by Billy Clouse
Originally published in Revolt — Vol. 1, Issue 2
When the Branch Normal School opened in Cedar City, classes were held in a downtown building, but two months into the school year, the Utah Attorney General concluded that the institution needed its own building per state law. The school had until the following September to comply or it would be shut down.
Cedar City had around 1,500 residents at the time, and the building cost about the entire year’s business volume. In January of 1898, men went up to present-day Brian Head to begin gathering wood. At times, they were out in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
A Sorrel horse pushed through the snow, allowing the men to return with the lumber to complete the building now known as Old Main. Almost 120 years later, the original exterior of the building remains.
While serving as President of the Branch Normal School, Nathan T. Porter had the Science Building constructed. The structure, now known as the Braithwaite Liberal Arts Center, contained classrooms and labs.
President Porter also developed the arts on campus, and he created the ballroom dance program. The Braithwaite Building eventually started hosting the university’s fine arts gallery, which has been taken over by SUMA in 2016 as part of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts.
Over 15 years after establishing the institution, the Branch Normal School was renamed to the Branch Agricultural College. New president Roy F. Homer worked to change the name in 1913, making the school part of the Utah Agricultural College, which is now known as Utah State University.
The Women’s Gymnasium, now known as the R. Haze Hunter Conference Center, was built in 1927. Twenty years later, President H. Wayne Driggs had the football stadium built. He also supervised the rebuilding of Old Main’s interior after it caught fire.
The school was once again renamed in 1953, becoming the College of Southern Utah, under the direction of president Daryl Chase.
Along with the name change came a change in the mascot; instead of the broncos, the mascot became the Thunderbirds.
Although this wasn’t the last name change for the school, the mascot has stayed the same ever since, with the exception of a 2010 April Fools’ joke in which the university claimed to be switching the mascot to the Fighting Prairie Dogs.
Royden Braithwaite, who became president in 1955, was responsible for almost doubling the size of the campus and renovating or building almost every structure. In his first year, he supervised the building of the Library, which is the present-day Auditorium.
In following years, he had a hand in building the Science Center, which later became the General Classroom Building; the Music Center; and a second Library, which later became the Electronic Learning Center.
In 1961, Fred C. Adams created the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which took place on the campus of the College of Southern Utah.
The budget of the first season was less than $1,000, but today, it’s more than $7 million. Attendance has also increased by more than 35 times, growing from 3,276 to almost 120,000.
The Festival now takes place at the newly-constructed Beverley Taylor Sorenson Center for the Arts, and this season, USF performed the world premiere of “The Tavern.”
In addition to bringing theatrical arts to campus, the Festival boosts the economy of Cedar City. A 2012 study estimated that it brings more than $35 million to the city every year.
Yet another name change took place in 1969 when the College of Southern Utah became the Southern Utah State College. Braithwaite oversaw this change, and he created the motto “Learning Lives Forever.”
While he was president, enrollment grew by more than five times what it was when he started.
In 1978, Orville D. Carnahan took over the presidency, and while serving for three years, he helped to expand the school’s academic offerings.
Of the former university names, Southern Utah State College lasted the second longest at 21 years. Branch Normal School and College of Southern Utah both lasted for 16 years, and Branch Agricultural College lasted for 40 years.
Gerald R. Sherratt, the namesake of the Library, served as president for 15 years. After starting in 1982, he approved construction of the Business Building and the Centrum Arena, which was recently renamed to the America First Credit Union Events Center.
Sherratt was the first alumnus to become the president, and in 1991, he helped the school receive university status.
He also had a hand in starting the Utah Summer Games, as well as helping SUU receiving NCAA Division I Status.
Today, you can find a bust of Sherratt in the Library. Rubbing the statue’s head before a test is rumored to be good luck, but the theory has still yet to be scientifically tested (a potential EDGE Project idea?).
When the school received university status in 1991, it was renamed to Southern Utah University. Additional funding allowed Sherratt to build 16 more buildings while president.
Following Sherratt’s tenure, Steven D. Bennion took over the position from 1997-2006. His grandfather, Milton Bennion, was the first president of the school, and Steven began his leadership 100 years after his grandfather started.
Bennion focused on teacher education, and during his time, he had Old Main redone and had the Emma Eccles Jones Education Building built. He also created new academic programs, including the formation of two colleges and new undergraduate and graduate programs.
In the past few years, SUU has seen a number of changes, from the construction of an arts complex to the groundbreaking of a new business building, residence hall and sports performance center. But the change will continue for years.
SUU alumni have the ability to change the world. Each and every one of us needs to make the most of our educations, because although you can technically put a price on an SUU education (just add your tuition and fees together), the experiences and skills you can develop here are priceless.