in fact, that even after he retired, the chemistry department wanted him to stay close so that he would have “maximum opportunity to contact and inspire our new students” (Armin J. Hill, Dean).
Joseph Kelly Nicholes dedicated his life to building Zion, and he found the best way he could do this was through inspiring his students and lifting them up. His influence was so great that three years before he died, BYU honored his life-long goal of obtaining a doctorate by awarding him with an honorary doctor of science degree. His sacrifices should be remembered for generations to come.