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The Hyrum Edward Johnson Endowed Scholarship

In 2004 the descendants of Hyrum E. Johnson established an endowed scholarship to honor the first president of Utah Valley University (then Central Utah Vocational School). Begun with Johnson’s spirit and determination, the school has grown from a small set of classes in vocational training to a thriving university with nearly 70 bachelor and advanced degrees and more than 85 associate and certificate programs.

Marie Curie, a pioneer in medicine, once said, “One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.” Hyrum E. Johnson was able to see what Utah County needed for vocational training when he, with the same pioneering spirit as Curie, assisted in founding an educational institution. Without his hard work and foresight, Utah Valley University would never have come to be.

Born in 1884, Johnson was a Utah Valley native who focused on his family and community needs. He attended Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University) and the University of Utah, and his education provided valuable preparation for the opportunities he would encounter in his life.

After marrying LuRena H. Hayes in 1908, Johnson worked as a carpenter. In 1912 he was asked to organize an industrial arts class in Spanish Fork, the first such class ever taught in a Utah County high school. From there he went on to coordinate more programs for high school students interested in the trades and taught the trades for several years.

In response to unemployment during the Great Depression and the threat of World War II, the U.S. government perceived the need for vocational education and distributed National Defense system funds to Utah to establish the Central Utah Vocational School. Originally taught out of local shops and schools, CUVS offered courses in carpentry, drafting, welding, auto mechanics, electricity, sheet metal, and plumbing. Johnson was highly respected by both tradesmen and educators for his enthusiasm and devotion to the cause of vocational education, and in 1938 he was appointed coordinator of trade, industrial and distributive education.

Johnson spent many hours recruiting quality instructors and promoting the classes to students who had not finished their schooling. His dedication and foresight not only established the framework of the exceptional institution we have today but also sustained the school against opposition from skeptics who did not see its benefit to Utah Valley.

In 1941, because of the demand for classes and at the request of the local school districts, CUVS stopped teaching in the school district buildings and rented the fairgrounds in Provo. This move proved beneficial not only by providing a central location for operation but also by developing its independence as an institution.

Because the school had demonstrated its success as a valuable resource for wartime employment and training, when National Defense funds were withdrawn, the community introduced a bill that requested state funds to sustain CUVS. Support from partnerships with Geneva Steel and other local businesses helped promote the need for the school in Utah Valley and in neighboring Wasatch County. After much persistence and many roadblocks, the bill passed, and CUVS was established as a state institution. Although it has undergone four name changes since then, Utah Valley University has a history of endurance.

Without Hyrum Johnson’s fortitude in the early years, the University would not exist today. As a tribute to his pioneering commitment, his descendants established the Hyrum E. Johnson Endowed Scholarship to honor his name and all he has done for students, past, and future.

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