When former educator Benjamin Cluff, Jr. slept under the stage of the old Lewis Building on Provo's Center Street and received $3 a day for scrubbing floors to pay his way at Brigham Young Academy, he never dreamed that someday he would become president of the school where he was a janitor.
Yet not only did Cluff become Brigham Young University's president, but he also instituted many changes during his 12-year administration that remain vital today.
It was his vision and achievements that prompted BYU to select him as the 2002 Founders Day honoree and to make "Alive in You" the Homecoming theme. Appropriately, one of the traditions he introduced was Founders Day.
Cluff will be honored at Homecoming Opening Ceremonies Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 11 a.m. in the Marriott Center and at the Homecoming Spectacular Thursday and Friday, Oct. 17 and 18, in the Marriott Center. The opening event is free, and tickets for the Spectacular are available at the Marriott Center Ticket Office (800-378-BYU1) or through www.byutickets.com.
He was an innovative scholar, but there was little in Cluff's early background to suggest he would become an important educator. Born Feb. 7, 1858 to Benjamin and Mary Ella Cluff, his was a casual frontier education gleaned largely from nature and the lessons taught by his mother.
At about age 15, though, he developed a love for books and a passion for learning that became lifelong. When he was 19 and serving as librarian for the small town of Coalville, Utah, he learned about the fledgling Brigham Young Academy. Eager for learning, he set off on foot to make the 65-mile trek to Provo, but found a ride after stopping overnight to visit an uncle on a ranch between Park City and Kamas.
Upon being introduced to Karl G. Maeser, the country boy found himself completely tongue-tied at meeting the German teacher, wrote Ernest L. Wilkinson in "Brigham Young University, A School of Destiny."
Maeser took him by the hand, greeted him warmly and said, "It is an honor and a pleasure to meet and welcome into our school a young man with an ambition to fit himself for service in God's kingdom. You will be happy here."
This may have been one of the few times Cluff was tongue-tied. He became known for his relentless push for improving education. He finished his first year at the academy, was offered an instructor's position, served a mission in Hawaii, pursued teaching and left for Ann Arbor, determined to stay at the University of Michigan as long as he could finance it.
One of his first purchases was a coal-oil lamp, which allowed him to burn the midnight oil. He spent many long nights by flickering light, because he stayed at Michigan nearly four years, received a bachelor's degree, and eventually earned a master's degree by studying in absentia. These degrees were earned at a time when they were relatively rare certifications.
Cluff returned to the academy and "did not hesitate to express himself regarding the limitations" he perceived at BYA, wrote his biographers Eugene L. Roberts and Mrs. Eldon Reed Cluff in "Benjamin Cluff, Junior." He believed the school was lethargic. He aggressively recommended new courses of studies with up-to-date teaching methods and believed the school could achieve a synthesis of faith and science.
While many of his colleagues resented such assertions from a man who had been a student with them only a few years earlier, his position was clarified after he became assistant principal and when Maeser, himself, as recorded in the Sept. 25, 1890, faculty minutes, urged that Cluff receive "the same kind of courteous assistance that the teachers had always shown toward Maeser himself."
He succeeded Maeser and by the time he ended his tenure at BYU Dec. 23, 1903, it had become Brigham Young University and he was its first president.
One of his former students, Bryant S. Hinckley, said of him, "Benjamin Cluff was a strong and resourceful leader who ranks among the leading educators of Utah. In his prime he was a man to be reckoned with-a good organizer, fearless, and aggressive."
Benjamin Cluff's Accomplishments
Brigham Young Academy became Brigham Young University. Class periods were changed from one-half hour to one hour. Cluff introduced summer school and imported leading American educators as instructors. BYU began a missionary training program. Cluff formed the Student Loan Association. Cluff stressed higher learning for faculty and students; many went east for additional educations. Extracurricular Activities Intercollegiate athletics were introduced to BYU. The Athletic Association was organized. The academy adopted school colors-blue and white-and was the first educational institution in Utah to do so. Annie Pike Greenwood wrote the "College Song." Class organizations were initiated, beginning with the class of 1891. Cluff instituted Founders Day, featuring concerts, dances, parades, ball games, athletic meets, cross-country races, and academic processions. The school's first viable newspaper, the White and Blue, began publication. Other: Cluff persuaded leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to incorporate BYU as a subsidiary. The BYU Alumni Association was organized.