Utah History Encyclopedia


By James Crosley
John Rockey Park was born on 7 May 1833 in Tiffin Township, Seneca County, Ohio, the youngest of six children. His early youth was spent on a small farm outside Tiffin. In 1848, at the age of fifteen, he began his education at Seneca County Academy in the nearby town of Republic, Ohio. At the age of seventeen, he enrolled as one of the first students at Heidelberg College in Tiffin. After graduation, he taught at his old alma mater, the Seneca Academy, until 1855, at which time he turned his attention to the field of medicine.

That same year, he entered the medical school of New York University and also attended a summer session at Bellevue Medical School. While at the university, he studied under the world-famous chemist, Doctor John William Draper. In 1857 Park received his M.D. degree and set up practice in Republic, where he had lived as a student. However, soon realizing that he was not suited for the medical profession, John left medicine that same year and struck out west. Arriving in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1860, he secured a job teaching and remained there for a year. Once again migrating west, he arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 30 September 1861. This would be the beginning of a highly successful career for and a new learning experience for the youth of Utah Territory.

Although Park was a stranger in Utah, his skills secured him a position as a teacher in the small town of Draper. He taught school in Draper until 1863, at which time he went to Oregon and taught for a year. Returning to the Salt Lake Valley in 1864, he resumed his old teaching position in Draper. Park's teaching methods quickly earned for him an excellent reputation in the area. In 1869 he was elected by the Board of Directors of the University of Deseret, later to become the University of Utah, as the school's president. Park modeled the university's syllabus after those of several colleges in the eastern United States. His excellent organizational skills as an administrator enabled him to acquire a distinguished faculty from many parts of the country. He was also instrumental in 1870 in promoting the Territorial Normal Institute, a means by which teachers of the common schools could be instructed in their profession. This organization was later to become the Utah State Teacher's Association, of which Park was elected first president.

Under his guidance, the university experienced steady growth. The first lyceum was built on what is today the campus of West High School. The university's first degrees were conferred in 1886. Park had a liking for education, instilling enthusiasm in his colleagues and students alike. He saw his dream of a great university take shape, and is locally known as the "Father of Education in Utah." In 1892 Park retired from the university, passing what he had established to his successors.

With the end of his tenure at the university, Park had time to pursue other interests; these included serving as editor of Utah Magazine, president of the Magazine Printing Company, and director of the Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Society. He also helped organize the Utah Forestry Association. In 1895 he was selected Superintendent of Public Instruction for Utah, a position he held until his death. His influence helped revise laws affecting education and teacher's salaries. Further, he was responsible for the incorporation of school districts in the state of Utah. Doctor John Rockey Park died on 29 September 1900. He inspired the students and leaders of Utah and exemplified the high ideal of his profession. Today the University of Utah stands as a monument to his achievements.