Celebrating SUU’s History: Founder’s Week

Before Southern Utah University became the bustling campus that we know today where over 11,000 students are gaining an education, it was originally dedicated in 1898 as the Branch Normal School, made up of a single building and four faculty members. 

Now, according to an article on suu.edu, the university leads the state university system in enrollment growth and its online degree program has doubled in size from 2019-20. Its MBA program has also increased to four times the size. 

Kenten Pope,  coordinator of campus events and design in the Alumni Community Relations, is passionate about the history and growth of the university  given that he is an alumnus of SUU who graduated in 2017 and later received a master’s degree in 2019.

“So many people gave up so much. They had very little to begin with, but they gave up what they had,“So that 125 years later I was able to gain an education. ” Pope said. 

The original four founders of the Branch Normal School were Howard R. Driggs, Milton Bennion, Annie Spencer and George W. Decker. Pope made it clear that it wasn’t just the Formidable Four in 1897 that have contributed to SUU.

“It’s also the people now that are donating to student scholarships and to buildings, and the faculty and staff that donate their time to students to make sure they have the best experience they can at SUU,” Pope said. 

Founder’s Week, held annually to celebrate SUU’s history, will run from March 15-19 and will host daily events, both virtually and in person, for students and staff to participate in.

“I think that’s something that a lot of students don’t realize, that the history of this campus is so amazing,” Pope said. 

To see the full schedule of events, visit suu.edu or the SUU Calendar of Events

Monday – March 15

Students can tune in on the SUU Alumni’s Facebook page at 6 p.m. to watch “Back Up the Mountain,” directed by Communication Professor Jon Smith, a film that highlights the founders of SUU.

“I encourage you to watch it. It talks about how so many people gave up everything they had,” Pope said. “They mortgaged their homes, they gave up their livestock. When they were building Old Main they gave up any piece of wood they could find just so we could have SUU.”

The Southern Utah University Student Association will also host the SUU Oscars from 7-9 p.m. in the Gilbert Great Hall, an event that gave students the opportunity to recreate their favorite movies. One of the films will be selected as the winner and played at the event. For more information, contact Student Involvement and Leadership. 

Tuesday – March 16 

A campus bingo night will be held from 7-9 p.m. in the Sharwan Smith Center Ballroom. A twist on classic bingo, the event will have SUU trivia thrown into it. 

Wednesday – March 17

The traditional Lunch on the Main event will be held from 11:30-1 p.m. at six locations on campus, including Old Main, Founder’s Monument, Rotunda, Library Plaza, America First Event Center and the Electronic Learning Center Plaza. 

“The purpose of the event is to learn about historical things on campus,” Pope said. “We will highlight six founders, with voiceovers at each of the locations that tells what their role in the founding of SUU was.” 

Thursday – March 18 

The APEX event featuring Jordan Fisher Smith, an author, film narrator, teacher and former park and wilderness ranger will be at the Hunter Conference Center from 11:30-12:30 p.m. Students and staff can participate in person or attend virtually

A karaoke event with the theme “Karaoke Through the Decades” will be held from 7-9 p.m. in the Sharwan Smith Center Ballroom.

Friday – March 19 

The premier of a video production on the life and contributions of Howard R. Driggs, one of the first faculty members on campus, will be held virtually on SUU Alumni’s Facebook page at 11:30 a.m. 

At the SUU soccer field, students and staff will have the opportunity to cheer on SUU’s women’s soccer team as they face Northern Arizona University at noon.

A new event this year, the Founder’s Festival, will take place on the upper quad from 5-7 p.m. Featuring 16 different activities based around the 16 SUU presidents, the featured activities range from iron jewelry making to riding a mechanical bull.There will be live music, food, contests and more. Contact the Student Alumni Association for more information. 

After that, the SUU volleyball team will compete against Eastern Washington University at 7 p.m. in the America First Event Center.

Saturday – March 20

Concluding Founder’s Week, the alumni association encourages students and staff to cheer on the volleyball team in their second match against EWU at 6 p.m. 

In addition to enjoying the events during Founder’s Week, those in attendance can complete six traditions to earn rewards as part of the Tradition Keeper program. 

“I came to SUU to get my degree and now I work here full time, and the best thing I ever did was leave my dorm room and go and do things,” Pope said. “That’s how I fell in love with SUU as much as I have. Get out and experience things, even if you’re just out for five minutes.”

Story by: Elizabeth Armstrong
Photos courtesy of Alumni