Letter to the Editor: Eliminating ‘Dixie’ name dishonors legacy of Southern Utah’s pioneers

Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Nov. 21, 2019 | File photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

OPINION — The following opinion piece was originally sent to the Utah State Senate in response to HB 278, a bill proposing a name change process for Dixie State University.

In the spring of 1857, 38 different families left the comfort of their homes and farms to serve in the Cotton Mission. They traveled over 300 miles to what is now known as Utah’s Dixie. They came here with a purpose in mind, not to get rich, but rather, to raise cotton so the rest of the Latter-day Saints could enjoy that needed resource in their lives. Soon after the early pioneers settled in Southern Utah, they started to call this area “Dixie.”

When the pioneers arrived, in what is now known as Washington City, they cleared the land, dammed the river and began planting cotton. These pioneers took their mission very seriously. Cotton was planted before any food crops.

Frequently, the Virgin River flooded and destroyed the dam. When that happened, the pioneers had to pick up their shovels, picks and axes to hook up their teams so they could race to repair the dam. The fight to tame the Virgin River came at a great expense in both labor and cash. The pioneers fought heat and starvation, and they lived on “pig-weed” and “lucerne greens.” The also faced malaria, fever, freezing winters and a lack of building materials. Because of the pioneers’ desire to serve others by raising cotton, they suffered greatly.

When President Brigham Young called for teams of horses, mules and oxen to bring the Saints west, pioneers in Southern Utah stepped up again and donated what they had. Southern Utah was over 300 miles from Salt Lake, and the pioneers from Utah’s Dixie sacrificed much to assist in bringing the Saints to the Salt Lake Valley. The selfless acts of so many pioneers from Utah’s Dixie created a culture here in Southern Utah of service, love and sacrifice.

Students from Southern Utah who wanted to receive a higher education had to travel several hundred miles to do so. Education was very important to the pioneers of Southern Utah. Once again, they picked up their shovels, picks and other tools, hooked up their teams and went to work to build a local university. Dixie College was built with a lot of hard service work and limited funds.

What a great day it was in 1911 when Dixie Academy opened its doors. It soon became the heartbeat for all of Southern Utah filled with diversity and culture expressed through education, theatre, music, dance and all types of community activities which began to take place immediately. What a blessing for these pioneers to have Dixie College in Southern Utah when everything else in the world seemed to be so far away.

My grandfather, Arthur K. Hafen, began teaching at Dixie Academy in September 1912 and taught there until 1951. While at Dixie, he wrote the school song. Myself, and thousands of others, get tears in our eyes every time we sing “We love you dear Dixie school!”

With a very small economy here in Southern Utah, it was hard to keep the doors of Dixie open. I wish I had sufficient space to express the many stories my grandfather shared with our family about the sacrifice and service the community made (mortgaging their homes and farms, trading goods for their education, et cetera). Thanks to the great people of the state of Utah, Governor J. Bracken Lee, and so many more, taxes, donations and public funding, Dixie College was saved.

As I mentioned previously, Southern Utah had a very small economy without railroads, mines, oil, gas or timber. Southern Utah also had very little water, small farms, and Highway 91 ran through most small towns. That highway was perhaps the greatest source for the local economy in those days.

In the 1950s, when we knew the Interstate was going to bypass these small communities, the question was, what were we to do? Wise and forward-looking people started a plan for the future. They asked themselves…what do we have in Dixie? They realized they had four great resources: The brand “Utah’s Dixie,” people who love to serve, great winters and the red hills and red sands of Southern Utah. Because of the sports programs at Dixie College and Dixie High School, the name Dixie soon spread throughout the State. The D on the hill, Dixie Sunbowl, Dixie Roundup and Dixie Downs were all built and ran by local service clubs and gave Utah’s Dixie a great brand and created an irreversible culture here in Southern Utah.

In the late 1950s, Dixie College moved to the new campus. It provided a greater opportunity for the infusion of culture and diversity through arts, theater, sports, education, music and dance. With the addition of the Dixie Center on campus, many conventions came to Southern Utah during the winters.

Citizens of Utah’s Dixie now sponsor the St. George Marathon, Huntsman Senior Games, the Iron Man, motocross racing, NCAA National Women’s Softball Tournament and much more. The citizens in this great area have built many golf courses, Tuacahn, soccer fields and softball fields so that everyone in Utah and from around the world can enjoy Southern Utah, the red hills and the red sand.

I would like to thank the people from all over the state of Utah for their support in participating in all activities Southern Utah has to offer. Their participation sustains and boosts the economy in this area substantially.

I do not understand why some members of Dixie State University’s administration talk so eloquently about how great the Dixie name is, yet they are willing to spend millions of dollars to proactively change the name of the university. They seem to be willing to hurt Dixie State University, Utah’s Dixie and thousands of local citizens by the way the Cicero report was presented and analyzed. The way the report has been presented to the Board of Trustees, the community, the House of Representatives and the Utah State Senate is disgraceful. No educator should be allowed to misrepresent facts as the administration of Dixie State University has done with the Cicero report. Someday, these administrators will move on. They do not care about what the community, Dixie or Southern Utah thinks. If they did, they would not have been so proactive and aggressive in sending one-sided press releases to hundreds of news outlets the moment a quick study was presented.

It hurts me to be classified as a racist or white supremacist every time I stick up for the Dixie name. I love all of my fellow men. Eventually, the administrators will move on. My family has been here since 1861 and I hope many of my grandchildren will live here, attend Dixie and have the same values of love, sacrifice and service.

We must stand up against the tear-down culture or we may also lose Dixie High School, the D on the hill, Dixie Tech and over 1,000 active businesses in Utah who have proudly used the name “Dixie” in their entity name. Members of the media are also talking about removing Shakespeare from public education. What will happen to Southern Utah University if they are no longer allowed to perform at the Shakespeare Festival? Perhaps we will have to remove Dixie Leavitt’s name from the business school memorial. Maybe PETA will soon come after Weber State University because John Henry Weber was a fur trapper. It is very important that we work to keep our Western civilization alive. Please vote no on HB-278.

Submitted by GEORGE R. STAHELI, Washington City. Staheli is a long-time resident of Utah’s Dixie, an alumnus of Dixie College and a member of the 2021 Dixie State University Athletic Hall of Fame.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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