Joseph Kelly Nicholes

Professor of Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics,
Third and Fifth President of Dixie College
(1919 to 1923 & 1926 to 1933)

Joseph Kelly Nichoes, BYH Class of 1908
Dr. Joseph Kelly Nicholes, 1887 - 1964

Brigham Young High School
Class of 1908

Joseph K. Nicholes, BYH Class of 1908, has the distinction of serving as the third and fifth president of Dixie College in St. George, Utah.

Joseph Kelly Nicholes was born in American Fork, Utah on October 10, 1887. His parents were Joseph Nicholes and Eleanor Kelly.

Nicholes graduated from Brigham Young University High School in 1908, then served an LDS mission to Denmark from 1909-1912. As mission secretary, he was responsible for the Church's Scandinavian emigration to the United States.

Upon his return, he married Olive Maiben on June 5, 1912 in Salt Lake City. Joseph and Olive Nicholes had nine children.

Joseph taught at St. George Stake Academy/Dixie from 1912 to 1914. He attended classes each summer at Brigham Young University, and studied there full-time from 1915 to 1916 to complete his Bachelors degree in Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics.

He was selected as president of Dixie Normal College in 1919, and he continued to teach Science and Mathematics.

In the summer of 1923 he studied at Stanford University, where he earned his Masters degree in Chemistry in 1924.

During this period, the office of the president of Dixie College was filled by Edgar M. Jenson. While not a BYH graduate, Jenson later became one of the longest serving principals at Brigham Young High School, 1928 to 1935.

After being away from Dixie Junior College for 16 months, Professor Nicholes returned to Dixie where he taught Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry for two years.

With the departure of President Jenson in 1926, he was again appointed President of the College, a position he held until 1933. By so doing, he served as third and fifth president of the school.

Joseph Nicholes loved St. George, and served the community as director of the St. George Chamber of Commerce and president of the St. George Building Society. He was also president of the St. George Stake of the LDS Church from 1925 to 1930.

When LDS Church leaders decided that the Church would be unable to continue its financial support of the ever-growing Dixie College, Joseph spent day and night, for a considerable time, working out the transfer of the college to the state.

During the Nicholes administrations, the first and second phases of the Science Building were completed. In addition to providing classrooms and laboratories for the Biological and Physical Sciences, the building also housed the Food and Clothing Labs, and the Auto Mechanics Department.

In 1933, President Nicholes made the difficult decision to leave St. George for BYU. Accord­ing to his son Henry, “He only accepted the offer to go to BYU to teach because he knew of no other way that he would be able to get his nine children educated beyond the junior college level, with the Great Depression in full swing.”

When President Nicholes left Dixie College, B. Glen Smith was appointed President.

Long after moving to Brigham Young University, Joseph Nicholes retained his special interest in and affection for Dixie College. As they say in Southern Utah, after he left "he still had red sand in his shoes".

Joseph taught chemistry at BYU from 1933-1960, and served as chairman of the Chemistry Department from 1945-1955. During his tenure, he developed it into one of the strongest departments at BYU. He inspired many students to pursue graduate studies in science and medicine.

Joseph also taught LDS Church history at BYU for many years, and served as a member of the LDS Sunday School General Board from 1938-1946.

Honors given to Professor Nicholes include the Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Teaching Award, the Utah Award from the American Chemical Society, and in 1961, Brigham Young University presented him a D.Sc. honoris causa -- an honorary Doctorate degree -- in recogntion of his distinguished academic career. He died in Provo, Utah on October 4, 1964 at the age of 77.

The children of Joseph K. Nicholes and Olive Maiben Nicholes are: 1. Henry Joseph Nicholes, born March 24, 1913 in St. George, Utah [BYH Faculty 1946-1947]; 2. Eleanor Louise Nicholes, born January 14, 1915 in American Fork, Utah; 3. Max Maiben Nicholes, born June 12, 1916 in St. George; 4. Ruth Nicholes (Miller), born March 25, 1919 in St. George [BYH Class of 1937]; 5. Virginia Kirsten Nicholes, born April 15, 1922 in St. George [BYH Class of 1940]; 6. Elizabeth Jeanne Nicholes (Blaine), born November 24, 1925 in St. George [BYH Class of 1944]; 7. Margaret Ann Nicholes (Otterstrom), born January 27, 1927; 8. Mary Joyce Nicholes (Woodbury); and 9. K. R. Kelly Nicholes [male].

Background: St. George, Utah

St. George Town - Unknown Artist - We will credit
Old Dixie College campus

St. George, Utah is the county seat of Washington County. It is the largest of the towns founded during the LDS Church's Cotton Mission of 1861.

Located in the southwest corner of Utah at 2,880 feet above sea level -- relatively low for Utah (Provo's elevation is 4,549 feet above sea level) -- St. George has mild winter temperatures and hot, dry summer temperatures into the 100s. It gets little rain -- 8.3 inches annually, and when it rains it often comes in torrents. However, the normal growing season is 196 days, and this factor made the area a fairly suitable location for early settlement.

By 1854, the LDS Church had established an Indian mission at Santa Clara, two miles north of the St. George valley. In 1857 and 1858, experimental farms were set up to the east and west of where St. George was to be built.

While touring the experimental desert farms in May 1861, Brigham Young predicted the settling of the area. Five months later, in October 1861, 309 families were called by church authorities to settle the "Cotton Mission".

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Brigham Young thought it would be necessary to raise cotton, if possible. Many of the early settlers of St. George originally came from southern states. They brought with them a phrase for the area which has become widely adopted -- they called the area "Utah's Dixie."

St. George itself was named in honor of George A. Smith, who had personally selected most of the company of the pioneers of 1861, although he did not live in St. George.

The first years in the new outpost were difficult. Great rainstorms almost destroyed the farmlands, and intense summer heat and lack of culinary water made life far from pleasant.

In 1863 construction of the St. George LDS Tabernacle began. It was completed in 1875. In November of 1871 work began on the St. George LDS Temple.

Construction of the temple was a cooperative effort of many communities in southern Utah. The area was suffering from a monetary depression, and a work project was welcome in which employment would mean food for families. The building cost $800,000 and was dedicated on April 6, 1877 -- the first LDS temple to be completed in Utah. Other important area buildings from the pioneer era include the historic courthouse (1870), and the social hall and opera house (1875).

Silk was produced in the area as early as 1874 but did not add to the material prosperity of the city. Nevertheless, the mulberry trees which were planted to feed the worms, have continued to provide shade to the city's residents, although the sidewalks beneath them are dyed blue from falling fruit. Other early pioneer endeavors included producing molasses from sugar cane, dried fruit, and vineyards to produce wine.

Edward H. Snow [BYA HS Class of 1883] is considered to be the principal educational, religious and governmental leader of Utah's Dixie. As an educator, Edward taught school, became the superintendent of county schools, then chaired the county school board later on. Snow founded what is now Dixie State University. Other leaders recognized as founders include Thomas P. Cottam, George F. Whitehead, James G. Bleak, David H. Cannon, Arthur F. Miles, David H. Morris, and John T. Woodbury.

The fiftieth anniversary of the settlement of St. George was marked by construction of the Dixie Stake Academy Building in 1911. The founding educational leader of the school was Hugh McCurdy Woodward [BYH Class of 1908], who served until 1918.

Erastus S. Romney replaced Woodward as College President in May of 1918. He had come to the school as a member of the faculty in June of 1916.

Following the appointment of President Romney, the Academy was accepted by the Utah State Board of Education as an official Normal College, authorized to give two years of work leading to the Normal Diploma.

The St. George Stake Board of Education on May 27, 1918, officially changed the name of the school from the St. George Stake Academy to the Dixie Normal College.

During President Romney's administration the school offered 60 hours of college level work. He firmly believed that character building was one of the primary duties of the College, along with maintaining high standards of scholarship and efficiency.

He was well known for his ability to arouse enthusiasm in a group of students. He was president for only one year and one semester. In February 1920, as the worldwide influenza epidemic became more and more serious, President Romney became ill of that disease and soon died. He was only 34 years of age.

Following the death of President Romney, Joseph Kelly Nicholes [BYH Class of 1908] was made president and served in that capacity until the end of May 1923.

The Academy was operated by the LDS Church until 1933, at which time it became a two-year college within the state higher education system.

Improved view of St. George with D on Black Hill

In the 1960s, a new Dixie College campus was opened in the southeast corner of the city. In 2005, enrollment at the college was approximately 8,400 students. It was now a four-year institution named "Dixie State College".

In 2013 the Utah Legislature changed the status of the institution from a college to a university and named it Dixie State University. The leaders of Dixie State University and others recognized this as the fulfillment of the dream of the original Mormon pioneers of the area to have a university serving the young people of their communities. Academic staff currently stands at 435, and student enrollment is approximately 9,000.

In 1950 the population of St. George stood at 4,562. The city experienced slow growth until the 1990s, when it jumped to 28,500. By 2012, St. George's population reached 75,561.

A large part of the local economy comes from tourism, since St. George is in proximity to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon National Park as well as several state parks and recreational areas.

See also:
Edward Hunter Snow
BYA Class of 1883
Founder of Dixie College

See also: Hugh McCurdy Woodward
BYH Class of 1908
First President of Dixie College.

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