History of Ernest L. Wilkinson


    By Meagan Nelson

    Today his name is commonly used on lunch dates, but before the Wilkinson Center became the Mecca of BYU food services, Ernest L. Wilkinson established a legacy of academia and progress.

    Stories surrounding the life of President Wilkinson have been told and re-told. Biographical volumes can be found in the library, and some members of campus remember the man himself.

    “In those days we registered down in the Field House,” recalls Janet Rex, BYU”s information manager.

    She remembers President Wilkinson standing in line, shaking hands with incoming students.

    “He used to love to roll people”s knuckles when he shook their hands…especially larger athletes,” Rex said.

    Rex”s father had informed her of this and when she reached President Wilkinson she rolled his knuckles.

    “He was sort of shocked, and then he just laughed,” said Rex, remembering the day.

    Rex recalls how the campus grew during that time.

    “It was a very dynamic campus then,” she said.

    Rex attended BYU from the fall of 1959 to the spring of 1967. She saw the campus change a lot, relating the building of the Abraham Smoot building, the finishing of the library and creation of the new quad.

    In her 16th year of working at BYU, Rex added, “it is still a dynamic campus.”

    Though BYU continues to grow and pursue improvements in student enrollment and building excellence, it was under President Wilkinson that BYU experienced the largest period of growth.

    Both enrollment and building progress flourished while President Wilkinson was in term, according to statistics by the Office of Institutional Analysis.

    In his 20 years of serving as BYU President, President Wilkinson received a salary of a total of 20 dollars, one dollar for each year of service.

    “People are always impressed with that fact,” said Sarah Young, 20, a junior from Lake Elsinore Calif., majoring in linguistic.

    Young is a tour guide and receptionist at the BYU visitor center.

    During the BYU Campus Tour, guides also inform visitors of Presidents Wilkinson”s desire for the mascot to be the Pioneers as opposed to the Cougars, Young said.

    When President Wilkinson first became president in 1951 the student body numbered 5,082. When he left his position as president 20 years later, the student body numbered over 25,000, according to the BYU Institutional Analysis.

    In a video, shown only in conjunction with new student orientation”s “Passport To Destiny,” major emphasis is placed on the progress and growth that BYU underwent while President Wilkinson was president.

    Watching the video for new student orientation helped students gain a vision of the mission of BYU.

    “Seeing his vision and the importance he placed on this university gave me a sense of pride that I was a part of this campus,” said Bridget Cahow, 20, a sophomore from Palos Verdes Calif., majoring in dietetics.

    “I felt a sense of awe that I was a part of what President Wilkinson had created.”

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