The Siddoways Leave a Legacy

The Siddoways Leave a Legacy

The Scholarship

In 2002, when Bill and Nila Siddoway were discussing where to take a vacation, Nila said, “Why don’t we establish a scholarship instead?” They had already travelled quite a bit, and her arthritis was starting to make travel it difficult. The only student from Vernal, Utah, to get a scholarship in 1947, she wanted to pay it forward and help other promising students in need of financial help. Bill agreed, and they turned to the question of where to establish it.

Bill and Nila had both graduated from the University of Utah and were loyal to their alma mater. Bill had devoted 34 years to working for Brigham Young University, and the couple still attended every BYU basketball game. In fact, Nila, struggling with divided loyalty, had worn a white blouse, blue slacks, and a red jacket to her first BYU versus U of U game. But despite these longstanding ties, when Nila asked where their scholarship would do the most good, Bill named a third school: Utah Valley University. “I know enough about the scholarship business to know that you get the biggest bang for your buck at UVU,” he says.

Today the Siddoways’ scholarship is supporting five UVU students. As an endowment, it will continue supporting other students long into the future. The principle of the gift is invested and only the interest is spent.

The Early Years

Bill and Nila began dating the first day of their senior year in high school and later went off to the University of Utah together. For two kids from Vernal, the U of U was an exciting place full of opportunities. Bill says, “I’ll never forget the huge emotional rush the first time I walked into the library at the U. I’d never seen so many books. I have more books in my living room right now than there were in the Uinta High School library.”

At that time, the U of U was overwhelmed with an influx of World War II veterans. Bill saw the administration struggling to serve the additional students, and an idea began to form. He thought he would be good at solving those challenges if he worked in university administration. But before he could realize that dream, there was much to accomplish. He would serve a church mission, spend two years in the military, marry Nila, complete his bachelor’s degree, and attend graduate school.

Bill was accepted into the M.B.A. program at Indiana University, but when he and Nila arrived, all their carefully laid plans fell apart. Due to a clerical error, the university housing they had been promised wasn’t available. The marketing assistantship Bill had prepared for had been switched to management. Nila’s substitute teaching job had been downgraded to playground monitor. Bill was so discouraged he was ready to pack it in. “Well, you can go home if you want to,” said Nila, “But I’m not going.”

“Where do you go with a bullheaded person like that?” laughs Bill. “So I guess you’ll want to keep the car, too, then, won’t you?” The couple stayed on and faced the challenges together.

Bill completed his M.B.A., and within a few years he was working as assistant to the president at San Jose State University — the administration job he had dreamed of. A few years later he took a job at BYU, and he and Nila returned to Utah. Over the decades, Bill served BYU as dean of admissions and records, dean of continuing education, assistant dean of the Marriott School of Management, assistant academic vice president, and assistant to the president.

Nila proved to be a genius at teaching English as a second language. In her first job, at the Washington School in downtown Salt Lake City, more than half of the 25 or so children in her class — children of World War II migrants — did not speak English. But Nila was unfazed. She worked tirelessly with each of them, and within a year all spoke and read English at grade level.

Nila stayed home to raise the couple’s four children. But she found it impossible to completely give up teaching during those years and ran a nursery school for neighborhood children out of their home. When her own children were in school full time, she returned to teaching professionally.

The UVU Years

It was after the Siddoways had retired and served another church mission that Bill made his mark at UVU — then Utah Valley State College. The dean of the UVSC School of Business, Ian Wilson, had high hopes for the burgeoning school, so he enlisted Bill as a part-time advisor. Applying his extensive experience from BYU, Bill developed a list of 20 recommendations for improvements to the UVSC Business School that he hoped could be accomplished within three years. At the end of the first year, 19 had been accomplished and the 20th had been reconsidered and discarded.

Many of those initiatives are now hallmarks of UVU. For example, Bill advised the school to implement an executive lecture series, to reach out to business leaders beyond Utah, to start an entrepreneurship program, to develop an alumni organization, and to institute a fundraising program. With many students in need of affordable child care, one of the fundraising initiatives established the Wee Care Center. Bill also suggested a campaign to make UVSC more visible throughout the community — to paint the town green. That campaign continues to this day, as UVU strives to become as iconic as BYU and the U of U.

Bill also served on the Library Board, the Marketing Advisory Council, and the Woodbury School of Business National Advisory Board. In 2002 the UVSC Alumni Association recognized him with its Distinguished Service Award. In addition to the scholarship, the Siddoways made several other gifts to UVU to support the library, the Center for the Advancement of Leadership, and the Wolverine Club.

The Later Years

In Nila’s final years, complications from chemotherapy left her with aphasia, which eventually took away her ability to talk and write. Always eloquent and extroverted, she was crushed by the diagnosis but accepted her fate and made the best of it. She also developed ataxia, which destroyed her ability to keep her body upright. After some bad spills, Bill took on the job of staying within arm’s length of her at all times, catching her whenever she started to fall. One night they confessed to each other that in spite of the difficulties and all that Nila had lost, they’d never been happier — they were together all the time.

As Nila’s health declined, Bill continued to transfer her from wheelchair to car and take her to her favorite places. He drove her into the mountains above Strawberry Valley, where they had spent many a summer day exploring. They bought season tickets to the Hale Center Theater, and they attended BYU basketball games, to which they had season tickets for 52 years. “Nila died in May 2014,” says Bill, “And I think we only missed one game that last season.”

Today Bill lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah, and is finishing up Nila’s biography, which she began before becoming ill. After suffering a string of illnesses himself last winter, including pneumonia, he is focusing on what is most precious to him — passing family history down to the younger generations.

Bill recently spoke at a scholarship luncheon at UVU, where donors meet the recipients of their scholarships. He told the students that he and Nila had passed up a third trip to the Holy Land or a cruise to Alaska in order to create their scholarship, but he’s positive it made them happier than if they’d done both trips — and several other enchanting things. He closed with a quotation from Alexander Schweitzer from a message delivered to college students in the autumn of his life: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know, the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”