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Historic Provo

Oral History of Ben Lewis

ORAL HISTORY TRANSCRIPTION


MEYERS: This is Sharon Meyers. I'm interviewing Ben Lewis. The date is July 15, 1999. The interview is taking place in the home of Ben Lewis. Ben, would you begin by telling us a little bit about how you first came to Provo?


LEWIS: My first start was at the age of about five. My family moved from Mesa, Arizona. Their home was there and they kept their home there. My father had been called to be a missionary. He was the first full time missionary on the temple block in Salt Lake. I had older brothers and sisters who were attending the University. My father and mother decided it would be best to be here in Provo with the family. My father would once in a while commute down here while we lived in Provo.


I do have some recollections of that time, not a lot. I attended the training school at the University. I went to the first grade and I remember my teacher was named Fannie McLean. She had quite a reputation for being a quality teacher.


We lived in three different homes that I can remember. One was just north of what we used to call the women's gym and one was on University Avenue just a little further south from there. My father bought a home on Seventh North and University Avenue. I have a recollection of those three different places.


University Avenue at that time was the main street. It was not paved. There were no curbs and gutters. In those days it was just water running down a ditch on both sides of the road. This would have been about 1917 or 1918.


We had a cow, but it was pastured down on one of the pastures south of the railroad tracks. Every day I would go with my sister who is four years older than I, to get the cow to bring it up to be milked at home and then take it back to the pasture. I recall asking my father why it was we didn't milk the cow down in the pasture and bring the milk up. His answer was, "We'll let the cow carry the milk up and then we won't spill it. Then we'll take the cow back. That way we won't have the trouble of having to carry the buckets of milk." I learned a lesson from my father about why cows are kept in the pasture and then brought for the convenience of being milked where the milk was to be used.


In my mind one of the biggest fires I ever saw was right here in Provo when the Knight Woolen Mills burned to the ground. I heard the clanging of the bells. We didn't live too far away from where the woolen mills were. I ran over that way to see what was happening. They scooted me away. I ran home to tell my mother that we were on fire.


Back in those days little boys had a hoop that they would roll down a hill with a stick that would guide it. I would walk up what we called Temple Hill at that time. Brigham Young put his cane in and said someday there would be a temple there. I would go to the top of that hill and then roll the hoop down the hill on a dirt road. The hoop would get as far as First East before it stopped rolling.


The Fourth of July in Provo was the great holiday of the year as far as I was concerned. I don't remember much except that I wished everyday were the Fourth of July. I make mention of that because long years later when I returned to Provo I became involved with carrying on the program of the Fourth of July and it got to be almost every day of the year to take care of that.


Back in those days and even when I went to school, the freshmen were always required to do special things because they were freshmen. I remember when World War I was on they had the freshmen march down University Avenue. They had bare feet and their trousers were rolled up. They required these freshmen men to dip their feet into green calcimite. I remember those green feet and legs of the freshmen walking down University Avenue and some of us on the sidelines watched that parade take place.


We were here for about a year and a half. The house we lived in at 700 North and University had a large area around it. It was a small house. The field was such that in the winter time my father would run water into the field and it was cold enough that we could ice skate. It wasn't a lake. It was just big enough to have ice so we could ice skate.


MEYERS: Then you returned to Mesa?


LEWIS: My father received permission to move his family to Salt Lake even though he was a full time missionary. He bought a home in Salt Lake City. That's really where I grew up. I attended grade school and high school in Salt Lake City. I attended Emerson Grade School and the Roosevelt Junior High School and the LDS High School in Salt Lake City. That's another story.


I did come to Provo on occasion. My brothers and sisters were very active in the University. My brother's name was George, but he was always called Gorkie, which is a different nickname. His middle initial was K. His name was George K. Lewis. He was always called Gorkie and went by that name.


He was very active in student affairs. He and Glen Potter, his very close friend, were the ones that were responsible for starting the cougars. They got access to two baby cougars from southern Utah and the Grand Canyon area. They built a pen for the cougars which was over by the botany pond on 800 North over the hill. When I would come to Provo to visit I remember that my brother would take me over there to help him feed the cougars. He used to take the cougars to the football and basketball games, until some people got concerned as they got older.


There were two of them. One was Tarbo and the other was Cleo. One was a male and one was a female. My brother was the editor of the Banyan year book for the University. There are many pictures of these cougars that are in that Banyan. They were a very prominent part of the University activity program.


MEYERS: Did you first come back to Provo to attend BYU?


LEWIS: I filled a mission for the Church. I left from Salt Lake City for this mission. I had taken some classes at the University of Utah while I was in Salt Lake. I worked in the bank there and took some night classes at the University of Utah, so I had some credits there. But I'd always wanted to go to Brigham Young University. I came here after my release from the mission.


I didn't have any money. My father had passed away. My mother was dependent upon the income that her children could generate. I wanted to come to the school here, but I didn't have any money, but I did have experience working in a bank as a bookkeeper and a teller.


I went to see Rex Johnson who was the dean of men at that time because he was a good friend of my brother Gorkie when they were at school. Rex said, "Why don't you call the Farmers and Merchants Bank down on 300 West and Center Street and see if you could get employment and still attend school."


I went down there to be interviewed. I was interviewed by Victor Byrd and by Jay Hamilton Calder. Ham Calder was a cashier and Victor Byrd was the secretary of the bank. Alex Headquist was the President of the bank. I was interviewed by both Victor Byrd and Ham Calder. They said, "We have never had part time students. Maybe we could work something out." I told them I'd be glad to work after school. I had enough experience using the old bookkeeping machine that I could keep the records and keep the accounts of the patrons of the bank.


I went back to Salt Lake. About two weeks later I was called on the phone by Victor Byrd who said, "I'm going to be in Salt Lake and if you'll meet me I'd like to talk to you some more." I met with him and he said, "We think we can work out something at the bank if you'll work in the evening. Come after school and we'll let you post the books for the bank." I accepted that invitation and came to Provo


I was a month late in starting school after the rest of them started. Nevertheless I enrolled at the University. This was in 1936. Those were the days when the Depression was not completely over. I recall the wage for students at that time was 15 cents an hour. I had the offer made to work for $60 a month. They would give me employment if I could prove that I was worth that much.


I worked at the bank for four years while I was going to school. In the summer time I would work full time and either be a book keeper or teller or both, taking people's places who were on vacation. The bank was the one that saw me through school at the University.


I had a great experience at the University. Even though I worked all the time I went to school I was able to participate in many of the school activities. I was the junior class president when I was a junior and the student body president when I was a senior at the University. We developed a great love for the University and for Provo. This was home.


My mother still lived in Salt Lake City. I used to go see her once in a while. That was back in the days when all of my travel was hitch hiking. I had done that when I was a missionary. I served in the Northern States Mission which comprised of six states around the Great Lakes, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. I figured that I hitchhiked over 40,000 miles during the two and a half years that I served as a missionary so I was used to hitch hiking. Any travel that I did was always by hitch hiking back in those days. There were always people on the road back in 1936 and 1937 who were hitch hiking somewhere. That was the order of the day in those years.


MEYERS:Tell us a little bit about what sort of things you were involved with as a student body president and a class president. What sort of responsibilities did they have back then?


LEWIS:In the first six weeks of school, the freshmen were always required to wear their little beanies on their heads to identify them as freshmen. They were required by the sophomores and upper classmen to be the servants of the students. In those years that I attended the University, the different classes were identified and very active as classes. It has lost it's identity now.


But back in those days we had responsibility for conducting the assemblies. There were two assemblies that were held every week in the college hall. I was often the master of ceremonies at the assembly and participated in some of the plays.


There was always the activity of sports. I was never big enough or heavy enough. I would like to have played football or basketball, but I wasn't tall enough for basketball, nor heavy enough for football. I didn't have the talent or ability to do either one of them. My games were tennis and badminton. I did win the badminton tournament at the school in my senior year and beat the man who was the tennis champion. He was the intermountain tennis champion for two or three years. My game when I was at school was badminton.


There was always a recognition given to students for the activities at school. There were social units. Today there are no social units. It's a church organization and they have their wards, branches and stakes. Our attendance at church was always at the local wards. I taught a Sunday School class in the Provo Fourth ward down on Fourth North and First West.


The social units were very active as social units. There was a lot of competition between the social units. Those were the days when there was a lot of hazing for students who joined social units. The paddles were much in operation for those who were expecting to join. They could expect to be paddled, which was a disastrous kind of activity for students. I'm glad it is no longer practiced. Some students were vicious with their great big paddles. If you were a freshman you could be expected to be invited to bend over and receive the paddle.


We had matinee dances in the women's gym for social activities. We were expected to go to school. The tuition back in those years for students was $84 a year. As the student body president I was given free tuition for the year that I served. I had an office in the Maeser Building. My job was to provide the activities for the students. We had our student executive council and we would meet regularly with that council twice a week and plan out the activities.


The year that I served as the student body president we had the annual conference for all of the student body presidents in the western states, here on our campus. I had that assignment to be responsible for that program. We had about fifty student body presidents come here for a conference.


We had a lot of things going all the time. At the student body dances, Elmer Miller, who was the professor of economics, was the one who was assigned to make sure that students were not dancing too close to each other.


They had the beard growing contests for the men and there was no prohibition against wearing beards. It was a great thing to be able to win the beard growing contest.


They had dances like the preference ball, where the girls would invite the men students to the dance showing their preference. The year I graduated there were about 2500 students at the University. Because we went to classes on both the lower and upper campus, there was always a movement inbetween classes between upper and lower campus that gave opportunity to be able to say hello and see everybody sometime during the day. You knew lots of students. There was a lot of real interest in the student activities and in the political life of the students.


You asked about the favorite hangouts for students. The place that the students liked most were the matinee dances on Wednesday afternoon, which was a non-date affair. The men would be on one side of the room and the women on the other and they would decide who they wanted to dance with and who they didn't want to dance with. Friday night were the dances at the women's gym. It was a general practice to trade most of your dances. You might see the girl that you came with at the beginning and the end.

One night I had taken a very charming young lady. Before the dance started I wound up having all my dances traded. I did reserve the last dance for the young lady that came with me. I said to her when we saw each other at the last dance, "May I have this last dance with you?" Her answer was, "You've already had your last dance with me."


As far as hangouts were concerned, there were really not a lot of hangouts in Provo in those days. The social units would often schedule a special dance in Salt Lake City. That was the elite place to go for student activities. That didn't happen all the time. I don't recall any place.


We used to go on a lot of hikes up to Y Mountain or Timpanogos. On Y day every year we'd go up to white wash the Y. It was quite informal. We'd sit around the campfire and sing. The song we used to sing was, "I made love to the girls in the lane where it wound by the bend of the hill. With some I might talk. It might rain."


There was a lover's lane down by the irrigation ditch that runs down over the hill from the Maeser Building. That was the favorite place for many students to get better acquainted with each other. There were no lights around in those days. You could keep to the dark pretty much.


Tierre Pardoe who was the speech teacher, had the assignment to welcome the new students and take them on a tour of the campus. That could be taken very quickly because there were not a lot of buildings in those days. It was a favorite place for him to be at the end of lover's lane, at the bottom of the stairway leading down from the Maeser Building. He would always stop with the students and his wife's name was Kathryn. He would say, "This is lover's lane. This is where I talked with Kathryn and put the question to her, 'Wilt thou?' and she wilted." This was his favorite story at that point. You could say lover's lane was a place of interest.


Rainbow Gardens was the place in the summertime when school wasn't going on. They had summer school up at Aspen Grove. Rainbow Gardens was in the area where Zions Bank is now on University Avenue and about 1100 North. That was an outdoor dance hall which was a very popular place in the summertime. It was not only for students, but for everybody. It was always a popular place. The dances were ordinarily on Friday and Saturday nights.


It was later that they built the bowling alley. That was years later after I left the University.


We used to go down to Utah Lake. There was a big boat that we would go on on occasion for some of our parties. That wasn't what you'd call a hangout. It was a place for a scheduled type of activity.


In the winter time we did a lot of skating on Utah Lake and up the canyon at Wildwood. It must have been colder in those days because we always had a lot of ice. We had wintertime activities in the snow and the mountains. Those are the kinds of things that took up our interest. Usually activities involved groups of students.


MEYERS: After you graduated from BYU did you stay in the area? What did you do?


LEWIS: I was privileged to receive the Alpha Kappa Psi scholarship award at the University. Fortunately I was able to maintain good grades while I attended school. I saw to it that I did my homework as well as go to the bank every night to work.


I didn't have money to go to graduate school. I wanted to go to Harvard. I was interviewed for Harvard and thought I was going to have a scholarship. George Albert Smith, Jr., who was the son of the president of the Church interviewed me and gave me a lot of encouragement about it. But when the chips got down I did not get a scholarship at Harvard, but I was awarded an Alfred P. Slone Foundation Fellowship at the University of Denver. Alfred P. Slone was head of General Motors and had made funds available to Denver University for studies of students there. This paid my entire expense at the University of Denver for two years for my graduate work. I got a masters degree there.


Each year they would take ten students. In those days they were called fellows. When I went to the University of Denver there were ten of us that lived together and had classes together. The teachers would come to our classes. We did not get involved with the Denver University students. We were in downtown Denver and the classes were held there. It was a very specialized type of program.


One semester of the program was spent writing our thesis. My thesis was written in Pocatello, Idaho. I completed a thesis which was an administrative survey of the city, county and school district governments. Then I spent a month in Kansas City in the city manager's office as a student going to school, but participating in the city activities there under the direction of the city manager.


MEYERS: What brought you back to Provo?


LEWIS: I didn't get back to Provo for quite a number of years, although I always maintained my bank accounts here. After I graduated from University of Denver I took a position in Springfield, Illinois as a member of an accounting group that was hired to develop a centralized accounting system for the state of Illinois. I served there during the war years.


I took a position with the Bureau of Labor Statistics in making rent and price surveys with Denver at the central headquarters. My surveys were taken in cities in Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and Idaho.


The man that I served under in Springfield, Illinois who was head of the accounting firm to develop this accounting system, was chosen to be the director of accounting for the FHA in Washington, D.C. He called me on the phone one day and said, "I have a position open in Washington that I need to have you come and fill." I landed in Washington, D.C. I spent the next ten years in Washington, D.C.


I was there during the war years. I served in the administrators office of a federal agency. FHA was part of it. They had responsibility for all the war housing. I served as the budget director for the office of the administrator of the national housing agency.


After the war ended I was approached by J. Willard Marriott to become the budget officer for what was then called the Hot Shops which was a restaurant chain. It was a very popular group of restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area. That was back in the days when the outdoor serving was very popular. They had the car hops. I served as the budget officer there for what became known as the Marriott Corporation and had a very close association with J. Willard Marriott while I was there. I served there for several years up until the year 1952.


I became acquainted with Earnest Wilkinson back in Washington. Because I had been involved with the University and had been in charge of the fund raising for the University in raising money for the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse in the Washington area and had had some success in getting money for the University, I became acquainted with Earnest Wilkinson who was a counselor to J. Willard Marriott in the Washington Stake. I served on the high council there.


Earnest Wilkinson had his law firm there and had one the largest actions against the federal government that had ever taken place up to that time. When he was offered the position as president of the University, he came to talk to me about whether he ought to accept that and leave his legal firm. He decided to do that. He didn't need my help on it.


He came to talk to me about that. After he had served as the president of the University for about a year he came knocking on my door one night in Washington and said, "We're needing to build a great University in Provo for the Church and I need to have you come and help me build it." He made it sound very exciting. I guess it was a case of where you can take the boy out of the west, but you can't take the west out of the boy.


I'd had a very close relationship with Willard Marriott and he was a great individual. He treated me so well. When I talked with him about leaving to come to the University, he thought I'd lost my marbles. He made it very difficult for me to leave by offering some things.


The outcome of it was that I landed back in Provo in the Spring of 1952. At that time I was married. We had two children that had been born in Washington. I needed to find a place to live when I came here. This was still country. The bench here on the east was still orchards and not a lot of housing. After we looked around we found a house. My wife said I didn't even look at the house, I looked at the view. We could see out over the valley and I said, "We'll take it." We bought a home which was up on the hillside overlooking the valley in the Edgemont area.


I had been hired by Earnest Wilkinson to help with the financial program at the University. He was so busy he saw me for just a few short minutes and said, "I don't know where you're going to have a place to have a desk to occupy. Go around and look and see what you can find." That was my introduction to Brigham Young University, which was quite different from what I'd been used to. It was not easy to take. I finally found a little small office on the top floor of the Maeser building. I had a desk there and room for one chair.


I didn't have an opportunity to talk to Earnest for several days because he was so busy. I had left word that when he was available I'd like to come and see him. One afternoon I received a call from his secretary saying, "The president would like to see you immediately." I thought that was to be my opportunity to talk to him about what I'd be doing at the University.


When I went to his office I was invited by the secretary to go into his office and there were about 40 students in his office. They had come and were living in the Wymount Halls where they had a Wymount Cafeteria for the students that lived in what we called the dormitories. Earnest said a dormitory is a place where you put people who die. It became the residence halls from that point on. These students who lived there were complaining about the food that was being served in the Wymount Cafeteria.


Earnest Wilkinson took the occasion to introduce me to this group of students and said the students were complaining about the poor food. He said, "I've told them that I have a man who has come from Washington, D.C. from one of the largest food operations in Washington, D.C." He was going to give me the assignment to straighten out the food and see that they had the best food possible at the Wymount Cafeteria.


This was a great surprise to me. My assignment as the budget director at the Hot Shops did not involve me in the preparation of food. It involved me in the handling of the financial affairs. I had spent some time on my own working in one of the kitchens, just to get acquainted with what was involved in the food preparation in one of the restaurants there. That was just long enough to know that I didn't know anything about food and what I was doing.


My first job was to straighten out the food. There were two food places. One was the Wymount Cafeteria. On lower campus there was College Hall and a building to the north of it. I don't know whether it had a name. On the top floor of the lower campus building on the north side of the block was where another cafeteria was, which was a very small operation. It was operated by the department in the University that teaches students about food. It was operated by the home economics department.


They didn't have an idea about what their costs were, they just ran the food operation. They taught people about food, but they didn't do a very good job of serving larger groups. I understood why the students complained, because the food at the Wymount Cafeteria was poor. That's saying something nice about it.


My first assignment was to handle the food operations of the campus. I knew that I would need to have somebody that knew about food. I went to every food operation in Provo. I ate at every place that was serving food. Most of them were poor too. The place that had the best food was in the bowling alley operated by Wells and Merrill Clark.


I got acquainted with them. It turned out that they lived in the same ward in Edgemont that we had moved to. I said, "I have to have a manager for the food operations on campus. How about selling your food operation in the bowling alley and coming and being a manger of food operations on University campus." He turned me down flat. He said, "We've got a good thing going here. I'm in charge and I know what I have to do and I know how to do it. My wife and I can work together. If I went to the University would my wife be able to come to?" I had to stop and think about that. I was new and didn't know what the policy was with hiring a man and wife to be in charge of anything on campus. He said he was not interested and I would have to go elsewhere.


I went to Salt Lake to try out some of the food operations there to see if I could find somebody that was serving good food that could come to the University. I prayed about it. It turned out that the bowling alley caught on fire and burned down. I think the Lord answered my prayer. I went to Wells and said, "This is the time you need to come to the University to be manager of our food operations on campus."


His expectation was that they would rebuild the bowling alley and that he'd have a nicer place to operate from there. He was very reluctant about coming. It turned out that it was a good time. I said, "While you're waiting, why don't you come up and be in charge of the food." He said, "Can I bring my wife to be my assistant?" I got authorization for that to happen. Wells and Merrill Clark came to operate the food operations.


It was not an easy transition to make. I won't use names, but the home economics person in charge of the food was not pleased to give up the job of running the food operations. We had to work that out to keep everybody happy. That was the beginning of my being in charge of the food operation. I got somebody that knew what they were doing that could run the food. Wells did an excellent job. It was not too long before we got things turned around and got the students off our backs.


The next thing that happened was that students complained about the housing, about the way they were being treated by the housing manager. Earnest Wilkinson called me in to the office one day and said, "You're in charge of the housing." This was before I had gone to work to do anything like what he had talked with me about when I was in Washington.


He said, "I think you better fire the manager." I hadn't even met the manager. I said, "If the manager has to be fired, you fire him. I don't know whether he's good or bad. I would have to have a chance to find out if he's good or bad. If you'll give me time I'll work with him and maybe we can make a good manager out of him." He said, "You work with him. Anytime you want to fire him, you fire him."


He was a real good man but a poor manager of the housing. I could see what the complaints were about. His background was he was a teacher of religion and didn't have any background in managing a business. It was unfortunate he had been put in charge. He was such a good man. I just hated to have to change him. It became evident that he was not the right man for that position so I got him a job elsewhere. I went to work to find the best manager that I could find for the housing.


At that time Fred Schwendiman was employed by the federal government in Salt Lake City. He was recommended to me as a man that I ought to get acquainted with who had the capacity to become a manager. I was impressed with him as I interviewed him in Salt Lake. I invited him and his wife to come to Provo. I told him if he came down we'd have a place for him and his wife to stay for one night while he was here looking the place over. I had arranged with one of our students that he could have a room in the temporary buildings of the Wymount residence halls.


When the day was over we went to this room. It turned out a couple of the students had taken their motorcycles into the room and had it all apart, trying to repair it. That was his introduction to the housing job at BYU. I had my wife get acquainted with his wife. My wife said to her, "You wouldn't want to come to the Brigham Young University." That was the introduction. But Fred decided to come. That was probably one of the best decisions I made in my years at the University. He was a remarkable person and he fit in and we got things turned around there.


We had the job then, because the only permanent housing was Allen and Knight Hall, the two residence halls off campus. We didn't have any permanent housing. We had the married student housing which were temporary buildings. All of them were war surplus buildings that had been used for warehousing and housing. I had the responsibility of getting funds to build during the war. That was the beginning of my experience with the University.


My next job was they had a little dairy operation where they processes milk. It was down in a temporary building next to the heating plant. It was a mess. It was being run by the people in the animal science department. They had no concept of the financial end of the operation. The people who were in charge of it were getting all their milk and dairy products free. That was the principle part of the operation. It turned out it was going in the hole. President Wilkinson called me in the office and said, "You're in charge of that dairy operation."


I had served at the University for just a few months when Henry Taylor, who was the president of the Sharon Stake, which comprised all of Orem and everything east of the Provo River in Provo and Edgemont north of 1200 north, called me to serve on the high council. That was back in the days when the stake met in the Scera Theater for their conferences.


The stake was divided. The Sharon Stake became all of Orem and the East Sharon Stake became all of Provo north of 1200 North. I continued to serve on the high council. Henry Taylor was called to be the president of the California mission. I was asked to be the president of the East Sharon Stake. It was later changed to the Sharon East Stake. I mention that because that was a job I had along with my service at the University. I served as stake president for sixteen years while serving at the University.


Earnest Wilkinson had great ideas about building the University. Nearly all of our buildings were temporary buildings. The school of business was in a temporary building. The athletic facilities were temporary buildings. The bookstore was on lower campus. There were more students taking classes on temporary buildings on upper campus than there were on lower campus. There was a desire to have a bookstore more accessible. A temporary building was brought in. We had two bookstores operating one on the lower campus and one on the upper campus. The President gave me the assignment to be in charge of the managers of the bookstores.


One thing led to another and before long I was in charge of the development of our master plan for the University and for the construction for the new facilities. We had gone to the board of trustees with the idea of building a permanent structure for the bookstore on upper campus, because we were getting more students all the time. The University was growing and we'd gotten up to nearly 5,000 students. The bookstore had built up a reserve of about $50,000. We went to the board to get authorization to spend the $50,000 plus a loan from the Church to build a permanent bookstore. That was my first building to be responsible for on BYU campus.


In those days they had completed the science building, but there was no landscaping at all on the upper campus. It was devoid of anything but rocks and dirt. Over a period of time we developed a master plan for the campus at the request of the board of trustees. They said they would not approve any more buildings until we had a master plan and they authorized it to be for 12,000 students. I was in charge of developing that master plan.


We hired a man from the University of California who was head of the architectural school there, to be a member of our committee. We developed a master plan. It became apparent that the University did not have adequate property to build a major university. That's a long story, but we finally got authorization to buy properties. I became in charge of the purchase of properties for the expansion of the University. That wasn't an easy job because most of the properties that we wanted to buy were occupied by members of the faculty. They were the hardest people in the world to negotiate with to get them to move. Their prices were very high.


The board of trustees had given authorization that every piece of property we bought was not to exceed the appraised value of the property and was to be approved by them. We didn't have blanket authorization to buy properties. We had to go to the board of trustees to get approval to purchase any property.


There was a lot of leg work in connection with that. I used Floyd Taylor, who was the ticket agent for the fieldhouse operations. I would get him to do the leg work and I'd do the work of getting the approvals from the board of trustees through Earnest Wilkinson. I'd always go with him. He was the man that ran the show, but he relied on me to have all the information that was needed to get the approvals.


In the process of that I was asked to be a member of the planning commission for the city of Provo. Back in those days University Avenue stopped at 1200 North. There were orchards all the way to Provo Canyon at that point. The city didn't have any money and most of the roads that served the University and environs were financed by the Church. The properties that I bought for the expansion of the University had to have streets to serve them.


My counselor in the stake presidency was a man by the name of Bruce Allred and he owned the large orchards where eventually University Avenue was extended north. I had to persuade him that the time had come for him to get out of the farming business and sell property for the expansion. I could take the rest of the night to tell you about property purchases but I won't.


We had to have a very close working relationship with Provo City in order to develop the University. That was not an easy thing to do because everything costs money and Provo City didn't have any money. We became the fall guy because in order to serve the University we had to have facilities. The only way we could get approval of them was to get the city to approve the roads with the University paying for them. That's an oversimplification of the problem. We had to work out service for fire and water and utilities. We were developing a major city within the city. I served on the planning commission for eight years and finally resigned. I took the position that I had one friend left and I needed to resign before I lost that friend.


We built a lot of buildings over a period of years. We built over 300 buildings. People don't realize that that involved a lot of development. We had to change our master plan. We got authorization to increase the master plan to 15,000. By the time we got to the 12,000 master plan, we were already at 12,000. It went from there to 18,000 and then to 20,000 over the period of years. The board of trustees took a strong position that they would never enlarge anymore. We finally got authorization for 25,000 and then 27,000. That's where it stopped for a long period of time. The University was growing and we had to have facilities to house the students and facilities in which to teach the students. That involved a lot of development.


Back in those days the Fourth of July was about to cave in. There was no one to be responsible for carrying it on. Being the stake president I was approached to see if the Church would take over responsibility for the Fourth of July. I met with the other stake presidents and we decided that we would take that responsibility. I got the Fourth of July business from the city. That took a lot of time. The Church took a lot of time. We were expanding. I had the responsibility of buying the properties for the Church and seeing that the chapels got built to meet the expansion.


When you ask about my relationship with Provo City, Provo City is my home, my town. It's happy valley. We were involved in a lot of things in Provo City. It would take me all night to tell you about them. This is a great community. The University is a great facility.


I became involved as a member of the board of trustees for the Utah Valley Hospital and the expansion of the hospital. I had the assignment as the chairman of the fundraising for the hospital. I have some interesting stories to go with that.


During my early years as president of the stake, we had to have our temple excursions to the Salt Lake temple because we had no temple down here. I used to work on the brethren to see if we couldn't get a temple down in this area. There was no response to that. There's an interesting story connected with that. Finally they decided to build a temple down here and I was asked to be the chairman of the sight selection committee and chairman of the fundraising for the Provo temple.


I knew where the temple should go. I didn't need a committee for it. The presidency decided it would be good to have a committee. I took them to show them where I thought the temple should be. I had a problem with the building committee of the Church. They had decided they would build a temple down next to the tabernacle in Provo, like they had in Ogden. I had to go through the process with the first presidency of getting them to override the decision of the Church building committee in order to have the temple where it is now.


I had purchased that property for the University for its expansion. We had to work out an arrangement. Earnest Wilkinson thought that the Church ought to pay the University for the property that they took for the temple. The Church had been the one that put up the money to begin with. That was an interesting development.


When I was the stake president, we needed a chapel in this location and it belonged to the University. I had to negotiate that conflict of interest. I had the responsibility for the chapel that is on 900 East. We had the responsibility for the development of 900 East. It stopped out here at 1400 North. In order to get to where we needed to go, we had to provide the money and the ground for the roads to the temple. The Church paid for those.


The University faced the problem that in order to get accreditation for it's agricultural program, we had to acquire a farm where we could give students opportunity to have on-hands experience. We wound up purchasing 600 acres of property over in Spanish Fork for a farm. We had a major development over there. We had to develop programs and build up a big dairy herd, which provided the milk we used at the dairy processing. It is a popular place on campus now for people to buy ice cream. I had the responsibility for the development of that whole program and the building of the facility where we could sell milk and ice cream to the students. We developed a volume that provided all the dairy products for our food operations.


The George Albert Smith Fieldhouse provided a better facility for basketball and sports than the women's gym. It got to the point where there were not enough seats for the basketball games and we needed an expansion. I wound up persuading J. Willard Marriott to help with the financing of the Marriott Center. Some of the brethren were opposed to the development of a major facility for athletic events. But the key member of the board of trustees was a good friend of Willard Marriott. When I persuaded Willard Marriott to put up a million dollars for the building we got approval if we would put up the rest of the money out of University funds and not Church funds. My assignment there was to raise a major amount. The gift from Marriott was only about 10 percent of the total cost of the Marriott Center. I can take responsibility legally for saying that I helped get the money that we needed to build the Marriott Center. We would never have had it at all had I not persuaded Will Marriott that this was a facility that ought to bear his name. We had to get the approval to do it that way. That's been a great facility for us.


I had to buy the property for that facility. That was one of the hardest things because there were some real estate people who knew we had to have the property and they went to the people that owned the property and offered them a price that was quite higher than the appraised value.


Every property that we purchased had a different problem attached with it. Some of them were easier to get and some of them were very hard to get. Some took a long time and we paid a lot of money. But we had to have the property. We got a lot of criticism for some of the properties we bought.


I remember that I bought 12 acres of land where the temple now is. And we paid what was a reasonable good price at that time for it. The people that we bought it from felt good about the sale. It was rocky ground and it didn't have anything on it but rocks. So we didn't have any criticism from them. But we had a lot of criticism from other people who said, "What in the world is Brigham Young University buying property that goes all the way up there to Rock Canyon. They're land grabbers. They're out of their minds."


I didn't know at the time, but after we bought the property, that I would be asked to be the chairman of the site selection committee for the Provo Temple. When that invitation was extended to me, I knew right where that temple ought to go. I did tell President Tanner that I didn't need a committee to help with the site selection. He said, "I think you better have a committee because that will give more credence to the selection." And it was a good thing that we did that. I had a serious problem on that because the Church building people wanted to know what was happening.


We had a great combination with the temple and the Mission Training Center and the University all close to each other. The reason that the Mission Training Center is here instead of someplace else is that we have the advantage of having the personnel to teach the languages.


I'm going to tell now about our experience with the Mission Training Center for the Church. Way back and I don't remember all the dates on this, the decision was made because there were certain professors at the University that taught languages, and particularly spanish. The decision was made that they would bring some of the prospective missionaries to Provo where they could be taught the language before they went out into the mission field. That was on an experimental basis. Jerry Hansen taught Spanish here at the University. He was asked to be responsible for teaching these missionaries.


We didn't have a place to put these missionaries, because we were short on housing for students. We had purchased a number of properties that had houses on them. So we worked it out to put the missionaries in these houses and bring them together to teach them. That started out as a small operation. But the outcome was it worked so well that they decided to expand it. They expanded it without giving consideration as to where do we put the missionaries.


Finally the only place we could put them was in one of our existing residence halls. We worked it out to take over a part of the residence hall. We had Allen Hall and the Knight Mangum Hall. We put the missionaries in a portion of the Knight Mangum Hall. The missionaries came so fast that we finally had to put it into the whole Knight Mangum Hall. And still it came fast.


The school on Ninth East was owned by Catholics. They were wanting to get out of the business. So we made arrangements to take over the school to house the missionaries. And still the missionaries kept coming. It got to the point where it was obvious we couldn't take care of the missionaries and the students without getting some additional housing.


At that time Neal Maxwell was the commissioner of education for the Church. I met with him and explained the problem we had and that we needed to get authorization for housing for both students and missionaries. I had purchased the property where the Mission Training Center now is. I had purchased it from John Beezley who owned a lot of the property in that area.


Elder Maxwell got authorization to take a proposal to the Church for the building of a center for housing the missionaries. We put together a concept of how we could accommodate those missionaries and feed them and have space so that we could expand it when it was needed.


I had a call from Brother Maxwell saying that he had made arrangements for me to meet with the brethren, the first presidency and the council of the twelve, in the temple. A time was set up. It was one of the regular Thursday meetings where they always meet together in the temple. I was invited to go there. I took with me Fred Schwendiman who worked under my direction as the director of housing on campus. We had put together a proposal that was going to cost a lot of money. Without going into all the details of it, I was invited to come in and sit with the brethren in the room where they hold their regular meetings. They were dressed in the temple clothes. It was an auspicious occasion for me. It's the only time I've ever met in that room, either then or after.


President Joseph Fielding Smith was the president of the Church at that time. President Harold B. Lee was his counselor. President Smith asked President Lee to conduct the meeting. I'm using names now. The Church had a missionary committee and at that time the chairman of the missionary committee was Brother Kimball. On the committee was Gordon Hinckley. I can't remember who the other one was. There were two of them.


President Lee opened the meeting and Elder Maxwell came with us too. President Lee said, "Brethren the reason that we're meeting in this room on this occasion is that the decision we have to make is probably the most important decision that any one of us will have to make in our life time and our service to the Church." That set the background for the meeting.


I made the presentation. We had pro forma architectural drawings to show just what we were proposing to do and showing also where if the Church decided to expand it that there were areas where it could be expanded. It was one of the bigger projects cost wise that the Church had had to consider up to that time. And there was a lot of discussion about it.


After a couple of hours of discussion President Lee said, "The time now has come for us to make the decision about this. Because of it's importance, I'm going to invite each member of the quorum here to comment about it and tell what they think ought to be done." And so it started around.


It came to Brother Kimball and they asked him first to speak as the chairman of the missionary committee. He said, "I'm going to invite Elder Hinckley who sits on that committee to represent us." The substance of Elder Hinckley's comment was, "Brethren, we've given this a lot of consideration as part of the missionary committee. We know it's going to be expensive. We've considered a lot of other possibilities. But after full discussion on our part, we have come to the conclusion that this is the best answer for what we're facing. So the missionary committee is recommending approval."


I won't comment about the other comments, other than to say that when it came to LeGrand Richards, who at one time had been the presiding bishop of the Church, he said, "Brethren, I think it's a great idea, but can we afford it?" To which President Lee responded and said, "Brother LeGrand, if this is the thing that the Lord wants us to do, we'll find the money for it."


It went around and everyone had an opportunity to speak their peace. Then President Lee said, "Now you've all spoken and I invite us to vote on it. All in favor please show it by the uplifted hand." It was unanimous. At which time, President Lee said, "I would like to make two observations. One is, this is not the end, it's just the beginning. And the other is the decision that you brethren have made here today, will have the affect of making Provo, Utah the language capitol of the world." You can appreciate how I felt about that. That was the beginning of the Mission Training Center.


The first phase provided to accommodate 2,900 missionaries. It got to be that many before the project was completed. Then they started on the second phase. Shortly after that, the third phase has been completed. The program has been extended to have training centers in different parts of the world. But this is the major one and sets the pattern for all the rest.


I remember President Lee talking to me on one occasion. We were talking about the effect this program had in helping the missionaries to learn languages. He said, "Ben, this is what the Lord had in mind when He talked about the gift of tongues. We are making a provision to carry out his will in helping missionaries to learn the languages."


We've seen what it's done. This is one of the great contributions in my judgement to the growth of Provo, Utah. We accept it without thinking very much about it. But missionaries come from all over now to learn language. The reputation here is that they learn it faster here than they ever learned it in school. I identify that as one of the major growth patterns that has taken place in Provo over the years.


I will tell you about my experience with President Smith and President Lee. There's an interesting story connected with this. This is a back up to my experience in getting authorization for the purchase of properties for the expansion of the University. Way back when President Harris was the president of the University, there was a man by the name of Carl Lindley who owned a home just east of where the Joseph Smith building was. He always felt that the University ought to have his home. Carl was a painter, not in the sense of an artistic painter, but a painter of houses.


I learned later from Carl Lindley that he went to President Harris and said, "The Church really ought to buy my home. I will sell it for whatever the fair value is." At that time it was around $5,000. He said, "I would feel bad if somebody were to get the home and the University didn't get it. President Harris went to his board of trustees at that time, but did not get approval to buy the house.


This was years later Carl Lindley came to see me and said, "Brother Lewis I've had a man offer me a good price for my house. I am in need of the money. He's offered me $18,000 for the house. I plan to sell it but I don't want to sell it to him. I would rather sell it to the University, because the University ought to have it. Would you like to try once more to see if the board would approve it?" I went with President Wilkinson to make the presentation for the purchase of this house. It was at that time that the meeting was turned into a major discussion about all the properties that the University would need to buy. They gave authorization but only under condition that each one would be brought to them for approval, and it would not be in excess of the appraised value.


President ~Mckay was the president of the Church at that time. They discussed this house and they discussed the purchase of other properties. President McKay gave an assignment to Joseph Fielding Smith, who at that time was the chairman of the council of the twelve. They gave the assignment to him and to Elder Lee who was a member of the twelve, to come and make a study of the whole area as to what the Church would need to do if the University were to expand and fulfill the master plan that had been presented to them.


It became contingent upon me to put together the story of how many places we needed to buy and to make an estimate as to what they would cost. With the help of Floyd Taylor who helped do the leg work on this, because I didn't have time to go and negotiate all these properties, we went to the county assessors office and got the plats for all the area around and the names of the property owners and other vacant properties without houses on them.


I put about ten properties on a page and had over forty pages of properties that we would need to buy in order to fulfill our needs for the master plan. I purposely didn't total them up. I just gave individuals. It ran into several millions of dollars. I was concerned, because always the question was, "Do we have the money?" After that was put together, I made the arrangements for President Smith and Elder Lee to come down for three days. We went to see every one of these pieces of property. We also looked at the Lindley house.


After the first day I got very concerned that we were wasting our time, because each property that we would look at, President Smith would shake his head and say, "Brother Lee, it's going to cost a lot of money. Does the Church have that much money?" I heard it so often that I thought we were sunk. We would never make it. After the third day, after we had looked at all these properties, Brother Lee said, "President Smith, the time has come now. We have to make a decision as to what we're going to recommend to the board."


There was an irrigation ditch that ran on the top of the hill next to the Lindley property. There was no water running through it at the time, but this was the place that we sat down for them to make a decision as to what they were going to do. I was very apprehensive after the third day that the jig was up and we were going to get turned down. President Smith said, "Elder Lee, what do you think we ought to do? This is a lot of money." As we sat on the edge of that irrigation ditch I'll never forget Elder Lee's response. He said, "President Smith, this is going to cost a lot of money. I don't know whether the Church has that much money. If we give authorization to buy these properties, we're going to hear a loud wail from people saying that we're land grabbers. As I look down the road fifty years from now, if we don't buy the properties, people will say we were short sided. I don't know about you, President Smith, but I believe I'd rather go down in the books as a land grabber, than being short sided." That was a great day.


But that made the difference in the development of the University. It took a long time to buy those properties. It took a lot of hard work. We paid out a lot of money. The prices kept going up. The prices that I put on my sheets, I missed by a long way. The prices just kept going up and up. But we kept taking them in and getting approval. We still have half a dozen pieces of property that need to be bought. But we got enough property to have the University and the Mission Training Center and the temple.


In the process I was able to get a four acre piece for one of the chapels that we needed in our stake. I had to buy that from the University in order to get it. I had a real interesting time with Earnest Wilkinson over that.


[Lewis talks about the University accounts with various banks. I don't think he wanted to have this part on the tape. It consists of about 10 minutes on the end of the first side of the second tape. I have not transcribed this part per his request.]


LEWIS:The stake president in Emmett, Idaho came to the brethren about getting an apple orchard for the welfare program. It was a big orchard. The brethren gave serious consideration to it, but decided it didn't fit what they were trying to do. Elder Stapley, who was a member of the committee that reviewed it, called Earnest Wilkinson one day on the phone and said, "Earnest, I think the University ought to acquire that apple orchard as an investment. Because it's going to go up in value. They'd get more from their investment out of that than they would out of some of the other investments." As a consequence, Earnest sent me up to see about this property.


It had 47,000 apple trees on it. It was a big operation. The man who owned it was in the produce business down in San Francisco. He had not been able to make it a paying proposition of raising apples. He had decided to sell it and had offered it to the Church for $1,500,000.


Earnest invited me and the director of finance for the University into a meeting about it. The director of finance said, "Why don't we offer $1,200,00 for it and see if he'll take it." I'd had the experience of all these other farms at that time. I said, "Why don't we offer to buy it for $500,000 and see what happens." This director of finance said, "You're crazy. It's just a waste of time. He wouldn't sell it for that price." I said, "I wouldn't pay any more for it than that, based on the problems that are inherent with the farm." I got authorization to offer the $500,000. The man took it and we were in the farming business.


I was in the farming business too with the Spanish Fork farm which the University did own and which was part of our academic program. We got that property down in Spanish Fork because the accreditation committee said if we were going to carry on agricultural programs we needed to have a farm that would be a place where students could have experience on a farm. That has a long story to it too.


The agricultural faculty at that time were promoting buying it. They came up with a report that would show that they could make enough money operating it to pay for it in a ten year period. The first president gave approval to buy it. At that time J. Reuben Clark was one of the major promoters of the idea. I heard him with my own ears say that the day that the people of the Church take their hands out of the soil and don't put them into the soil, that will be a sad day for the Church and we'll lose our strength. Earnest Wilkinson put up $75,000 of his own money to help get the approval to buy the property.


The upshot of it was that there were no facilities down there for accommodating the faculty people that were responsible. They took all the money that had been authorized to build homes and built sheds that were needed to house the cows. All the money was gone and they were still not in business down there. I got a call one day from Earnest Wilkinson to come to his office. He said, "I'm tired of these people. They spent their money and they don't know what it's being spent for. I'm putting you in charge of that farm down there." That's the last thing I wanted to be in charge of. I didn't make the agricultural people happy when Earnest called them in and said, "You're taking your instructions now from Ben Lewis on the operation of the farm."


They didn't have anybody on the faculty that knew anything about farming and how to make it pay. Although that was supposed to be what they could do. I wound up hiring a farmer who was my first counselor in the stake presidency. This was the one that owned the property that we bought so University Avenue could be extended. He was the one that I looked to to help us get it out of trouble. That's a long story. That farm never did make enough money to pay for it. I had to find other ways and means for paying for it, because the Church did not appropriate any money for it.


I had had some experience with that farm and when this other came along where we were to operate an apple orchard, it was obvious that the person that this man in San Francisco had operating the farm was not the right person. He had no concept of money and what it was to operate it. I wound up hiring a stake president who had a large apple orchard of his own. I hired him to come and manage the farm. It was part of the University operation.


The very first year they had a complete frost that could have put us out of business if I hadn't gotten funds from another source. We didn't get one apple out of the 47,000 trees. But we had all the expense of irrigation and keeping the trees intact and spraying them and all that it took to keep the trees healthy. It's easy for me to understand why this man had really down loaded it for $500,000.


We wound up eventually getting another apple orchard up there too, that was near this one, which we were able to pick up for a song. For a great number of years almost up until the time I retired I had the responsibility for operating that apple orchard. The Church finally decided to work it into their welfare program and took it over. That was another phase of the University operation that required time and attention.


While I'm on this subject, I had the responsibility at the University for being the person to have the bookstore manager report to me. I'll not use names. When I first took it over, we had two bookstores. There was one on the lower campus which was the main one. The other one was a temporary building that was in the process of construction to serve the upper campus. The students were clamoring for something to accommodate them on the upper campus.


The manager of that store was a good man. He had been operating the bookstore for a number of years, so he knew all about it and knew how to make it go an

Interviewee: Ben Lewis
Interviewer: Sharon Meyers

July 15, 1999



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