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How $177 Saved a University and Continues Blessing Students

March 2011

jacob-spori Jacob Spori, the first principal of the institution that became BYU-Idaho, paid from his own pocket a $177 debt to keep the school open in 1890. Moreover, he even worked on the railroad for a time and used those earnings to help pay the salaries of the other teachers.


Over the past seven years, many people have given the specific amount of $177 to BYU–Idaho. Why that amount? It’s an interesting story.

In March 2004, a letter from then-president David A. Bednar was mailed to alumni and friends of the university. In it he recounted a unique sacrifice made by Jacob Spori, the first principal of the institution.

To sum up Spori’s experience, after just two years of existence, the fledgling school was $177 in debt. Principal Spori felt personally responsible and not only applied his salary to cover the deficit but even worked on the railroad for a time and used those earnings to help pay the salaries of the other teachers.

President Bednar’s letter included an invitation to honor Spori’s sacrifice by giving $177 to BYU–Idaho that year. The response was remarkable. And actually, even though it hasn’t really been talked about for years, gifts of $177 still come in.

While there are many reasons to give to BYU–Idaho, alumni in particular tell me that they want to help today’s students have the same life-changing experiences they had. They support the university because it provides the opportunity to participate in things like the BYU-Idaho Learning Model, associate personally with teachers, and grow spiritually.

As for those who gave $177, many said they did so because they were touched by what Jacob Spori did so long ago. They liked the historical significance of the target amount. And while they acknowledged that a gift of $177 in today’s dollars will not go as far as Spori’s did, they wanted to do their part.

Since the time of Principal Spori and the initial financial struggles of the school, all contributions to BYU–Idaho reflect a tradition of sacrifice over the years. More than once, the school’s very existence was threatened, and it was the rallying together of community members and campus personnel that kept it afloat.

Much of what is deemed the “Spirit of Ricks” comes from a perpetual feeling of hunkering down, lending a hand, taking some extra time, giving a little more, and sheltering one another from rough winds (literal and figurative) on campus. Throughout the existence of BYU–Idaho, that has come in the form of, or along with, financial contributions. These gifts are faithfully and trustingly presented to those who lead the school.

It is amazing—though not surprising—how many people really care about what is happening to and for students at BYU–Idaho. And despite the state of the current economy, a growing number of generous friends support students collectively and individually.

Ultimately, it’s about the students—their quality of academic training, their development as disciple-leaders, and their opportunity to even attend BYU–Idaho. Whether the gift is $7 or $177, it makes a difference in not just one life but many.