More than 60 years ago, when the San Juan High School Class of 1953 received their diplomas, no one could have known what would happen to the 24 graduates.
One class member, Kay Shumway, didn’t have a clearly thought-out plan for the future and didn’t intend to attend college.
“Several of my friends were planning to go to college, so I just kind of followed them,” said Kay. “The next thing I know, I am enrolled at Brigham Young University.”
But it was his experience in the Western States Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that solidified his belief in education.
“On my mission, I began to appreciate what education could do,” explained Kay. “I gained a fire for education.” He returned from his mission determined to make the most of his education experience.
So after falling in love and marrying Patsy Redd, a Blanding girl with similar deep San Juan County roots, the Shumway family began a pursuit of education that would take them to BYU, Indiana, California, Washington, and eventually, back to Blanding.
Kay started college as a geology major but soon became interested in botany and chemistry. After securing bachelor and masters degrees from BYU, he was accepted into the doctoral program at Purdue University.
At Purdue, Kay Shumway became Dr. Shumway, earning an advanced degree in plant genetics. After receiving a PhD, he completed two years of post-graduate work, first at the University of California – Davis and then at the main UC campus at Berkeley.
Being a student in Berkeley in the mid-1960s was a bit of an eye-opener for the Blanding native. Kay completed advanced research in electron microscopy and focused on single-cell plant replication.
Dr. Shumway spent the next ten years on the campus of Washington State University in Pullman, WA, where he earned tenure as an associate professor.
While the Shumway family was happy and growing in Pullman, they felt a pull for the red dirt of San Juan County.
“My mother sent me an article from the San Juan Record about a group who was interested in advancing higher education in the area, so I contacted them,” said Kay. “This part of the state had been so deprived for so many years.”
The plan to bring higher education to San Juan County would not work without having a faculty member with an advanced degree. So not long after the article was published, a full 24 years after graduating from San Juan High School, Kay Shumway and his family moved back home.
There are many reasons for their decision to return, but Patsy may sum it up most succinctly when she simply says, “We had to come back.” The family had grown to seven children, all of whom grew up in the hills and canyons of San Juan County.
It is not easy to raise a family of that size, but like the 1,200-tree orchard the family started in Bull Pup Canyon east of Blanding, the hard work began to pay off.
“For the next 19 years, we worked our hearts out to build education in San Juan County,” said Kay. Dr. Shumway handled academic affairs at the school and retired with the title of Dean of Instruction. While a single academic title is not sufficient, another title may best describe his work: Pioneer.
The beginning of Dr. Shumway’s work at the new campus couldn’t have been more humble. The first year, the job was part time and they used a household pressure cooker as an autoclave to sterilize equipment and run laboratory tests. Courses were held in the old glove factory building with just a handful of students.
Working with a growing group of committed and hardworking visionaries, the seed of a local higher education facility took root and grew, beginning with a successful nursing program.
Kay admits that it is very gratifying to see what the campus has become. Now, more than 35 years later, the USU-Eastern campus in Blanding employs scores of faculty and staff, educates hundreds of students, and brings millions of dollars into the local economy.
The little campus has provided a start for alumni that now number in the thousands. Like Shumway, many of the alumni have stayed close to home and are helping to build a brighter future for San Juan County.
After retiring in 1996, the first thing Dr. Shumway did was to complete a mountain biking trek from Canada to Mexico. He also became interested in the newly-developing field of digital photography. Now, he has a massive collection of approximately 400,000 digital images.
Kay has scoured the area and documented the wonders of San Juan on his camera, including a personal favorite, the delicate orchids of San Juan County.
Now, 60 years after high school graduation, we honor a man whose academic pursuits took him far from home, but eventually brought him back to build San Juan County.