Weber State started as a school run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with about 100 students.
Now, 125 years later, it’s a state university with more than 200 undergraduate majors ranging from dance to criminal justice. The institution will celebrate its anniversary Tuesday with confetti, balloons and a 125-square-foot cake.
“It’s a time to really take stock of where we’ve been, reflect on our past successes and really look forward to the future,” said Weber State University President Charles Wight. “We serve the community college mission for Ogden, and that’s really important for promoting economic prosperity all over northern Utah.”
The school opened in 1889, part of a series of stake academies started by the LDS Church that ranged from Canada to Mexico, said adjunct history professor John Sillito.
“It was before statehood, so there’s no state system of higher education,” Sillito said. “In many ways, it was more like a high school ... [and] very much a Mormon school.”
The first class met in a red brick church meetinghouse on the southwest corner of Grant Avenue and 26th Street in Ogden. The original rules for students forbade profanity and the use of tobacco. Tuition at the Weber Stake Academy ranged from $3 to $6 for a 10-week course.
The year after it opened, the school closed briefly amid fear of a federal government takeover after the passage of anti-polygamy legislation.
It reopened about 18 months later and continued to grow over the years, becoming a two-year college with strong teacher-education programs in the 1920s. The Great Depression brought hard times for Weber State along with the rest of the country, and the college briefly accepted tuition payments in produce and meat rather than money.
“It was a real commitment on the part of families to make sure their kids get to school,” Sillito said. “The community in some tough times has rallied to make sure the school stayed.”
Eventually, like several LDS stake academies during the Depression, the college transferred from church control to the state in 1933.
The end of World War II brought relief to Weber State — and schools all over the country — as returning veterans enrolled in college with money provided by the GI Bill. Enrollment more than doubled between the 1944 and 1945 school years, growing from 465 to 967 students.
“World War II was huge in terms of keeping the college afloat,” Sillito said.
Less than a decade later, the Utah Legislature tried to withdraw support from Weber State and return it to the LDS Church, but lawmakers changed their minds after the majority of the community voted to keep it under state control.
Even though a large number of those voters were Mormon, “they believed that a state school brought something to the community,” Sillito said.
Weber State became a university in 1991, though not without some political controversy over the speed with which the school was adding new degrees and programs.
In recent years, the school has gone through another period of enrollment growth, jumping from 18,000 students to more than 25,000 over the last six years. It boasts a large computer science department, though nursing remains its most popular major.
Sillito emphasized the role of northern Utah residents throughout WSU’s historical turning points.
“This community supports Weber State and realizes it’s a better, stronger community to have this college here,” Sillito said. “We ought to be very aware of the role this community has played in the maintenance of this school.”
If you go
Weber State University’s 125th anniversary celebration starts at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday with series of musicians performing on stage at the Shepherd student union building, including bluegrass singer and WSU graduate Ryan Shupe.
At 1 p.m., another graduate, X96 radio personality Bill Allred, will host an anniversary ceremony along with his son, student Dylan Allred. WSU Davis will also have cake and balloons at 11:25 a.m. in building 3.
At 5 p.m., the school will host another celebration in Ogden for the grand opening of a new Campus Store with free food, prizes, music and dancing. It will be held at the Weber State Downtown building, 2314 Washington Blvd. The celebrations also kick off a $125 million fundraising campaign.