C. LaVoir Jensen
Legendary BYH Mathematics & Physics Teacher
& Pinball Wizard

Cannon LaVoir Jensen, Alfred Hitchcock lookalike
Cannon LaVoir Jensen, or Alfred Hitchcock?

Brigham Young High School
Faculty ~ 1920s to 1948


By Larry Christensen '66

Cannon LaVoir Jensen retired from teaching at the school sixteen years before I graduated from B.Y. High School, but I have heard his name mentioned so many times, I recently decided to learn more about him.

Athletics at BYH

One of the first things I found was Jensen's name in a 1926 news article:
Ogden Standard Examiner newsclipping 1926
*
See note at bottom of this webpage.

Of course, by that time B. Y. High had been playing basketball, football, baseball, tennis, and other competitive sports for many years, but apparently the school first entered into formal league play in 1926, with the potential incentive of winning a state high school championship.

This article mentions two things that I found particularly interesting:

First, this is the first time that I have found the name "Wild Cats" was mentioned in connection with BYH. [However, at least two other Utah schools used the name "Wild Cats" prior to 1926: South Summit and Richfield.]

Second, I learned that C. LaVoir Jensen was the faculty member assigned to supervise the new "Wild Cat" basketball program, other than coaches Richards and Roberts. And I had not known Jensen was on the faculty as early as the 1920s.

Over the coming decades, Jensen is frequently mentioned in connection with the BYH athletic program, reflecting his special interest in sports.

Burl Bushman, '46, was surprised when one day, after he arrived late to Jensen's math class because of car trouble, Jensen gave him no lecture. "While I probably deserved a tongue-lashing for coming in late, I think maybe he liked me because I played on the BY High varsity football and basketball teams. Or maybe he just sympathized with me for having such serious car trouble."

Superior Math Teacher

Athletics aside, C. LaVoir Jensen is known primarily for his role in teaching Mathematics and Physics to several generations of BYH students.

"I was amazed at his patience," says Joann Spencer Brooks '49. "I had a math class from him. Had it not been for his sweet nature, I would never have passed. I really had a hard time with algebra. He had to guide me through everything every day." Joann was also a friend of Jensen's daughter, Joan.

John A. Taylor, '47, says, "Everyone called him 'C. LaVoir' -- at least behind his back. He was an interesting man. In appearance he closely resembled -- in my memory -- the movie director Alfred Hitchcock. He was a good math teacher, and made geometry interesting and meaningful. Possibly I took algebra from him as well, but it did not 'stick' with me like his geometry."

Another of his students, Dick Carter, '48, says, "C. LaVoir Jensen was a great math teacher. Prior to taking classes from him, I had a hard time understanding math. He had a special way -- at least with me -- of reaching out and tapping into my understanding of algebra and geometry.

"From my point of view, he also cared about me as an individual, and this meant a lot to me. He stands tall as one of my most favorite teachers."

Silence vs. Full Confession

But not every student experiences a breakthrough to making Math their second language, no matter how good the teacher might be. I know, because I was one for whom Math might as well have been Finnish.

Doug Thayer, '47H, another of C.L. Jensen's students, was one who struggled with math. "I never was very good at math, and story problems were a complete mystery to me," he recalls. "I took an algebra class from Mr. Jensen somewhere between 1944 and 1946. One day he was doing a story problem on the board. When he was finished, he asked if his explanation was clear.

"I was not a difficult student or one given to annoying teachers, but for some reason, and I donít know why, I blurted out, 'As clear as mud!' Mr. Jensen spun around and demanded, 'Who said that?' I didn't have the courage to admit my guilt. None of my classmates told him, either, even though he penalized the whole class with a heavy assignment. Even to this day, I appreciate that loyalty."

George Collard, Jr., '47, reports another student tactic that took place when faced with the wrath of C. L. Jensen: "Mr. Jensen's classroom that year was in the Arts building, just to the left of the stairs going up to the second floor. A class that I took from him was the first period of the day. He was almost always a minute or two late, and would pull open the door with much gusto, hurry to the front of the class, and begin calling the roll.

"One morning three enterprising students pulled the pins out of the door hinges, and waited for Mr. Jensen's arrival. We heard his footsteps on the stairs, and when he threw open the door, the tall door wobbled off its hinges. He somehow maintained control, and leaned the door against the wall.

"Walking to the front of the room, he sternly called out three names and asked, 'Which one of you gentlemen is responsible?' The three 'gentlemen' each confessed to the deed by saying it was their individual fault, and that neither of the other two had any part in it. All three of them received passing grades.

"The personal confession tactic worked so well, that we tried it out again later in Edith Bauer's class in 250A. The prank there did not involve a door, but this time there were seven 'gentlemen' involved. By the time the seventh had confessed that it was all his fault, and that none of the other six had anything to do with it, we should have all received 'A's' in Drama. We were all asked to apologize to Mrs. Bauer and to the rest of the class. Even Mrs. Bauer smiled.

What angels we were!"

Pinball closeup

The Pinball Wizard of BYH

Pinball Wizard

One can only imagine how he would have responded to computer gaming today, but C. L. Jensen apparently had something of an addiction to pinball games.

More than one BYH student has repeated the rumor, or the observation, that after Jensen made his assignment to his final class of the day, he would vanish for the rest of the hour, and soon turn up at a pinball arcade.

"I never took a math class from 'C. LaVoir' as the students referred to him in those days," says Kent Broadhead '49. "I remember he retired in 1948 alright. I know his home room in that year was in the northeast corner of the Education Building's first floor, with his office right next door."

Kent adds that he saw Mr. Jensen, on many occasions, leaving the campus after he spent 10 to 15 minutes with his last class of the day. "He really was hooked on the pinball machines. We would find him playing the old-style pinball machine -- the ones that took nickels -- in the drugstore on the northwest corner of Center Street and University Avenue."

I didn't ask Kent how he managed to see this before his school day ended! And who could blame Jensen, or any other faculty member, for finding a way to escape, however briefly, the "hellions" of BYH.

"I did have a geometry class from C. L. Jensen," says Hank Taylor, '49. "He was quite colorful and I'm sure there must be a lot of stories from his classes. All I recall is that he was a very dignified gentleman who moved about the classroom in a stately manner. He taught math concepts quite well and I liked the class.

"It is true that sometimes he did leave early after giving his class problems to solve. I recall some hearsay about pool or pinball, but I can't confirm that personally. Perhaps he was studying the 'angle of impact' and the 'angle of deflection'!"

"I remember seeing C.L. Jensen at the pool hall playing the pinball machines," recalls Jim Makin, '48. "We never spoke as we passed -- I think it was a 'don't ask, don't tell' thing. However, I am sure he was doing a math project on odds and probabilities."

Teacher of Life Lessons

"He had a favorite saying," John Taylor recalls, "which I heard him utter many and many a time: 'Don't trouble trouble, 'til trouble troubles you!' I have found his aphorism to be useful all of my days since that time!"

Taylor cites an example: "On one occasion -- I was probably a sophomore -- a rumor swept the school, to the effect that, on a day we supposed was a holiday, we had to be in school and Provo High did not! This perceived injustice fomented a near insurrection among the student body, of which I was one of the loudest voices.

"C. L. Jensen 'invited' me into his office, dressed me down, and said 'Let's put an end to this matter.' He picked up the telephone and called Provo High's administrative office. He asked the simple question. To my utmost embarrassment, school was actually 'on' that day at Provo High, too. This was another good lesson for me!"

Trouble Box
Don't trouble trouble til trouble troubles you!

Jensen Family

"C. LaVoir had a charming wife named Florence," says John Taylor. "She was in the employ of the Dixon-Taylor-Russell Company, then a major Provo home furnishings business, with which my family was associated. She worked in the drapery department and was a very effective saleswoman. The Jensens had two attractive daughters: Beulah, who graduated from BYH in 1935, and Joan, who graduated from BYH in 1948."

Florence Hibbert Jensen, wife of C. L. Jensen Joan Jensen, daughter of C. L. and Florence Jensen

Several alumni noted that C. L. Jensen often ate his supper at Calder's Ice Cream shop, located in the former Probert Building across University Avenue, perhaps an indication of how busy everyone in the family was. He likely attended many athletic practices in the evenings, not to mention grading math work.

One of the BYH Wildcat yearbooks mentions that C. L. Jensen's hobby was studying German. Another said: He "inflates the egos" of the students in each of his classes by telling them they are "the worst Algebra class in ten years".

I enjoyed my brief search for C. LaVoir Jensen, but I suspect others will want to add their stories. Please send them to me by email, and I will add to what has been written thus far.


Cannon LaVoir Jensen, BYH 1936-1937
C. LaVoir Jensen in the classroom, 1936-1937

C. LaVoir Jensen, BYH Mathematics teacher and Athletic Advisor. His known years of teaching at BYH: 1926-1948, perhaps earlier.

C. LaVoir Jensen supervised some athletic teams for the high school faculty. He served as Principal of B. Y. Junior High, including 1934-1935. He served as Acting Principal of B. Y. High in 1938-1939, subbing temporarily for Golden L. Woolfe. He served as Business Advisor to the 1947 BYH Wildcat yearbook. He retired at the same time his daughter, Joan, graduated from BYH, in 1948.

Cannon LaVoir Jensen was born on July 8, 1891 in Ephriam, Sanpete County, Utah. His parents were Daniel Christian Jensen and Mary Elizabeth Anderson.

He married Florence Hibbert of Union, Oregon, after she graduated in the BYH Class of 1911. Florence Hibbert was born on October 29, 1892 in Alma, near Mesa, Arizona. Her parents were David Turnbull Hibbert and Cynthia Della Sirrine.

LaVoir and Florence married on May 21, 1915 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Their children include: Cannon Hibbert Jensen [1916-1987], Beulah Jensen [1917-1984], Don Hibbert Jensen [1918-1918], Joan Renee Jensen (Garth) Kump [1929-2001], and Ruth Jensen (Bill) Johnson.

C. LaVoir Jensen died on November 3, 1952 in Provo, Utah. Florence Hibbert Jensen died on June 27, 1978, also in Provo. They are buried in Midvale, Utah.

Brigham Young Lower Campus - Provo


*
The B.Y. High coach mentioned, 24-year-old Fred G. "Frosty" Richards, was a BYU senior in 1926-1927. Fred graduated from Pleasant Grove High and BYU, where he excelled at basketball and the cross-country run. He coached basketball at Wasatch, Fillmore and Delta high schools and was principal at Scipio Elementary. Fred lived most of his life in American Fork, where he coached basketball and taught biology at American Fork High, and P.E., math and health at American Fork Junior High.

Eugene L. Roberts was a BYU coach in 1926. He was 46 years old at the time. Coach Roberts started on the BYU faculty in 1910 and became head of the Athletic Department. He often used good B. Y. High students on BYU teams. For example, see Alma Richards and the 1907 Varsity Basketball Team. Roberts remained at BYU two more years, until 1928, then moved to Los Angeles to coach at USC. Roberts gave the name "Wild Cats" to BYH sports apparently in 1926, and previously suggested the name "Cougars" to BYU sports in 1923. He suggested the cougar because it is native to Utah, and it possessed traits he hoped BYU athletes would have: strength, agility, grace, quickness, and beauty.

C. LaVoir Jensen worked with these people who became legends in BYU athletic history.

After graduation from BYH and BYU,
Paul M. Holt spent his entire professional life -- 43 years -- working for the Utah State Tax Commission. Paul was active in Salt Lake tennis circles. The Brothers Tournament, consisting of five sets of brothers, was held for many years at his summer retreat at Wildwood in Provo Canyon.

Special thanks to the Utah Digital Newspapers project.


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