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Saying goodbye to the Widtsoe; remembering the legacy of its namesake

John A. Widtsoe: Apostle, leading scientist in agriculture and soil chemistry, great friend to BYU

This month BYU said goodbye to a campus icon, the John A. Widtsoe Building. Perhaps best known for the 15 aquariums in the basement, there’s a lot you might not have known about the Widtsoe (if you weren't a biology major).

The nine-story building, built over a two-year period and completed in 1970, was primarily used by the College of Life Sciences and housed faculty offices, laboratories and classrooms. It was demolished over a two-week period starting on May 21, 2015.

While the building might be gone, we won’t forget its namesake. Here are 10 things you might not have known about John Andreas Widtsoe:

  1. All three of his college degrees (not counting honorary degrees and certificates) were granted with honors. They were obtained from top universities, including Harvard.
  2. He received his master’s degree and Ph.D. in just over one year's time, while also serving a mission and acting as a Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Germany.
  3. Widtsoe married his wife, Leah Eudora Dunford, a second time while living in Europe because they forgot their American marriage certificate and officials there wanted proof of their marriage.
  4. After serving as head of the BYU Department of Agriculture, Widtsoe served as the president of both Utah State University and the University of Utah.
  5. Tragedy struck the Widtsoe family often. Of their seven children, only two lived past the age of 24.
  6. While an Apostle, Widtsoe spent two years in Washington, D.C., as vice-chairman of the Federal Bureau of Reclamation tasked with overseeing the reorganization of the bureau.
  7. Born on a cold winter night in Norway, Widtsoe wasn’t expected to live long because he was born with his hand attached to the side of his face and required immediate surgery.
  8. Widtsoe was considered to be a pioneer in dry-farming techniques. He was even elected president of the International Dry-Farming Congress in 1912.
  9. Just this year, the University of Southern California (USC) established a chair and held an inaugural religious symposium in honor of Widtsoe, who taught a class on Mormonism there in 1935.
  10. Throughout his life, Widtsoe published 30 books on both religious and academic topics. He also wrote more than 800 articles, manuals and other documents.

About BYU, Widtsoe said:

"The mission of BYU is to educate the soul, the character of its students as well as their minds and bodies. Would that all institutions of learning might accept this concept of education."

At the close of his autobiography, In a Sunlit Land, Widtsoe expressed the following:

“I hope it will be said of me, I have tried to live unselfishly, to serve God and help my fellow man, and use my time and talents industriously for the advancement of human good.”


Originally published by BYU News