June, 12, 2012

“You are the man to go”

J. Wyley Sessions: courtesy of the Education in Zion Gallery

Eighty-six years ago, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received a request from Moscow, Idaho for a religious center for the LDS students attending the University of Idaho.

This request came while J. Wyley Sessions was receiving instruction for a different assignment from Church President Heber J. Grant and his counselor Charles W. Nibley. Sessions recalled, “President Nibley suddenly stopped, looked at President Grant, and said, ‘Heber, we are making a mistake.’ President Grant replied, ‘Yes, I am afraid we are; I have not felt just right.’”[1]

President Nibley turned to Sessions and said, “Brother Sessions, you are the man to go to Moscow to take care of our students at the University [there].”

A farmer by trade, J. Wyley Sessions had just returned from serving as a mission president in South Africa. Despite his financial worries and lack of qualifications, Sessions and his wife obediently arrived at the University of Idaho with very little to work with. In fact, Sessions was greeted with resistance and anti-Mormon sentiments. However, he won over his opponents by participating in university and community projects. After only two years, he persuaded the university officials to give credit for institute classes and directed the construction of an institute building. [2]

The institute at Moscow, Idaho, became the model for subsequent institute programs. For a decade, Sessions was repeatedly relocated to start other institutes in Logan, Salt Lake City, Cedar City, Ephraim, and St. George, Utah; Los Angeles and Pasadena, California; Pocatello, Idaho; and Laramie, Wyoming. He once replied, “Oh I wouldn’t like to go, but if you say I should go, I’ll go. You know my ability better than I do. And if that’s where I can serve best, that’s where I want to go.” [2]

  1.  “Fifty Years of Institute,” Ensign, Dec. 1976, 80–81.
  2. Label text, Education in Zion Gallery.