By Sebastian Romero
Karl G. Maeser was the first president of Brigham Young University. Many people today remember him for his strong commitment to honor and integrity. He once said,
“I have been asked what I mean by ‘word of honor.’ I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls–walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground–there is a possibility that in some way or another I may escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of the circle? No. Never! I’d die first!”
Brother Maeser did not develop a strong character all by himself. He was merely mirroring the people around him. One of those people was his father, Johann Gottfried Maeser. Johann, a porcelain painter-artisan who worked at a nearby plant, was known by his family as a hardworking man and a talented painter. Many loved ones even speculated that he could have had a promising future had he not “painted for bread so soon.” This being said, with a family of six, Johann worked hard to give his kids the best schooling possible. But with the low-paying job of a painter, resources were limited. With nothing but a bible and an almanac, Karl and his brothers learned to read and write, and at the young age of eleven Karl left home to attend school in the Saxon capital of Dresden. To send a son away to such a school was financially burdensome for the Maeser family, yet Johann and his family would endure. (Even though his family never joined the LDS Church, Brother Maeser always referred to his father with love and respect.) Without Johann Gottfried’s sacrifice Karl G. Maeser might not have had the platform to help establish Brigham Young Academy.