Gerrit de Jong, Jr.
Gerrit de Jong, Jr. has largely been credited with founding the College of Fine Arts and Communications at Brigham Young University. He served as dean of the college for many years, and was a professor of modern languages at BYU. He felt that his biggest accomplishment was translating temple ordinances into Portuguese for the first time in Church history.
de Jong was born March 20, 1892, in Amsterdam, Holland. At fourteen, de Jong came with his sister, mother, and father to Salt Lake City to live with his aunt, who had immigrated to the United States a few years prior. de Jong and his family were quick to convert to the LDS faith, and all remained faithful members until their deaths.
Even at a young age, de Jong was brilliant. He had an extensive education in science, history, and four languages, and entered the University of Utah at sixteen. He played piano for Salt Lake City silent movies as night work, and was noted as a hard worker throughout his life.
Charlene Winters, researcher and expert on de Jong, related this story: As a teenager living in Salt Lake City, he was asked to play the organ for a special priesthood meeting. When he asked for a key to the church so he could practice, the bishop dismissed the idea, insisting that with his talent he didn’t need to practice. Undeterred, de Jong went to the church and, upon finding the doors and windows locked, went down an opening in the coal chute. After brushing himself off, he took his music and practiced until he felt he had mastered the composition. After the performance, several people praised de Jong, including the bishop, who told the young musician he knew he had not needed to practice.
Education and Personal Life
While studying at the University of Utah for a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a master’s degree in French, he also studied on the Tabernacle Organ. He later researched in the Bavarian University in Munich and was invited as a University Fellow to Stanford University where he graduated with a Ph.D. in Germanic languages, with a minor in romantic languages.
He was not only a poet and author of works in English and other languages, but also composed music in all forms. Some of his compositions were performed by the Paganini String Quartet throughout the 1940’s.
On September 14, 1911, he married Rosabelle Winegar, who died on January 12, 1940. They are the parents of William Gerrit (who died at the age of 13 months), Belle F. Van Wagenen, Nola E. Sullivan, and Carma Anderson. He later married Thelma Bonham on September 14, 1951.
de Jong taught at schools in Salt Lake City, Murdock Academy (in Beaver, Utah), and the LDS University before joining the faculty at BYU in 1925. De Jong served as dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications for thirty-four years, from 1925 to 1959.
He touched thousands of students as he taught undergraduate classes in religion, aesthetics, phonetics, and graduate courses in German and Portuguese. He lectured and wrote in six languages for the LDS Church and international governments. During the academic year 1947–48 he served the United States Government as director of the cultural center in Santos, Brazil.
He wrote textbooks in German, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, as well as translating scientific and artistic materials. He authored "Living the Gospel," and numerous papers on the teaching of modern foreign languages.
He served as a member of the General Board of the Deseret Sunday School Union, the General Board of Religion Classes, and the General Church Music Committee.
The dedication of the Harris Fine Arts Center began in the Concert Hall named for him, with an oratorio first composed by de Jong at age twenty-four. The naming of the Concert Hall in his honor was a tribute to his many years of teaching and his dedicated service in music and in the college. In 2015, he was honored as one of the founders of the college at the 50th anniversary of the Harris Fine Arts Center.
- BYU Magazine - Torches and Periodic Tables: The Legacy of Gerrit de Jong Jr. (Winter 2012)
- The Daily Universe - Gerrit de Jong leaves legacy at BYU (5 Oct 2011)
- BYU Magazine - A True Renaissance Man (Summer 2011)
- The Deseret News - Wrapped in love (18 June 2009)
- Interview with Gerrit de Jong by Mark K. Allen. The Joint Oral History Program of Brigham Young University Archives, BYU Alumni Association Emeritus Club, and Charles Redd Center for Western Studies. 2 August 1978. HBLL Archives.
- Special Program for Naming of Areas, Franklin S. Harris Fine Arts Center. Tuesday, November 23, 1965. Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 84602.
- T. Earl Pardoe, The Sons of Brigham. 1969. BYU Alumni Association, Provo, Utah, 84602.
- Wilkinson, Ernest Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years Brigham Young University Press, 1976.