(Editorial Note: Part 238 of a series of further development in the early days that impacted Franklin County. Sources: Preston Booster, 1912, Franklin County Citizen, 1914, 1916; Cache Valley Newsletter, compiled by Newell Hart; History of Oneida Stake Academy.)
The Oneida Stake Academy with its students and instructors added much to the learning, the performing and the entertainment of the local families. Students attended the OSA from 1888 into 1922, when the state purchased the building and converted it to Preston High. The attendees and faculty first met in Franklin, occupying the second floor of a business building. Plans were made to expand, build a structure of learning and be located north of Franklin in the area that was being called Preston. By 1895 they had their own building. A young man, J. G. Nelson, with his wife and young son were enlisted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be the first instructor and wrote about getting off the train that delivered them to Preston, finding “no depot and baggage simply deposited in the barrow pit.” But the Nelsons stayed and this place became “home” to them.
Various goals were part of the curriculum. “Social functions were school supervised and were of such high order that people deemed it an honor to be invited to attend.” Nelson described students as “rough hewn diamonds from the ranches and farms who were transformed from shy and awkward youths into cultured students.”
Music instruction was offered from the beginning. L. D. Edwards, Professor of Music, and his Preston Choir were legendary in those earliest years and performed in various locations throughout the cities where other academies were blossoming in this educational system. Edwards wrote the tuned used by congregations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for “I know that My Redeemer Lives” while teaching at the OSA.
The academy catalog of August, 1909, states that George H. Thomas, of Logan, would be the head of the music department for that year. The following year marks the advent of C. J. Engar as the OSA Professor of Music. Engar remained part of the OSA and the city for years and had a great influence on the youth of this area. He came with impeccable credentials.
Charles John Engar was born in September of 1869, in Norway, and emigrated to America with his widowed mother in 1875. They settled first in Ephriam, UT, then moved to Elsinore, Sevier County, Utah where the Engar family took root.
As a boy he learned to play the accordion, the violin and the cornet and performed to the delight of the Sevier County residents. “Later when he went to Provo to study at the B. Y. U. he received several important musical appointments. He became leader of the band and leader of the Provo Opera House orchestra.” He was offered a job on the faculty.
“He remained in Provo four years after which he went to Ephriam to take charge of the music at the Snow Academy where he was so well liked that he was highly recommended to the church authorities, who arranged to have the young man go to Germany to finish his musical education. Unfortunately, fate intervened and Mr. Engar, on account of illness, was forced to remain at home.”
Engar married Alveretta Staples, a young lady from Elsinore, in 1899. He was called on a mission to Norway in 1901, and rediscovered his love for the land of his birth. Upon his return he took his family to Rexburg, ID, and was the head of the music department at the Ricks Academy, another part of the academy system of education.
From Rexburg, Prof. Engar came to Preston and took charge of the music in the Oneida Stake Academy. That was in 1910 and the music department of OSA became the envy of all who heard it perform. Prof. Engar had some of the finest organizations that have ever performed in Preston. His chorus girls, his choir, his orchestra and band were all exceptionally well-trained.
The Preston Booster of 1912 praised his work just two year later. “The academy has had many successful teachers in music and many students have been heard from after their graduation. Under the present musical instructor, Prof. Engar, the students are making rapid advance in the different studies presented. The school now has a first-class band and orchestra of 20 pieces composed entirely of males, while it has a ladies orchestra of 15 pieces, as well as a ladies choir and ladies chorus. The academy band was out Tuesday livening up the town with martial music, and Prof. Engar certainly has a pretty good bunch of players.”
In 1914, not long after this area became a new county in 1913, Engar organized a band contest in which nearly every band in the valley would take part. A sort of Eisteddfod it would be. He was very conscious of improving the image of Franklin County. Engar kindly loaned his military band for various functions. At the opening of ball games, Prof. Engar gathered up his boys and played both on the streets and in the grandstand.
A memory of Engar from Newell Hart: “There was the town’s band leader — Professor Engar — seems he wore a ‘train conductor’s hat — who struck up spirited martial tunes on the Fourth of July, with the sounds of brass and percussion ringing in our ears as we bought ice cream or hot dogs in all the flag-draped stands in the grassy park near the Opera House.”
Engar managed the Preston Opera House from 1915 to 1920.
Engar had a personality that blended well with youth and adults. The editor of the news at that time describe him as “a mixer.” Memories of his influence are abundant. Even with his success “he was never satisfied unless he could feel that he was at the top of his profession.” He went to Chicago and studied at the American Conservatory of Music for a time while he was with the Oneida Stake Academy. He attended the National Summer School for musicians, ensuring that his pursuits were current with his time.
His son, Dr. Keith Engar, of the theater department for the University of Utah said, “Dad was a real music man in small towns of Utah and Idaho for 37 years of this century.“ Keith was involved in producing the musical “The Music Man’’ at that time.