Gomer P. Peacock legacy lives on in electronic conference room

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Posted Thursday, December 1, 2005 - 12:00am

When the original 1937 Carbon College's (College of Eastern Utah's) Reeves' Building was torn down in December 2003, the Gomer P. Peacock Room fell in the ruins with the building. The room was well-known to the campus community as a tribute to one of the men who helped save the college in 1953 when a maverick governor wanted to close it and return three other two-year colleges to the LDS Church.

The new Reeves' Building was dedicated in September 2004 without an official Gomer P. Peacock Room. However, in November 2005, family members of Peacock gathered in Price to dedicate an electronic-conference room in his memory.

"It was always the intention of the administration to have a Gomer Peacock room in the Reeves' Building. It is important to the future of the college to remember its past. The effort to save the college from closure is a part of history that should inspire present and future students and community members to rally in support of a strong institution in our area. We should always remember and honor those who made the advantages that we enjoy today possible through their sacrifice and effort. Gomer Peacock we honor by name, but he represents the hundreds of dedicated volunteers who quite literally saved our college," said Brad King, vice president of institutional advancement and student services.

Peacock, a local businessman, led the fight to keep the college open and lend the strong support to insure its survival and growth for the future.

Gov. J. Bracken Lee, former mayor of Price who helped secure the property the college is built on, decided Utahans were paying too many taxes and wanted to cut the state budget. Fiscally conservative, Lee felt the state could not afford to finance the nine institutions of higher education and wanted to either give three of the original two-year colleges to the LDS Church (Snow, Dixie and Weber) and close Carbon College. Lee contacted the leaders of the church several times, asking them to take back the three two-year schools. The church agreed to take back the three former church schools.

In a special December 1953 legislative session, he proposed Carbon College be closed and its land and property sold. He convinced the legislature to support his recommendations.

The citizens of Southeastern Utah were outraged at the news that Carbon College was to be closed. The Sun Advocate newspaper printed an editorial on its front page, titled, "In Memoriam:"

"It is the reluctant duty of this newspaper to record the passing of Carbon Junior College, an institution established 16 years ago for the educational and cultural improvement of the people of Southeastern Utah by the authority of the Utah State Legislature. The junior college was eliminated by the same authority ... and the action was initiated ... in personal prejudice rather than as a necessary part of any economy program.

"[The state] had done a memorable job in destroying our pride in a college, impairing the educational opportunities of the young people of this area: eliminating the only state institution in Southeastern Utah, centralizing educational advantages into the vast state capital city, and saving the taxpayers an infinitesimal amount, if any, in the process."

According to news reports, almost immediately, efforts were started to try to save the college by forcing a popular vote to reverse the actions of the legislature.

Peacock was selected to head up the effort to obtain the signatures needed to put the measure to save the colleges (retain ownership in Dixie, Snow, Weber and save Carbon) on the November ballot, develop supporting materials to send out to voters, raise money to collect signatures and mail materials and convince a majority of Utah voters to reject the recommendations of Governor Lee and the Utah Legislature.

Peacock led a committee of Carbon County's leading citizens in an unprecedented united effort in what must have seemed an insurmountable task to save the college.

The "Save Carbon" group opened an office in the Crown Theatre building to coordinate the collecting of signatures, developing materials and raising funds to support the effort.

Many of Carbon College's student body officers and students traveled throughout the state to gather signatures to save the state colleges. They turned into the governor more than double the amount of signatures needed to force a ballot to save the colleges during the November general election that year.

In one of the largest turnouts, Utahans voted overwhelmingly to reverse the closure 176,650 to 50,533. Carbon, Weber and Salt Lake counties had the highest number of votes to save the four colleges. Sanpete and Washington counties' voters were almost split 50-50 in rejecting the closure of Carbon and turning Snow, Dixie and Weber back to the LDS Church ownership.

Carbon College was saved and the people of Southeastern Utah were ecstatic that they would continue to have a college in this area of the state to attend.

A half-century later, the administration of CEU continues to honor Peacock and his legacy by having a room named after him in the new J.G. Reeves Building. His picture will again grace campus and serve as a symbol to all those that follow, how much he did to make sure there will always be a higher education institution in Southeastern Utah.

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